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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Artist's Love Affair With City Is Ours to Share

An artist may claim he works in many genres, but there is normally only one he really capitalizes on and which informs the rest of his work. For painter Alexei Aizenman, whose death in 1993 continues to be mourned by his pupils, this genre was the cityscape, and the subject was Moscow.

Aizenman was able to paint the same street or urban corner in two very different ways, with contrasting interpretations of color and light. As in the 1971 painting, "In Potapovsky Pereulok," he could transform familiar places into something extraordinary, almost fairy-tale like, as if they were seen through the eyes of a person from a different planet.

"He was an optimist," says his daughter Olga Velchinskaya, who looks after her father's work and gladly shows it to visitors at the family home. "It was enough for him to go out onto the street and see the sunset to recover his spirits and find inspiration. He could see things as if for the first time and imparted that ability to his students."

Aizenman was born in 1918 into the family of a lawyer, Semyon Aizenman, and an artist, Olga Baki-Aizenman. It was from his mother, who had studied under the tutelage of the remarkable Silver Age artist Leonid Pasternak, father of Boris, that Alexei took his first lessons. His sister, Tatyana, an art critic and connoisseur, also played an important role in the budding artist's development.

Aizenman received his professional training at the 1905 Institute, under the guidance of the outstanding exponent of Moscow realism, Nikolai Krymov, whom Aizenman adored and worked with throughout the early part of his career.

While Krymov's death in 1958 was a great personal loss for Aizenman, it also allowed him to escape from his teacher's powerful influence and acquire total originality in his own art.

Between the early 1942 self-portraits and the later Moscow landscapes of the 1990s, Aizenman's work underwent very interesting stylistic developments. Although at core he was a realist painter from beginning to end, in his different creative periods the varying influences of French Impressionism and Russian 1920s Silver Age art can be strongly felt.

In his early works, when Aizenman was mainly experimenting with color and the juxtaposition of hues, you can see the influence of his teacher Krymov; in his later works, the intensification of ornamental characteristics became very pronounced. He changed from a lyrical tone landscape to a more decorative one: The colors became somewhat forced, and the palette spectrum broadened. In particular, he loved to confront various shades of blue, yellow and orange.

Constant experimentation meant that Aizenman was never constrained by a single formula and was never the type of painter who would thus make himself instantly recognizable at any exhibition. He looked for something new in painting until his dying day, and when he started working on a canvas, he never knew what it would look like when it was finished.

On a single canvas, Aizenman was able to combine Art Nouveau ornaments - such as the silhouettes of trees and houses in the foreground - with a great sense of depth and yet render these two contradictory phenomena harmonious and expressive.

He found poetry in the most mundane things, drawing inspiration equally from a street corner with a van in the foreground or from a quiet Moscow yard surrounded by several apartment blocks. He would paint in places where he was risking his life, such as in the middle of a busy road, but inspiration was always stronger than fear.

Velchinskaya recollects an episode in Aizenman's life when her father was painting on the window sill at the entrance to an apartment block where important party bosses used to live.

"He just liked the view from there," Velchinskaya says.

He was promptly taken down to the police station, blissfully unaware of the fact that he had intruded into forbidden territory.

Aizenman was absolutely uninterested in the material side of life and made his living by teaching painting at the People's University of Arts. He cared little for the fate of his artworks after he finished them; the creative process itself was the only thing that mattered.

Once, his workshop was flooded and hundreds of works were ruined.

When his family plucked up the courage to tell him about the accident, Aizenman did not even get upset.

"I had such fun painting them," his daughter remembers him saying.

At the end of the 20th century, Aizenman's work has genuine historic as well as artistic value. He documented the Moscow of his time and with the rapid changes undergone by the capital in recent years, Aizenman's urban landscapes have become great witnesses of the past.

To see or purchase works by Alexei Aizenman call 412-8074 and ask for Olga Velchinskaya or Isolda Faustovna.

Olga Slobodkina is an art critic and artist. An exhibit of her photography is currently running at the Izdatelsko-Torgovy Dom Letny Sad, 46 Ulitsa Bolshaya Nikitskaya. Tel. 290-0688.