Eric Boulatov. On the Paintings of Naftali Rakuzin

At huge modern art bazaars like the FIAC, or the recent "Découvertes" exhibition, the artists seem to be trying to shout each other down, putting all their strength into drawing the spectator's attention by whatever means. And, as a rule, this does take all their strength, and if the spectator responds to someone's shout, it turns out that the artist in fact has nothing more to say. He can only keep repeating: "Look at me!"

Naftali Rakuzin is one of those few artists who are indifferent to attracting attention.

He is too immersed in his work to be concerned with self-advertisement.

And his is serious work: he builds cities. He builds them on the surface of paintings, and the buildings in these cities are — books.

What, you may think, is so interesting in that? Just books on shelves. These works probably ought to be called still lifes.

Besides, the artist in no way tries to lend these books any special expressiveness, to deform them somehow, to give them added significance, or menu mentality. No. He treats books with trust and respect. He tries to reproduce them as carefully as possible, without changing anything significantly.

Somehow of themselves they begin turning into buildings. And, true enough, one suddenly realizes that a book is a house in which words live.

Their covers tell us what sort of houses they are and who lives in them.

We see that the books that make up these cities are books on art.

Naturally, this awakens a desire to look inside the house, to see its interior.

The interior of the house is an open book. The book is opened to a reproduction, say, of a Cezanne landscape. Now, this is a bit too much! Why can't he at least copy a real Cezanne? But to copy a reproduction of someone else's painting…

So Cezanne painted a landscape, then the reproduction was made, then the reproduction was printed in a book, and now on top of that...

A certain sequence emerges, a series of repetitions. And the artist keeps multiplying the repetitions, lengthening the series. First he makes a careful drawing of the reproduction; then, from this drawing, he makes a painting.

The result is unexpected. A series of repetitions, like a suite of rooms, at the far end of which we see, not the Cezanne landscape, but the real landscape Cezanne painted! Cezanne's painted landscape becomes one of the stages, one of the steps of estrangement, nothing more. What I mean to say is that when an artist paints directly from nature, what we see as a rule is the picture itself, an interpretation of reality. It is precisely the interpretation that becomes the object of our consideration, replacing objective reality, as it were.

But here, in Rakuzin's painting, the reverse process takes place.

We are knowingly dealing with an endless series of repetitions, estrangements, but it is precisely the length of this series that evens out the differences between its components.

An artist painted, a printer printed — these are steps in a single process, a process of estrangement. However, that from which it is estranged is not included in the series.

It is like a window at the end of a suite of rooms through which we see sky, tree-tops, house roofs. Out there it is no longer an interior space.

The effect is stunning. Examining the carefully reproduced reproduction of a reproduction, we find ourselves in the end face to face with reality itself, which we could not have arrived at by any possible means.

It is as if we had arranged beforehand to be in the house of art, inside, within its space.

And suddenly a window is thrown open, and there is real sky, roofs, the space we live in.

I have no doubt that if this were the reproduction of a picture from the fifteenth or sixteenth century, we would really find ourselves in that time and space. Examining Rakuzin's paintings, one catches oneself wondering: what next?

Indeed, his work is essentially work on one enormous book, the subject of which, developing unhurriedly at first, gradually becomes more and more engrossing.

We await the sequel.


E. Boulatov.