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A RETURN TO ETERNAL VALUES

Oleg Savostyuk
People’s Artist of Russia
Academician
Honorary President, AIAP/UNESCO
Professor, Surikov State Academic
Art Institute, Moscow

Evgeny Zevin is one of today’s most interesting masters of contemporary painting. During the course of long years of creative exploration he’s acquired his own inimitable signature, making his paintings easily recognizable among a multitude of both Russian and foreign artists.

He began his creative life under the harsh artistic dictatorship of Socialist Realism as a representative of the non-conformist movement in Russian art, which was suppressed by the official organs of state.
In those days one could see his paintings at the only permitted venue for this type of forbidden art, apartment exhibitions, in particular at Oskar Rabin’s enormously popular apartment gallery on Cherkizovskaya Street in Moscow.

In the autumn of 1974 Evgeny Zevin participated in the non-conformist art exhibition at Izmailovo Park, which would go down in memory as a free people’s celebration of art. Held on a splendid meadow bathed in autumnal sunlight, it lasted exactly four hours, the time allotted for it by the authorities. In essence, this exhibition became the creative intelligentsia’s first real mass demonstration against the pompous cultural stagnation of the then-totalitarian regime.

Do we even need to recount the thorny path that ensued for the artist, whose art failed utterly to fit into the rigid framework of official culture?

For Evgeny Zevin a period of forced artistic isolation began. Only rarely did his paintings appear at the exhibitions of the Moscow Artists Union’s youth section, into which he was accepted in 1974, or later at the Moscow Artists Union itself, when Zevin became its member in 1979. Yet despite everything, he continued to work prolifically, since creative labor, in his words, is the artist’s inalienable right and sole means of self-expression. One of the few avant-garde artists of his time, he followed his destined path confidently and purposefully.

Evgeny Zevin began his formation as a painter in his very first works, which were marked by a heightened sensitivity for color, a tendency towards sharp contrasts, a unique visual treatment and extravagance of form. These works attracted the attention of art critics and the press above all for their young creator’s vividly expressed individuality and painterly professionalism.

But even then the concern for quality, for perfection of form, was by no means an end in itself for the artist, who placed his experiments
and visual arsenal in the service of the ideas, thoughts and feelings that inspired him. With time, this tendency in Evgeny Zevin’s oeuvre became only more pronounced. His strictly-organized color system submitted itself more and more to the semantic-imagery element, becoming dependent on it.

Today, as before, Evgeny Zevin’s creative attention is focused on our surrounding world and the philosophical and psychological issues common to all mankind. But the artist doesn’t stop at just describing or mirroring the phenomena around him.

With his unique associative artistic thought process and lively creative temperament, he creates paintings in which the complexity, difficulty and beauty of our world are revealed through figurative generalizations. His works are symbolic, and it’s often difficult to categorize them into familiar genres. In them an unusual world opens up to the viewer, one of astounding and unexpected painterly, plastic and figural constructs, which the artist uses to intensify his works’ meaning, to more graphically express the modern issues concerning him.

The artist doesn’t allow the viewer to interpret his paintings’ subjects unequivocally: they’re open to multiple readings. Their ideas can be understood on different levels, levels that strengthen and complement rather then exclude each other.

The artist, who in his own words has never belonged to any party or participated directly in any social movement, is keenly sensitive to the processes taking place in our country and strives to comprehend and express them in his paintings’ world of imagery. The marked social orientation of the artist’s thought, refracted through the prism of his personal world-view, is especially evident in his works from the 1970s and 1980s. Underlying their ideas and imagery is the artist’s understanding of certain periods from our recent past, the “stages on the nation’s great journey” watered with tears, filled with the immeasurable suffering of millions.

But when dealing with grave and tragic events, Evgeny Zevin doesn’t lapse into morbid pessimism; his paintings are always visually arresting, their colors resonant and their content multi-faceted and complex, like life itself.

The artist keenly senses the subtle nuances in relations among people, nature and the world. He’s convinced that man was created for a spiritual life, not a vain one cluttered with trifles, that he’s called upon to solve higher moral problems and to live in harmony with nature rather than in opposition to her. The artist’s message is that the world is marvelous and eternal, and that everything forced, imposed and ugly is only temporary, destined for oblivion.

Evgeny Zevin’s still lifes attract us both by the painterly expressiveness of the depicted objects themselves and the logic of their decorative and spatial relations. Here composition is very important and no objects are insignificant: all are sublimations of the artist’s thoughts and emotions, all are united by the artist’s personal vision. The artist’s still lifes display a deeply understood, unified treatment of composition and decor; in them we see a well-conceived and regulated rhythm of juxtaposed color and volume, alternating motion and rest. Evgeny Zevin’s paintings are highly tactile; in them we sense fullness of expression and musical
perfection. Many of them are literally charged with energy; they pounce on viewers, fully capturing their attention.

Zevin acquired broad foreign renown in the mid-1980s, exhibiting his works in Helsinki, Brussels, London, other cities in England, New York, Paris, Tel Aviv and Tokyo.

From 1989 to 1991 his works were on permanent display at one of the best-known fine arts auction houses in the world, Phillips of London, where they enjoyed great success. Many foreign journals have written about and reproduced Evgeny Zevin’s works, calling him an heir of turn of the century Russian painting traditions and their worthy continuer and developer. Foreign art reviewers place Zevin among those artists
whose talents reached their peak of development thanks to the age of glasnost. They regard the fundamental virtue of his work to be its return to eternal artistic values, ones that bring viewers warmth, sympathy, love and tolerance.

The artist’s works can be found in galleries, museums and private collections in Great Britain, the US, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Israel, Finland and Russia.

In 1992 Evgeny Zevin participated in an exhibition organized by the British Royal Academy. In 1994 he took part in the major exhibition Images of Soviet Art of the 1950s Through 1980s held at the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. His works have been included in the anthology Russian Artists of the 18th Through 20th Centuries, which sums up the development of Russian fine arts in the latter half of the 20th century. In 1995 Zevin was elected Vice-President of the Russian Academy of Fine Arts.

In 1997 he was made Honored Artist of the Russian Federation and in 2010 awarded the title People’s Artist of Russia. All this, without question, represents recognition of his high professional mastery and significance as a contemporary artist, one who’s been able to express the most important features of our times in his work.