Russian artist Esphyr Slobodinka is very difficult to categorize ”Albuquerque Journal
The work of Esphyr Slobodkina was exhibited in the first museum of modern art in the United States alongside pieces by Pablo Picasso, Juan Miró, Fernand Léger and Piet Mondrian.
She was the only woman and the only American to be part of the collector AE Gallatin’s Museum of Living Art located at New York University, precursor of the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
LewAllen Galleries in Santa Fe are showing his work in “The Many Worlds of Esphyr Slobodkina” through May 15th.
The title is appropriate. The artist of Russian origin was not easy to categorize or identify. Slobodkina has changed her style as often as she has changed medium. Viewers can spot echoes of Picasso, Swiss expressionist / surrealist Paul Klee, cubism and even representationalism in his work. Her choice of mediums included oil, watercolor, found objects, collage, wood and fabric.
During the Russian Revolution of 1917, Slobodkina emigrated with her family to Harbin, Manchuria (China), where she studied art and architecture. She left for the United States in 1928, enrolling at the National Academy of Design in New York.
At the start of the 20th century, as various Modernist threads progressed in Europe, sentiment in America (and particularly among art critics) viewed Modernism with derision, instead favoring contemporary American trends in regionalist or social art. realistic. Ignoring this atmosphere, in 1936 Slobodkina co-founded the American Abstract Artists, a group who met and exhibited together in non-commercial galleries and museums in New York City.
Slobodkina’s mother worked as a seamstress, a profession that would surface in her daughter’s work.
“She designs her own clothes, she made her own clothes, she designed her own fabric,” said Santa Fe art historian Justin Ferate.
“For Slobodkina, ideas were always fresh. It also makes it very difficult to categorize. She was constantly pacing back and forth in her toy box.
“Most artists get to a point where they have a style,” Ferate continued. “With Slobodkina, there is nothing to repeat because she is still dabbling.” The artist worked in a fabric factory in New Jersey, the birthplace of the design industry.
“She also uses the fabric as part of her artwork,” Ferate said.
“Spanned” from the 1960s reveals both its architectural and fibrous influences.
“She tied the fabric to the canvas,” Ferate said. “There is also paint and applied. The idea of travel is often present in his work.
In “Cornelia Street Bedroom” from 1933, Slobodkina finds the essence of an object – a chair, a table, a lamp – through luminous spheres of color and shape.
“None of this is meant to be literal,” Ferate said. “It’s supposed to look at the world in a different way.”
In the late 1930s, Slobodkina began to write and illustrate her own children’s books. Of his 24 published works, “Caps for Sale” (1940) is considered a children’s classic; it has sold over two million copies and has been translated into over a dozen languages.
Slobodkina’s “Self-Portrait”, a 1928 watercolor, shows the influence of German Expressionism when that country was about to be invaded by Hitler. The painted spots that make up the outline of her face look like charcoal.
“There is a wonderful looseness in this room,” Ferate said. “She actually captures her personality better than a photograph; she looks at you frankly.
His ‘Fairy Tale Without Words’, 1960, is a multimedia piece featuring costume jewelry and abalone on fabric.
The lines could be rivers or roads dotted with groups of animals. In Jewish culture, this could be the path to the Garden of Eden, Ferate said. The play also reflects long-standing Russian and Jewish traditions of storytelling.
“They are meant to be the magic of a fairy tale,” he added.
Having had works exhibited internationally in institutions such as the Galeria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome, among others, and with works now in the permanent collections of major museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Walker Art Museum and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Slobodkina is recognized today as a revolutionary innovator in American abstract art, resolutely committed to her own personal vision.
“What made her important was that she had a distinctive vision,” Ferate said.