Jewish cultural figures who would become members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee signing an appeal to world Jewry to support the Soviet war effort against Nazi Germany, Moscow, 1941. (Front row, left to right) Dovid Bergelson, Solomon Mikhoels, and Ilya Ehrenburg; (second row) David Oistrakh, Yitskhok Nusinov, Yakov Zak, Boris Iofan, Benjamin Zuskin, Aleksandr Tyshler, Shmuel Halkin. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Martin Smith)

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Tyshler, Aleksandr Grigor’evich

(1898–1980), painter, set designer, graphic artist, and sculptor. Born into a carpenter’s family in Melitopol’, Aleksandr Tyshler grew up among craft workers and from the time of his childhood assisted house painters. His early impressions were reflected later in his series of paintings Sosedi moego detstva (Neighbors of My Childhood, 1930–1968).

From 1912 to 1917, Tyshler studied at the Kiev School of Art, and from 1917 to 1918 at the studio of Aleksandra Ekster. When the Kultur-lige (Culture League) was created in Kiev in 1917, Tyshler entered the plastic arts section. In 1919, he volunteered for the Red Army, serving in a special department of the 12th Army, where he made posters, organized a propaganda train, and produced plays. The following year, Tyshler participated in the Jewish Art Exhibition of Sculpture, Graphic Art, and Drawings, organized by the Kultur-lige in Kiev. He signed his works of this period using the pseudonym Dzhin-Dzhikh-Shvil’ (from his mother’s maiden name, Dzhindzhikhashvili).

In 1920, Tyshler was demobilized and returned to Melitopol’, where he worked for the Russian Telegraph Agency. In 1921 he moved to Moscow, where he studied with Vladimir Favorskii at the Higher Artistic-Technical Workshops (Vkhutemas), and from 1922 to 1925 belonged to the “Method” painters’ association, founded by senior students. The group was united by its idea of a new artistic movement called projectionalism, according to which the artist should create not everyday objects but “projections,” expressing in painting their perceptions of materials and their interactions. Tyshler accordingly produced Organizovannye koordinaty uprugosti tsveta (Organized Coordinates of the Elasticity/Resilience of Color), a series of compositions representing the combination of brightly shining gases. In 1925, almost the entire projectionist group, including Tyshler, joined the Society of Easel Painters (OST; 1925–1931), founded in Moscow by graduates of the Higher Artistic-Technical Workshops who adamantly opposed the trends of what they perceived as industrial art.

“Antisemitism Is Intentional Counterrevolution. The Antisemite Is Our Class Enemy.” Russian poster. Artwork by Aleksandr Tyshler. Printed in the USSR. The poster associates antisemitism and antisemitic violence with "counterrevolutionary" elements, such as capitalists, the bourgeoisie, and supporters of the tsar. (Moldovan Family Collection)

In the second half of the 1920s, Tyshler exhibited in Dresden and Harbin (1926), Venice (1928), and Riga (1929). In 1927, the Society for the Settlement of Jewish Toilers on the Land (OZET) exhibited his work Devushka s gusiami (Girl with Geese) at the Anniversary Exhibition of Peoples of the USSR.

In 1927, Tyshler began to work as a set designer for both Yiddish- and Russian-language productions. His first significant production, Lope de Vega’s Fuente ovejuna (The Sheep Well) was performed at the Belarus State Yiddish Theater (BelGOSET) that year. In 1927 and early 1928, he worked at BelGOSET and also created scenery for the Kharkov GOSET. In 1932, he was invited to join the Moscow GOSET, and from 1941 to 1949 served as its head artist, creating scenery for titles such as King Lear (1935) and the Yiddish Freylekhs (Merrymaking, by Zalman Shneer [Okun’]; 1945). Between 1941 and 1943, the theater was transferred to Tashkent, where Tyshler was evacuated. He was one of MosGOSET director Solomon Mikhoels’s closest collaborators, and in 1946 was awarded the State Prize for his work on Freylekhs.

After MosGOSET was closed down in 1949, Tyshler worked only occasionally in the theater arts. In the 1950s, he took up sculpture and also continued to paint and draw. His works are characterized by irony, plasticity, paradox, and the grotesque. While depicting objects realistically, Tyshler poeticized and fantasized their interactions with human beings. The image of a woman carrying a house or a whole city on her head, characteristic of his work during his last years, gives an indication of his creative spirit.

Suggested Reading

Grigorii Kazovskii, “Evreiskoe izobrazitel’noe iskusstvo v Rossii, 1900–1948: Etapy istorii,” in Istoricheskie sud’by evreev v Rossii i SSSR: Nachalo dialoga, ed. Igor Krupnik (Moscow, 1992); Flora Syrkina, Aleksandr Grigor’evich Tyshler (Moscow, 1966); Flora Syrkina, ed., Aleksandr Tyshler i mir ego fantazii: K 100-letiiu so dnia rozhdeniia (Moscow, 1998).



Translated from Russian by I. Michael Aronson