2009-08-07 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio Rockaway Artists Alliance

History As Art
Commmentary by Susan Hartenstein

Caption: Robin Pogrebitskiy at work. "The Art of Robin and William Pogrebitskiy" opens Sunday, August 16 at RoCA @ Fort Tilden. Caption: Robin Pogrebitskiy at work. "The Art of Robin and William Pogrebitskiy" opens Sunday, August 16 at RoCA @ Fort Tilden. "The Art of Robin and William Pogrebitskiy" opens in sTudio 7 Gallery on Sunday, August 16 (see gray box for details). But this is not simply an exhibit of splendid artwork. It is a glimpse into history; illuminated by creative hands and sharp commentary. Not dry facts in a book; but the passions, struggles and triumphs of three generations of a family. For history is, after all, formed by those very human forces.

Robin Pogrebitskiy and his "Garden" of wood sculptures has been a fixture of sTudio 7 Gallery for as long as it has existed. "Robin's Garden," as he came to refer to it, consists of creatures, human and animal, furniture, decorative objects and more. Carved predominantly from the wandering, rolling driftwood Robin finds on the beach, they form a menagerie of whirling, dancing, sometimes stately animals spun from a rich imagination. Each piece of wood, in its twisting, dynamic shape, suggests a different life and life force to Robin. His hands and carving tools, almost magically, then draw out that life from the wood. Large carved chairs hold the sitter in their secure, Wonderlandish palms. Robin's "Self- Portrait" demonstrates a completely different aspect of his talent.

Robin Pogrebitskiy's father, William (Bill), was passionately anti-fascist and anti-tyranny. He called upon his talent as an artist to draw cartoons, rendered in strong, bold strokes and sensitive delineations, that graphically illustrated the horrors that those tyrannies bred, no matter where they existed - in Europe of the 1920s and 1930s or at a lynching in the southern United States. Unforgettable images - each face, each figure an individual. Sometimes brutalized; sometimes crying for help. One chilling cartoon depicts a skeleton, representing the forces of fascism, holding an ax dripping blood onto the countries of Europe.

Done in the black and white mediums of graphite, charcoal and pen and ink, the drawings form a dramatic backdrop for the travels of the Pogrebitskiys and an historical context for understanding the trials of an entire world. Ultimately, on display are the works of two stellar artists.

Robin's grandparents lived in the Ukraine, under the tyranny of the Russian Czars. They participated in the first revolution in 1905. When it failed they had to escape - first to Austria, then France and finally to the United States in 1912. Their son Bill, seven years old, went to the Modern School in New Jersey, and under the tutelage of Hungarian painter Hugo Gellert, developed his natural talent for art. He eventually taught at the school. It was during the 20s and 30s, the period that led up to the Second World War, that Bill's drawings depict the turmoils of the rise of the fascists in Germany, Italy and Spain. In 1932 during the Great Depression there was no work and Bill's grandfather moved the family back to what was now the USSR. This time, however, they went to the southeast corner of the vast country.

Stalin was trying to relocate all the Jews of the land to establish a Jewish republic (the Jewish Autonomous Region) near Birobidzhan, which still exists today. But those who went, from various parts of the world, did so in hopes of building a new life. Shortly thereafter, Bill's father died in a flood, possibly a victim of the KGB.

The family moved to Moscow, then was evacuated to Siberia during World War II. That did not prevent the family being caught up in the historic struggle. Bill volunteered for service and was killed in 1945, shortly before the war's end.

After the war, the family moved back to Moscow. Robin was recruited into the Soviet Army where he served in the late 1940s. He returned and worked for a newspaper as a photography retoucher. He later took up woodcarving as a hobby, but it eventually became his life's work - his passion. He migrated to the US in 1991.

Even at 80, Robin Pogrebitskiy goes to his studio every day. RAA is proud to present this exhibit, in celebration of his 80th birthday and the anniversary of the birth of his father.

The family of William Pogrebitskiy was unable to bring his original drawings out from Moscow. Luckily, Robin made photocopies. The originals have disappeared. But you will have the privilege of seeing these immortal images. For, though paper fades, history repeats.

Next week - more about the individual works of art.

Thanks to Lolita Pogrebitskiy for her invaluable help in writing these two columns.

Congratulations to Tom Burke and all involved for a wonderful first RAA Film Festival. The enthusiastic audience enjoyed some innovative work from young (and not so young) inventive filmmakers.

RAA CONTACT INFO: Phone: 718-474-0861; Fax: 718-474- 4373; e-mail: rockart116@aol.com; website: www.rockawayartistsalliance.org
Fort Tilden Highlights
POGREBITSKIY: Wood sculpture and
political drawings. Opening reception:
Sun., Aug. 16, sTudio 7 Gallery, RoCA
@ Fort Tilden,1-3 p.m. Gallery hrs.:
Sat.s 12 noon-4 p.m., Sun.s 1-4p.m.
and by appointment. Free admission.
On view through Sun., Aug. 30.
Tuesday nights, 7-9 p.m.; Thursday
mornings, 10 a.m. - 12 noon. sTudio 7,
RoCA @ Fort Tilden. $15 per class,
supplies included.
artists of all disciplines invited. Signup
at 7:45 p.m. for 8 p.m. start time.
MEETING: Sat., Aug. 8 at 1 p.m. in
sTudio 7.
Mon., Aug. 10, sTudio 6 Gallery, RoCA,
8 p.m.
Mon., Aug. 17 at 6 p.m. in sTudio 7.
Aug. 17. Visit: www.rockawayartistsalliance
or call 718-474-0861 for prospectus
and entry form. Guest juror: Charlotta
Kotik, retired director of Dep't of
Contemporary Art, Brooklyn Museum.
Presently Curator Emeritus.

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