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On artistic practice: Chaim Soutine by Varia Serova
Soutine’s creativity was captured precisely by the art critics, who emphasized the connection between the artist's unique destiny and his distorted painting style, declaring him one of "the saints from painting" (In the words of the critic Valdemar Georges, repeated in 1929 by Eli For in his monograph Soutine, Paris, G.Cres et Cie, 1929).
Soutine’s creative ‘ordeal’, his artistic language have impacted the new generations of artists in both Britain and America, including the maîtres Pollock and Rothko, Kossoff and Aeurbach, Freud and de Kooning – ‘in [Soutine’s] work, perhaps, lies the abundance of painting’, ‘a kind of transformation, some kind of pastosity of the flesh’ (Ecris et propos de W.De Kooning, op.cit., p.261). Despite his resistance to keep pace with the times, he has offered a whole new platform for creative dialogue through art that withholds the highest concentration of spiritual tension, religious emotion, the sense of mystery in the world: ‘Soutine's exhibition is incredibly exciting, especially the fowls. It is an absolute untruth that this is a desperate art. It is filled with exaltation - down to delirium, and is no more desperate than the monsters of Picasso. On the opposite: it's a mystical trance, a jubilation. This is a sun art.’ (Dubuffet-Paulhan. Correspondances 1944-1968. Sous la dir. De Julien Dieudonne et Marianne Jacobi, Paris, 2003, pp. 165-166).
Although Soutine has addressed the genre of still life from the earlier period of his artistic career, it is only after the 1920s when he, having accumulated creative energy, confidence and freedom to truly manifest his unique artistic style through those ‘still life-reflections’, ‘still life-metaphors’, quīnta essentia of ‘natures mortes’, defined so only in 1756 with the emergence of Chardin’s still lifes.
Chardin was one of the first who brought the emotional weight into oil painting, pulling it out of its strict classical discourse. Soutine’s use of color as the defining element of the form, intense and sensual, takes the tension further, where existence finds its flesh, where time dies, and newly born and overheard words, colors, intonations echo in the forgotten songs of the past. Soutine’s paintings exceed the boundaries of the genre, and the dead animals that he maniacally painted in his studio transform into mythical creatures, calling to the ancient themes of the ritual and sacrifice.
There is a distinct musicality to the Soutine’s work. In 1910, Stravinsky’s Firebird premiered in the Paris Opera, followed by The Rite of Spring in 1913 (Theatre des Champs-Elysees), exploring themes of sacrifice, ancestry, folklore, myths and rituals. One could argue that Soutine’s fowls – fluid and colorful ‘firebirds’ in their ‘sacrificial dance’ - follow a very similar primordial rhythmic drive that could be found in the novel music pieces of Stravinsky.
Soutine’s music is piercing, primal, almost cry-like: ‘Once I saw a butcher cut the throat of a goose...I wanted to cry out, but his look of joy caught the cry in my throat. I always feel it there. It was this cry I was trying to free. I never could.’ Baudelaire's disgust and insane love of life filled his soul, defenseless against his own talent.
Inevitably, the river bed of Soutine’s creativity sometimes overflowed, and then he sang in a fiery delirium, which seemed like a tragedy, but could as well be a sorrow of the deepest happiness. Through this, with maximum clarity, the type of creator described by Arthur Rimbaud in the Letters of the Visionary was realized: ‘The poet…is truly the thief of fire.
He is responsible for humanity, for animals even; he will have to make sure his visions can be smelled, fondled, listened to; if what he brings back from beyond has form, he gives it form; if it has none, he gives it none. A language must be found…of the soul, for the soul and will include everything: perfumes, sounds colors, thought grappling with thought’ (A. Rimbaud, Poetry , 1982). Soutine's ‘insanity’ was widely perceived as a sign of authenticity, recalling the image of the true poet, the ‘possessed’, the Plato’s ‘divine broadcaster’, ‘who can only create when inspired and ecstatic’ (Plato, Ion / (K. Jung Synchronicity, I., 1997, p.110).
Without a doubt, the artist is dependent on creativity. In the ordinary, professional phase, he is rather intelligent and realizes what he is doing - the phase referred to by Tchaikovsky's as chronic. In acute, affective - irresponsible in the sense that he cannot control himself, to act in one way or another - he is under the rule of the power that dooms him to incarnate. It is formal or formless, a fantasy or a miracle, leaked into consciousness, natural or otherworldly. To the Creator - Visionary, everything that he has done seems obvious and unconditional, to the point of physical extinction, when the man is dying - and the master within continues to live.
While the aspects of Soutine's ‘illness’ can be further discussed, the words of Michel Foucault seem just as relevant: ‘Where there is creativity, there is no place for insanity’. Conclusively, the frenzied expressiveness of Soutine's works, his immaculate technique of using color raises his work from the depiction of nature to the secret, religious grounds - and to the ritual of creation itself, cradling his creativity far beyond the opposition of figurative and abstract art, in the land of everything, where one walks in solitude.