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Born in Moscow, Russian painter Oscar Rabin trained at the Riga Academy of Arts (1944–7) and was particularly influenced by artist and poet Ye Kropivnitsky (1884–1979 who revived the tradition of avant-garde art that had been driven underground during the 1930s.
In the 1950s Rabin became a member of the Lianozovo Circle (named after a district on the outskirts of Moscow), a focus for ‘unofficial art’, which cultivated the freedom of Surrealism and lyrical Expressionism. The group included Kropivnitsky, his son Lev Kropivnitsky and his daughter Valentina Kropivnitskaya, who became Rabin’s wife. Rabin gained recognition as a leader of the unofficial art of the 1960s and 1970s and as an energetic organiser of alternative exhibitions, including the ‘bulldozer exhibition’ of 1974, which was broken up by the Communist authorities.
Characteristic of Rabin’s work are gloomy landscapes showing city outskirts and backyards, as well as still-lifes full of a mournful sarcasm; for example Three Skulls (1973) in which the skulls lie on a sheet of newspaper bearing the headline ‘Peaceful coexistence is a form of class war’. Blacks and browns dominate his sombre palette; the lyrical expression of the colours blends with an acute feeling for expressive Surrealist detail that lays bare the fateful absurdity of everyday existence.
In 1978 Rabin emigrated to France and settled in Paris. Whilst enriched with new motifs, his painting outside Russia retained its former stylistic features, as in Parisian Motif (1981).