INHABITANTS OF THE EARTH

 “What does the tragic artist communicate of himself?” asked Nietzsche, “Does he not display precisely the condition of fearlessness in the face of the fearsome and questionable?”  The Albert Solomonovich Rozin – Solomon Rossin – exhibit at NameGallery is completely museum-style, portraits and landscapes. Yet the artist demonstrates fearlessness in the face of the fearsome and questionable, because his wide range of vivid compositions are dedicated to studying year after year of the Russian land and the Russian soul. Earth and people appear in his paintings as the bearers of history, everyday history and a providential history, the sacred that everyday history can diverge from, defying the Commandments. We could say that history itself, always uneven in its own nature, is the main hero of Rossin’s art, grotesquely exposing itself via the creativity of the artist’s other hero – painting.

Even as a youth, Rossin was aware of himself as an heir to Russian 19th century culture, even more so in literature than in painting, since it is literature that gives birth to Russians as a people and Russia as a country with provinces and capitals, various classes or estates, and insurgencies against these estates.  In the second half of the 20th century, the USSR reaches its peak of societal self-awareness, during the time of the “Brezhnev stagnation”. At this point, people who did not whole-heartedly submit to the government system, either by themselves or in small half-underground societies, used literature, painting, and philosophy to go back to making sense of Russian history and statehood on the world scale, and strongly advanced this creative movement. Rossin became one of the key figures of this intellectual revolution, and used his pictures to offer his own understanding of what was happening, as well as portraits of its participants. He was prepared to take risks to stand up for his views. Once, during an exhibition of unofficial artists, a KGB official started yelling at those who had gathered, and Rossin put him in his place, saying “Do you think that art is created in your desk drawers?”

In the spirit of the literary tradition of the 19th century, accentuated by pictorial modernism, Rossin becomes a critic of reality. The essence of his criticism is not in exposing deceptive opinions, but in demonstrating human weakness and the frailness of the human world. However, it is the insignificance of human nature itself – individual specimens of which unexpectedly decide to perform heroic feats or perform their exploit unnoticed, in the way they live – that exposes the ever-active event, the radiance of truth. Rossin’s characters can personify truth, like his friend and inspiration Lenina Nikitina, who never tried to escape the lot of the truthful artist, painting with a sense of charity the very madhouse where she was made to live. They can strive toward truth, like the members of the philosophical circle of Tatyana Goricheva and Vitor Krivulin, and give up the best years of their life, although often in vain, in Rossin’s opinion. Yet the artist portrays as worthwhile not the results of their lifetime, but the arc of co-creation transforming Soviet anabiosis to spiritual life. Finally, some characters can exist, like the overwhelming majority, without trying to think, but then truth itself bleeds through the human nature, seen sometime in its steadfastness and sometime in its purposelessness.

Each of Rossin’s people is immersed in a pictorial background like in a spiritual landscape.  Rossin loves to intensify the horizontals of the environment: power lines, fences, rails, steam heating pipes, the contour of roofs, stripes of brick laying and the logs of a leaning hut, or even the boards of a bench. And a person in this horizontal mesh of the world is constantly moving from one state to another, accordingly changing the landscape itself, and our perception of it.  It can appear as a stain of paint leaking through a crack, a random lump of something caught in a net (anything from dirt to a dead bird), as a knot in the ragged fabric of life, or it can become the note that gives its time a voice and a meaning.

The voice of Rossin’s painting, if we may call it that, is distinguished by its ironic timbre. Rossin is a prophetically inclined artist-nonconformist, but he is also one of the most merry masters of the forbidden “second culture”. Each new generation discovers the grotesque humor of classical Russian literature as an eternally relevant way to describe Russian reality. However, the artists of Leningrad expressionism, from the “Arefiev’s Circle” to the “New Artists”, who Rossin influenced, give the grotesque picture of our life a dimension of paradox. While in the 19th century portrayals of the history of provincial bureaucrats submerged in the grotesque assumed that there does exist a different – ideal – dimension of Rus, it is evident to Rossin’s viewers that there is no life other than this one, vapid and ugly.  And the artist is just that person who will boldly transform this life, preserving its appearance, but finding “mein kaif” in it (“Mein Kaif”, or “My High”, was the title of Rossin’s lost autobiography). He exposes a facet of eternal grandeur in everyday episodes and people, imparting an alloy of grand and grotesque the power to represent everything, from cows pasturing to panoramic views of the Borodino battle. As a creator of a universal world, the artist, of course, is superhuman, and romantic joviality and the icy laughter of the immortal are in his nature. But he becomes superhuman not because he is observing from above, but on the contrary, because he presents the life of a bug just the same as the life of a genius, and becomes conscious of himself through death and the world’s loss of each individual. And that skill of always drawing, capturing the grotesque creativity of life’s forms in the dance of the pencil, filled with wonder and not denying his own variety of impressions, gives Rossin’s art that particular cheerful boldness of the everlasting.

 

EKATERINA ANDREEVA