Pavel Tchelitchew was a painter unlike any other. When thinking of his work images of bloody colors, veins, and eye sockets come to mind. Tchelitchew became famous for his concept of the “interior landscape” or painting portraits that have no skin, but instead map the “landscape” of organs and veins. However, Pavel did not start his career as a surrealist using bright primary colors and jarring anatomical subject matter. In the beginning of his life, in many ways, he quoted artists like Pablo Picasso in his style, while painting portraits (with skin still attached), generally of circus performers. This exhibition follows the artistic journey of how Tchelitchew became a painter of “interior landscapes”. How did this radical change happen over his career? When did the breakthrough happen? This collection may argue that the “breakthrough” was far from instantaneous. Rather, many of Tchelitchew’s earlier works contain formal similarities to the “interior landscape” concept. As you travel through this exhibition in chronological order try not to focus on the differences in the works, but the similarities. How has Pavel’s style developed? How does color play a role in his works? How is anatomy the focus of his works, both early and late? Hopefully you’ll find that these pieces are more similar than they originally seem.
Pavel Tchelitchew, Portrait of a Man, 1929
Oil on Canvas, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery
Portrait of a Man is one of Tchelitchew’s earliest works. Though the color scheme seems almost muddy as a whole, you can see places where the base primary colors stand out. The main emphasis of the piece is the eye sockets and the bulging vein directly in the center of the brow. The glossy layered approach that allows the colors to show through the face gives the skin an almost translucent quality which connects it to the interest in what is underneath rather than what is on the surface.
Pavel Tchelitchew, Pierrot, 1930
Oil on Canvas, Unknown
Pierrot is one of Tchelitchew’s many portraits of circus performers. This portrait shows Pavel’s move toward primary colors as his skin tones. It is unclear whether the blue in the portrait is paint or the skin tone of the clown. Again, there is an emphases placed on the eye sockets rather than the eyes. Also the one area of the painting that shows the inside of the skin, the nostrils, have the blood red color that appears later in most of his interior landscapes.
Pavel Tchelitchew, The Mirror (Circus Dressing Room), 1932
Oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1979.135.25
In The Mirror (Circus Dressing Room) there is a stronger focus on the head of the seated performer than the reflection of his face. The dark shadows emphasize the spinal chord and skull rather than the skin and have a red glow in the rendering. The same “bloody” red appears in the cape of the knight figure in the background. There also is an intentional emphasis on the same vein on the brow of the reflected figure’s face.
Pavel Tchelitchew, Head of Autumn, 1941
Watercolor on Paper, Art Institute of Chicago
Head of Autumn is where Pavel starts to forget about facial features all together and focus mainly on what makes up the skull. The profile of the head makes up the negative space of a tree and the branches of the tree are clearly quoting the bright veins of red and orange paint within the skull. You can also start to see other anatomy coming into play. Specifically the nape of the neck is formed by a hidden image of an arm and hand. This also brings attention to the structure of the spinal chord coming down from the skull.
Pavel Tchelitchew, Hide and Seek, 1942
Oil on Canvas, Museum of Modern Art
Hide and Seek, Tchelitchew’s most famous piece is probably the biggest switch to his interior landscape style. The colors are bright and uninhibited and the longer you look at the painting the more anatomy you find. The trunk of the tree is made up of fingers and toes, the branches become veins, the negative spaces are made up of various body parts, and the two main skulls are filled with red veins of wet paint.
Pavel Tchelitchew, Anatomical Painting, 1946
Oil on Canvas, Whitney Museum of American Art
Anatomical Painting is exactly what it sounds like. Tchelitchew paints this figure using only primary colors and although the curves of where the skin should be is implied, the content of the painting is some of the skeletal system, and the mapped out veins that travel along the entire picture plane. Like the majority of Pavel’s work, there is a strong emphasis on the skull and the spine in this painting and the veins are the only thing painted with bright red.
Pavel Tchelitchew, Interior Landscape, 1949
Crayon on Paper, Art Institute of Chicago
Interior Landscape shows Tchelitchew’s work in full fruition. The glowing anatomy remains in his signature primary colors and once again brings focus to the eye sockets, the spinal chord, and the mapping of veins throughout the skull. The veins in this piece are more organized and are portrayed as electrical rings that appear to makeup the area where the skin should be. However, the veins remain the main feature of the piece that is done in red.