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Robert Falk: Gentle tides of color

Landscape with a bridge, 1912
Landscape with a bridge, 1912

Avant-garde as discourse of novelty emerged mostly from various manifestos and theoretical principles. In this respect, it’s structurally classic and there is an obvious dissonance between what it claims to be and the linear pattern for its manifestation. And, more importantly, both classicism and avant-garde pursue the same goal, which is turning their aesthetic standards into mainstream. They both marginalize anything that does fit the hierarchy of genres and juggle their sequence at the whims of fashion. Kazimir Malevich’s iconic ”Black Square” was justified by suprematism and therefore its birth is conventional, although shocking in terms of its occult and bold content.

However, avant-garde was not always about asserting novelty as an end to itself but finding one’s own voice within the undercurrents – silently, without conceptualizing its inner complex dynamic.

Robert Falk (1886-1958), avant-garde painter of exceptional talent and legacy, emerged right from the timeless flow of color. He never wrote manifestos. Nor was he obsessed, like his fellow futurist poets and artists with a desire to flush all phantoms of the past from a "ship of modernity".

Born in 1886 in Moscow, Robert Falk took lessons of painting in private studios of Dudin and Yuon . He continued his studies at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture under supervision of Konstantin Korovin and Valentin Serov.

Falk was one of the founders of a famous art group, Jack of Diamonds (1904), surfing between predominant modernism and avant-garde trends. As an emerging artist, he participated in various exhibitions of "World of Art" (Mir Iskusstva) and "Jack of Diamonds" (Bubnoviy Valet). In 1911, he visits Italy. After October Revolution, he teaches at VKHUTEMAS (State art school and Workshops) and founds a union of "Moscow Painters" with former participants of "Jack of Diamond". Falk lives in France between 1928-1938 where his works are featured at the "Salon d'Autumne, Salon des Tuileries and several private galleries. In 1938, Robert Falk returns to Moscow and is granted a solo exhibition in 1939. He also worked as a stage decorator of major Jewish theaters of Russia. Stigmatized by official art critics as “formalist”, he is denied exhibitions and exposure, but the artist never played by any rules, creating his own unorthodox art of unmatched painterly magic and lyricism. Legendary Moscow evenings at Falk’s became a beacon of light for numerous Soviet nonconformist artists of an upcoming “underground” era.

Falk's early works, like “Old Ruza”, Landscape with a bridge”, various portraits and still lives reflect visual tunes of neo-primitivism, cubo-futurism and post-impressionism. Abraham Efron called him “man of Cezanne nationality”, for it was Paul Cezanne who influenced him the most. For Cezanne, as well as for Robert Falk, form and color were inextricable. “When color is at its richest, form is at its fullest”, wrote Cezanne. Like Cezanne, Falk preferred uninterrupted brushstrokes that allowed him to permeate his paintings with ethereal and unbroken music of colors. Working mostly with oil, watercolor and mixed media, Falk created smooth and fluid textures, reminding water slightly rippled by a gentle breeze.

With years, his vibrant saturated colors become subdued and muted. He opts for grayish and silver tones that veil the surface like a lucid gauze, floating in the calm air in autumn. One can feel that behind that flimsy intricate cobweb, there is a whole universe of bright resonant colors. At the same time, it’s no need to manifest them all together, for each composition has its own tonality that determines their timely ascension.

Called by the art critics as the most discreet of all avant-garde artists, Robert Falk created a visual discourse that cannot be labeled. Integral and ultimate in form, each paintings is the gateway to beyond the form universe can never be static or final. These muted tones only enhance this hidden interplay of shade and light that fall beyond the perceived structure. In his piece, Paris, La Seine, soft pastel values suggest that deep down there is much more to express but at that particular moment, Paris appears mysterious, shrouded in its dreamlike contemplative mood music.

In Falk’s art, everything is fluid and shifting, letting us here the pulse of undercurrents, palpitating like little vibrant springs beneath the seemingly serene pictorial plane.

To some extent, his stance reminds that of Anton Chekhov who created the deepest drama of intonations without inserting any heartbreaking and tragic scenes. While lot of avant-garde artists become trapped in their own manifestos, having to abide by their own models and philosophy, Robert Falk remained free and independent. In fact, he never really fully immersed in the long tunnel of the Russian avant-garde with all its theorizing twists and turns. He rather drifted by as its spontaneous and beautiful alternative.

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