«Jewish Observer»
May 2002
5762 Iyar

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In summer 2001 an American Mikhail Turovsky arrived in Kiev in triumph: the National Museum of Arts hosted his big personal exhibition consisting of three parts: "Leniniana", "Holocaust" and "Nu". The success was obvious. The "entire Kiev" attended the opening ceremony. Turovsky coveted this success and received recognition - this is normal, moreover, his claims, as we see, were grounded. Though, it sometimes happens that success is perceived as an ultimate goal demanding no further perfection. The movement upwards, step by step, is troublesome and burdensome. Sometimes you are held back not to go too far. In that case a man has to resort to any means, not forgetting, of course, about his talent, to realize himself as a personality with all its psycho-emotional and spiritual characteristics. Though, sometimes extraordinary measures are needed to achieve it.

In 1938 Mikhail Turovsky left Kiev for the USA. Several decades ago America was merely like another planet people were going to, as their relatives and friends thought, forever. Now he has returned not to simply pay a visit, but to represent the results of his several-decade work to his former compatriots.

The Kiev exposition of 2001 was quite worthy of a firework of articles, judgments, arguments in the press, but there was nothing of the kind. There even was no catalogue; which is to be published this year.

Any painter's exhibition concludes a definite stage of the artist's creative way, search, doubts and experiments. The creative process is not seen, it is hidden from spectators. What a difference is when it goes about an artist's studio where the atmosphere by itself presupposes trust and dialogue! Far from everybody can be invited there. In our case, we only have to whip the cat. Mikhail Turovsky would have invited us to the studio, but the latter is in New York. Though, the dialogue with the artist did took place, rather, that was a monologue. Turovsky is a perfect teller - quite a rival to Irakly Andronnikov. He was talking quickly changing the subjects, and everything was important, every judgment was well-grounded. He was talking about the art; about a possibility to govern one's own life, to create it that is no less important than cultural or scientific works. He was talking about what he had escaped from leaving Kiev, what he had expected and received there, overseas. He ran away from the lie that had flooded the society and he didn't want his children and him to get drowned in it. But anti-Semitism was a substantial part of the general situation, and that became one of the main reasons to make the family of Turovsky leave for the USA. Talent often leads to monotony, to focusing on one and the same thing. Turovsky has a diverse talent. Despite a musical ear and natural good baritone, he was not let into the Kiev Conservatory, because burring sounds nice in France whereas in Kiev this speaks about one's belonging to a definite nationality, which greatly interferes with singing, for instance, Demon's aria. A great Ukrainian Patorzhinsky who was present at the entrance exam of a young singer, praised "a nice pal" and recommended Turovsky should sing in Opera de Paris. Besides, the number "three" strangely chases Turovsky. He tried to enter the Kiev Art Institute three times (though, he was a good student at the Art school), three times he tried to become a post-graduate student at the Academy of Arts and three times he knocked on the door of the Union of Artists. Under such circumstances a man may get frustrated as a personality and live imperceptibly. Many people do become invisible. But a 47-year old Turovsky (some of his schoolmates were already thinking of retirement) resolutely changed his and his family's life. He left for America.

Life in the Soviet Ukraine was far from ideal, that's why they tended to believe that overseas everything is "okay". But on the way to this "okay" the Turovsky well experienced all "oddities of an emigration".

A Jew in the USSR was not let, "as a rule", to forget about his nationality, though many of them often tried to... There also were people like, for example, the Turovsky, who were aware of their nationality not only due to persecutions or manifestations of everyday anti-Semitism. They were proud of Israel, sympathized with all its joys and woes.

A myth on the unity and monolithic character of the Jewry collapsed long ago. America is not an exception here. The Jews from Western Europe treat those from Eastern one condescendingly, conflicts between different Jewish communities go on, and they all are afraid of the Jews from the former USSR. This is so because former Soviet Jews have long been considered "atheists". Nonetheless, there is something uniting Jews of the entire world - memory about the Holocaust.

Turovsky made several engravings on the Holocaust theme when still in Kiev. Despite hardships of a new life in America, the painter executed a big "Holocaust" series of cardboard and canvas pictures. These works were first exhibited early in 1980s in one of the Jewish communities - emigrants from Eastern Europe. The theme was in demand but, unfortunately, these works did not find artistic recognition. It is difficult, almost impossible for a painter to painlessly enter into another culture. At the same time, he should communicate via his works not only with his contemporaries but with descendants as well. The "Holocaust" series became for Turovsky something impossible not to talk about, not to resort to. Turovsky as a Kievite can't but speak with pain about the tragedy in Babiy Yar. When asked about his attitude towards the idea of constructing a Jewish community center near the tragedy scene (such idea is being discussed) he answered that would be blasphemy. Yet, according to painter's own words, to be alone with the "Holocaust" theme is not only pain and suffering, but also happiness. It seems beyond possible to realize and then to depict the theme of Shoah. Whether the painter succeeded and how much he succeeded in that - this question was discussed by many and more than once. Those who saw his pictures decide this by themselves.

Turovsky is a painter who knows well art secrets even in the most primitive sense of this word. He is very good at drawing (few contemporary painters bother themselves with that). He understands the nature of color and aptly uses this. It is not by chance that the Frenchmen, brought up on impressionism and post-impressionism, are much fond of Turovsky's art. Beside professional qualities, his works have "impatience of heart" impossible to substitute or to imitate.

Turovsky's series "Holocaust" includes tens of subjects. Naturally, not all his works are artistically equal. Works by average artists are "averagely good". A "non-average" painter is always searching, which presupposes success and failures. But Turovsky never allows himself to go below a certain professional level.

He was consciously creating the "Holocaust" theme quite realizing he would gain neither fame nor money in the society he lived in. But he was quite aware he was working for others. His works pronounce his wish to be seen, heard, to "remain" in this world. I want to add a few more words about the circumstances under which the "Holocaust" series was created or, at least, generated. It is obvious there are rich emigrants. Turovsky's family was not rich. A painter is very vulnerable: it is suffice to take away his working material, brushes, paints, paper, pencils - and he practically seizes to exist as an artist. In difficult conditions the necessity becomes the mother of invention. The purpose is simple - to have something to work with. Turovsky used to pick up packing cardboard by a shop and paper- near a cardboard shop factory. He was much fond of black background as his daughter would bring him chalk from the school - they couldn't afford buying charcoal.

In 1983 the painter accidentally saw a telecast after which he decided on making his series public. Washington hosted the meeting of Nazi camps and ghettos' survivors. President Reagan attended this event. A man who introduced him said in his preamble that he, being a 13-year old boy on the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto, couldn't even have imagined the day would come when he would stand next to the President of the USA. Such subject could well become an impetus for action for Soviet Jews wounded by anti-Semitism. Turovsky recalls they were crying at what they saw. After that the painter began searching for an opportunity to show his works to the Americans. I tend to believe people will duly appreciate this huge work that seems excessive to one person. Other two exhibited series - "Leniniana" and "Nu" - also evoked genuine interest of the public. "Leniniana", which was created in the USSR, reflects quite a loyal attitude to the chief. The present American one is full of irony; its execution is quite professional.

The series "Nu" reflects artist's affection for Woman, his admiration and love for complements. The author achieves this through depiction and calls on the spectators to join this performance of love. He does this rather insistently as canvases are full of energy.

An album of reproductions from the "Holocaust" series is to be soon published in Kiev. This is a rare gift of the painter to the public. The album is bilingual: the text is printed in two languages - Ukrainian and English. This is another proof of Ukraine's being rather close to Turovsky. Besides, the organization of the exhibition in Kiev - that included transportation of canvases overseas, rent of museum halls, printing of catalogues and the album - was financed exclusively by the author himself, without any support.

Mikhail and Sofia Turovsky are long ago Americans, but, naturally, they are also Kievites. They are remembered and loved in the capital of Ukraine; they have lots of friends there. The passed time was unable to do anything with this friendship. Anyone could ascertain in this at the opening of Mikhail Turovsky's exhibition in the "Todzio" gallery, which followed the exposition in the National Museum of Arts. This exhibition, which was organized by the institute of Judaic Studies, included the works from private collections. These are, mainly, portraits of friends. The drawings were on the walls, their models stood next to them.

The painter Mikhail Turovsky is known not only in Ukraine and America, but in many countries of Europe as well. Yet Kiev is a huge part of his life and soul.

New York is not America but a separate state in the country. Like Rome is not Italy, and Kiev is not simply Ukraine, but a separate world. Kiev is close to Turovsky, and Turovsky is close to Kiev.


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