My father was an artist, a citizen, a teacher, and a leader. It is virtually impossible for me to tell about him in the allotted space.
Some artists paint as an expression of their perception of beauty. Others offer insight into their innermost selves. For my father, art was the expression of a unified vision –– not disparate segments that occupy a common space but an integrated and interwoven tapestry on canvas wherein all segments are part of a whole. The unity is greater than the sum of its parts, yet incomplete if any part is missing. All is essential; nothing is extraneous.
My father’s life as an artist spanned twenty-six years. He was a prodigy at Kiev Art Institute and the Leningrad Academy of Art, respected as one of its most talented graduates. Under the Stalinist regime, my father was offered fame, wealth, position, and endless opportunities to paint, exhibit his work, and to become, perhaps, the greatest artist that the Soviet Union had ever and would ever produce.
For my father, the life he was offered would have resulted in his being a failure. Fame, wealth, and the other trappings that were laid before him meant nothing. For him, honesty and integrity meant more than anything else. He refused to pay the heavy price of creating dictated art. For him, art was an expression of freedom, individuality, and personalized creativity, without which it ceased to be art.
My father was seriously wounded in the defense of Leningrad. Hospitalized, he spent six months in the besieged city and, while not yet fully recovered, he completed his thesis, graduated from the Academy, and transported food and supplies into Leningrad across frozen Ladoga Lake under the fire. Then afflicted with dystrophy, he was evacuated to the Urals, Russia's industrial home front, where he continued to serve his country and the war effort –– through art. Despite his physical weakness, the time he spent in the Urals was far from unproductive. He painted, he taught, he organized exhibitions, and he established a museum and an art school. He created art focused on his vision of the interconnection of workers, industry, and the land. Subsequently, my father was invited to return to the Academy of Art, with all the prominence that such appointment would entail. It was at that point when my father first confronted his defining challenge. Without a moment of hesitation, he refused the grand offer and chose instead poverty, persecution, and deprivation. For him, freedom of thought, art, expression, creativity, and truth were his most cherished possessions.
At the same time, his courage and hope for a better future masked his pain and made it more bearable. All of this was, in fact, the totality and unity of the fabric of my father’s life. This is how he lived. This is what he modeled for others. This is how he taught. This is who he was. And this, combined with the creation of his art, became his legacy.
- Galina Lembersky, Brookline, 2011