How To Resist The Anomic And Entropic Living Conditions Through Love And Art


Chaim Soutine, “Mother and child”, 1942

The poorly discernable interior where we see mother and her child is a world of a blue-green colors dirtied to an unrecognizability. But the mother and daughter’s clothing still resist the dirt of living conditions not only of material deprivation, but of psychological pauperization. Tiredness and exhaustion is the air of mother’s face, whose expression and gaze transcend the intra-canvass world with a passive appeal to the people beyond of her life’s world. But the little girl on her mother’s lap is vital – her hands are redder and more agile than her arms, and her face is, as if, lit, with eyes full of attention and curiosity towards the world inside the canvass, where she lives.
The daughter’s legs are thin and still weak, but on mother’s lap she is like in the pouch of mother’s love and warmth. One of the miraculous metaphors of the painting is representation of mother’s legs, as if they are legs of the chair, where mother and daughter are sitting together (daughter through mother).

Mother is alive, warm and generous interior for her daughter. Position of the girl’s arms as though embracing her belly repeats the position of mother’s hand keeping/holding her. The similarity of the mother and daughter postures suggests the eternity of the chain of reproduction – it will be the time when the daughter will be holding her own baby like her mother is keeping her. Of course, many paintings exist of mothers keeping their babies and children, but in this particular Soutine’s work the identity of mother’s and daughter’s postures suggest the sacredness of procreative chain of generations.

Mother’s left eye is scandalously “covered” or “shut” by a blob of black paint. To prevent the possibility that some of viewers could conclude that the poor woman is one-eyed, we’re rushing to insist that the painter is giving us the chance to intuitively interpret the “ambiguity” around her left eye as resolved by the idea that this eye is that of the mother’s heart and as such is exhausted by over-concentration on her daughter and becoming outworn by this permanent vigil, while her right – social eye continues to watch the surrounding where her child grows up. The daughter’s arms and hands are, as if, a continuation of mother’s.

The daring, almost “shameless” use of paint is characteristic of Soutine who is not ashamed to seem crude as a painter. He is prone to characterize what he is painting not only “realistically” – by the use of visual common sense, but by marking the emotional accents through direct using the paint. Let’s return to the impossible dark spot of the paint on/instead the mother’s left eye, as if mother is one-eyed. Black spot on her eye looks so casual, so not elaborated, so absurd, that it is natural to look for another explanation – it is the moment when the form becomes the content (when form depicts the essence of the content – when the formal “tool” becomes what this tool is applied to).

Soutine’s paintings very often look “outrages” because of the despotism of the paint’s anarchy, when paint is not subduing itself in front of the content, but acts as if it is content itself, as if it is a master, not a respectful sober servant of a content as master. Soutine’s expressionism is anarchic like an earthquake and ignores a balanced universe, in which the role of the form is to mediate between visual perception and credibility of the vision.

In “Mother and Child” – for the sake of daughter’s wellbeing mother is ready to exhaust herself to the degree of losing her centrality, her queen-ness, her fertility-goddess-ness, her primacy and priority over the child. The girl’s face is lit by the energy received from the mother who is her daughter‘s psychological-environmental womb. The girl’s gaze (of her right eye) radiates a powerful, even greedy curiosity, which Soutine underlines with a not realistic but extra-expressionistic brush line of white paint (under her eye) and super-realistic power of her pressed lower lip. In Soutine’s painting mother and daughter triumph over a messy background of the semi- and non-being.