About “Serge Hollerbach: A Russian Painter in New York”
In this short, award-winning documentary, the Russian emigre painter Serge Hollerbach (Nov 1, 1923 – Feb 19, 2021) creates two paintings, separated in time by a period of four years during which he has visibly aged and his vision has declined. While painting, he discusses art, his displacement during World War II, building a new life in New York City, and how vision loss has affected his ability to paint.
We’d like to bring special attention to the film’s producer (and our sponsoring organization), The American Macular Degeneration Foundation (AMDF), which made it possible for us to make this film in the last years of Hollerbach’s life, when he was nearly blind from macular degeneration. The Vision & Art Project is part of AMDF’s larger mission of helping people learn about and live with macular degeneration. AMDF also supports researchers working to prevent, treat and cure macular degeneration.
A version of the film accessible to the visually impaired with Audio Description is available at Vimeo. The password is: Serge222.
Serge Hollerbach’s biography
Serge Hollerbach was born in Russia. He studied at a high school run by the Academy of Fine Arts in Leningrad until the Nazis invaded the city in 1941. Along with many other Russians, he was sent to Germany to work as a laborer in the factories. While living in a refugee camp after the war, he studied at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, where he was introduced to an expressionistic mode of working.
He immigrated to the United States in 1949 and settled on the Upper West Side of New York City, where he resided until his death in 2021. Along with being his home, the Upper West Side was an inspiration and source of many of his paintings. Among other subjects, he painted city dwellers as they went about their daily business, evoking their inner solitude. His approach to painting was “truth of life,” as he explains in our film.
He taught for many years at the National Academy of Design and received many awards for his painting. His work can be found in the collections, among others, of the Yale University Art Gallery, St. Paul Gallery of Art, Georgia Museum of Art (Athens, Georgia), the Mead Art Museum (Amherst College), and several institutions in Russia.
Hollerbach’s post-macular work
Beginning in 1994, Hollerbach was experiencing severe vision loss, which ushered in a new phase of his work. With Oskar Kokoschka’s notion of a “third eye” in mind, Hollerbach turned to what he called his “inner vision” and relied on muscle memory to execute his work. With the Upper West Side streetscapes in mind, he painted increasingly abstract iterations of shoulder-to-shoulder pedestrians, with their canes, shopping bags, rolling luggage, and dogs.
Hollerbach often said that macular degeneration freed him to pursue a vision more in keeping with his expressionistic roots. Profiled in The New York Times in the summer 2018 in connection with The Persistence of Vision exhibition at The University of Cincinnati, he expanded on this notion, saying in reference to his post-macular work, “To be playful, you have nothing to lose. Nothing to lose is a new kind of freedom.”
Robert Andrew Parker
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