Tatiana Apraksina
A Face with No Secrets…

 
Alexander Lazarevich Lokshin came into my life when his own one had almost come to its end. Before that time I had never heard of him, I did not know what he had been like before we met, how he had lived, what he had loved or thought about. Even now my understanding of all this is very vague. 
    The story of our acquaintance spans over a period of a little less than nine months. Basically, it was related to the fact that I was painting his portrait: first getting prepared for the job, than working on the picture itself, and finally promptly presenting it at two of my exhibitions in Moscow. 
    Only two weeks after the latter of them, when I had just returned to Leningrad, Alexander Lazarevich died. 

I must say, I very rarely do portraits. Not because it is not my genre - on the contrary, I cherish every such an opportunity. The point is that painting itself is something that least of all interests me in painting. As far as I am concerned, the impulse mainly comes from the object of art, and a character attracts me first of all as the bearer of a certain philosophy of life, of universal moral convictions. These are mostly musicians, famous or anonymous, essentially impersonal representatives of "the heavenly host", seen in the way they appear beyond their daily lives, mundane human engagements, when before our very eyes they turn into compelling prophets and mediums. 
    Another time it can be just an individual of exceptionally high qualities and purity, a perfect representative of the human race, a thing in itself, a self-sufficient single universe in a unique personal framing. I desperately search for human masterpieces of the kind – always and everywhere. Each of them is a rarity as are all perfect things. And, of course, an opportunity to get closer, to cognize such a universe arises even more rarely. 
    It was at the very first sight that I recognized Alexander Lazarevich as a masterpiece I aspired for, as obvious, as it was undoubtedly genuine. I never knew if he had been like that earlier, as it happens sometimes that people are born to this world with pure heart, or it was the previous experience of his entire life that made him such a person. It didn't matter. There in front of me was a result I accepted with complete trust. 
    To this very day in my artistic experience the portrait of A.L.Lokshin remains to be an exceptional example of a very special interaction. I have never had a chance to come across anything like that any more. 
It all began at the end of September, 1986. I was going to visit Moscow, intending to stay there for as long as possible. I had to take advantage of the trip to explore the capital's musical milieu. I knew very few musicians in Moscow, so I asked my friends in Leningrad to give me some guidance and recommendations. 
    Boris Tischenko was one of the first who I approached. Once he learned what I had to ask, he immediately said: "If you happen to be in Moscow, you must meet Lokshin, Alexander Lazarevich. He is a remarkable composer and an absolutely incredible person. That's whose portrait one should do! Dmitry Dmitriyevich  highly praised him as a musician. If you want, you could come to the Conservatoire, I am just going to get students to listen to his music - it may be interesting for you too. Besides, I'll give you the address." 
    The lecture and the music both produced a strong impression on me. But still a portrait was a serious matter and I was wary of arriving to any conclusions and making promises in advance. When it comes to my professional interests I can only depend upon decisions that are well thought over. 
    Tischenko said he had already sent a letter to Moscow, to give notice of my arrival. He also said Alexander Lazarevich was very ill and he was not likely to recover. Shortly before that he had been partially paralyzed, he was confined to his bed, and couldn't speak - his wife spoke on behalf of him. 
    To be earnest, I could hardly imagine meeting a composer who was so ill. 

Once in Moscow, I did not immediately resolve to make a phone call - what if my appearance would be inopportune and it would only complicate the matters? However, after some hesitation I had to dial the number. 
    When I remember that first phone-call and everything what followed, I still feel very excited. More than ten years have passed since, but in all those years I couldn't find sufficient moral courage to go deep into the experience of that time once again, with all the intensity of feelings associated with it. Now, when I venture to write about it, I am trying to dispose myself to a very formal tone, keeping a safe distance. 

The voice coming from the receiver was wavering, weak as a rustle, and indistinct, almost as a whisper. It was a painful experience to hear it, as if the voice could break the next moment. I felt very guilty I phoned. But immediately the conversation was taken up by Tatiana Borisovna, and her tone, confident and cordial, encouraged me. We agreed to meet. 

Strangely enough I could never get to this house in time, although it's not typical of me. My first visit was remarkable, as I arrived two hours late! Tatiana Borisovna gave me a detailed description of the route over the telephone, but because I was so excited somehow nothing worked right for me on my way: I took wrong lines in the metro, wrong trolley-buses, riding in the opposite directions and getting off at wrong stops. Dismayed at my sudden helplessness, enraged at the constant mistakes with transport, confusing the buildings and entrances, and finally having arrived at the right floor, I find myself in darkness: there was no light in the staircase. Then, I had to search for the lighter. Burning my fingertips, I looked for the door by its small light, and couldn't find the bell button for a long time. Preparing myself for a cold welcome, I rang the bell. 
    The door opens, and suddenly everything around brightens up. I am met so warmly and gladly that I immediately forget my troubles. How wonderful - the entire family has gathered to meet a guest: as if I was already loved here, as if I were some terribly important person. 
    And when I see Alexander Lazarevich slowly walking towards me along the corridor, something flicks inside me, like when the hands of a clock meet. 
    Almost weightless, incorporeal, barely able to stand upright, leaning on the stick with his right hand, and holding on to the wall with his left hand, as an autumn leaf shaken by a slightest movement of the air, he looked to me not so much as an ill man, but as one extremely exhausted and weakened by suffering, transparent as a light haze, with lucid eyes, full of child-like sincere attention and trust. 
    The first time I saw his face I was absolutely bewitched by its almost defiant finesse. There was something about it that I had not seen before - I would call it the stamp of pure thoughts. Such faces should be entered in a red book and protected as sacred objects. It appeared to me quite unreal - like a sound that one could see with one's eyes. But there it was, in front of me, and I RECOGNIZED it, which gave me a mystical sensation of intervention from on high. 

I immediately fell in love with this family, with this house. They won my heart by the atmosphere where everybody was genuinely attentive and well-disposed. And what a godsend is a family where everyone understands and supports each other. Every time I rang there, the first thing I heard - no matter who picked up the phone - was the question: "Tanya, when are you going to come round?" Among the husband and wife one could notice a very special cohesion, a deep inner kinship, which generally is born from affinity felt in the face of common troubles. 

We began to speak about the portrait the very first evening. I could not make any definitive promises, but I already knew for sure that I had not come in vain. It was my heavenly contract - as if I received a communion, having a compressed spring inserted inside me, which sooner or later, in its time, would inevitably start to untwist. 
    Without asking myself what shape the work was going to take, I resolved to do it my usual way: first I had to become thoroughly steeped in the smoke of the new fire, to get resonant with the subject of my work - to learn, to grasp, to fall in love with. It is only after this point that the creative work usually begins. 

Time went by. Alexander Lazarevich was finally able to do without the stick, and to move around the flat freely. He was showing particular hospitality, trying to be helpful on every little occasion. From now on he would join us at dinner. 
    Dinner was obligatory. Standing in the kitchen Alexander Lazarevich patiently waited until I finished washing my hands, and then invited me to the table: "Tanya, this way! Please, take the seat which is DISTINCTLY yours". The "distinctly mine" place in that small kitchen was a chair next to the wall, pressed in between the table and something else. Alexander Lazarevich usually sat next to the wall too, at the opposite side of the table, near the door. Conversations, which began at the dinner table, often continued in the sitting room. We could also listen to music there. 
    I don't remember the subject of our conversations well. The most important thing about them was that weak fluctuating sound of a tense high-pitched voice, inimitable intonation, unaffected aristocratic manners, animated and unconstrained, raised eyebrows, expressions of astonishment, fancy turns and gracious bows of the man's head. 
    Sometimes he seemed to be a ghost or a celestial being, who lived without touching on earth, always a little ABOVE it. But this loftiness apparently derived from some painful experience, reminiscent of those who learned to walk on burning hot coals or broken glass. And everything had a barely distinguishable mark of redemptive, sacrificial forgiveness of universal nature on it, like the precious patina on an archeological relic. Some details of his troubled life, which in the short time became known to me, in my opinion, provided quite an adequate explanation of this fact. Although, I didn't really feel I wanted to know much more – there was quite enough right in front of my eyes. 
    Seeing such a rare, and by every indication, an outlandish being, who was honestly trying to look like an ordinary man, I was tormented by the ephemeral, uncertain nature of his presence just there, so near, so close to us. Every time I said goodbye and went out into the street I felt completely jaded and exhausted. Often in tears, I could hardly shuffle my feet, as if I was drained of my sap behind that door. 
    In fact, we met very rarely, just a few times. The frequency of my visits depended on whether Alexander Lazarevich was in good health. Frankly speaking, I don't think I could endure more frequent contacts – such an incredible strain it put on me. 

Once I brought some slides of my pictures with me. There was a portrait of D. Shostakovich among them (Images of Shostakovich, 1986). We discussed the portrait and then switched to Dmitry Dmitrievich himself. Alexander Lazarevich recalled a minor episode, which took place at the Composers House in Moscow. Shostakovich was already ill, the doctors urged him to give up smoking, which he found hard to do, since Irina Antonovna  followed him about, making sure the instructions were properly observed. 
    Alexander Lazarevich told me, that he was smoking standing on a staircase landing, when he was approached by Shostakovich. Hurriedly looking around, Shostakovich asked if he could take a whiff. But the attempt failed as Irina Antonovna came about timely. 
    Of course, Alexander Lazarevich had not been smoking for a long time by then. Coffee also was strictly prohibited. When he learned that I had the same preferences as he had in the past, he insisted he would make me a cup of coffee himself, in a glittering coffee-pot, brought for him from abroad. He said he had to make the coffee himself, since it would partially substitute him the pleasure of actually tasting it, which he was denied at that time. 

He tried to keep up with what was happening in the community of musicians and composers in his absence. By that time I had already established certain contacts in the Moscow musical circles, so from time to time I used to be quite well-informed about certain developments which might be of interest for him. There were musicians, composers, and a violin-maker among my acquaints. I tried to use the chance to attend the concerts and rehearsals of the Borodin Quartet as often as possible. In the same period I went to several concerts of the Moscow Autumn composers festival, and, for the first time in my life, I attended the December Soirées at the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum. 
    Indeed, it was music we mostly talked about with Alexander Lazarevich. He listened to my meticulous reports very attentively, took interest in every detail, his reactions were unexpectedly temperamental, sometimes painfully acute. Once I found him listening to the radio translation of a festival concert. It was a music by A. Schnitke. For the first time I saw Alexander Lazarevich so annoyed and disappointed. I don't remember what in particular had embarrassed him, but there was something about the music that he found deeply offensive, and suddenly a proud aggressiveness arose in him, along with the realization of his right to be categorical in his judgement. 

Meanwhile, we waited until he was fit enough to arrange the only portrait sitting we had. I had to have at least some very scarce material painted from life, and as for the whole portrait I planned to do it at my temporary abode. 
    Alexander Lazarevich was a little nervous. He wasn't sure whether he was appropriately dressed or whether his hair was combed well. There was a shirt on him, and a warm woolen overcoat. Longish locks of light white hair swung around his head, like delicate feather. I assured him that everything was all right. He looked the way only he could look – it was all I wanted. 
    The sitting took place in his room. I made him sit in the middle, opposite to the window. We hardly spoke to each other. Gradually he overcame his shyness and started to feel at ease. He posed aptly, trying not to move, although I did let him to move and even to speak. He sat quietly, rocking slightly, and some times a smile, thoughtful and sad, would appear on his face. 
    In fact, for a long time, musicians have been the exclusive subject of my artistic interest, especially musicians in action, in INTERaction with their instruments. The indispensable presence of musical attributes does not only point out the occupation of the person portrayed, but it also reveals the focus of meaning and different layers of content. The musician with an instrument becomes instrument himself. 
    This time it was an entirely different case. The human and creative nature of Alexander Lokshin, masterly refined by the work of his mind and revealed to the outer world, was so self-sufficient in its musical expressiveness, that any additions to it would only strain the meaning. Lokshin himself was a beautifully made musical instrument – sensitive, sophisticated, and rich in overtones. 
    I managed to make a number of sketches in charcoal, and we cut our session short: Alexander Lazarevich was getting tired, and I also was about to faint from weariness. We decided to continue some other time, but we didn't get another chance, and I had to make the best of the initial sketches I had. 

I pinned the sketches onto the wall, put a canvas already fixed to the stretcher on the easel, and got down to work quite cheerfully. It didn't even occur to me then, that the work I had so much aspired for would turn into a rather lengthy torture. 
    Against my anticipation, it took me four months to finish the portrait – instead of a couple of weeks. For the whole of that lengthy period of time I could not quite get over a depressing feeling of being helpless. Indeed, how should one go about materializing the subtle refinement of a spirit as vulnerable and fragile, as it was indestructible and brave? 

Any kind of audacity I might be up to as a painter, as an artist, would be quite out of place in this case. I was totally suppressed by my own reverence for the perfection of the real image, full of noble charm: what seemed to be a nearly extinct body and a soul almost completely revealed. A living miraculous substance: both wise and naive, experienced and innocent, credulous and sarcastic, gentle and ruthless. 
    It seemed impossible to avoid over-simplification, generalization, which in this case would be a barbarian, even blasphemous thing to do. I realized that an image would completely satisfy me only if it could reveal itself on the canvas on its own, at its own will, preserving live palpitation of the model. My only task was to make it happen, with as little interference in the mysterious process, as possible. 
    When painting from life, I always derive from the inner being of the model – I must be captivated, obsessed by it to the extent when the pulsation of its life becomes tangible for me, just like my own. 
    Once I set to work on the portrait, I soon found myself completely baffled. The lightest touch of brush on the canvas immediately transformed the entire picture; the face on the canvas underwent incredible transformations. Their contrasting nature filled me with dismay. I began to fear the defiant picture. It refused to obey, it wanted to have a life of its own, full of whimsies and oddities. The face would suddenly become angry, or almost inane, while sometimes it would acquire a flat philistine expression. Depression, fear or, on the contrary, arrogance and complacence appeared on it by turns. 
    I wandered around the easel for hours, which worried the life out of me, so helpless I was. The face from the portrait haunted me everywhere like a nightmare. Its life went through extremely discordant phases: liveliness, tiredness, curiosity, resentment, mockery, indifference, and infinite grief. There was no way I could tame it - it concealed just what I was looking for with desperate persistence. It was becoming unbearable, at times I hated the portrait – because of the power it had over me, its defiance, which made one think of witchcraft or the evil eye being put on me. 
    The easel stood in the room, at an angle to the entrance, just under that stupid chandelier – the light was flat, inexpressive and very inconvenient. There was a mirror hanging on the wall in the hallway behind the door. Once, when I was about to leave, already dressed, I approached the mirror and shuddered as I saw the reflection of the portrait through the open door. It was a complete failure. I felt an urge to get to the telephone and to end the torture with a single call, by saying that I hadn't succeed with the portrait, and had given up any subsequent attempts to put it right. I am sure, nobody would think of me worse! 
Anyhow, the malicious jape had to be ended. I could not deal with the riddle all on my own any more. The portrait ought to be saved. 

A cold winter made the life quite troublesome for Alexander Lazarevich. I anxiously awaited a chance to see him again. My combat with phantoms could finish me. I had to turn to the initial source, ascertain my impressions, check the details with my own eyes. When at last the day came, for the whole evening I could not take my eyes off the face already so familiar. However, this time it was revealed to me to a much greater extent, there seemed to be nothing mysterious about it, nothing to remind me of the delusions which I observed on the portrait every day, and which made my life so miserable. I mentally examined every little detail, and mentally put my question. 
    I was asked how the work was going ahead and if the portrait could be seen soon. I was embarrassed and I couldn't say anything intelligible in response. I said, that there were certain difficulties. I stood the last chance to memorize – to imprint, implant, insert dead fast, to dissolve in my blood everything I saw, understood, and felt. The transformations the portrait was going through seemed to contain a menace, which I had to confront. 
    Sitting in the dank trolley bus that took me to the metro, I cried of anger and despair, as if something unimaginably important depended on me, while I was helpless and did not know at all what to do. 

I cannot remember exactly when the phantoms began to fade away. It happened all by itself, and the real outlines began to emerge from the depth, from behind the layers of waste. The suffocating burden of unattainable perfection gradually disappeared making its way onto the picture, and setting me free again. There came a moment when, as it always happens, quite unexpectedly I realized, that there was nothing for me to do any more, except from putting my signature, perhaps. 
    I knew that the portrait was right – to the extent to which its model was reflected in my sensations. The question was whether this reflection corresponded to the perceptions of other people, whose acquaintance with Alexander Lazarevich had been closer and more long-standing, than mine. Absorbed in the work, I might to a certain extent lose my objectivity. 
    I didn't know what the attitude of Alexander Lazarevich to the portrait would be, whether he would recognize himself or not. The first sight of one's own image almost always causes a more or less serious shock. The perception of another person (and only an artist can really give an idea of his or her perception) sometimes proves to be very unpredictable, as it presents the object from an unusual point of view, and most importantly, very much differs from the familiar reflection in the mirror. One must have rather unrestrained a mind to except a view from without, and in some cases it takes a considerable time. 
    As soon as the picture dried well, I took it to show for a "muster". I must admit, I didn't expect the portrait to be so well-liked. After a perplexed pause, Alexander Lazarevich said in his fragile, spectral voice: "I could not hope to receive another such a gift in my lifetime." He added, that he saw some of my features in his portrait, and to the best of his reckoning that made it even better. 

My first exhibition in Moscow opened on March 31, 1987 at the Kurchatov Institute Palace of Culture. Of course, I dared not expect Alexander Lazarevich, who had not left his flat for many months, to come to see my pictures. The more precious gift for me was his visit. I could not believe my eyes at first, when I saw him and Tatiana Borisovna together in the taxi, as it drove up. 
    Stopping now and then, he made his way to the exhibition hall, opened the door, and froze at the threshold. He had seen my pictures on slides, but there, alive and real, they looked different, of course. The tour took a long time, and then, after he had a rest, Alexander Lazarevich took the visitors' book and, having trouble taming his disobedient hand, he wrote: "An overwhelming impression from the exhibition. A.Lokshin". 

Having had closed the first exhibition, I immediately started to move the pictures to the next location, at the Glinka Museum. I was always short of time, but I knew, that Alexander Lazarevich was doing much better, and once Tatiana Borisovna told me, that he had tried to play the piano for the first time after a long intermission. 
    After the second exhibition was over, I brought the portrait back. From there on the copy was to remain by the side of its original. 

I have a particularly distinctive recollection of the last time we met. Alexander Lazarevich seemed to have recovered, and appeased in a new way. It was obvious that he was gradually taking up with the general daily rhythm of life. Suddenly he started to speak about soul. He said, he had been often thinking about the subject since recently, he would like to find out whether such a thing did exist and what was it like. "Of course, we used to think these were figments. I can only believe in entities that can be measured, touched, or weighed", - his thin fingers tapped on the edge of the table, - "We are materialists, we can only depend on what can be scientifically proven. Still, I have been often thinking recently, what if I were wrong?" 
    He was embarrassed, he spoke in a negligent tone, as if to show that he didn't attach very much importance to such a nonsense. And all of a sudden, he stopped and asked me directly with an unexpected diffidence: "Tanya, and do you think the soul exists?" 
    He urged for a clear and ultimate answer. I looked in his eyes and answered very seriously: "I think, it is the only thing, which really exists." I tried to attach some weight to my words: HE WAS VERY MUCH IN NEED OF SOUL AT THAT MOMENT. 

I went back to Leningrad and didn't plan to return to Moscow: I had settled up all my affairs in the capital. On June 10, in the high season of white nights, a friend of mine came over from Moscow to visit me, and we decided to take a walk, admiring the views of raised bridges. We rambled along the embankments all night, and turned towards home at about six o'clock in the morning. 
    We were silent as we walked. It was a quiet transparent morning, still uninhabited, with slant lines of sunbeams on the wet surface of the road, which had just been watered. Passing across the Fields of Mars, I noticed a little thing missing: a bead, just a piece of glass has fallen out of my bracelet. I could not figure out, how could something so insignificant suddenly cause such a desperately poignant feeling of loss. With that feeling I entered the house. 
     It was the morning of June 11, and at nine o'clock the telephone rang. 

Tatiana Apraksina