Oskar Rabine, Russian (1928 - )

Oskar Rabine

(b Moscow, 2 Jan 1928). Russian painter. He trained at the Riga Academy of Arts (1944–7), then returned to Moscow. He was particularly influenced by Ye. Kropivnitsky (1884–1979), a Romantic Expressionist who revived the tradition of avant-garde art that had been driven underground in the 1930s.

In the 1950s Rabin became a member of the Lianozovo Circle (named after a district on the outskirts of Moscow), a focus for ‘unofficial art’, which cultivated the freedom of Surrealist or lyrical Expressionist self-expression. The group included Kropivnitsky, his son Lev Kropivnitsky (b 1922-4) and his daughter Valentina Kropivnitskaya (b 1924), who became Rabin’s wife.

Rabin gained recognition as a leader of the unofficial art of the 1960s and 1970s and as an energetic organizer of alternative exhibitions, including the ‘bulldozer exhibition’ of 1974, which was broken up by the authorities. Characteristic of Rabin’s work are gloomy landscapes showing city outskirts and backyards, as well as still-lifes full of a mournful sarcasm, for example Three Skulls (1973; Jersey City, NJ, CASE Mus. Rus. Contemp. A.), in which the skulls lie on a sheet of newspaper bearing the headline ‘Peaceful coexistence is a form of class war’. Blacks and browns dominate his sombre palette; the lyrical expression of the colours blends with an acute feeling for expressive Surrealist detail that lays bare the fateful absurdity of everyday existence. In 1978 he emigrated to France, settling in Paris. While becoming enriched with new motifs, his painting outside Russia retained its former stylistic features, as in Parisian Motif (1981; Paris, priv. col.).

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