Galery by Lev Tabenkin


I painted my first compositions at the age of 13-14, while attending an art school, and felt incredible inspiration, worked with great enthusiasm. Where had it all gone by the time I entered the Polygraph Institute? As if I dropped out of life and could do absolutely nothing. And later I needed something to subsist on. and after graduation. I had to work at the art syndicate, painted endless field stations. At that time the region authorities distributed funds earmarked for culture to collective farms, state farms and enterprises. This money could not be spent on anything else but culture, so it became an obligation for state enterprises to order canvases, and these works of art decayed by piles somewhere in sheds. It was absurd, nonsensical activity! I did not succeed in it much ~ it was difficult to dispose myself to that idealism which was required from the art syndicate painter, and to create works being aware that this art would never be demanded by anyone.

Little by little, overcoming vulgarity and muteness, imposed concepts and stereotypes, I began to create something of my own, returning back to what I had had in my soul and in my hand long ago in childhood. The desire to tell the truth and the anguish for freedom were major factors. I painted people, markets, railway stations, pubs, trolleybuses, streets and shops, free soaring birds and exhausted sheep behind the fence, I tried to realize myself in the world, to state the facts and to grow a little, taking reality as my major basis. Paintings originated from my father's life, his sufferings, prisons and camps, from his impulse to freedom. They were created not due to excess, but due to deficit. I wanted to express common suffering, a kind of abandonment of our people. Once I heard a very valuable praise. A man, who had been imprisoned for years, who had seen a lot came to my studio - a basement filled up wrth worthless, unsold, nowhere exhibited paintings. He said: "You take life by the throat". This phrase was more valuable for me than any praise from friends or art critics' appreciation. 1 believed that I managed to show the backside of life. Today I see the shortcomings of my old everyday life works, although I had painted them with full dedication. I want to think about art now - about color, texture of brushstroke, about composition - and to get developed in depth or in height, converting the elements of life into plastic arts.

Complaining about the past is a commonplace now. but life was really difficult. Changes of 1985 seemed to be a miracle, but at the same time, they were the only logical way out because there was already a feeling in the air that life should be changed, otherwise time to die would come. Former time was over, the new time began, and it turned out even more complicated for the man, in general, and for each artist, in particular, and of course for me too. You can not survive by means of the past services and pure denial anymore. Yes, politics can be a stimulus for art, but art can’t be thoroughly politicized. If a man just castigates social vices of the society, his paintings are momentary and remain in the history only as documents of the epoch.

Of course, the conflict between the creator and the authorities is traditional for the history of our culture. But over the past 70 years, it has developed into a frantic fight, into political opposition, and this situation cannot be natural for art.

Today the times, when a picture evoked furious hatred, like any true word, has gone into the past, but some artists still continue to escalate anger in themselves: it is often easier to work in spite. Somebody may just fall asleep if he is not being frightened. We all have to search for our own place in the new, normal life.

The recent world boom around Soviet art, actually connected with politics, hampers its realistic evaluation. The "ethnographic” attention is a category of humiliating fashion: we live on the globe and the distance to the Heavens is the same for everyone. Was anything valuable done in this country during the epoch of stagnation? It seems to me that here was a breakthrough. The question is whether it's important only for the Russian culture, or maybe there were any discoveries at the world level.

In my quite superficial opinion, the time of endless formal exercises has begun in the European art since the 1950s. And now the life is so well-settled, that the painting is included into everyday comfort only like interior element

And we have an unbelievable field for the application of art forces. For 70 years our art was not allowed to grow in height, and it deepened into the problems, sought for a new language, and moved to plastic, colorful discoveries. Russia has a history never experienced by any other civilized country. Our man did not see much goodness, but watched such a volume of madness, fall of all moral values, that everyone had to cognize the world anew, to take pains coming to the eternal values that others learn at mother's knees. Revelations of knowledge were embodied in the discoveries of our art.

My friend, an American newspaper reporter, recently wrote an article about the destruction of the Russian culture. Its main point is that in the perverse conditions of totalitarianism art made itself a secret place. Established structures have fallen now, this ecological niche has been collapsed too; complete breakdown is coming. But in reality - these are just external conflicts, while tormenting deep process of creating a new reality is beginning, or more properly, a process of returning to the lost eternal truths, to the category of good, which has always been the basis of art.

Our personality was reduced to "zero", and now we have to start from this "zero” point in our art We are trying to restore the value of human life, to overpower the feeling of broken time connections. In contrast to the politicization of art we must assert the meaning of art which is adequate to the value of the Man.

Recorded by Marina KOMINARSKAYA II The "Capital" Magazine. Na 34 (40). 1991, p. 64

...Ilya and Lev Tabenkins, a phenomenon in the Moscow art of the four last decades. "The soft voice" of the father brought to the exhibitions of 60-70s, a note of almost forbidden sincerity, professional concentration. Explosive spirit of his son, sounded in the atmosphere of renewal of the late 80s early 90s, with a rebellious force, while the primary task of both was, and is now, to dissolve in the energy of art. This is living tradition of the Moscow school of art transferred from the past into the present, and I hope into the future too...



Preface // Official catalogue of Moscow International Art Salon Central House of Artist'98 (15-21 of April), p. 259