In Petrovsky-Shtern works one needs neither translation nor commentary. Instead, one needs simple knowledge of the fate of one’s land, of the parables of the Old Testament (for example, about Adam and Eve), and elementary visual gift of logical fascination. Yurii Knorozov from Kharkiv Province, the only one who deciphered the Maya texts, called by “fascination” the action of a signal “that completely or partially erases the received wisdom.” Petrovsky-Shtern should be considered a significant fascinator.
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.
The paintings of Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern represent a compositional and coloristic chess-game. Why? He builds his works on a clash between two basic colors: bright red, white, and black. ...Erotic theme in Petrovsky-Shtern's works brings together tragicomic irony and nuanced satire. He does not ornate is works with unnecessary details but rather choses minimalism as the most precise way of expression. Due to this minimalism he creates amazingly distinct images and narratives. His works reflect an unembellished routine. The author gets to the edge of his expressionist manner. His "Red Sofa" series do not have separate titles yet every painting is self-contained. Petrovsky-Shtern is a master of viewpoints and 2D reconceptualization of the 3D empiric reality.
The art works by Professor Petrovsky-Shtern immediately capture the viewer with their vivid red and black contrasts. Then, upon closer examination you begin to notice that each art work has several layers of meaning and significance. First, each tells a story which elucidates some aspect of Ukrainian and Jewish history. Going even deeper, however, we see that each art work is a bold philosophical statement on overall human nature, and hence, Petrovsky-Shtern's art is truly universal and in no way should be pigeonholed as a purely Jewish or Ukrainian cultural phenomenon. People everywhere will identify and enjoy his extraordinary artworks, which leave a strong impression thanks to both visual aesthetics and intellectual integrity.
In his bright, bold paintings Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern enters a sophisticated dialogue with a wide range of traditions-from folk and neo-Primitivist art to avant-garde experiments with reducing the color palette and emphasizing pure geometrics. In his works, which often engage with historical and mythological motifs, he daringly transposes these classic plots into a highly contemporary mode of generating intimate emotional engagement with the viewer. Petrovsky-Shtern's paintings speak of ancient archetypes and universally relatable passions, and do so in a way that is fresh, engaging, and ultimately unforgettable.
Writers, singers and poets are often painters. Scholars rarely venture into that territory. How does a nice Jewish Ukrainian boy from Kyiv wind up teaching, writing and painting in Chicago?
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 creates a distinct analogue of the Kama-Sutra. However, he resorts to the genre of painting, contrary to the ancient Indians with their stone-carved sculptures and contrary to the Stone-cutter Ivan Franko. [...] We should add that this exhibit depicts not only our love, our lovability, our loveliness, our lovesickness multiplied by our beloved lovemaking, but cunnilingus as well. Petrovsky-Shtern is not afraid of future critiques. On the contrary, he draws enemy fire upon himself in a most courageous and decisive manner.
Color reduction to closed black-white-red areas in the graphic-looking art of Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern unavoidably evokes two entertwined elements of historical experience. One is the leftist vocabulary of the Soviet poster oft he 1920s used for propaganda campaigns; and another one, the American Pop Art of the 1960s, when the consumer graphical artworks of Campbell's "Tomato soup" and "The Brillo Box" imitated and transferred the art world. Petrovsky-Shtern's peronal itinerary took him from Kyiv to Moscow to Jerusalem to Chicago and back to his homeland. But his real homeland is his playful irony generated from East European Judaism. It adds a crucial dimension to the hard- edge style: he has his singular tune, nourished by the Biblical stories and going back to the pogroms and tragedies of the 20th century Exodus and Holodomor. He fuses the contemporary and the historical which produces images such as the adoration of Virgin Mary and her child by three iconic figures with Jewish roots, Marx, Einstein, and Freud, three men of genius. Counter-intuitively, Petrovsky-Shtern places his diferent realms together permeating them with the caricature-esque lightness. He manages to bring the "Shoah" and "Jewish Luck" close together resorting tot he same visual language. Is his art a form of processing the collective Jewish trauma?