BEING THERE, 1995 written by Evelyn Juers (Sydney based literary writer and art critic)
Nomads, tourists, refugees, colonisers, soldiors, explorers, astronomers in outer space, hippies in inner space, vagrants, social climbers, even taxi passengers, all are migrants. The dislocation from one place to another is the single focus of Micha Nussinov's work. Travellers and notions of travel inhabit his mind.
To survive in new environments the itinerant observer must learn to reformulate the link between the world and
the mind, especially when migration involves not one but several stopping places. Russia, Germany, Israel and Australia, cities and country, are the identifiable places on Micha Nussinov's map. They are the homes which he and his family have had to translate, negotiate, and integrate. On the same map, however, there are also places which are less easy to name. For in the accreation of cultures, strange things sometimes happen. Language becomes frustrated, inadequate, mixed-up.
Travellers are often silenced. Their intimate associations with people, places, vegetation, food, smells, sounds ar cut and pasted up in an ever more bizarre and crowded collage of memories and impressions.On Micha Nussinov's map some places must be located by signs which do not refer to political or geographical entities, or to language.
From the identifiable places, Nussinov has made works bursting with a rich display of very specific urban or topographical details: Israeli street scenes with soldiers on patrol and children at play; international airport lounges where Indian women in colourful saris are sleeping; Spanish dancers, circuses, coffee
shops, backyards, family rityals, taxi-life. People's gestures, food,
clothing, expressions and accoutremonts - even with affection, and
sometimes with the bluntly intrusive redness of the voyer. Eyes are
important. Many works capture the moment of staring or being stared
at, or startling or being startled. The eyes catch, or are caught.
Minute detail are thus recorded.
In the translation between cultures, between languages and their idioms, an oddness of expression can develop. It is the result of the same kind of puzzlement that a new comer to the English language might experience if he had to hear and apply the subtleties between the words - leather / lather / ladder / letter / litter / leader... such words might become interestingly compatible or interchangeable. In Nussinov's case there is clearly a deep fascination with his own puzzlement, as juxtapositions give rise in his work in a carnivalesque surrealism, where discriminations of scale are secondary - big stands for little, pumpkins become playgrounds, lips become theatre, and the viewer is taken on a rollercoaster ride from surfaces to interiors, from the naieve to the grotesque. In Nussinov's earlier landscapes the viewer travels from finely drawn pebbles to valleys of mountains. In his taxi-narratives the obsessively detailed fleshiness and gaudy dress-codes of passengers leave a wake of personal tragedies trailing away through the back windows.
There is always a sense in the works of seeing or feeling and taking what is seen or felt as an end - an aesthetic unit - in itself. Thus, from the less identifiable and essentially darker places of the map, Nussinov brings images of metamorphosis and fusion to his work, like statements in themselves.
One of the earliest works traces the kaleidoscope transformation from human hand to snake to bird. It resembles a totemic abstraction. In its simplicity it remains a puzzle, an encapsulated personal mystery, not offering decipherment beyond the common symbols of hand, snake, bird, beak, eye.
More recently, Nussinov has produced a number of 'town hall tower' works. here the building ejaculates into space, propelled by the centrifugal force of birds simply swinging on wires nearby. It is a troublesome, Chagalesque concept - a drastic rearranging of the world of gravity and seriousness and authority. The migrant artist is thus seen to be compelled to create sites of significance and power, challenging the solidity of his environment with images of flight and abstraction, effecting an exchange of values.
Like waking dreamscapes, these less identifiable places are of course also the more secretive and disturbing. Neither quite from the world as we know it, not from the rational mind, these sites draw together - tightly - a close-up of the moment of translation, or exchange, or intuition, of undress, or erotic or coital communication, often signposted by grossly distorted or oddly framed detail. With caricature, cabaret-like gesture, over-bright colours, Nussinov creates a persuasive landscape of the self. It is disturbing because he taps our innermost fears, that innocence - represented by eggs, children, fruit, trees, and water - should be continuously challenged and cross-fertilised by experience. Placing the blissful side by side with the grotesque guarantees response. In this sense, in the abrupt pairing of light and dark as much as the exclusivity of his vision, Nussinov proves to be a very demanding artist.
He has reproduced acts of expression - other than language - as moments where pleasure and pain battle it out, often in thickly applied oils, to sculptural effect. The most obvious sites for expression are those parts of the human body - the orifices and bulges and indentations - where elements enter,
are kept or are expelled. Nussinov's most recent interest has been
to record the traveller's anxieties regarding connectedness in terms
of visual exploration of those entrances, exits and keeping places
- Eyes, mouths, breasts, noses, pores, vaginas.
In the entrance to his studio there stands a giant head. It is not a pretty site. Lit from within, host to streamers of old film, it confronts the visitor with its mocking Bosch-like nudity of expression. Nussinov is not making clear his claim on all surfaces as landscapes for travel. His faces are as rocky or snaky or grassy as his natural scenery of desert or bush. As expansive and all encompassing as his subject matter might become, it is the quality of deep puzzlement that allow this artist to create a world of private mythology.
DARKNESS, LIGHT and THE WANDERER Written by: Kathleen James
The Washhouse Gallery, Rozelle, 29 June 18 July 2004
The major themes of Nussinovs work were well represented in his recent virtuoso exhibition Light of Darkness at the Washhouse Gallery, where the light paintings celebrating life were hung on the left-hand wall of the main room, and the darker more introspective works on the right-hand wall. The works explore the interplay of light and darkness, journeys, the artist as wanderer or outsider, language, memory, and personal and cultural symbolism. Fragments of languages: words, hieroglyphs, sinuous scripts are written on the body of these paintings, like a primal mark-making, as if to question human attempts to label and classify the universe. Underpinning it all is a great love of Nature and the inexhaustible variety of organic life. Nussinovs mainly figurative works range from sombre surrealistic internal landscapes to large, joyous, expressionistic, semi-abstract landscapes, and to more realistic paintings of people and particular remembered places.
On the Mud Flat 1 is a realist work showing a birds eye view of children wading in sandy shallow water, painted in acrylic washes. With its tall scroll-like format it superbly evokes a specific place in Pittwater in Sydney, a vast shimmering waterway with mud flats and rock pools. Nussinov has captured the complete naturalness of children playing, looking for crabs and shells, and the transparent waves rippling with light.
At the same period Nussinov painted Magnolia a sensuous appreciation of Springtime and the miraculous in Nature. The lines of the blossoming tree in full sunshine have an almost musical rhythm. The fine supple brushstrokes capture the light moving in the leaves and blossoms, a meditation on the act of seeing.
In this pantheistic vein he painted the tondo Claiming Rights, which shows a naked man astride a gigantic white bird flying over its nest. There are mythical figures in a celestial space above, and down below the figures of primitive people at one with the earth. Does the bird in this painting represent the possibilities of flight, journeys, the lure of the unknown, versus the pull of ones homeland, the urge to belong, to stay and claim ownership? Nussinov knows the wrench of emigration, the experience of being an outsider in a new culture and language, the excitement of exploration as well as the longing for home. The artist migrated to Australia in 1975 after studying cinematography and lighting at film school in London. He was born and lived in Israel, and his familys roots are also in Germany and the Ukraine.
The earth-bound figures in Claiming Rights embody a particularly masculine energy or life force. Underlining this the artist has written calligraphically the Hebrew letter Zayin, which crudely translated means penis, but also stands for asserting your rights, your identity. Again blue predominates in this work, the most spiritual of colours, suggesting a sense of longing. The artist thins acrylic paint to create his luminous watercolour effects.
In some of his other visionary works there are figures like falling angels, whilst other figures are struggling upwards. Movement 1 is a spontaneous-looking painting in warm tones that conveys the restless energy of life in a state of metamorphosis, in contrast to his more structured figurative works.
Splash is a large mural-like acrylic light painting with a joyous freedom, evoking the teeming life of Nature. Water, sky, reflections, and earth melt together as colours merge gradually from cool to warm. There is a rich range of blended tones here, and sinuous lines suggesting the multiple journeys of living things across the face of the earth. The painter has alternated light and dark touches until the work as a whole achieves a sublime harmony. It resonates like a great chord of orchestral music, homage to the energy and connectedness of all life.
The companion work Splatter is similarly built up from translucent acrylic washes and multiple sketches of organic forms, the layers of paint and pastels used expressionistically to suggest an apocalyptic vision.
Transfiguration is another large, free, semi-abstract landscape, a much darker one, where lively natural forms emerge from a blue/black background in glowing colours. One of the most mystical and enigmatic of his works, it has the atmosphere of a dream. Figures, animals, birds, fish, plants, trees, rocks, buildings, bridges, waterfalls, even a volcano, float in a kind of oceanic fluid, like time itself. Like any dream journey it is full of ambiguities, on one viewing you might read a form as a human figure, but another time you might see it differently, whilst other forms emerge or melt back again into the primordial night. Nussinov reminds us of the diversity of organic life and the swirling currents of water and air around the planet. He is a natural philosopher, and the work has an epic breadth, like Gauguins Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? of 1897. He shows how, like all living things, we are caught up in the life cycle of Nature: birth, growth, maturity, ageing and death. His technique in these darker works is to start with a black background and build up layers of acrylics or pastels in blues and glowing colours, balancing the light sources and highlights, whilst the black underneath unifies it all.
The triptych of smaller works 'Light of Darkness' features surrealistic 'internal' landscapes, where Nussinov has again started with black, working in layers of luminous pastels, achieving rich textural effects by pressing the pastel into the board with his fingers. In 'Light of Darkness 1' a figure floats over a whirling vortex, symbolising perhaps the transience of the human journey through life. Near the figure twirls the arabesque of a sash. This is one of the painter's recurring symbols, a ribbon-like sash twirling into a 'figure eight,' and here it anchors downwards. Nussinov acknowledges life's essential mystery in this open-ended eternity symbol, which could also stand for identity, consciousness, and language.....