Vladimir Veisberg

7 June 1924, Moscow—1 January 1985, Moscow

The End of the World

"We see an object thanks to the imperfection of our vision. With perfect vision we see harmony and do not notice the object.”  Vladimir Veisberg

Analytical and myth-creating, rational to the point of madness, Veisberg sought the formula for perfect painting, and tried to create a painting in which all the colors in nature, all the forms, and space would overcome their own imperfection and natural physical heterogeneity and be reduced to an ideal white color. His goal was not a purely formal attempt “to rework external chaos presented by nature and society, into a harmonic cosmos. … In Veisberg it turned into a real mania,”[1] a spiritual quest that required absolute concentration and almost total reclusiveness.

His paintings are the result of numerous experiments with dead and live nature, light, color, and in the final analysis, with himself. The author of the concept of “invisible painting” studied the process of differentiation of color, “trying to find the synchronous source among valeur (semitones), composition, and drawing.” His spectral “white” still lifes, portraits, and nudes dissolve in twilight, dense air, melt in space, annihilating themselves, trying to turn into an abstract “nothing.”

Veisberg’s “White on White” has nothing in common with Kazimir Malevich’s famous cycle except the title; unlike the Suprematist who constructed planes out of one color, Veisberg did not use white pigment at all. His paintings, made up of numerous tiny multicolored particles, are built on complex combinations of semitones. “A white painting consisting of white objects appears at the very end of my work—the painting must become white if all, literally all, its colors get into sync, and not in just one spot, not in just one object, but throughout the entire surface of the canvas, divided, hostile, contrasting with one another, they all together at the very end of the work indissolubly form counterpoint, a resolution, a harmonic chord in ‘white.’” [2]

Veisberg did his paintings in accordance with a plan, in several sessions that had to be of the same length, and each time he worked on the entire composition following the method he uncovered for long work on a painting. His diligently balanced and impeccably poised still lifes, whose physical safety he preserved meticulously as he worked, are composed of the same objects—cubes, spheres, cylinders, cones, measuring cups, plaster casts of antique sculptures all painted white, and sometimes shells, which were allowed to retain their color, crumpled rags, and newspapers. He selected “live” models for his portraits very carefully, demanding complete immobility and silence from them and probably would not have complained if they were just as unalive as his still lifes.  Victor Tupitsyn wrote that Veisberg “admitted that he selects as models only those whom he has seen, in his nightmares, lying in a coffin.”

The analysis and study of the work of his predecessors was an important part of his work. It was the topic of his lecture “Classification of the Basic Forms of Color Perception,” given in 1962 at the Institute of Slavic Studies of the Academy of Sciences USSR at a symposium on the structural study of sign systems, later denounced for its “anti-Marxist” attitude toward art.  It was probably not only his lecture that led to that, but Veisberg was frequently charged with formalism and once, at the Manege show in 1962, he was accused of pornography (for depicting a nude model), which kept him from being allowed to show his work publicly for a long time.

Equally free of official doctrines and trends, Veisberg, although interested, as far as it was possible in a closed country, in the latest directions in art, remained in the French modernist tradition. With literal accuracy he embodied Cézanne’s exhortation: “Interpret nature through the cube, cone, and sphere,” but he went farther, changing the nature around him, turning the environment into the protoimage of his painting, a unique total installation. His walls were painted white, he removed everything unnecessary during work except for his easel, hung heavy black drapes on the windows, and allowed only reflected light from another window. Thus Veisberg created a solid haze, marvelous and strange, lighting that dissolved matter, ideal and perfect, but in which only he, the ascetic and devotee, could live.

Faina Balakhovskaya


[1] E. Murina. “Vladimir Veisberg,” A-Ya, No. 4, p. 36.

[2] Ilya Kabakov. 60-70e [The 1960s-1970s]. Moscow, NLO, 2008, p. 93.