Compositions by merited worker in the arts of the Kazakh SSR Pavel Zaltsman occupy a special place in the graphic art and watercolour (painting of Kazakhstan. They are marked by his constant and deep interest to man’s spiritual world and by the peculiarity of his artistic style. At different exhibitions the artist’s works were distinguished for the representation of a concrete, unique personality, assertion of the significance of its emotional experiences. By his creative aspirations to portray many-sided characters, by the completeness of the form P. Zaltsman exerts considerable influence on the moulding of young painters of the Republic.
P. Zaltsman was born in 1912 in Kishinev. The artist’s father, a regular army officer, was a gifted painter. He had inculcated in his son love for painting. After the family moved to Leningrad the Soviet art of 20’s attracts the young artist by their innovatory constructory solutions, new representational means. But in the first place he was drawn works which revealed the inner world of his contemporary, his psychology.
Going on with his education, Zaltsman worked as an illustrator in Leningrad magazines “Rezets”, “Perelom”, “Stroika”, “Yuny Proletaryi”. He also began his activity of an art director under A. Arapov (school-mate of N. Sapunov). Then he worked as an art director together with some prominent producers as Vasiliyev brothers, I. Trauberg, A. Ivanov etc. at the Lenfilm studios.
P. Zaltsman’s future creative work was determined by his acquaintance with Pavel Filonov. His canvases “The Feast of Kings”, “Man and Woman”, “Cow Tenders”, “Flight to Egypt”, the wide-scale thematic and formal range of paintings amazed the young artist. “A Peasant Family” convincingly demonstrated the absolute completeness of the form, which can be attained only by very few masters. In 1930 Zaltsman joined the group of analytical art masters (Filonov school). He was most closely connected with two of its members – M. Tsibasov and I. Glebova. In 1933 this group illustrated the first edition of “Kalevala” – an eloquent model of the book designing art and one of the rare known examples of joint work by painters of Filonov’s school.
Years of studies under P. N. Filonov exerted a e great influence on P. Zaltsman. Filonov had considered educational activity part of his programme, but especially great was the impact of this great master’s creative work, which in fact has not yet been thoroughly investigated. The colour form of the late 19th and the early 20th centuries asserted clear colour in painting, at the same time e it led to decorative and planar solutions which made deep form modelling difficult and schematized the character of man. But Filonov, applying clear colour and making it most active, apportioned the form, to the minutest components and thus roughly modelled each of them. Such research and analytical method of work enabled the artist to portray profound, convincing characters expressing the complexity of the world perception and world outlook of the 20th century man. The power of impact of Filonov’s pictures is great for the psychological profundity in the characterization of the personages, their enhanced spiritual life and the strain of the author’s sensations and thoughts, which can be felt in every touch of the brush, in every side of the polished form.
Great attractiveness of Filonov’s canvases for Zaltsman was supported by possibilities of the Filonov method as a means to attain the already instinctively set object – to work on the character of man. In his creative work Zaltsman developed one side of widely philosophical works of the master – portrayal of a subtly and intricately modelled face, expressing a great range of psychological collisions.
Later on Zaltsman wrote: “Apprenticeship with Filonov confirmed my conviction in the integrity and a particular function of the Russian School of painting; the main subject of which was the character of a living man, the character emotionally deepened, psychologically accentuated.”
From the analytical principles of Filonov’s’ system Zaltsman selects the most important ones for himself, as, for example, “madeness” of the form and such a specific moment as “conjugativeness” on the edge of colour and tonal planes. That kind of selection creates certain limitations, those “constraining circumstances” which activate the artist’s imagination making him find ever more subtle and deep moments. From here comes the “purity of style” so much valued by the masters of the past.
P. Zaltsman regrets that he cannot always orthodox follow the method of P. Filonov, as he too early breaks away from modelling of faces. This happens when personages of his pictures “revive”, begin “to exist” independently.
As early as the ’30s Zaltsman developed in his works the principles of composition construction. Presence of several horizontal lines helps the picture to turn on the sheet plane. For the artist there are no unimportant details, no inert background, every face, object or element of the surroundings is significant. Thanks to that pictures are emotionally strained, there are no passive states in them. As a rule the artist depicts not one scene, seen at a certain moment, but several situations, connected in his mind and made up in the plane according to the principle of simultaneousness. Each of his works is a product of contemplations, long observations. It is kind of a multitude of moments joined together. This principle may as well be taken as a representation of the crowd, but the relationship between the personages in this case is dictated not by a specific situation, but by the inner state. The general frontal of construction creates a special mise en scene, the centre of which is as though taken out of the sheet plane and is between it and the spectator.
The characters often directly address each other, but there is an exchange of emotional energy between them. Each portrayed individual has a personal experience of psychological pressure of the others and himself influences those around him. Their close contact is as well felt in the mutual penetration, a reciprocal change of the form. The neighbouring figures may have a common boundary and each of them is an element of the general pattern, one plastic system. The special importance of intercommunication and mutual conditionality of the structural elements of composition when the bordering forms determine each other is called for brevity “the system of contacts”. The significance of such a compositional structure is connected with the work without a preliminary sketch, when the character appears gradually and its components take their places as a result of collations arising as the artist works. Having only one general theme or one psychological state in mind, the artist finds specific characteristics and outlines for it only in the material of art.
It should be said that Zaltsman begins the work “from the point”, he cannot be called a purely impulsive artist, and his creative activity is more likely to be of intellectual nature. A rich erudition, an art education, an interest to exact sciences makes his characters profound and associatively meaningful. Pavel Zaltsman is a phenomenon in art and a rare, peculiar personality. Versatile are his interests and spheres of activity. One of them is art criticism, long years of teaching at the Kazakh State University, the Kazakh Teacher Training College, the Alma-Ata Arts School and other educational establishments. Another one is almost uninterrupted work at the Lenfilm and Kazakhfilm studios. All these spheres of activity reveal one man, different aspects of his many-sided nature.
Work in the cinema has played not an unimportant role for Zaltsman – the artist. The cinema has given him a great material of human characters and landscape impressions. From the age of 18, P. Zaltsman has been going on film expeditions to the Polar area, Karelia, the Baikal area, Pamir, Tadzhikistan, Uzbekistan, Kirghizia. His eye records the diversity of faces, characters, shades of states and expressions. One can clearly see in all his creative activity that he is carried away by the original psychology, culture and art of the East. His early works already are indicative of the artist’s formed interest.
Surviving the blockade of Leningrad, where Zaltsman carried on camouflage work, he was evacuated to Alma-Ata together with the Lenfilm studios and remained here after the war. On the Kazakh soil originally interpreted elements of Kazakh national culture were added to Zaltsman’s art. Some of his graphic and water colour series dealing with the past and present of the Kazakh people “wonderfully coupled both the trends of the folk art of Kazakhstan and the hardly perceptible reminiscences of the early Renaissance in the faces of those portrayed”.
A special place among Kazakh works is occupied by works about the literary career of Olzhas Suleimenov. The poetry of this prominent Soviet poet is in accord with the thinking and notions of the artist by its multiplicity, national concreteness, wideness of human subjects. Zaltsman creates not direct illustrations, but easel works “replicas” to O. Suleimenov’s poems, peculiar fantasies on the subjects of the history of Kazakhstan. These are imaginary portraits of ancestors, these are pictures of battles, sufferings, captivity, frenzied struggle and boundless desperation. This is the history of “flashes in the night steppe, where ‘towns sprang up as a challenge to the flat land and perished singly’. This its the embodied element of that early life which raised new and new generations, bore Avicennas, was engraved for ever in temples and sculptures – beautiful creations of the people’s creative genius”.
As a rule in the graphic art works of Zaltsman, we can neither find direct illustrations nor distinctly trace the plot. Replicas to Suleimenov’s poems are related with his poetry of simultaneous structure, i. e. a combination within one canvas of situations of different time and space united by the author’s general frame of mind and idea.
Among the pictures of this series especially intricate and expressive is the “Biblical Town” (1965). An accretion of different national types in it – an Arab, a Turk, a Byzantine, a young crusader – create a polyphonic and integrated image of the time.
Another his work – “Night-Parisian” (1974) – associates with Suleimenov’s poetry a serene, pure image of a woman as if breaking away from the diversity of characters and destinies.
This is the only time when the author used a specific literary source. Zaltsman made the majority of graphic art works in 1951, 1956, 1960 and conventionally united them in the “romantic series”. The character of man who retained his humanism and energy despite the hard trials determines the emotional content of this work.
In the works “Walking through the Night” (1951) and “He’ll See Life Again” (1945), small groups of people, carried away by the general movement, are slightly shifted into the depth of the space full of anxious expectation. This mood also prompts the landscape with an uneasy rhythm of steep slopes of high hills enveloped in the summer lightning. The movements of the personages are abrupt; they are walking through space and time overcoming scepticism, danger, sufferings and fear. The plastic structure of the picture itself plays an important role in revealing the psychological nature of his works. A contrast of shady planes and clear white surfaces, outlined with a strained contour, produces a specific light playing the role of a strong emotional accent. The techniques applied by the author are extremely diverse – from dots, scrupulously developing the form, to a sharp, vigorous stroke.
The principle of application of a white spot as an active form, that eventually asserted itself firmly in Zaltsman’s graphic art works, arose by chance form somewhat grotesquely used newspaper headlines, which gradually turned into triangular and square spots contrasting with the modelled face.
The conflict of the light and the dark, idea of heroic spirit and victory of the human will are the main content of the picture “Rembrandt” (1963), which is associated with the character of the great painter who in old age and in poverty remained true to himself and his creative activity. His self-portraits of the time when he was lonely and unrecognized breathed self-irony testifying to the great human power and unconqueredness of the spirit.
In the “Night Street” (1951) one can see in a group of people the face which the author associates with the character of A. Green, whose whole life of creation bears eloquent witness to the victory of the spirit over the hostile reality.
Perceived most cheerfully and brightly in this series is “Dickens” (1961) where the signs of time and the plot of the novels of Charles Dickens cannot be found. These are a friendly grotesque man’s figure and idealized, inwardly pure and serene images of women portrayed now with mellow humour, now with irony, now with restrained delight. A strong blow of light makes the whole composition look theatrical which may be akin to the happy ends of Dickens’ novels.
The series somewhat conventionally called “Townships” deals at first sight with quite a different material. It reflects the childhood impressions, brief, but vivid acquaintance with the life of small towns and townships in the Western Ukraine and Moldavia. Different versions of this series are usually centred by three figures. They are closely surrounded by objects and things which are as active and significant as the personages themselves. Manifesting itself here is the bent for a peculiar interpretation of landscape where unexpectedly revive generalized, almost cubic forms producing a sensation of romantic mysteriousness. Small shops in dilapidated houses, gates of inns leading into a dense shade, leafless trees, tragically reaching out their bare branches to the dark autumnal sky. This landscape is not simply a background for the figures. The idea of the background as a secondary element does not exist in the creative work of Zaltsman, a master of analytical art of Filonov’s school. The “active background” vividly portrays dreariness, a small exclusive circle of life interests and an oppressing atmosphere, out of which one cannot move. Against this background the artist portrays people, who on the first face of it seem to be trapped and hopelessly restricted by their little dreary world, but who have huge potency of protest. Though it manifests itself in irony and scepsis, but even in this form it has something in common with the heroic spirit of the “romantic series”.
The series “Night Strolls”, “Evening Strolls” and “Bazaars” are perceived as the most grotesque and tragic ones. Many of them are regarded by the artist himself as characteristics of conflicts typical of bourgeois reality. In “Evening Strolls” one feels gentle lyrical intonations. The main place in the series is occupied by idealized and ennobled characters of women. Compositionally all the pictures are of frieze shape, the personages are frontally turned facing the spectator. Constructed in this way are “A Comedy” (1962) and “At the Footlights” (1967). One gathers an impression that they are actors who appear before the audience for the last time, or they may be the audience who matched a scene that excited and illuminated their faces differently like the lights of passed train in the “Parisian” by Chaplin. It is quite natural that Zaltsman as a portrait painter was also concerned in his graphic art works with that field of man’s spiritual life which maybe called negative. In “Night Strolls” there are personages in whose faces we can clearly see the features of estrangement, malice, hypocrisy, ploy and cruelty. To characterize this gloomy and troubled world the artist resorts to a more evident and sharp change of the form which turns faces into expressively fantastic masks of a tragic performance. These shady characters are peculiar reminders of the sombre aspects of capitalist reality.
The series “Bazaars” may be regarded as a comic, ironical interpretation of the “Walks”. It is more theatricalised, the figures, though realistically interpreted, resemble by their inward content personages of a puppet theatre. One picture of this series is very close m its spirit to “Master and Margarita” by M. Bulgakov, though it had been made before the artist read the novel. Another one, “Bazaar” (1973), is a display of absurdity: a painter selling an empty canvas, a nude selling an empty cage. Comic scenes with metaphors revealing the essence of things and unexpected as the bazaar itself.
More significant and wide in the thematic scope are two series about the Great Patriotic War and the Resistance movement. The graphic works generally entitled “Not to Forget” expose the basic stages of the origin and collapse of fascism. Every work reveals itself either in psychological aspect or in a spacious expressive allegory.
The series opens actively, with the picture “Burning Books” which is dynamic, full of strong delineations.
A crowd is watching books burn in the fire. The content is perceived as an expression of man’s extreme cruelty. The doubled up figures, the deliberately roughened drawing of the hands, the dull impenetrable narrowness in the faces express the feeling of bitterness, lack of control over reason. In the sense of rhythm one can read the contend of the characters – now it is a realized evil sliding in the gestures of predatory short-fingered hands, now a ghastly joy, on the verge of pathology.
Another work, “Burning Towns” (1967), is a semantic and historical consequence of fascism: ideology destroying the best manifestations of human intellect inevitably destroys man himself. Two works of this series – “Burning Towns” and “There, Where They Passed” (1967) – were made upon life impressions. Those were fires and ruins which everyday of the blockade brought to Leningrad.
The scenery of the ruined city seems to cast gleams of the tongues of flames on the other pictures. And yet it is not a concrete fire in one town. It seems the entire land is burning. The bounds of the scenery fade away in smoke. It seems to be infinite in space and time. Everything is perceived like in a slowed-up action, stiffened and considerable, as the artist keeps in the depth of his memory the several storeys building that crashed, the round stove that was left undamaged in the basement, and the iron bed.
In the third picture – “The New Order” (1964) – the artist gives up the character of man as there was no measure of distorting it to convey the idea of the “new Order”. Apocalyptic terrible animals like the sluggish bull shaking its head in exhaustion, the vixen baring its teeth, the beast of prey getting ready for a leap against the background of bare walls and iron-barred windows. An open allegory of characters is emphasized by a conventional drawing.
Perceived as especially meaningful is the work “Keep Silent” (1961). There are only two people on the whole plane of the picture, the bent arm, the bared, shining shoulder of a woman and the background looking like a deep landslide or open wounds. The face of a man covering the woman’s mouth with hand, maximum of the awful that one fancies in slumber. This is a mixture of fear and cruelty, of suffering and threat. He is to be silent himself and is making others to keep silent.
Metaphoric is the last work of the series, “Their Cravings and their End” (1964). The physical state of one and the same fantastic beast depicted by the artist is associated with the beginning and the end of fascist aggression. This work vividly reveals the polarity of the dark forces of destruction and the eternal beauty of humaneness.
A peculiar method of work can be seen in the design of the series “Don’t Forget”. The pictures were made in 1961-1968. The artist did not think at the time that he would exhibit them under one name. They appeared spontaneously, but as independent works. The general theme was outlined gradually. Feeling the inward connection of seven works, the artist joined them in one narration.
The series “A Difficult Road” deals with the French anti-fascist movement and is a logical continuation of the suite “Don’t Forget”. The first landscape picture “Fortress By the Bay” (1973) gives the major emotional mood of the entire series, creating the feeling of anxiety, cold tension and, at the same time, of firm stability and strength. The fortress that took centuries to make, with its heavy arcades, squares, walls, bridges is filled with echoing hollowness.
The next pictures “Maquis” (1974), “Expectation” (1975) portray those whom the fortress in its uneasy silence is expecting, its owners, full of determination to fight for their human dignity. Their silence is perceived as a tangible wall of rebuff. Around them are empty houses gaping with black holes of their windows. “Deserted Town” (1970) seems to be going to overturn on the spectator. Straight behind the nearest houses the sky and the earth are joined by rain floods. Bare, burnt trees look against the black sky like flashes of lightning. Somewhere behind the walls of these ruins are people, hidden for struggle. The affected posture of the “Victor” has something of a torero. Yes, the artist is far from an unequivocal apotheosized interpretation of victory. The man’s face, who crossed his, arms on his chest, speaks of his strength and the heavy experiences he was doomed to go through. There is nothing that shuts off the spectator from the victor. The technique of this picture is of interest too. The “Units of Action” – the artist’s touches to paper – turn into sharp Strokes. Whole planes were removed with a razor blade, only the traces of the first coat were left. The picture was made in a comparatively short period of time and is indicative of the great energy of the process of materialization of the character.
The last picture “The Road” (1966) does not put a full stop, does not sum up the results. Life goes on in new people, new generations. This is the future opening before the liberated people.
Landscape occupies a significant place in the graphic art of Zaltsman. It is always used to express the general mood, the attitude of the artist to the situation, which becomes an object of his contemplations. As a rule, this is an urban and often fantastic landscape. Evidently, impressions of his childhood, the deserted mansions of the coastal part of Odessa of the Civil War time, the romantic corners of townships played an important role in the making of these urban landscapes, full of mysteries. In his landscape interpretation one can see a bent, typical of the artist, for modelling a generalized monumentalized form with sharp facets and planes, with nearly a cubistic contrast of white and black which gives the form a maximum of energy.
The theme of architectural landscape is a dominating one in the artist’s creative activity since his early youth. Even in the drawings made at the age of 13-14 there appear these romantic interiors and rural corners, where Leningrad inns, canals, gateways played a considerable role too. Subsequently the landscape gets abstracted, acquires more constructive forms. It may have been this world of architectural characters that made Zaltsman work in the cinema where they could be embodied in one or another decorative construction on different historical and ethnographic materials.
As long ago as the pre-war years there appeared in the landscape Zaltsman’s graphic works the motifs which can be analogous to science-fiction ones. More closely connected with the science-fiction genre is the graphic series “Experiments”. In it we feel at one time the aspiration for the mysterious, the unknown and unexpected ironic interpretations. Much was evoked by his great curiosity to the amazing discoveries of the 20th century physics. The pictures “Experiments” seem at first sight childish interpretations of the incredible mechanical inventions. Strange-looking flying machines are in the air above the corners of the city which seems to be reaching for them with its houses, trees, sticking up stakes of fanciful designs. The world of these diverse urban landscapes may carry away the spectator as it enthralled the artist in his search for the way to the border of the unknown.
Zaltsman’s creative activity manifests itself in both the graphic art and painting which reveal different aspects of his artistic individuality. Graphic works of Zaltsman are metaphoric and allegoric. Painting creates more concrete characters, outwardly less expressive, but more many-sided and capacious, always life asserting and humanistic.
If Zaltsman’s graphic compositions are practically never based on real life, are an embodiment of the author’s imagination, then in painting the artist is more directly concerned with real life, observes it closely striving for a multiple description and profound revelation of the character. In the past few years he paints in water-colour applying in his technique his customary small “units of action”, putting consecutively coats composed of clear colour dabs. As a rule he removes, “scratches out” the lower coat obtaining peculiar texture. In his technique P. Zaltsman proceeds from P. Filonov’s principles and the matter here consists not so much in the perfect modelling of the form with small strokes as in the application of a new principle which was formulated as far back as 1909 – 1910. Filonov used to determine the sphere of action of old painting by two “predicates” (characteristics) – the form and the colour. The procedural aspect of phenomena had been excluded from the sphere of painting, i.e. any object, plant, man had been seen and depicted in its outer forms only. A wish to discover the process of life and the process of phenomena cognition had promoted the specific dot technique where the form could grow gradually, revealing its inwardly inherent organic principles of motion, which often brought Filonov’s painting to abstraction. At the same time that undoubtedly was a reflection of those changes in man’s notions of the outside world which have been fully expressed in the conceptions of modern physics.
P. Zaltsman, concentrated on the character of man, does not set himself such sweeping and complex tasks as Filonov who looked in painting for expressive means which could convey in the picture the process of growth, development, and simultaneously the process of a fundamental, intuitive and at the same time intellectual world perception. The system applied by Zaltsman to create the outward appearance of man results in the building up of a changing in time, versatile, and often contradictory character, gives it kind of life pulsation. Intricate and varied dynamic structures brought about by the interdependence of this psychological polyphony.
The sombre self-absorption of the character in the “Portrait of L. Glebova” (1939) is in sharp contrast with the utmost carnival costume. The general mood of the portrait is close to the romantic series of graphic pictures, especially to the picture “Walking through the Night”.
In the portrait “Leningrad – 1940” (1940), made on a rather small canvas, there are 13 figures. These are pictures of young people, the majority of whom did not survive the blockade and the war. Yet, this, multitude of human figures, as if squeezed into the canvas frame by force, emphatically facing the spectator, the many-eyed anxiety of these faces make the picture vivid and active.
Paintings in watercolours more than oil develop more distinctive compositional principles where one can see the artist’s aspiration for greater integrity of the picture, for greater expressiveness of its individual components. In most cases his watercolours have a vertical composition with high horizons. For Zaltsman a secondary, unimportant background does not exist. So landscape and object elements in his watercolours are not relegated to the depth, they are contiguous of the personages’ faces forming one structure of the picture.
The method of work not on the sketch or plot defined in advance, but designing on the sheet of one form after another requires a special consolidating base for which the “system of contacts” is used. This is an organic construction which makes plastic connection compositional equipollence of every sector. Clear colours in this collation of elements play an essential part. This justifies the technique of nearly divisionist small dabs, with the effective colour being gradually stratified and complicated.
The first watercolour “Five Heads” had been started in 1929. Then under the supervision of Filonov the artist decided on the colouring in a restrained, subtly nuanced blue and brown gamut. Already here the peculiarity of Zaltsman’s characters took shape. He conveyed in this watercolour the correlation of different emotional characterizations, dominating among them it the character of a strong personality overcoming all obstacles to attain the goal. This central personality becomes very important as in the others it is contrasted by moments of tragic experiences and uncertainty.
The early watercolours have a more distinct modelling of faces and are performed outwardly in different techniques including dots, wides, strokes, spots. Later on the manner of writing becomes stricter, the entire pictorial surface is perceived as more accomplished and in a bigger plane. The empty space is filled with tinted air. Colliding and vibrating, the small parti-coloured components of the coloured shroud seem to be making the personages united by the feeling of spiritual affinity.
For a few decades Zaltsman has been constantly making use of the subject revealing different aspects of this or that psychological state. This explains his arranging of series made in different years. The theme begun in the “Five Heads” discloses a new side in some watercolours of 1956 – 1968. It is less conventional and finds a concrete embodiment in life. In the works of this series “An Old Port” (1968) and “Odessa. Moldavanka” (1967), the artist portrays vivid, colourful characters. In the ponderous appearances of stevedores and the mocking boys he palpably conveys the atmosphere of this old southern city.
The “Vixens” (1978) and the “Parrots” (1968) are attractive for their female characters. Owing to their magnetic force the models themselves can become traps, dangerous magnets (“Vixens”). The name “Parrots” appeared in association, because of the combination in the work of bright dominating colours – dark blue, red, yellow, green. Representational forms in this work are more faceted, the colour spots are nearly topical. The characterizations are as much “open”: a vigorous hero and gentle fragile women at if irradiating light from their transparent skins.
In watercolours as in graphic works Zaltsman rather often turns to big compositions of many figures. The artist regards them as a kind of a crowd scene, on the proscenium demonstrating a clash of the life game personages with the audience. This can be seen in the pictures “Actors on the Square” (1969-1972), “Autumn” (1968-1973), “Curtain” (1974-1978) where strong male characters are contrasted with refined and exalted faces of women. In the “Actors on the Square” young people, carefree and smiling, portrayed in the light gamut, gaze on the spectator. Nearby the artist painted an almost brown, dark face of a mature man with small piercing eyes. “Stones on the Square” is another name of this work. The background square with old greenish cut blocks of stones is a new version of the author’s realization of his constant idea about the road, the path in life, sometimes very difficult. The “Curtain” is a milder and restrained confrontation of the characters with the spectator. Next to the man’s figure conveying the same idea of consistency of the aim is a half packed figure of a young girl which creates the atmosphere of eternally living youth. Close to the ideas about a vivid theatre scene, full of unexpected collisions, are also a few compositions which can be joined into one series “Masks”. Here the painter heightens to a greater degree the method of involving spectators into the process of comprehension of the work which forms the basis of the composition.
A very remarkable work of this series dates back to 1967 – blue-black-and-brown, more graphic, with squares of blank paper left. This element brings strong expressiveness into the representational texture of the work stressing the facetedness of the contiguous planes. The grotesque content is revealed in an extremely expressive form. Masks and busts here are quite openly laid on the pictorial mobile background. Separatedness, isolation of the masks, though they are in one plane, makes an impression of a tragicomic act.
The “Masks” of 1976 are colourful with the general colouring restrained. The name of the series gives the artist a great freedom of plastic searches, when he can abruptly break off the form, make an unusual cut. The faces of quite different colours: blue, pink, brown do not painted. The whole landscape with the little houses so much loved by the artist produce the sensation of a blue stream with the masks flowing. Here again we see the figure of a boy with his fisted hand up, giving vent with this motion to his young seething energy, mischief, mockery.
“Counter” (1978) is, the name given to the picture only because mask. Is here are arranged in two rows as on a counter. The representational planes are collated in a different colour gamut. This collation is received as an application or collage. Intercommunication and mutual penetration of the elements are especially strikingly expressed due to the picture flatness. Here after we shall say how much this general trend of Zaltsman’s painting and graphic art is supported by his penetration into the representational system of the traditional folk art of the Kazakhs. Many ideas and subjects in the watercolours of Zaltsman are directly concerned with Kazakhstan. As long ago as the 1930s there appear in his works characters which speak of the artist’s attraction by the Orient. The “Commander” (1932-1934) expresses great inner human dignity. The tightly clenched fist, the concentrated glance, singleness in the expression of the resolute face characterizes a man of action, a soldier. At the same time he is a thinker with his striking intellectual life. The face is modelled volumetrically and vigorously. Correlation between the human figure and the space is full of grandeur, evokes in our memory portraits of the Renaissance. The spatial landscape with quite perceptible massifs of mountains and foothills, with depressions and dells, fading away in the blue distance, speaks of the multitude of the artist’s creative potentialities. Close in spirit to the “Commander” are “A Steppe Song”(1934) and “Sentinel” (1932 – 1971). The first picture depicts a nostalgic striving for the Motherland – longing for the native Kazakh, steppes. The face of the central personage peering into the steppe expanse is the face of the recaller. Associated with him is the image of the woman in the depth. One gathers an impression that she sank into a deep sleep in which arises before her the face of the man thinking about her.
The “Sentinel” is the personification of steadfastness and execution of the profoundly realized duty. In the same ’30s as he worked on these pictures (“Sentinel” was made in watercolour only after the war) Zaltsman made the first outline of the theme of the “Soldiers”, which was incarnated in different versions in six pictures during the years 1965 to 1980. They are named “On the Square” (1965), “They Are Waiting” (1964), “Soldiers” (1965). Though somewhat alike in composition, each variant has something of its own. Eager and persistent expectation of the new, belief that it would come was the age-old expectation and belief of the Kazakh people itself. Outwardly made in retrospect, this series of works is turned to modernity, to the present. This as much applies to the picture “An Old Aul” (1967) where the central figure of a venerable old man is surrounded by young people.
Two main streams characterize the Kazakh theme in Zaltsman’s creative activity: on the one hand portrayal of folk traditions, history, on the other hand – modern Kazakhstan in the characters of its young people.
The series referring to the poetry of Olzhas Suleimenov includes graphic and water-colour pictures. One of them, “Asian Fires”, records precisely the poet’s thoughts in visible characters. The poem “Asian Fires” (1960 – 1966) speaks of those best commoners – prophets, preachers, “shamans” – who create spiritual values and give them to people, and sometimes are burnt on a fire instead of being recognized. The poem is extremely tense and tragic. Zaltsman’s work is its periphrasis. A crowd of personages is kind of looking at the prophet – “shaman”. But they are not an obtuse embittered mob. These are people who realize the tragedy of what is going on or guess about it. The same theme but with a greater elevation sounds in another water-colour which is concerned with the poem “Presentiment of the Mountains”. The artist called the work “Bright Ideas”. The people depicted in it are an embodiment of firm belief into the truth; they are filled with aspiration for the good and beauty. The personages in this picture are close in their spirit to the series of portraits of Kazakh young people, in which the artist invariably gives intellectually profound and morally pure characterizations.
The compositions “Dress-makers” (1975-1976), “Students” (1968), “Librarians” (1977), “Women-Swimmers” (1978-1980), “A Guitar Player”(1980), “The Actress” (1977), “A Building Team” (1981) present a whole portrait gallery of our contemporaries where the artist without abandoning his formal techniques creates strictly realistic though, possibly, somewhat idealized characters.
His deep and protracted penetration into the style of life and culture of the Kazakh people resulted not only in the portrayal of characters around him. The cultural heritage of the Kazakhs which he imbibed has exerted a certain influence on Zaltsman. We cannot speak in this paper about the great significance of the traditional art, including the art of the Kazakhs, for modern painting. But speaking about Zaltsman’s works, we can trace his point of contact with the traditional art.
The Kazakh ornamental art has its own principles. They are distinct planless, colour localness and strong relationship, interpenetration of the contiguous elements of the composition. We believe the above tendency of Zaltsman’s works towards this kind of principles was developed and consolidated by his study of the folk art of the Kazakhs.
This peculiarity manifested itself in a number of monumental-and-decorative works. Apart from the unrealized sketches of decorative panels for the Lenin Palace in Alma-Ata he used to make for several years and materialize monumental compositions for quite a few interiors of the Kazakhfilm studios. They all develop motifs of the Kazakh folk ornament, dynamize them, digressing from strict symmetry and imparting strong polyphonic to them. This kin of interpretation proceeds from the conditions set by modern architecture which require of decor a complication of the rhythm and precise architectonics which brings out the correlation between vertical and horizontal lines. A big panel in the “Kazakhfilm” tone-studio made in the technique of smalt mosaic presents a strictly architectural abstraction where we can trace the ideas of the Soviet vanguard of the 1920s-1930s.
The panel clearly shows the mutual penetration of local colour planes, interpreted motifs of the Kazakh ornament. The topic of the panel in the rehearsal hall of the “Kazakhfilm” production building is rock painting of Saryarka and Mangyshlak, and the compositional system too shows that structural principles of the Kazakh folk art were applied.
His work in the cinema helped Zaltsman study intently the art and culture of the Kazakhs. He has been working there almost uninterruptedly since the 1930s. The first stage of this work, tied up with “Lenfilm”, already brought him into contact with varied ethnographic materials. Films “The Moon Stone” and “The March” were built on the Tajik material, “The Annenkov Rule” and “At the Frontier” – on the material of the Far East and China, “For The Soviet Motherland” – on the Karelian one.
The second, celebrated stage, took place at the “Kazakhlfilm” studios, where a lot of productions required a reconstruction of the mode of life and the historic past of the Kazakhs. In such films as “The Girl-Dzhiguit” (produced by A. Bogolyubov), “A Love Poem”, “The Daugters of the Steppes”, “The Song Calls” (produced by Sh. Aimanov in cooperation with whom Zaltsman as art director produced many films), “Botagoz” (produced by E. Aron), he reconstructed interiors, properties, costumes which the people have preserved for centuries. Zaltsman made a great amount of sketches for those films where his diverse inventiveness was constantly bound with the rich decorative colourfulness pertaining to the Kazakh decoration and ornament.
Of interest is the fact that in some of his film and theatre productions the artist used his easel works. This is an extremely rare phenomenon in both the cinema and the theatre. A very successful experiment in this respect is the film “According to the Law of Thought Preservation” (produced by A. Mashanov). This is a poem about the past which revives in architectural monuments and the decorative art of the land of Kazakhstan where faces and figures of the artist’s easel’ works revive too. The announcer’s texts of Suleimenov’s poems is read by the poet himself. As a result one sees on the screen a whole poetical development of the people’s history, its tragedies, and bright hopes.
Another experiment of the graphic art application in a scene action was the production of “The Downtrodden Apostle” (by A. Makayonok), where the background projection gave nearly on the whole of the stage changing compositions of the most grotesque pictures of “Night Walks” and “Masks” giving the action a relevant emotional colouring.
Humanistic civic ideas with man as their exponent have always been of major importance in the Soviet art. It is just on the psychological dramatic art, the interior of man that artist Zaltsman’s attention has been concentrated during the whole of his creative activity. It is to the problem off revealing man’s individual inimitability that Zaltsman subordinates the peculiarity of his compositional, colouristic and technical methods. Originality and inimitable peculiarity of the author’s manner result from the artist’s inward anatomy of thoughts and their formal realization.
Published in: Pavel Zaltsman. Album. Oner, Alma-Ata, 1983, 131-139.