The imaginative, powerful paintings of Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern evoke a world of the past through saturated color and bold contrasts. The strong graphic style describes folkloric life populated by animals, people, and mythic creatures that dance and pop off the strongly colored surfaces. This reduced palette, simplified forms, and fantastical combinations evoke an intuitive approach that is both joyful and dark. From anthropomorphic bees gathering nectar from a fantastical flower tree to a menacing colossal wolf in a village from yesteryear, these works show a personal vision, colorful and troubling, but vital on every level.

This exhibit is a paradox in paint. How could the Jews-as paper like vulnerable as they appear in these paintings-ever have lasted more than five thousand years? How, indeed. The Soviet-born Petrovsky-Shtern offers up 33 slices of life-specifically of the life of his people, the people whom God chose in the Bible. Reaching back to Eve and forward to modern State of Israel, the Jews in this retrospective, weirdly enduring the millennia, end up playing the role of civilization's amino acids. They are building-block constituents of history's motive mechanisms, "irreducible" like the primary colors Petrovsky-Shtern uses to set his scenes. From the Pharaohs to Torquemada, from Stalin to Ahmadinejad, history has offered again and again to grind this people to an unrecognizable dust. With his "Tales, Myths, and Nightmares," Petrovsky-Shtern-a historian with Soviet and American Ph. Ds-introduces us to some of the individuals who, through the centuries, have declined the offer. This exhibit confronts many visceral themes related to human nature the challenges we face as individuals and society and the way we choose and are forced to respond, the eternal tensions between hope and despair. All of this is set within the framework of Jewish historical experiences and vignettes from daily life, making them trans-historical and very real at the same time.

YPS is truly something "new under the sun." He is an artist-scholar possessed with an intuitive sense of color and composition, coupled with a deeply learned perspective on the past. Blessed with an irreverent outlook and joie de vivre, YPS brings whimsy, flair, and unadulterated color to even the darkest moments. We cheer for his tragi-comic human and animal subjects, grateful for a view into this reference-rich, vaudevillian world.

Very graphic works. . . Who could have thought that such an educated and knowledgeable person as you would express himself in a form that has nothing to do with the piles of books you have read?! [Original in Russian]

[I] enjoyed very much your art work. The images immediately  
catch your eyes in their vibrant, bright colors, curious figures,  
playfulness - and I'd say even cleverly hidden humor. Of course I  
noticed the Jewish aspects in many of them, your background, and here  
and there some rather "academic" aspects (e.g., what is the cuneiform  
text in the Babylonian Tower image...). You obviously take the  
spectator to a sort of an exploration, trying to decipher  
sophisticated or rather mysterious messages - which needs time to  
understand (and I probably got only little of it). Based on first  
impression, I am reminded of Russian graphic "roots" - in particular  
the work of Leon Bakst and also that of the less-known Moscow  
stage-designer Nina Aizenberg (I did once an exhibit of her work with  
my students at HU). Am uncertain if you'd agree with these comparisons  
/ influences - but as said your colors and figures remind me a bit of  
them - though you use much more imagination and the world of (Jewish)  
fantasy.

His works of the last five years can be divided into four series: Icons, Circus, Tales, and Nightmares. A rich mythology and an uncurbed fantasy can be traced throughout them. Besides lubok, Yohanan makes good use of the technique of icon painting, void of spatial perspective and unfolded in two-dimensional realm. The economy of style, paper-cut technique, and the multi-layered semantics in both form and color travel from one series to another. Petrovsky-Shtern adheres to his newly found style yet in his explorations one also perceives his impulse to deny and overcome what he has already found-the impulse betraying Yohanan's tendency toward artistic self-development.

Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern's work appears disarmingly straightforward at first glance. Drawing on Jewish folk and religious scenes as well as seemingly naive traditions of visual art, his works have a reduced formal and conceptual range that connects them to recent so-called outsider art and, of course, famed representations in the past by such artists as Chagall. Yet, while this transparency is important for the communication he wants the art to achieve, the simplicity of the work is also deceptive. His palettes are chosen carefully and most often in this series with a clear reference to Soviet avant-garde art of the post-revolutionary era (red, black, white). So too is his emphasis on pure geometries a formal device that recalls El Lissitzky and other politicized artists as much as it signifies "transparency". These aesthetic choices critique the dominant realist traditions that came to the fore in the Soviet state under Stalin, aligning Petrovsky-Shtern's work with the artist critics of that state. So too, naturally, does his religious and social imagery belie the ideologically driven emphasis of the most privileged Soviet art. As such, Petrovsky-Shtern invokes a formal and conceptual rejection of both the official artistic world from which he came as well as its atheistic (and at times antisemitic) positions. The dynamic of-sometimes, conflict between-his ethnic identity and political critique are localized in both the simplicity and complexity of his artistic choices.

Truly moved, inspired, and captivated. There is much more to say, but my enjoyment at the moment is completely and blissfully non-verbal.

The value of his work is not in his dexterity, professionalism, and style but precisely in his unique, ironic and still quite trustful view of the 20th century. The view in which his sensibility as a historian is combined with his inborn sense of beauty and poetry. In a sense, he starts with stereotypes, or perhaps with clichés which he turns into stereotypes. His work reminds of posters but it does not have pedestrian stylization…. His works reflect a sort of a family memory turning into a historical memory of the people, in which the trauma becomes a horrible tale, into a bitter joke, and a untrivial understanding of what is happening today.

You works are genuine… live, shrewd, and so fresh that leaves a lively impression.

Very bold work

YOHANAN PETROVSKY-SHTERN

All copyright © reserved by YPS 2018

1881 Sheridan Road,

Harris Hall, Room 317

Evanston, Il 60208, U.S.A.

Phone: (847) 467-3399

E-mail: yps@northwestern.edu

Skype: yps44yps44