THE BRUSSILOVSKY PHENOMENON
We couldn't all immediately follow the changes coming in with post-Stalin
thaw. Morganist genetics was still being denounced as "anti-scientific",
and the dangerous Impressionists were only just making their way back to
the museum halls after their quarter of a century exile in the Hermitage
store-rooms. Brussilovsky I first met in 1962, when Alexander Ginsburg,
the dissident, took me to the artist's studio in the center of Moscow.
Brussilovsky, at that time a slim young man with a mustache (the era of
beards had not yet come in), showed us some of his fascinating collages
inspired by his love for the belle epoque before World War I. There were
Edwardian ladies of fashion together with fossil shells, early aeroplanes
turning into fantastic fishes, patent medicine ads from old magazines, and
machines of unknown purpose composed of dozens of tubes and ratchet-wheels.
Other works betrayed the artist's surrealist taste and his constant interest
in the human body, both to be seen in half-open corpses on the anatomist's
table filled with cherries or with pre-war Berlin streets, or a gentleman
demonstrating his cardiovascular system side with Rembrandt's Danae (recently
vandalized by a misogynist maniac, possibly homosexual).A woman's belly and
breasts, well packed into a tub floated over a boxer's head, swollen all out of
proportion, and there was a portrait composed of inscriptions indicating nose,
eyes, lips and so on. Other paintings harked back to the Russian Classics, like
Vasnetsov's Three Warriors, each of them provided with young ladies' legs, or
Repin's Volga Boatmen dragging a beautiful, if Rabelaisian, feminine form. There
were paleontological maps, eggs of a roc-bird with inscriptions in Hebrew, Syriac
and Church Slavonic, Swiss car clocks dominating a prehistoric landscape…
Twenty five years later Brussilovsky's studio at #4 Novokuznetskaya Street,
although once again in a traditional attic, is very different from the
Montparnasse-like atelier of his youth. Decorated with objects d'art of his beloved
belle epoque, it is a work of art in itself. Delicate Tiffany lamps cast a soft
light on dry roses in Emily Galee bowls,the whole forming an exquisite still life.
Wine is poured into tall Galee wine glasses, and tea into Gardner porcelain
(but there is a JVC video, too). From the window there is a view on the
Zamoscvorechye (the Right Bank part of the city), still full of wooden houses
straight out of Chagall. But the main interest is certainly the artist's works
covering the walls in three rows. New paintings from the series "Signs of the
Zodiac" are an elaborate blend of the cosmic and the erotic (thoughtful nudes
next to Chinese dragons, violent tigers or an appalling scorpion, or being
inspected by lustful mice) and ornamented with hieroglyphs and alchemist's symbols.
According to Brussilovsky, the erotic trend in his art, coming from his perpetual
interest in all forms of vitality, is part of his overall artistic creed - of life and love.
He was born in 1932 in a writer's family in Odessa, a city famous for its particular
brand of Jewish humor. In the 1950s, after graduating from the Academy of Art in Kharkov,
he settled in Moscow. His first acknowledged graphics were illustrations Bridges by Gregor
and for a translation of Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. He has since participated in almost
every important exhibition in Moscow.His works have also appeared in France (Palais des
Congress, 1976, and Erotica, 1983), Germany (where he had one-man shows in Kampen and Nurnberg,
1974, and later in Dusseldorf), Spain, Italy and Switzerland. He is sometimes compared to Max
Ernst, but he gives himself much more leeway. "I've been influenced by trends rather than
individuals", he says. "Especially by the medieval woodcut with its twin summits: Albreht Durer,
by Oriental art, specifically Chinese and Japanese, and certainly by modern schools such
as Jugendstil, Art Nouveau, the Austrian Secession and Russian Avant-guarde. They all
contributed to my formation and I'm indebted to all of them, because they helped me to
create my own artistic method".
Today in Moscow Brussilovsky is widely recognized as a painter and a judge of painting.
Official criticism, still bogged down in scholastic dogma, labels him an aesthete.
"Well, I am one", Brussilovsky replies, "and I see nothing shameful about it. I consider
Art Nouveau, with its almost morbid obsession with 'the beautiful', to be the last great
trend in world art, a synthesis of all that has ever been done before. And as such, it's
a match for the callousness of the new era - a desperate appeal to the spiritual, a nostalgic
effort to withstand the pressure of a standardized universe. This has something to do with
Dostoyevsky's prediction, 'Beauty will save the world.' So, I try to speak of the beautiful
which I see in every manifestation of life, and I do so in a language I myself have developed".
And yet how far Brussilovsky's art is from any sickly-sweet adoration of le beau!
His tongue-in-cheek approach and mordant wit provide contexts in which the beautiful
comes through as the grotesque, and incongruous combinations produce a sense of beauty.
Brussilovsky has created a very personal kind of "chamber art", as he puts it, and there's
nothing quite like it in either West European or Russian painting.