Nina Lapina
Member of the Fine Arts Collectors Club
Member of the International Art Fund

Vice-President of the Russian Academy of Fine Arts, People’s Artist of Russia, Honored Arts Worker and laureate of numerous international
art prizes Evgeny Zevin was born on 23 February 1947.

His father, Moisei Grigorievich Zevin, was a native Muscovite. Having spent the whole war starting from 1941 on the front lines as a military doctor, he was sent at war’s end to serve in Odessa. There he met the beauty Mariam, fell in love and married. The Zevin family has a curious history: The artist’s grandfather lived in Belorussia, near Vitebsk. His uncle, Yakov Zevin, was one of the celebrated 26 Baku commissars executed during the revolution; he’d studied at the party school organized by Lenin in Longjumeau, near Paris. Another uncle, Lev Zevin, studied with Kazimir Malevich and Robert Falk and was one of the founders of the Group of 13. Yet another, Shlomo Zevin, was a famous rabbi in Jerusalem who emigrated to Israel in 1934; one of his great achievements was the compilation of a Talmudic encyclopedia. After graduation from middle school in Moscow, Evgeny Zevin begins to display a talent for drawing and enters the Moscow Architectural Technical School, where he receives his first drawing and painting lessons. The school is located in the Izmailovo District, next to the park, where as fate would have it he’ll later participate in a non-conformist exhibition. For the time being, however, he paints studies there and admires nature.

Unfortunately, architecture doesn’t inspire Evgeny, and he passes his exams in his major subjects without enthusiasm, spending his free time passionately engaging in painting. Disposed towards self-education from an early age and dissatisfied with the fine arts program at school, he single-mindedly visits museums, takes lessons at the art school on Kropotkinskaya Street, attends lectures at the Pushkin Museum and reads voraciously. As a result, he advances greatly beyond his classmates in his artistic development. At the beginning, attracted by the Impressionists, he paints etudes in the manner of Claude Monet, then moves on to the Post-Impressionists and Pointillist landscapes in the style of Paul Signac. Like a sponge, he soaks up the rare illustrations and
editions brought in illegally from the West that come his way.

In 1964 he enters the Architectural Institute on the insistence of his parents, who consider the profession of artist to hold few prospects in life. There he continues painting actively, attends art circles and visits the studios of the respected artists he knows.

Though this intensive self-education comes, lamentably, at the cost of his architectural studies, this doesn’t prevent him from defending his diploma work under the tutelage of one of the world’s greatest Constructivist architects, Konstantin Melnikov. Contact with this surprisingly talented person, deeply out of favor at the time, probably had a great influence on Zevin’s later work. As a result, Zevin emerges from his “universities of life” as a practically finished, broadly educated and mature artist, passionately immersed in his work and the world around him.

Having loved freedom from his childhood years, he blazes his path without regard for authorities. He continues his study of various artistic trends, including the early 20th-century Russian avant-garde, also under official disfavor at the time, and indulges his passion for music by attending concerts at the Moscow Conservatory. Music will play a defining role in his work and is present in all of Zevin’s paintings to this day.

Appearing as a result of the artist’s travels through his country (he isn’t allowed to travel abroad) are Rostov Bell-Tower (1969), Street in Pereslavl-Zalessky (1975), Landscape in Zagorsk (1972) and other works. Here Zevin’s painting system, though overlaid on the realities of Socialist Realism, gives rise to something fundamentally new, different from all other Soviet painting of the time.

In his earliest works, the artist continues his quest for precision and constructivism of design. Added to this is a conscious search for rhythm and passionate work on detailing and deepening of color.

His most mature work of this period, the 1977 painting In Memory of Dmitry Shostakovich, is exhibited to great public success at the artist’s 1977 solo exhibition at the Moscow House of Composers; in it the artist seems to refract Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony through his soul using pictorial means. I’d like to note the unusual speed with which Zevin attained success, which would accompany him in all his pursuits. And also to mention his faultless taste, which, as he himself states, “is given to a person at birth and cannot be acquired”.

In the early 1970s Evgeny Zevin meets the artist Oskar Rabin and his wife Valentina Krapivnitskaya and son Alexander, along with Oleg Tselkov, Evgeny Rukhin, Yuri Zharkikh, Nadezhda Elskaya and many other non-conformists. He considers Oskar Rabin one of Russia’s best artists of the 1960s and 1970s and always mentions how glad he was that his paintings were often on display at Rabin’s apartment on Bolshaya Cherkizovskaya Street, an apartment-turned-exhibition space that was open to all comers.

Together with Rabin, Rabin’s son and Nadezhda Elskaya, Zevin made trips to the village of Priluki, near Vesyegonsk, which the non-conformists had selected as the site of an art center; this plan had to be abandoned, however, after practically the entire village burned down.

In 1974 Evgeny Zevin participated in the Izmailovo exhibition, practically the first showing where non-conformists were able to publicly display their works. It was a lovely sunny day, and several thousand people came to the showing, which was allowed for only four hours; the event was probably the first manifestation of protest against the Soviet regime inside the country. As a result, a denunciatory article appeared in the October 23rd edition of Vechernyaya Moskva entitled “How the Mirage
Was Dispelled” [Kak rasseyalsya mirazh], which mentioned Rabin, Krapivnitskaya, Elskaya and Zevin. It discussed the works, ranging from ultra-fashionable modernist compositions to variations on eternal themes, and derided “Zevin’s mad Christ dancing to a gramophone”. The article summed up by diagnosing the artists with spiritual crisis and accused them of ill-intent dictated by their hostile attitude towards reality and Russian national culture. Zevin showed five works at the exhibition: Self-Portrait (1970), in which he depicts himself as a prisoner in a shell, unable to escape; Ascent (1972); Communal Apartment (1973); Eternal Peace (1970); and Stop, Moment (1973). Following the event, artists who didn’t adhere to the principles of Socialist Realism began experiencing persecutions, and despite continuing apartment exhibitions, including the one at Joseph Kiblitsky’s on Bryanskaya Street, where Zevin presented his 1969 painting Gramophone, and the exhibition at the VDNKh beekeeping pavilion, many artists were unfortunately forced to leave the country.

One can imagine how difficult the ensuing years were for the artist, who rejected the idea of emigration, unable to imagine creating outside of the land of his birth and the surrounding world that he’d absorbed and transmitted through his canvases.

Yet in 1974 a showing of non-conformist artworks was organized on the initiative of the Moscow Artists Union, and Zevin and several others were accepted into the Union’s youth section. In 1979 he was accepted into the USSR Artists Union itself. Nearly all the Union’s artist members had to fulfill social commissions, but Zevin, to his credit, never took a single painting commission on principle and still hasn’t to this day. He earns money doing decorative art, while continuing to work daily on his paintings.

In the 1980s Zevin remained true to his non-conformist world view, and his works began reflecting even more markedly the fundamental processes taking place in our country. Among them were the paintings Stagnation (1972); Scarecrows, a 1986 triptych depicting scarecrows in a field dressed as Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev; Freedom (1985); Thank You for the Air (1988); USSR: The Grave of Communism (1985) and many others. Later this type of art would come to be known as Soc Art.

We feel how the artist wished to pour all his temperament and coloristic abilities onto the canvas to serve the cause of Freedom in art and life. Each of these paintings is dominated by a single color, and each correspondingly sets out to solve a particular visual task in its imagery. The best of them display great variety in their ideas and treatment of color, along with confident draftsmanship and a heightened role of the imagination.

Evgeny Zevin has a keen sense of both compositional logic and decorativeness; ordinary, everyday objects, and the juxtaposition of their volume, color, inner motion and repose, are always subordinated to a strictly regulated and deeply felt rhythm. At the beginning of perestroika the artist began receiving invitations from the world’s leading auction houses. I won’t name all the numerous exhibitions throughout the world where Evgeny Zevin’s work was and continues to be exhibited. I’ll just name the countries: Belgium, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, France, the US, Japan and many others.

Zevin is always in the process of quest, especially in the area of color, where he’s one of our most subtle and cultivated artists. Today we can hardly speak of him as a representative of the radical left. Zevin’s still lifes are filled with profound content, action, intrigue, mystery and a sense of time and place that connects their painterly texture and meaning with the spirit of the modern world. Paintings are two-dimensional, and the artist’s task is to transfer this two-dimensionality to the three-dimensional realm of the external world. Zevin wishes his paintings to be read like books, as can be seen in the still lifes Broken Dishes (1994), Still Life with a Guitar (1995), Still Life with Fruits (2011), Flying Lemon (2005), Samovar and Cards (1994) and many others.

The artist’s deliberate inclusion of various objects in his still lifes is done not merely for the sake of heightened decorativeness or new color combinations: wholeness remains his works’ overriding quality. Zevin usually begins his paintings with a charcoal drawing, a very painstaking process in which each line is brought to perfection using the laws of force lines developed by 1920s avant-garde artists. In each drawing and composition everything must be as it is and nothing may be changed. Depicted objects are always subordinated to a strictly regulated inner rhythm. Zevin’s works are close in structure to musical compositions, which is not surprising, for the artist loves music and enjoys the friendship of Russia’s greatest musicians.

Evgeny Zevin has engaged in public service his whole life. In the years when creative unions were being disbanded, he founded the Russian Academy of Fine Arts together with his friends Nikolai Petrov, Fazil Iskander, Igor Moiseyev, Elina Bystritskaya, Vladimir Vasiliev, Bulat Okudzhava and Pyotr Todorovsky. He’s been its Vice-President for the past 17 years.

Through all the stages of his development as a painter, Evgeny Zevin has never lost track of his own artistic identity. Mastering form by experimenting with its decomposition, he arrived at a simplified but fully material way of structuring his works. Evgeny Zevin’s great contribution to the history of the fine arts is beyond question. His works always remind people of eternal values and affirm the beauty of life and the objective world that surrounds us.