Wednesday, July 13, 2011

William Brui: I Work For Eternity

William Brui, USSR born Jewish artist based in Normandy, France. His works can be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC), The Museum of Contemporary Art (NYC), Guggenheim Museum (NYC), The Museum of Contemporary Art in Paris (Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris), The Center of Georges-Pompidou (Centre national d’art et de culture Georges-Pompidou, Paris), The National Library of France (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris), The Russian State Museum (St. Petersburg), and in numerous private collections.

I owe my introduction to William to my sister. My sister called me the other day and said she met an interesting artist with memorable twirled whiskers at a social event in London. He later invited her to the Sotheby’s art auction - he was selling one of his paintings that week. William returned to his residence in Normandy (a region of France) shortly after the auction.

I dialed William’s number not knowing what to expect. What if he has a French maid who’ll answer ‘Bonjour Madame’ while I have only Russian and English in stock? Thank God, William picked up the phone and greeted me in Russian. I spoke with William three times that week, and every time he showed me a different facet of his complex personality.
William grew up in an interesting family; their home was a hub for gathering of the most progressive people of that time: scientists, musicians, poets, writers, and other great people. Little William absorbed the wisdom of his mature counterparts, and pondered on the meaning of solitude, oneness with God, and other mysteries of life.

William discovered a talent of a visual artist and his creative vision early in childhood. At the same time, as many artistically gifted people, he had a hard time in a grade school. His grades were low due to dyslexia. He was a slow reader, and he could read the same book over and over again. One day his mom lost her patience watching him struggling with a book and exclaimed “You look in a book and see a fig” which is a common expression in Russian that means reading a book and missing the point. William did not understand his mom; he thought that he literally had to find that ‘mysterious fig’ in every book he read from then on. Obviously, there was no ‘fig’ in novels of Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, but William was persistent to discover one. It forced him to read each book thoroughly and often reread it several times which led him to developing strong skills of critical analysis.

William began to demonstrate his artwork to adults since he was eight. At thirteen he sold his first artwork. At fifteen he became an apprentice at an engraver’s workshop, and soon participated in a group art exhibit in Leningrad (former St. Petersburg) for several consecutive years. He left Russia at age 24 and immigrated to Israel. While in Israel, he was interviewed by a journalist from the New York Times.

The article in the New York Times in 1971 made him famous overnight. William told me that he never sought out people’s attention; instead, he said “people always found me.”After that remarkable article, one of the major museums in New York bought a few of his paintings. William recites that transaction as the following, “They called me and asked to show some of my work. I brought a few of my paintings. They asked me ‘Would you like to sell them?’ I said, ‘Yes, I’d love to.’ That’s it – so simple and unpretentious as if one just bought a bag of apples on a farmers market.

William lived in Russia, Israel, USA, and France at different stages of his life. Yet, most of his years he spent in Paris and later, in Normandy, France.

He moved to France from Israel because he “wanted to go to London, but had enough money only for a ticket to Paris.” He was in his mid-twenties, married, with two children. It was a difficult time for him and his family: very little money, uncertainty, and a new cultural environment. In addition, he never formally studied French – he had to pick up language by hearing other people’s speech. In spite of the challenge, William soon adapted to a new situation. He accidentally acquired wealthy clients (such as Madame Rothschild and her friends) by exhibiting his paintings in a local café. He also met an influential couple in the world of art and fashion: Alexander Liberman, Vogue's Art Director, and his wife, Tatiana Yacovleff du Plessix Liberman. They became William’s patrons and connected him with French elite.

William emphasized in our conversation that he never sought out fame, nor did he ever look for clients on his own. Word of mouth and referrals brought commissions to him, including an order from the Paris City Hall Administration. An architect who built a public school in 33 Rue Miollis district was a fan of William’s art. Government allowed spending 1% of the total cost on the décor of a building, and William was happy to leave his mark in Paris and paint a mural on the school wall. The school principal often invited William to explain the mural and share his vision with the students in the beginning of an academic year.

When I asked William about his price negotiation process with his clients, he told me a funny story when he accidentally spilled “I do not work for money, I work for eternity.” He intended to say his paintings were priceless but, due to the language barrier, it turned into this pompous statement that in fact, did help him sell his work for a better price.

When I asked what kind of advice William could give to young artists, he recommended studying thoroughly art movements, genres and styles, and then “try to forget everything as if you are a white sheet of paper. That’s when an inspiration, a Divine Force will enter your body and penetrate your art.”

Right now, William Brui is in his sixties, lives happily with his young wife in his estate in Normandy and continues to paint and exhibit his artwork in Europe and Russia.

William had massive ups and downs in his life and he shared some of these stories with me. The format of my blog does not permit me to publish all of them. The bottom line is William considers himself a fatalist and attributes ‘lucky incidents’ as well as down times to the Fate and God’s Will. William believes that if one destined to be successful and famous, so it will be. What I have learned so far, is that what one believes becomes one’s reality.

I know most of my American readers and myself are more comfortable with the idea of being in charge of one’s own destiny and reality, creating opportunities and attracting the right people and circumstances into their life by focusing their attention on the desired outcome. My purpose is not to object William’s point of view, but to reflect on what he thinks helped him to arrive to the current point in his life. I am convinced he is an eccentric and provocative gentleman with a deep artistic vision and philosophy. He is also kind and genial in treating people with respect and consideration. I am grateful I had a chance to get to know him and learn about his life and artistic career.