Composition: Burial and Resurrection (1987, Oil on canvas)
Painter Eduard Arkadevich Steinberg, considered by many to be the standard bearer of Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist legacy, died from cancer last week in Paris.
Steinberg was a prominent figure in the so-called second wave of the Russian Avant-Garde arts movement of the 1960s that included, among others, painters Erik Bulatov, Viktor Pivovrov, and Ilya Kabakov. Although the establishment of Socialist Realism in 1934 marked a clear end to the first wave of the Avant-Garde, the movement did not end there. After Stalin's death in 1953, and at the beginning of the Thaw, the second wave of the avant-garde--or Non-Conformists--began to emerge. Born between 1932 and 1938, these artists began their careers in the late 1950s. By the late 60's and early 70's, their paintings evolved as a conscious rejection of the official subjects of Socialist Realism--and, as a result, didn’t see much daylight until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Composition (1999, Oil on canvas)
Steinberg, never received any formal artistic training, rather he learned the basics from his father, the poet and artist Arkady Steinberg. After serving time in a work camp, the elder Steinberg, who favored romantic landscape painting in the spirit of Claude Lorrain and Max Voloshin, settled in Tarus, about 100 miles outside of Moscow (former prisoners were not allowed to live in big cities). Along with a group of other survivors from Stalin’s camps that included the artist Boris Sveshnikov and the writer Konstantin Paustovsky, he transformed the small town on the Oka River into a vibrant cultural center. The Steinberg house became an informal gathering place for artistic visitors, including poet Nikolai Zabolotsky, Nadezhda Mandelshtam (Osip Mandelshtam’s wife), A. Tsvetayeva-Efron (the daughter of poet Marina Tsvetayeva) and some of the most important writers of the 1960s: Yuri Kazakov, Vladimir Maksimov, and Bulat Okudzhava.
Although the younger Steinberg moved to Moscow at the beginning of the 1960s, the ideas he conceived in Tarus--the mingling of the concrete and the eternal, of nature on Earth and space--continued to spur his creativity. By 1970, his geometric compositions were verging on the mysticism of Russian Symbolism and the figurative manner of Kazimir Malevich.
Composition (1980, Oil on canvas)
Steinberg’s compositions of geometrical forms owe much to Malevich, who conceived of art as a spiritual activity whose purpose was to free man from the the tether of natural forms and give him a new vision of the world. As a late post-Suprematist, Steinberg viewed the artist as an intermediary between this world and the spiritual world, and geometry as the expression of cosmic harmony. According to Steinberg, himself, “I did not discover anything new, I only gave the Russian avant-garde another perspective. What perspective? Rather religious. My spatial geometric structures are based on the ancient catacomb wall painting and, of course, the icon painting".
In the early 1990’s Steinberg, who died on March 28 at 75, moved abroad, first to Munich, and then Paris. Today, like the works of several of his fellow Non-Conformist contemporaries, Steinberg’s paintings are exhibited in the State Tretyakov Gallery, the Russian Museum, New York's Guggenheim Museum, and in major galleries around the world.