“It is enough to raise the genre one centimetre above the ground to discover what marvels are concealed in it, what an enchanted light radiates from the various faces of the everyday, the ordinary, the banal”
State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
Albertina, Vienna, Austria
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel
Stieglitz State Academy of Art and Design, St. Petersburg, Russia
State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, Israel
Negev Museum of Art, Be’er Sheva, Israel
Janco-Dada Museum, Ein Hod, Israel
Mishkan Le’Omanut Museum of Art, Ein Harod, Israel; Bar-David
Museum, Kibbutz Baram, Israel
Museum of Art, Vitebsk, Belarus and private collections in Israel, Russia, Poland, France, Italy, USA, Australia, Germany, Austria, Canada, and Mexico.
FELLOWSHIPS AND AWARDS
Ish Shalom Life Achievement Prize, 2014
Jefferson County Honorary Citizen, Kentucky, U.S.A. 1989
Cite International des Arts, Residence Fellowship, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Cultural Exchange), 1987
Kentucky Colonel honorary title, Kentucky, U.S.A. 1989
Gestetner Fellowship, 1985
Ofer Feniger Award for a Young Artist, 1983
Sasha Okun was born in 1949 in Leningrad (St. Petersburg), Russia. He now lives and works in Jerusalem, Israel. Okun has exhibited throughout Israel, Europe and America and is included in numerous important museum collections. In June 2019, Okun will be the subject of a major solo exhibition at the State Russia Museum, St. Petersburg. In addition, his work the Prodigal Son, 2013-2017 (featured below) will be joining the Museum's permanent collection. Other notable permanent collections include: State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia; Albertina, Vienna, Austria; Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel; Stieglitz State Academy of Art and Design, St. Petersburg, Russia; State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia; Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, Israel; Negev Museum of Art, Be’er Sheva, Israel; Janco-Dada Museum, Ein Hod, Israel; Mishkan Le’Omanut Museum of Art, Ein Harod, Israel; Bar-David Museum, Kibbutz Baram, Israel; Museum of Art, Vitebsk, Belarus.
Okun trained at Solomon Levin, Pioneer Palace Studio (1960–65) and then Mukhina Higher Industrial Institute of Art, Leningrad, now St Petersburg Stieglitz State Academy of Art and Design, Moscow (1966–72). In the mid-1970s Okun was part of a group of non-conformist artists who were arrested, detained and threatened for not conforming with the government directives at that time. Okun's work was completely destroyed by the Soviet authorities on a number of occasions. Eventually, feeling at odds with the socio-political climate, in 1979 Okun left the Soviet Union and emigrated first to Rome and then to Jerusalem, Israel where he has lived and worked ever since.
Sasha Okun’s is an art of contradictions, of dissonances, of beauty and ugliness, of good and bad, of appropriate and inappropriate, of humour and seriousness. Through an unrelenting examination of the human body, Okun seeks to reveal the basic concepts of our time, in the hope of better understanding the human condition. Okun’s singular artistic achievement is in the new and profound way in which he paints flesh. It is the visceral depiction of this outer skin which holds the essence of Okun’s deeper psychological message. Depicting human figures in all shapes and conditions, from babies to elderly people, both men and women, Okun studies his subjects, searching underneath their skin and beyond their anatomy. Okun is not interested in the idealised body – his commitment is to revealing the real, often challenging truth beneath. He says “a work of art is like a living organism. And since life is made of dirt and earth and not of distilled water - there is a need to investigate life from its most basic elements.”
Classically rendered, but contemporary in impulse - Okun is eager to find innovation based on past precedent. His works reveal an elevated understanding of the art historical canon, with references ranging from Classical Art, through Byzantine, Renaissance and existential 20th century art, intermingling with extraordinary virtuosity. Marked parallels can be drawn with the visceral and potent depictions of the human body by practitioners such as Lucien Freud and Jenny Saville, and the explorations of a lesser told beauty by Munch, Bacon, Schiele and Goya. Yet Okun cites his major artistic influences as the classical masters; Ingres, Mantegna, Tintoretto and Michelangelo – he says he then “forgets what he has learnt” and sets out to find his own singular artistic idiom.
Okun’s practice has evolved dramatically during the artist’s 50 year career. His early works began with Nature Morte followed by a change in approach in the final years of the 20th C. to corporeal painting which is also highly conceptual in nature. From large scale installations in the 1980s, followed by classical oil painting on wood in contemporary works which are often near monumental in scale. A practice rooted in drawing, the first ideas are formed on a small sheet of paper with just a few rapidly drawn lines or gestures. Drawing follows drawing and gradually the composition and the protagonists are formed before being translated into oil on board.