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Midwest Jewish Artists Lab: Artist Profile

Midwest Jewish Artists Lab: Artist Profile


An Interview with Artist Dimitri Pavlotsky

This past summer, Spertus Institute announced the Chicago launch of the Midwest Jewish Artists Lab. Spertus believes arts and culture are critical components for a vibrant Jewish community. The Lab addresses the need to broaden the impact of the arts in Jewish life, helping foster community and inspire new work.

Assistant Editor Joanna Rothenberg interviewed participating artist Dimitri Pavlotsky, who hails from Moscow and now lives in Logan Square.


Young GardnerJR: How did you hear about the Midwest Artists Lab and what are you finding useful about the program?

DP: I heard about it through Facebook. My friend saw it and correctly thought it was right up my alley.

I have this need to be a part of a “tribe” — whether that be a tribe of artists, immigrants, or Jews. The Lab is exactly the niche I was looking for.

JR: Speaking of immigrants, we’ve focused our public programing over the last few months on the experience of Soviet Jews, and found for many that their Soviet background continued to inform their work and identity. Has that been true for you?

Being Soviet is my character. I immigrated to the United States in 1989 when I was 26 years old. My interest in my background subsided after the Cold War, but through my work with the Artists Lab it has perked back up.

Soviets are wary of any establishment that claims to want to help shape our ideology. On the other hand, this institution [Spertus] wants to help. I was born and raised in Moscow. We didn’t practice anything — especially Judaism. I remember coming home from school once and saw a box of matzo on the table. In retrospect, I realize it was probably Passover but back then I had no idea. I just knew it wasn’t normally there.

By the time I arrived here, I was already shaped by the Soviets. My education there was great. I studied at the Moscow School of Architecture for six years. But I didn’t realize how deprived I was as a child by not practicing Judaism. Here it’s quite a different atmosphere. Everything is a personal choice. I decide; not some system already in place.

JR: Where have you exhibited?

DP: My first large show was at the Chabad in Bucktown. The first time I stepped foot in there, I felt uncomfortable. I wasn’t a religious man. I came back a year later and understood more fully because I recognized the importance of rituals to the the people involved there, something that is also important to me as an artist. So I was very pleased to exhibit there. I have also exhibited with the Chicago Artists Coalition and at Studio Oh!

JR: Can you explain what is happening in your work, Young Gardener (above)?

DP: It’s a painting based off a painting from the 19th century by Orest Kiprensky. In the original painting, the man was drawn with very smooth skin and looked quite relaxed. Kiprensky was going for illusion, but I wanted to represent reality — I thought the earlier work didn’t properly represent current life. Life is filled with anguish so I went with jerky moves and compulsive strokes.

JR: Why did you decide to include the performance element to your work?

DP: I discovered it by accident. I’ve always felt I’ve had more energy than the average person and I wanted to share it. At first I was hesitate to film myself, worrying it would be inhibiting but instead it was the opposite — I became more disciplined because every move was captured. The energy doesn’t just come from my hands but from my entire body.

I’m in the very beginning stages of this process but people are finding it interesting — it’s giving my whole body to my art.


New work by Dimitri Pavlotsky and the other artists participating in the Chicago cohort of the Midwest Jewish Artists Lab will go on display at Spertus Institute this fall in an exhibit based around the theme of Wisdom.

The Midwest Jewish Artists Lab is supported by a grant from the Covenant Foundation.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Image shown left

Young Gardener (detail), 30 x 40 in, oil on canvas

Participating Artists 2016


Sylvia Alotta of Berwyn
Gabriella Boros of Skokie
Melanie Dankowicz of Champaign
Susan Dickman of Evanston
Berit Engen of Oak Park 
Jonathan Franklin of Oak Park
Ellen Holtzblatt of Chicago
Judith Joseph of Northbrook
Stephen Levin of Riverwoods
Carol Neiger of Glenview
Dimitri Pavlotsky of Chicago
Amy Reichert of Evanston

Participating artist Dimitri Pavlotsky at work

Artist Dimitri Pavlotsky has been filming himself at work, adding a perfomance element to his artistic practice. In this short video, he is painting a piece titled Kiddush.

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Participating artist Berit Engen on her practice

Berit Engen began weaving as a child in Norway, and now practices this ancient craft of entwining woof (horizontal threads) with warp (vertical threads) from her home in Oak Park, Illinois.

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