[Painter.Encaustic Art]






The term"Encaustic" means "painting with heat" and refers to Ancient Art of painting with pigment suspended in wax. Encaustic medium was lost througth the Middle Ages. The most famous pictures of the ancincent art that have been captured till are the Faiyum's portaits which were saved only due to using this unic method by the ancient artist.
The Israeli Encoustic school appeared as a result of the researches of the ancient art of Egypt, Greece and Rome, which were condacted during the last the last 40 years by the Encaustic painter Boris Axelrod (AXL).

In Sankt-Peterburg AXL was known as a "monumental artist" through the large mosaics he executed.His main works are:
"The Wall Oof Peace",sgraffito (300 sq.m.), Sankt-Peterburg. "The Wall of Fire", mosaic from jasper pebbles (19 sq.m.), Krasnoyarsk.
"The Wall of Water", mosaic from jasper pebbles (20 sq.m.), Tuapse.
"Heaven on the Earth", floor mosaic from smalt (254sq.m), in which all stars and histories which have been happening in the heavens, were to belaid down in the Taurichesky Garden in center of Sankt-Peterburg.
AXL has been living and working in Israel (Tiberias) since 1982. He is Kuskovski Israel Knesset's prize-winner, proffesor of Latvian Lutheran Academia, Member of FoMRHI London Guildhall University ,Old Axl Academia of Fine Art manager.
The recipies of the ancient paints which were reconstructed due to his experiments allow to recreate with absolut exactness all the tints of the ancient Encoustic painting.
AXL and his students create wonderful pictures wich combine modern views and ancient traditions.

David Rapp mets Axl and his portraits and still lifes
By David Rapp

The people spilling out of a car that stopped two months ago next to the shop at Tefen's Open Museum were an unusual lot: a man who looked like a monk, in brown clothes, with his hair pulled back and a well-trimmed black beard; a girl who looked like a boy, sporting short hair and answering to the name of Gerasim; and a little girl accompanied by her parents.
Heading the group was Axl, an old man with a thick white beard. Each one of them carried several pictures. The owner of the shop, Nurit Rothschild, had planned to hang works by Axl and some of his students for a few days before the official opening of their exhibition. But for the past week, she had been unable to reach them, and was afraid that they had completely forgotten about the planned show. An hour before the exhibition was scheduled to open - just as she was trying to figure out how to compensate the invited guests who were about to arrive for a show that didn't look like it would take place - the car pulled up with the artists and the pictures.
Axl, who was born in Leningrad in 1928, is a brilliant painter, and there are few people still alive who are experts in the technique he uses - encaustic, paintings with hot wax. Gerasim, who is 50 years younger than Axl, is also very adept at the technique.
Axl does not often expose himself to the public. Two years ago, he had a show in Riga, Latvia, and Rothschild was the first in years to succeed in presenting an exhibition of his astounding works in Israel. The show at Tefen closed a few weeks ago.
Axl immigrated to Israel in 1982 and spent his first three years here at the immigrant absorption center in Tiberias. From there he moved to a two-and-a-half-room apartment in a tenement building where he lives to this day. "Like a recluse, Axl lived in his cave," says Axl, speaking in the third person, when he recalls how sad his life was during his first few years in his apartment.
In the Soviet Union, where he completed his studies in art at the Muchina institute in Leningrad, he was a well-known artist. He received commissions for monumental works. Among other pieces, he constructed mosaic works for the monitoring center of the Soviet space center, as well as a large garden with a mosaic floor featuring a map of the constellations. This partial creation, "The Garden of Eden from Earth," was not completed before he left for Israel and remains exhibited, unfinished, to this day in Leningrad.
Rumors of a strange artist who works using an ancient technique of drawing with hot wax, the epitome of which can be found in the portraits that were created thousands of years ago in the Egyptian oasis of Fayum - has been going around the Galilee for years. Hana Nisnevitch, a tourist guide who came to Israel from Moscow in 1995 and lives in Tiberias, heard of Axl, but had a hard time tracking him down. A few years ago, she was traveling in a sherut - a group taxi - from Tel Aviv when she met a visitor from the United States who had come to Israel to visit Axl. This is how Nisnevitch made contact with Axl; since then she has served as his link with the rest of the world.
In a meeting at his house this week, Axl started the conversation with the sentence (in perfect Hebrew) "My vocabulary in Hebrew is limited," which turned out, indeed, to be true. First he passed out a printed sheet "with all my basic information," including his background, but then he talked for the next seven hours about episodes in his amazing life.
Ancient method
Axl's life, and the colorful figures with whom he surrounds himself, would have made Bulgakov blush. In Axl's apartment, for example, lives a young woman who has decided to be a young man - calling herself Gerasim - and at the same time to change her age. Gerasim doesn't talk much.
D., dressed as a monk, came to Israel from Sukhomi, in the Caucasus, after working there for more than 20 years as a ceramist. In Israel, he lived for a while in a monastery and today he lives in an apartment a floor below Axl and sleeps on a simple mattress under the portrait of the singer Vladimir Visotsky. D. isn't much of a talker, either. During the day, he made two hot meals for anyone who happened to be there and every so often brought a cup of green tea with strawberries and bits of apple inside. Another student, Olga Matusov, makes highly realistic, commissioned encaustic portraits of clients.
Axl is a master of the kind one reads about in books. He nurtures students, who vary in age, for a long time. For most of his life, he has investigated the technique of encaustic, in an attempt to recompose the formula used in the making of the portraits of Fayum. In Roman times, some 600 portraits were painted on wooden boards with this technique. The portraits were attached to the caskets in which mummies were preserved, and depicted the upper half of the body of the deceased in a lively, naturalistic fashion. The face was depicted as the person looked when alive, with eyes open and facing forward. The technique of encaustic is based on a mixture of beeswax, resin and pigments, which produces a hard raw material and is applied when hot. The precise formula used in ancient times is not known.
The art that developed in Fayum was based on Hellenistic traditions. In later centuries, local art traditions began to have an impact too.
Encaustic paintings have been found in Pompei, and in the Christian world, they were produced in Constantinople around the sixth century. Over the years, several artists attempted to reconstruct the technique. In the 20th century, the best known of these was American Jasper Johns, who added colored hot wax to his works. The dead of Fayum are probably rolling in their mummy cases at the very idea.
After spending 40 years trying to revive the ancient technique, Axl contends that he has succeeded in recomposing the formula. "The first time I saw a Fayum drawing was in 1945," he says. "It totally amazed me and changed my life. I couldn't understand how something so old had been preserved so beautifully. A researcher into encaustic died in 1960 from mercury poisoning while trying to decipher the formula for mixing the wax and the color. I continued from the point where he left off, without using poisonous metals."
While contemporary artists have occasionally incorporated hot wax techniques in their work, Axl is virtually unique in his focus on reviving the methods of the past and concentrating exclusively on encaustic to paint still lifes and portraits. To date he has also created three exact copies of portraits from Fayum.
From the window of his studio, which is off the kitchen, one can see the Kinneret. The colored wax lies on the table in half shells. At a high temperature, Axl mixes beeswax imported from Greece, resin from the Damar tree, which comes from Egypt, and natural pigments. The resulting liquid material he pours into the shells, where it coagulates into the raw material for his work.
To paint on thin wooden boards, the wax must be heated. Axl explains how the technique was practiced in ancient times: "While the painting was being done, the raw material would heat in a metal container on hissing embers of walnut wood. Two slaves would feed the fire the whole time to keep the wax liquid, and the artist would use an iron rod with an ivory handle in order to layer the hot color onto the wood." An electric soldering iron serves as a more efficient substitute today. "I would prefer to follow the ancient method precisely, but it's hard to find slaves today."
Harrowing moments
Axl's apartment is full of old books, yellowing prints of works of art, and the creations of the artist and his students. The apartment has an air of want about it. On the work table lies a small glass vase with flowers that Axl has picked from a field near the building where he lives. A picture that Gerasim made of the vase of flowers was on display at the exhibit in Tefen. An amazing creation that Gerasim worked on for several months depicts Axl's kitchen, full of baking pans and equipment. On the kitchen wall are painted small Christmas trees, marking each year since Jesus' birth. Each tree has a year written under it; 1941, the year the Soviet Union entered World War II, is represented by a charred tree.
When Axl was 10, he moved with his mother, who was a doctor, from Leningrad to Mormansk, far in the north of the country. An artist by the name of Mariya Petrovna who lived with them treated Axl as if he were her grandson and taught him to draw. "At the age of 11, I knew how to copy in oils any picture I saw in a book," says Axl.
On a shelf in Axl's apartment lies a small, tattered book with a dedication inside from Petrovna from 1938. The book, titled "Frescoes, Monumental Art and Encaustic," ignited Axl's imagination back then.
Axl was sent to a summer camp in the Crimea with children from all over the country. He was there when the war broke out, and in the ensuing chaos he experienced some of the most harrowing moments of his life. At a big train station, he watched a German plane that swooped down low and fired into an oil storage tank. The explosion killed hundreds of people standing nearby. Axl approached the only survivor of the incident. The severely injured boy asked for a "papirosi," a rolled cigarette. "Since then, I've smoked," says Axl with a gloomy smile. "And since then, Axl doesn't like it when people shoot in his direction."
Axl exudes personal charm and wit. He unravels the story of his life slowly, speaks about himself in the third person, chooses his words carefully and considers with curiosity how they translate into Hebrew. He expresses himself with irony, sometimes with double entendres. Some of the more bizarre things he says can be considered fables or metaphors.
Axl was sent with a group of children to a village in Siberia as part of a program to distance the civilian population from the front line. Axl's mother crossed the battle zone and reached her only son in Siberia within a few months, in order to take him back home to the north.
Axl continued to study drawing with Petrovna. "While everyone dove for cover when the sirens sounded, Petrovna would put on her evening gown, don her most precious jewels and sit at the dining table as if nothing had happened," recalls Axl. "She refused to let the war ruin her life. This is the sort of very special atmosphere I grew up in. And I happened to be lucky that the war ended a year before I would have been recruited."
At the age of 18, Axl took off to Leningrad to pursue his studies and specialized in mosaics. The head of the department at Muchina at the time came back from Italy and had the precise plan for the mosaic in the church of Ravenna. At a time when possessing Catholic icons in a private home was considered a crime punishable by a prison term, the school received a commission to make a copy of the mosaics of the wall of Ravenna for the Soviet Administration Building in Moscow.
"A paradox," says Axl. "Russia. Paradox." The building, dating back to before World War II, was built on the foundations of Christ the Savior Cathedral that had previously stood at the site. Its planned shape was that of a huge figure of Lenin. Axl and his friends were recruited to make the mosaic, but in the end the plan was shelved. The foundations of the megalomaniac building were destroyed, and instead a large swimming pool was built; it was still in operation at the time that Nisnevitch left Moscow in 1995. Today, a reconstruction of the church that stood there until 1931 stands at the site.
A white dove
Axl obtained another degree in Leningrad and began getting commissions for large works for the Soviet regime. He planned a wall that remains to this day on a building in Leningrad, as well as City of the Future, a vacation resort for Soviet youth groups in the Caucasus. In the early 1970s, he was asked to go to the Gigant collective in central Russia to prepare portraits of outstanding farmers who had exceeded their production quotas for the year. He returned to Leningrad to carry out the work. After 10 years of experimenting in his studio, he decided to execute the portraits using the hot wax technique.
A few weeks later he returned to the collective, with the portraits in hand. The works were put on display at the social center for all the comrades to see. Then the head of the collective declared that "the portraits of the comrades looked like Christian icons." Axl grabbed his works and was forced to sleep in the nearby town. "A white dove came close to the window and flew into the room," he recalls. "I fed her some bread crumbs. She flew around in circles and suddenly opened her mouth and told me not to worry. That everything would get sorted out. While she was flying about, the telephone rang. On the other end was the ideology secretary of the Party in the area, who had heard about the incident and had decided to help me."
The portraits of the farmers, perhaps the first to be made using this technique for many of years, were eventually exhibited in the local district social club, where they perhaps remain to this day. But Axl's relationship with the establishment deteriorated.
In a picture from that period, Axl is wearing long, wild hair. "One day, I was invited to a meeting at the office of a senior political figure," he recalls. "There was a work I had prepared on the table. The man kept staring from the portrait to me and back again and eventually said: `Mr. Axl, if a wild horseman from the Middle Ages were to come to a distinguished meeting of the Party, how would the scene look, to your mind?' `The horseman would remove his metal visor,' I answered him, `and would say: Distinguished comrades, I see that in the hundreds of years that have passed, you have achieved a number of things. But allow me to tell you that you have also forgotten quite a lot. My works look like icons to you. If you truly admire them, you can build a castle around them, but you must make sure that it is at least as beautiful as the church that stood here before.'"
The response to his remark was not long in coming. In 1981, Axl was invited to a special session of the artists' association. There, before all the members, the head of the association read a letter. "Comrade Axl," it said, "has developed in his studio a salon for the production of religious works and propaganda. He has links with a mystic group centered in France and his works are psychologically corrupting to youth." The letter was signed by the head of the KGB.
Axl is amused when he remembers the questions the head of the association posed to him that day. "Is it true that you are involved in yoga? What did your parents do? Where were you before 1917?" were among the questions he was asked. "I stand on my head from time to time," Axl responded. "My father was a professor in Moscow and my mother was a pediatrician and I have a hard time remembering where I was before 1917 because I was born in 1928."
"Not a single person smiled," recalls Axl. He was kicked out of the organization and could not longer receive commissions from the government. A while later, he was invited to the offices of the KGB. "The clerk at the entrance asked me the purpose of my visit. I told him bitterly that I had opened a salon for religious works in my studio and that I was corrupting youth. He didn't even raise his head, only wrote down what I said with indifference."
At the KGB, he was received by highly motivated clerks. "They told me of their great admiration for my state works and told me that they had been monitoring my development for years," said Axl. "Eventually it was made clear to me that with the delicate situation which had been created, the KGB would not `react negatively' were I to feel a desire to emigrate to another country.
"Across from my window in Leningrad was a tall tower where a black bird would crow every morning. The tower burned down, and the bird didn't come back. During the same period, they painted the roof of the house I lived in red, and above all, I was sick of hearing the national anthem," says Axl. "Suddenly I felt a desire to emigrate. The Near East seemed nearer than the Far East, and I decided to submit request to leave for Israel. The request received a positive answer."
Strange paradoxes
In Israel, Axl focused on works using encaustic. "The Soviet Union was a big county and there I did monumental works. Israel is a small country, and one has to make works with appropriate proportions."
The attractions of the ancient technique are manifold. "I believe in creations that last longer than the lifetime of a human being, for dozens of generations. When I work in a technique that has existed from the distant past to the present, I feel that I am living between times. The creations from Fayum continue a tradition of a portrait of a man that hung in his home all his life and was intended to preserve his soul after he died. The creations of Fayum have succeeded in this. For thousands of years, we have looked at them and seen the spirit of many people, old and young, men and woman, some of them Greeks, some of the Egyptians, some of them Jews. The lively varied population that lived in Fayum."
One of Axl's portraits is of the organ player Misha Mayski, who died in a car accident in Germany. Mayski and his brother left the Soviet Union in the 1970s and immigrated to Israel. On the wall is a picture of Mayski next to the organ he played. "In Israel, there are also strange paradoxes, says Axl. "They didn't want to let Mayski play the organ in a concert. They said it was something that was associated with church." Once a year, Axl goes to Tel Aviv with his portrait of Mayski to participate in a memorial ceremony for his friend.
Axl avoids talking about the secrets of his technique. He rises and demonstrates the technical steps of carefully and patiently preparing the layers of color on the wooden board. "The relationship among the materials determine the texture that one can achieve, but the biggest secret of all is patience. As my dear and wise friend Bach wrote in the introduction to an exercise book that he composed: "Those who have the patience to properly study what is written here, will be well rewarded." I hope to reconstruct what is written in books - of creations so realistic that birds tried to eat the grapes depicted in them. Maybe I'll reach that myself, and if I don't, perhaps Gerasim will."
Nisnevitch and her friend Oleg Rebalko have created a foundation with Axl through which they hope to help him to gain recognition in the art world in Israel and abroad. "I want these paintings to be in museums in Israel," says Axl. "In Paris and in Moscow there are a lot of paintings from Fayum. I am working on a similar collection for here. Axl calls his house The Old Axl Academy and students come to him daily to try their hand at putting colors to wood. "I don't teach them a thing," says Axl. "I just present them the technique and try to give them the golden key. Each one must search alone for the lock. I studied mostly in the big libraries in Leningrad. Around me were 12,484 years of civilization, and in a certain sense, that's my age - 12,484. It's an age that doesn't change over time."
He is quiet for a moment. "That's said only half in jest, you know," he adds. Then he looks at his watch and announces that he has to "go to the doctor." A 10-minute trip brought us to the large villa decorated with a number of Axl's and Gerasim's most sophisticated works. High above the old buildings of Tiberias, in a sparkling neighborhood of villas, lives Axl's doctor. In the dining room hangs a bright copy of the sixth century icon found at Santa Catharina in Sinai. On the second floor, is a copy of the icon of Maria of Vladimir from the 12th century, which today is in Moscow. In the entrance to the house is a careful picture by Gerasim of the peacock of Russian legends.
Back to his neighborhood and Axl's apartment, the tea has already been set on the table. Once a year, Maxim Vengerov, who lives in the United States and is considered to be one of the best violinists in the world, drops by the neighborhood for a visit. On the wall is a violin that Axl refurbished; Gerasim plays it from time to time. "Vengarov says that Gerasim has great talent," says Axl.
Among the rooms wanders Gerasim's black cat, Mumur. From time to time, it rests on the table and looks with orange eyes at the Kinneret. "It's important to look at the Kinneret every 15 minutes or so," says Axl. "One sees a new painting each time."

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