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Articles, lectures, speeches

Marc Chagall

Forgetness, pale blue forgetness. Than the space between stars, radiation, frost and there was nothing before nor after, upstairs nor downstairs. A way. An order. But which way? The order of forgetness. The universe available to mankind: corpses of little experimental dogs in peeping sputnics and than close Mozartean stratosphere: a couple of angels are playing with Gagarin here. Typical cat and mouse play. But of course, the earth. Who says we cannot get back there before we left her last? I am flying over France, gripping metal weather cock from Notre Dame with my knees. Small fields above my head, the sky down under; we are flying upside down - is it Mont Blanc on the right hand? Yes, to the south, I am flying to the south. The fishy smell, iodine, the horseshoe of the Mediterranean Sea and... white shine, so much light, warmth, whiteness, a tunnel I can see a long film in, a row of people... I am waking up. Calendar: March 28, 1985, Saint-Paul-de-Vence. And an old body, well, physically old. Pardon me, now I can remember - I am. Almost 98 years. Marc Chagall, a painter. And that there a short while ago was, to the best of my knowledge, the death.

I am going to try to tell you something from the film of my life. And though I can remember the recent worse, I am going to begin my story from its end - against the stream of time.

I have been a world-famous painter recently. "We love you, Chagall!" chanted the crowds in front of a Chicago's hotel. Honorary degrees. The most important orders. Having become a classic alive. A luck-bringing talisman for the twentieth century - something like Picasso, Chaplin or Einstein. But I prefer staying in Vence and dreaming: The Circus, The Lovers, The Bunch of Flowers, The Antique Themes and The Bible. The National Museum of the Marc Chagall Biblical Message was even dedicated in near-by Nice.

The Mediterranean Sea - the mountains fall straight down to it at Menton. Shipwrecks at the bottom, a fishermen's village, the Nice - Janov autostrada, olive-tree groves, another small village, ruins of an ancient temple with white mountain peaks - this all on one slope, above one another, up to two thousand meters, like a crosscut through the history - the mediterranean culture. I belong to it.

Music, colours: my paintings are singing. The ceiling of the Paris Opera - a hole in the sky. The Metropolitan Opera in New York. "Only an honest heart is free. It has its own logic and its own truth."

Streams of light have lent into the walls and the cathedrals are sailing. Zurich. Mainz. Rheims. The goals. Shining windows from my workroom. And also Jerusalem - because the Old Testament prohibits picturing persons, I use logograms. The voice of bells melted by the sun. I am a Jew.

And forth against the stream of time: 70's, 60's and 50's were devoured by civilization. And art? Convulsion, big gestures, destruction, speculation - brain, brain, brain. "It seems to me that art is a state of spirit above all." Spirit, spirit in the middle of constructs and "everyone's spirit is holy. The spirit of each biped everywhere on the earth." I am a sort of a bunch of flowers against the panel greyness of airstrip concrete. Don Quiote is riding through the crowd of revolutionaries.

The lovers are flying over Paris, the flowers are flaming up from Notre Dame, some hand is giving a seven-armed candlestick, the girls are embracing the donkey that was bewitched by Puck from The midsummer night's dream. I am dreaming. Far but near, in fact, Russia is hanging about. I have seen now, after fifty years, Moscow, Peterburg, but Vitebsk, my home, I don't want to see. One should not come back. I really don't want. One day I may reach.

The war. I am escaping from France in 1941. Red angels are lighting from the sky, Christ the suferer has turned white in horror, the earth is straining like an eviscerated animal and the ash of biblical prophets iz drizzling on the concentration camp in Treblinka. If only this eternal migration of people finished.

And again the lovers are kissing each other in flowers - I am spending the thirtieth and the twentieth in Paris: I am working on La Fontaine's Fables, Gogol's Dead souls. I am beginning to illustrate the Bible. Bela is translating "My life" into French. Bela, my first wife. She died in America in 1944. A have always seen her as a bride. The lovers are kissing and the street-lamp is crossing the street - "Don't call me a fantasta! On the contrary, I am a realist. I love the land".

The clinking of smashed street-lamp, the news vendor on the red sky is calling out a left march. The revolution. Lenin is doing handstand on one hand. He is agitating. I am showing my paintings to Lunacharsky - he is a people's commissar of culture now but we know each other from earlier days. I am a schoolmaster of the Art Academy in Vitebsk! No, don't want me to paint any squares - upheaval in the school, I am leaving. I am designing sceens for the Moscow State Jewish Theatre, I am teaching in a war orfans settlement. In 1922 I am leaving Russia forever. Am I getting near? Getting far?

I am writing "My life". Devoted to Russia, to the donkeys and to all others. "I love the land." And there is God in her.

1914 - 1910 in France for some time. "Paris - you are my second Vitebsk." I am asking Apolinair why he doesn't meet me with Picasso. I and the village. A bit of Cubism. I have seven fingers on my hands. Am I getting far? Getting near?

I am going forth against the time and I am studying under Bakst. I am earning my living by paitning St.Peterburg's shop-signs. I am dreaming. And the dream is coming true. Rabbies, a jewish ghetto, an oil lamp, the pervasive smell of herrings. The reality. Sabbath. Torah. My grandfather is a Talmud interpreter - I am a Jew.

Vitebsk. I am home. Green fiddlers on roofs are freezing in Belorussian winter, I have reached. Who says we cannot get back to the earth before we left her last? Greenish dusk is falling on Vitebsk, you can hear sawing wood. It is July 7, 1887. The first star is gleaming through the sheeny leafage of a pear-tree. I have reached the end. I was born.

Written on the basis of the painter's memories
and feelings and impressions of his paintings

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