Today’s Old Master

A new book presents masterpieces by the Berlin painter

JVG_OCV2_Pavel_Feinstein_1_TZIThe painter likes to act the devil. On the cover of his new book „Pavel Feinstein“ (just published by Hirmer, Munich) a glowering look captures the beholder, dark brows furrow above large, penetrating eyes. But once you have climbed the more than 100 steps up to his studio in Berlin, you are greeted by – a jester.

Feinstein is born in Moscow in 1960. Soon the family moves to the Soviet Republic of Tajikistan. The gifted boy receives painting lessons; later attends arts college. Feinstein is twenty years old when he moves on. Emigration. Destination: Berlin.

Feinstein studies at the University of Arts. At that time, the artistic ambitions of the „Neue Wilde“ (New Wild Ones) painters are running riot here – “more of a kindergarten than an artistic laboratory”, as an art critic of the time states. Pavel, soon attending masterclasses at the university, has little in common with them. Pavel is a serious young man, and a jester at the same time, with a penchant for ambiguity, for alienated references. He paints in the style of the Old Masters. His craftsmanship is perfect.

JVG_OCV2_Pavel_Feinstein_2_TZIIn his studio, where once George Grosz created his works of art before he was defamed by the Nazis and left Germany, Feinstein works on his large and many-faceted oeuvre. There are paintings telling of the transitoriness of living creatures and objects alike – like the fish, wrapped in cloth – next to it on the table a hammer placed in a delicate China bowl. Still lives abound. The 17th century Dutch Masters would have been astonished to see how their genre has evolved. Apparently conservative in choice of object, Feinstein’s brush bestows a magical touch even upon a bunch of humble vegetables. Time and again, pomegranates and their seeds – symbols of beauty, fertility, diversity. Dates on a plate – a masterpiece of chiaroscuro, the art of light-dark, of stark contrast. The scales of a fish shimmer from the canvas, tempting one to touch them. Next to a knife and a lemon, an egg is placed, complete with identification code. These ironic references, quotes and twists make Feinstein’s still lives unique.

JVG_OCV2_Pavel_Feinstein_4_TZIDesert paintings. One is tempted to interpret them as Biblical landscapes, scenes from the Old Testament. ­Human figures, alone or in groups, often accompanied by goats, their piercing eyes penetrating the dark, are resting in blue-gray landscapes at dusk or in the night. But the human figures are by no means devoutly waiting for a Divine sign from above – they are noisy, swinging sticks and clubs, worshipping the moon or one another. This anarchy seems to pay homage to the great Russian realist Ilya Repin. Feinstein’s figures are on a par with the Zaporozhian Cossacks in their hefty obstinacy and their anarchic vitality.

Monkeys are romping through Feinstein’s paintings. Vanity, lechery and malice have been attributed to this animal making it the mirror image of man himself. Feinstein’s monkeys are painting, aping, trying to capture the skull of a monkey on paper, doing monkey business, courting each other. There is only a thin divide between the tragic and the absurd. Just as in real life.

People in Feinstein’s oeuvre – portraits, masterfully rendering beauty, fear, the furrows of everyday life, melancholia. Children’s eyes looking to the future are full of hope and skeptical at the same time. Self-JVG_OCV2_Pavel_Feinstein_5_TZIportraits whilst painting – or acting the devil. Nudes showing the human body in its dignity.

Religious themes, also Jewish themes, appear time and again in Feinstein’s work. Scenes of sacrifice, rituals and rites – but always just a little refocused, their interpretation highly ambiguous. Thus the two young Chassids, their arms around each others’ shoulders. In their hands they hold lulav and etrog, attributes of Succot, the Feast of the Tabernacles. All this is traditional – but the two young men are barely clad. The subversive, the turn of the screw of tradition, his re-interpretation, the breaking of taboos bestows an intriguing timelessness on Feinstein’s paintings.

Photo Credit: Pavel Feinstein/Photo: G. Lepkowski (5)

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