An article by David Shipler (1983): Naive Vision of Jewish Life Ends in Suicide in Israel, The New York Times, Monday, June 6.

 It has been more than a year now since Yefim Ladizhinsky, a 70-year-old painter from the Soviet Union, went as usual at dawn to his tiny studio on the outskirts of Jerusalem and, instead of beginning work, hanged himself in the stairwell. He had made a long journey from obscurity to despair, finding himself a misfit in both the Soviet system and the west. Since his suicide, his tempera paintings of his childhood memories of Odessa, which drew considerable acclaim during exhibitions here, have been stored away along with watercolors and ink drawings, stacked in crude frames and simple folders in the tiny bedroom of the two-room apartment he used as his studio.

 

There are about 700 works in all; none of them are hung in galleries or museums, and hardly anyone comes to the apartment to see them anymore. The recognition he sought in life, and never quite attained, has alluded him in death as well.

 

Chaotic and Commercial

His daughter, Vicky, is trying to correct that now. "I want Papa to be known,"

She said. "I want him to be known abroad and here."

But she has no idea how to go about it; she understands as little as her father did about the western world of art, a world that looks chaotic and commercial to someone schooled in the Soviet contempt for the marketplace.

Before leaving for Israel in 1978, Mr. Ladizhinsky worked officially as a theatrical scenery painter in Moscow. But, like many Soviet artists, he led a double professional life.

In his roomy studio, provided by the Union of Artists, he painted for himself. He did enchanting watercolors on the themes of stories by Isaac Babel. He did intricate line drawings of roots, twisted, tortured roots that grew and reached out in strained out efforts to contort themselves into identifiable shapes, half human shapes.

Mostly, he did tempera paintings of childhood scenes in the Black Sea resort and port city where his fondest memories were formed. At first glance they appeared to be charming, naive works, done from an odd perspective that combined an aerial, third-story view with the technique of flattening figures against the streets and parks.

Mr. Ladizhinsky's Odessa was a festive, bustling city of gaily-painted trams, sailors and holiday crowds in white, of flower vendors and brass bands, amusement parks and fish stalls, horse-drawn carriages, communal baths, cafes and fashionable people at the opera. There were also Bar-Mitzvahs, marriage feasts, synagogue scenes and other Jewish themes that Soviet authorities never allowed him to exhibit.

"He's a master of color, he's a master of composition," said Marc Scheps, director of the Tel-Aviv museum. "The first impression of anyone is that the work is one of a naive painter. But it merely appears that way.

"I had the feeling when I saw it that it was, for an artist from Russia, one of the ways to achieve two purposes: first, to remain close to visual reality, and, secondly, to be as far as possible from any kind of official realism.

"It was a clever way to say "The Jewish life I want to depict is a kind of dream that almost doesn't exist anymore, and a kind of dream that comes from the childhood"."Mr. Scheps explained. "So he would use the kind of perspective that children use in their drawings.

 

Personal Anguish on Display

His last exhibition, in February and March 1982, put his personal anguish on display. He hung two huge works that summed up his inability to fit anywhere.

 

From each of the five points of a red Soviet star set against the rust-red bricks of the Kremlin wall, the artist had his own head hanging from a noose,each face crossed out with a black X. And from each of the six points of a blue Star of David, set against the stones of the Wailing wall, his own head hung in a noose, the face crossed out.He killed himself soon after the exhibition closed, leaving his wife, Sarah, his son and daughter and three granddaughters, age 14, 12 and 8.Mr. Ladizhinsky made it clear he felt Israel was unwelcoming to him, anti- Semitic and crude. A tortured, brilliant man, he is said to have alienated many people in the art world here.

He was unable to adjust to the free market in art, refusing to sell paintings or to let gallery owners bargain with customers over prices. He felt it was demeaning.

"It's always a big problem, "Said Mr. Scheps of the Tel-Aviv museum. "He didn't want to sell, and he wanted only museum exhibitions, and he remained unknown."

He expected his paintings on Jewish themes, rejected in Moscow, to be hailed here; he did not understand that Jewish themes here were often unexciting because they were taken for granted"