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On February 28, 1968, the artist wrote in his journal: “Of all the gifts I have been granted, the most modest of all is my artistic talent, but as life has turned out, it is an artist that I have become, and so I am compelled to speak a language that comes to me with utmost difficulty.” He is “compelled to speak”; he perceives art as a language, and language as a system of compulsion – as what lies ahead for the artist, as what creates the artist. It is only action, only effort, only work.

Leonid Zusman Cats 1960s

What the artist calls “personal,” the general culture will call “private.” No part of a picture of the world or of history is implied in this – it is a text from which culture shuts itself off, preserving and guarding its version of a great history and of a concept of the world.

Personal means open. Open to what? To what does the artist open his intention to speak, to write, and to leave what has been written, one way or another? To what does it belong? To the language of art. To the recognition of art as language. Not to myth and not to history, not to external descriptions and conventional cultural programs that are also referred to as art. It is not politics and not a sphere of self-realization. This is a farewell to the world as it seems and a parting with illusions.

Art does not retell reality. Art is not a substitute for reality. The language of art does not complement the picture of reality but rather examines it. Art is the only reality. It is the expression of what exists, a manifestation of what exists, of what has become of me. This alone is what the artist speaks about.

We read in the journal entry from November 16, 1959: “Only that which cannot be expressed in any form other than painting is truly painting.” The image of what is seen – this is not the visible. This is the content of the visible, the hidden that at the same time compels the visible to emerge and reveal itself, to come out from within, to demonstrate what is beyond our field of vision, under suspicion, perhaps, hidden, covered up, packed for common use. This is no conception. This is the work of the artist. The world in Zusman’s pictures appears to be simple and self-revealing. This world is already here. It is not necessary to search for it or conjure it up. It is his everyday life. Something that is going on by itself, without the artist’s desire or effort; it is nearby, close at hand, but first seen as though through fog, out of focus. Appearing in a picture, the world grows clearer. It becomes brighter and closer, at an arm’s length, at the fingertips; it is possible to touch it. It appears as a touch, as an objection to the artist who is completely unsure of its reality. All that is happening, all that is real becomes so only once it has become art, only once it ends its indifferent, impersonal existence. This indicates that certain meanings awakening here and now are being registered and clarified in the artist’s work. They come alive in a composition due to the “personal” participation of the author, who does not speak of the distance between the world and man, between these awoken meanings and meaningfulness. There is no other foundation, no other place. What would allow the artist to remain an artist, were he able to step back and take a look at the world from without?

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