Troubled Art – Chaim Soutine

He was that kind of a difficult snotty kid, who appeared from nowhere as if fully formed, then, like a meteor glowing with dark, perpetual fire he flashed through life fulfilled with struggles, suffering, torment and passions. He left one of the most compelling collections of paintings in the Modern Art; despite of the quite ferocious competition from Matisse, Picasso, Modigliani and many others…

Chaim Soutine was a painter of his own obsessions. Only. Buying his place in the art world at a high price of the family rejection, exile, extreme poverty, illness and the life-long emotional disturbance he remained an outsider in Paris of Modernists; moody, clumsy Jewish oddball from funny-sounding village (Smilovitchy) in Belarus.

He painted like a man possessed, staining canvasses with his own guts and each time risking that he won’t survive his own probe. He handled paint like one handles a chunk of meat – he penetrated it deeply as if with a knife in order to spread it thickly across the canvas in violent patterns. An ultimate, genius painting animal – no real training, no theory or concepts behind, no alternations or preparations – only the creative act, urgent, necessary, exhausting and virtuoso at the same time.

He was often called ‘the painter of death’ due to his eccentric fancies for smelly carcasses and hanged turkeys; yet – I cannot agree with that. For Soutine’s perpetual greed and hunger for life is much more stronger than his apparent melancholic flirting with the extinction forces… His forests and fields, dead birds and fish seemed to be endowed with life simply because they  breathe with Soutine’s own fever, intensity, complexity and beauty of the character. His admired master – Rembrandt has taught him that – that reality is there to be respected; the materiality, sensuality of things is at the foundation of a spiritual strength. That’s why Soutine was probably the only major painter in Fauvists and Cubists’ Paris having painting only from life and with no interest at all in participating in the revolution going on in art at that moment.

I have a strange fondness for that dirty Jewish kid, I envy his purest, unadulterated ‘gut feeling’ of paint and creative experience; and when I was looking for his grave at Montparnasse Cemetery (it took me a bit – the grave itself is a very simple, horizontal tombstone in a small, Jewish part of the place) I had in mind the words of a distinguished Polish art historian (Waldemar Lysiak) – that Chaim Soutine was forever a banished child – the one thrown out of a nest, who has never fully managed to exorcise his childhood and to grant the world his absolution… And he painted, again an again, the most poignant images of little children (just like the one featured above) – alone on a road, with ominous, stormy world towering over them… Little exiles, at home in no place; so sad yet so truthful – and with no sentiment or self-pity at all…



About kasia

Born in Poland. Lives in Ireland, Cork. Visual artist. View all posts by kasia

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