Mikhail Grobman, Self-portrait

Michail Grobman:

I was born in Moscow in 1939 to a Jewish family. My childhood memories consist mostly of our evacuation to Siberia, following the German march on Moscow during World War II until our return to Moscow in 1945.

Painting came naturally. First I drew animals and flowers in my father's books, including a small chemistry dictionary. As a child I drew and painted for school and youth movements, and even edited a satirical paper ("The Bee") where I published and illustrated my responses to our group.

In high school I was attracted to zoology and geography. Natural sciences and the observation of plant and animal life facinated me. Most of my creative activity in high school consisted of writing poetry or illustrating my favorite poems and drawing cartoons.

From 1956 to 1958 I was sent to work in construction, and simultaneously attended night school for my matriculation examinations.

It was in those years that I met two people who influenced my subsequent development, the first was the poet Vladimir Gershuni, who, during the Stalinist era, had spent several years in a concentration camp with Solzenicin, Belinkov and Pomerance - a revolutionary struggling in the cause of justice, who opened my eyes to see the darker side of our system. He helped me mature, politically and spiritually.

Philosophically I was greatly affected by my acquaintance with the Georgian violinist and composer Archil Nadirashvili. It was in his library, and by his recommendation that I first read the writings of Hegel, Plato, Socrates and Lossky (a Russian lntuitivist). I oscillated between Hegelian idealistic thought to practical Mysticism (such as occultism, Theosophy, Kabbalah, Yoga, Hermitism and Shamanism).

The fifties were spent in the quest for knowledge. I myself worked as a builder by day and spent my evenings at the Lenin Library, in which the Smoking Room served as a meeting place for the finest artists and thinkers then residing in Moscow.

As for painting, I got to know Vladimir Piatnitsky,who, although merely two years my senior, had already taken his degree in chemistry and attended two Art Institutes. We used to sit and compare the essential principles of figurative and abstract painting. In 1958 I painted a series of Cubist paintings and a year later dared trying my hand in Russian Futurism.

While my technique and professional know-how were acquired through work with painters such as Sasha Kamyshov (who died prematurely), my inspirations were to achieve a figurativeness such as the early Chagal and particularly Paul Klee and Russian Futurists. I lived the French Taschiste painting and the American Abstract Expressionism. At the same time I developed a growing interest in Russian icons and plaques (Lubok). The simultaneous use of anecdotal narrative art side by side with Constructivist abstract art enormously enriched the expressive mode.

The Russian Avant-Garde groups were a small foreign in the vast ocean of Homo Sovieticus culture. It was a sub-species that generated a new, revolutionary mutation,which turned out to be the beginning of a mighty river, an alternative conscious culture to the phony Soviet culture. The early sixties saw the beginning of the separation from the direct perspective pictures and from the need to create a writing which isn't a writing, cleansing from everything illusory and a growing recognition that what I am painting is not reality. The need arose to build a picture based not on any emotional form, but on a reflective intellectual form based on a purely geometric pictographic language.

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