In memory of an outstanding Jew
It was not easy for me to start writing this obituary.
To me the status of Evgeny Abeshaus among painters in general, and especially Jewish painters of the past and the present, is clear; he is of the same caliber as Marc Chagal, Nathan Altman, Mark Antokolsky, David Burliuk, Leon Bakst, Brodsky and others. Not being a painter, an art critic, or even just an art connoisseur, what can I say about him as a painter? That I will leave to people who know more about art than I do.
On the other hand, Evgeny was my close friend. It so happened, that I visited him in hospital at August 2, the very evening of that night in which he has passed away. I had even planned to bring him DVD disks the next day, with movies, and earphones, for him to be able to watch on a portable DVD player. Sadly, Natasha phoned me the next morning, and at the sound of her voice I immediately realized that he no longer needed that DVD and those earphones. Although Evgeny had been seriously ill for quite a long time … well, one is never ready for the inevitable.
And so, here I was, staring at an empty computer screen, not knowing how to start. He was too big in my eyes. At that moment I suddenly remembered that in 1996, while I was an Israeli correspondent for a small newspaper which was published for a Russian Jewish community in San Francisco, I had held an interview with Evgeny for that newspaper. We had a long conversation then – about his life in the Soviet Union and in Israel, about his creative work and about many other things. I found that interview in my archives, and here is a small excerpt from it which I would like to cite here.
I asked him who he is according to his own considerations – an Israeli painter, a Jewish painter or a Jewish painter of Russian origin. He answered me that it is possible to say that he is an Israeli painter – due to his place of residence but that he considers himself as a Jewish painter. And this is how he put it: “Well, in the first place I am a Jew and a pronounced Jew according to my psyche. And everybody can see it in whatever I paint. Secondly, I never in my life did anything seriously. I never related seriously to any theme, and this is also a part of the Jewish character and of the Jewish approach to everything”.
I completed the interview with these words: “While I talked with Evgeny Abeshaus I did not notice this. But after I worked with the recording and read it thoroughly, I could not get rid of a feeling that in answering my questions or discussing different topics Evgeny Abeshaus was laughing up his sleeve – at me and my questions, in the first place, but also at himself, at creativity problems and even at philosophy. And, therefore, not without reason, did he end our conversation with the statement that he never did anything seriously”. I remember that from the whole final version of the interview, which I had given him to read before sending to the newspaper, he liked just my comments – he had seen in it a person who had held the interview; but to himself and to his own statements he related as usual with his habitual irony.
Evgeny Abeshaus was an utterly and absolutely extraordinary person. It was no mere chance that one of those who yesterday pronounced several words over his open grave mentioned, among other things, exactly his exclusiveness, uniqueness and similarity to no one, both in his creative life as in everything else. He will live in our memory as such a person.
August 4, 2008, Haifa