My Russian Great, Great Grandfather in LA

Views of the USSR, 1992-1994. Oil, graphite and collage on canvas, 60 x 78 inches.


My Great Great Grandfather, 1993. Oil on canvas, 10 x 8 inches

Views of the USSR was photographed in December, 2015, in Maine. I began it in Altadena, California during the winter of 1992/3, partially from life and partially from a vintage family photograph, then I collaged in an old book cover. I began the piece as an experiment. Those tall palms were visible from the back porch of the 1916 bungalow on East Palm Street, just off Fair Oaks Avenue, where me and my husband at the time found our first LA rental. Making watercolor studies of the palm trees, I realized the flowing white beard of my great, great grandfather belonged with those palm fronds with their long flowing beards. Around this time I visited MOCA to view the exhibition “Hand Painted Pop: American Art in Transition, 1955-62” and it shook my world! That show had an enormous influence on my production. Larry Rivers’ Europe I  – which was on view in that show – was likely in my subconscious as I worked.

In the top left corner is a fragment of the Americana motif of the classic red and white checkered picnic blanket/tablecloth. During the late 1980s, married to an oyster farmer and living on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands in the upper left corner of the state of WA, I made stenciled and painted placemats and other handmade items like bags from cut up paintings which were sold in the shop of the artist’s cooperative where I was a member from 1987 until 1991 (Orcas Island Artworks).

Utilizing the symbolic use of white as a metaphor for erasing the past, (as mentioned, I am especially fond of  Larry Rivers work, his erasing of charcoal with imagery from the holocaust especially), I lovingly painted over the closely drawn graphite likeness of my great, great grandfather who had raised my grandmother when her own mother abandoned her to come to America. (NOTE: The use of white has been an ever-present tool for me for years, originally rooted in my love of Kandinsky’s paintings and writings, his use of and mention of white in On the Spiritual in Art.) The photograph of my great, great grandfather had been an iconic symbol of my family’s Rumanian-Russian Jewish ancestry ever since I was old enough to see the vintage photograph of this man prominently displayed in my Grandma Poyourow’s kitchen in the apartment on Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx where my father and his younger brothers grew up. (My father was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina but was brought to NYC when he was about 3 years old.) The man in the photo had such kind eyes, which were illuminated by the highlights in that glowing jewel of a photo; the shadows revealing (barely discernible) worn out shoes. This figure became god-like to everyone in the family, and the smell of my grandmother’s soup mixed with the rich sepia tones in that photograph created an indelible sense memory inside my soul.

Since the piece was done as an experiment, much of what I had been doing came together on this one surface. For money, I was painting patterns and florals (gouache decorative paintings) for the home fashions industry (bed linens specifically), my first job out of Cal Arts before I began teaching, and I was eager to get back to the kind of figurative family history-based works I began in my graduate studies. Concurrently, I had started my obsessive collecting of old books, but also some not so old books. I found wonderful images of Jane Fonda in her Workout book, and other books with images of women with weights or doing core dance exercises, (I used these same books to create routines when I taught dance and water aerobics in the 80s).  The book jacket from a picture book of images of the USSR provided the type/text that I was attracted to in so much pop art.  At the time, I felt this experimental piece was beginning to address how my identity could come together over time and spanning different media via collage. Throughout the past 30-plus years, I’ve been working with images of women in many contexts. Here, the female presence is minor and subtle, underlying the massive palm trees, presence of Russia, and the most important Jewish male from my own family history, who himself is barely visible.

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