Reviews and Articles

The Last Of The Celestials

Igor Dudinsky, "Moscow Museum of Modern Art" "DIALOGUE OF ARTS", December 22, 2014.

Moses Feigin remained on this earth more than most so that we would not forget about the standards of avant-garde. He was one of the creators of the new, revolutionary art of the silver or in fact, golden age of the Russian avant-garde. And in his declining years, in another era, he became a messenger of the past - the last guardian of tradition

Moses Feigin. Untitled. 1994 mixed technique on paper.

Feigin picked up a pencil before he could speak. As a child, he painted all the time, even took lessons, but under the condition of his father - first master a real profession, and then do whatever you want. He lasted one semester at the biology faculty of Moscow State University and then enrolled into VKHUTEMAS ( Russian state art and technical school) in the workshop of Ilya Mashkov and Alexander Osmerkin. Feigin was excited about both the founders of Cezanneism and innovators like Kazimir Malevich and Lyubov Popova, while trying to find a middle ground. At the same time, he improved his academic drawing studying under Sergei Gerasimov. The artist continued to engage in studies, even when he was 103 years old.

The place of dominant influence and best friend was taken by Osmerkin. Until the end of his days, Feigin remained faithful to the behest of his beloved teacher, who considered picturesque density as the main assessment criterion - “Take a cue from the Egyptian pyramids so that it would be impossible to insert a knife blade between the blocks!” - and compared paintings with a compressed air cylinder ready to explode at any moment.

VKHUTEMAS did not only have poor innovators. Once the school’s party cell fired Mashkov for promoting bourgeois art. Many were indignant, but Feigin was the one who encouraged fellow students to write a letter and went to see Lunacharskiy at the People's Commissariat for Education. The initiative was a success, but due to Feigin's shyness, Mashkov never found out who was responsible for his salvation. VKHUTEMAS played a fateful role in the artist's biography. Feigin joined the elite of the new art and the inner circle of the best masters of the era. He became part of the plasma from which the world futuristic holiday arose.

Osmerkin enjoyed exhibitions with the "Genesis" group, but after disagreements, the master announced the creation of his own association called the "Wing". In the meantime, the State Academy of Artistic Sciences (GAHN) and the initial version of the MOSKh was created - the Society of Moscow Artists (OMH) on the initiative of Lunacharsky. The latter had its own art-production workshops / studios, inviting those in need of a permanent to join. OMH helped Feigin solve his financial problems but a significant part of the time was spent on the design of clubs, palaces of culture, workshops, stadiums, sanatoriums rather than liberal arts. He had to paint portraits of members of the government, posters, postcards, panels, decorations, holiday compositions.

Feigin's works were selected for the New York exhibition by members of the All-Russian Cooperative Union of Fine Arts Workers - Vsekohudozhnik. His personal exhibition also took place in Moscow. The culmination of the 1920s was an invitation from the Tretyakov Gallery to participate in the exhibition "To the 14th Anniversary of Soviet Power." Based on its results, Feigin was among the first to be accepted into the newborn Moscow Union of Artists, which the party leadership meant to replace all other art associations. In the 1930s, the artist's parents were forced to emigrate. Feigin himself avoided arrest by accident - he was not in Moscow at the time.

The Moscow Union of Artists of the repression era treated Feigin as an ordinary painter of leaders, an ordinary artisan (in contrast to the outstanding creators of historical portraits who were laureates of the Stalin Prizes), and paid him accordingly. His skill of the draftsman enabled him to stamp out the hack works as if on the assembly line. When the war began, members of the Moscow Union of Artists were left out of the draft, but Feigin volunteered for the front and served as an artist in the army agitprop until the war ended. In 1945 he discovered that his apartment had been ravaged by looters, and everything that had been created in previous years, right down to the sketches, had disappeared. Therefore, the pre-war Feigin is known only by repute.

Among the first victims of the post-war Stalinist repressions were the "unfinished formalists". When Osmerkin's turn came, he declared in the heat of the moment that he considered Cezanne and the Impressionists the greatest geniuses of all times. At the public trial, Feigin stood up for his teacher as it was a matter of honor. Luckily everything worked out for him - the authorities considered him too insignificant.

He did not have a single date with the viewer over the next decade. He survived by following a strict routine - painting landscapes in the groves of Sokolniki in the morning, working on paid orders in the afternoon, and in the evening - personal work with no censorship. He used family members as models and once a week hired a model from The Moscow Union of Artists. It did not come cheap, and several colleagues had to pitch in. Feigin attached paramount importance to life and still-life drawing: “If you neglect the study at least once, you stop being an artist,” he remarked when he turned 103. "Only a serious academic school gives the artist the right to complete creative freedom."

During the sessions, the neighbors often tried to look into Feigins, and wrote denunciations about the presence of "naked women" in the apartment. Each time he was forced to go to the Moscow Union of Artists and get a certificate that he was officially allowed to draw nude paintings.

Once an English gallery owner came to Moscow and saw a painting by Feigin at the exhibition. He guessed that it was painted by one of the former members of the “Jacks of Diamonds” and decided to buy it. The Moscow Union of Artists refused him - there was a strictly limited list of artists recommended for purchase. The Englishman's lawyer produced a contract, which said that his client has the right to buy any work he liked, otherwise the Moscow Union of Artists is obliged to pay a penalty. The work left for England, and a few days later the neighbors whispered in amazement: “So you are a famous artist? They just talked about you on BBC!"

At first, the artist did not believe that during Khrushchev's "thaw" one could communicate freely, and remember the great masters of the 1920s – 1930s deleted from life, discuss their legacy, and visit exhibitions of avant-garde art. Feigin became convinced that real changes had taken place when he visited the American exhibition in Sokolniki in July 1959. There he saw the canvases of the classic abstract artists. And this was the beginning of a new, most productive stage in his biography. His work has become more diverse, the range of subjects and means of expression has expanded dramatically. There was a desire to get away from traditions and set foot on a fundamentally new, independent path.

If you try to create a psychological portrait of Moses Feigin, the main personality traits will be loyalty to the vocation bordering on fanaticism, fascination with creativity, complete dedication and obsession with art. He never agreed to compromise having superhuman determination. The artist's temperament is evidenced by the picturesque structure of his canvases - powerful, energetic, emotional. The painting as such is in primary, and everything else - form, content, color, etc. - is secondary. He even used printing ink. Pure color. Bright, attacking, explosive brushstrokes. No aestheticism, ornateness, or intellectual delights. Feigin even freed the model from everything superfluous - details, specificities. And all this in order to get to the bottom of the ethereal, pre-material, primordial light.

The master's abstractions are filled with inner pulsation and eschatological tension. His expressionism becomes more distinct, tense and aggressive with every passing year. And he managed to go onward and upward in his work which became free, uninhibited, and emotional when he was seventy, ninety, and even hundred years old.

The portrait of the master will be incomplete if we do not to mention his ironic view of life, his ability to perceive the world as a theater that can be observed from the outside. This "outside of being" existence helped him go through the hell of Stalinism, retaining enviable optimism and work capacity. He was always good for a joke. For instance, when seeing off guests, he loved to do a handstand and wave after them with his feet. He retained a phenomenal muscle strength and a spectacular memory until the end of his days.

While working, he was frequently visited by thoughts about the structure of the universe, about what will happen after death. Feigin is a sage artist, a philosopher from painting, who was in constant dialogue with God, he came to the conclusion that there is no afterlife - only the body and the mind maintain the life of the soul. Memory disappears along with the mind, because it turns out that there is nowhere to store it after death. The great wisdom of nature is that it transforms the perishable into new life. And only human ideas and fantasies are eternal. There is no God, there is an idea about a great man who was crucified. Therefore, you need great courage in order to live, work and be responsible for your actions here and now.

In everyday life, Feigin was a fatalist. For example, he kept a box of homemade multi color dice with him. Before painting the next plane, he threw a dice and used the color he got. He considered these hints a sign from above - the material does not like it when the artist imposes his will on it, you need to be friends with it, talk and interact with it.

He explained that he had found a common view that allows him to see through reality, right down to the under side of being. He discovered the essence of objects and phenomena, and the painting ceased to be a work of art but became an act. The world appeared in the form of a giant theatrical stage and the participants of the drama were called upon to convey the thoughts of Feigin the philosopher to the viewer.

A small musician with a violin in his hands became a permanent character in his paintings. Feigin heard a story on the radio: a Jewish town was occupied by the Nazis, they drove all the adults together to be shot. Among those sentenced were Musya's parents. Musya approached the German officer and asked for permission to play the violin. The officer said that if the boy plays beautifully, then his parents will be spared. In response, Musya took the violin and played "Internationale". The brave pioneer (boy scout) was immediately shot. Feigin took this story as a parable about the courage of a man of art: the artist is obliged to speak the truth, despite the threat of physical destruction.

Feigin believed that it is useless to expose something, and it is more productive to make fun of it. He confirmed this idea with the images of Chaplin and Harlequin. In the series of heroes that he mainly painted from himself, there is also Don Quixote. He is the same apostle, a knight, looking for a truly powerful opponent and in the end challenges the sun to a duel. Another one who beat death by death.

Feigin considered the people of the circus to be out of this world as he himself was, and tried to emphasize the trepidation those who daily risk their lives in the name of art relate to each other. Another example of beating death is the fortress of Masada, where the Jews not wishing to surrender to the Romans killed each other. In the return of the prodigal son, the artist recalls how important it is for a person who has turned from the intended path, who has betrayed his vocation, to eventually return to that part of his “I”, thanks to which he once met himself.

Feigin loved the night time, when the monotonous boxes of buildings were colored with squares of lit windows. He was indifferent to architectural delights and preferring simple modern houses, admiring how the window lights would light up and go out, as if dancing rectangles were floating in the air.

In the last years of his life, the master had spent more and more time trying to capture the memories of his parents, brothers, and other relatives with the help of paint. All the images blended into one - they all had the face of their mother.

Instead of his signature, Feigin often drew a small white silhouette of a man with an easel in the lower right corner of the picture. He called him a witness. He saw the artist's mission in recording. There are many dogs on his canvases - he loved them, because, unlike people, they did not interrupt his monologues. “They crucify Christ or burn Giordano Bruno at the stake, and a dog runs past. It is preoccupied with one thought only - where to hide the bone. Only complete idiots think that the witness is less important than the hero of the event. " He often painted his self-portraits perceiving himself as an object of art, which is characteristic of many truly profound artists.

Feigin left a whole gallery of archetypes to his descendants - participants in the universal circus, characters in parables and mythologemes. Their "bodies" are ethereal, formed from light and notional outlines, like icons or abstract painting. The artist has forever severed all relations with the objective world.

Nevertheless, shortly before his departure justice triumphed and there were plenty of exhibitions - worthy ones, held in the most prestigious of places. He was included in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest working professional artist in the world. The circle of visitors to his workshop was constantly expanding, he became a real old man who broke off his hermitage of many years for the sake of soul-saving conversations. And as the highest recognition was his lifetime inclusion into the museum classics of the world avant-garde.
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