Did Dontzoff Paints the Human Image in the Raw

Discussion au Sommet, Paintings, 77 x 51
Born in Paris of Russian, Jewish, and Gypsy origins, Did Dontzoff is a painter with his own unique vernacular, which can only be described as a sophisticated variant on Dubuffet’s “art brut,” seasoned by the streets in much the same manner as the poetry of Jacques Prévert and the songs of Charles Azvenour.
   For while also influenced by Russian native crafts, Dontzoff’s blunt, expressive figures, with their thick outlines and totemic presences, suggest eternal flaneurs and boulevardiers,  Apache Everymen trapped in the net of life.
    “My paintings are inescapable because they are made of life, which instills deep expression in the work,” the artist declares, sounding like one of the men that he paints, pondering his own predicament. “There is constant movement, but no answers.”       
    There is also something of Leonard Baskin’s stark, streaked graphic humanism in Dontzoff’s bold personages, with the surfaces within their bold black contours veined with lines like those in a crude woodcut. One could also cite African tribal sculpture as a possible source for their rugged angularity and almost unnerving presence.
    Like Dubuffet himself, or the over-the-top drawings that Andy Masson created to illustrate Georges Bataille’s novel “The Dead Man” (sans the gratuitous obscenity) Dontzoff’s paintings in black India ink and acrylic are raw and vigorous, partaking of the directness of so-called outsider art from a more sophisticated perspective informed by art historical awareness. Yet they are free of the constraints of what Dubuffet referred to as “asphyxiating culture.” For even as their compositions display an undeniable cohesiveness of design, they make no concessions to the conventions of polite taste.
    Indeed, there is something of the trickster in Dontzoff, of the the magician who dazzles his audience with sleight of hand and picks one’s pocket at the same time –– at least figuratively speaking. Just listen to his voice, as he pulls the wool over one’s eyes in a statement issued in connection with his present exhibition: “Man, woman, dialogue of deaf and dumb, first images, before the sound, separate for ever, man, woman, painting, painting of a fit of laughter, vida, senora, por favor, after I beg you, do as you may, Madame, sit down, how may I help you? Love, you are certain of it, so ok, I give you blue and black, with a zest of red all that mixed with our ‘sauce du moment,’ and preferably to consume every day.”
    One could also see Dontzoff as an artistic shaman, creating starkly simplified human effigies that take on a monumental, monolithic presence, like towering constructions made from slabs of slate, yet seem somehow possessed of a poignantly affecting  soulfulness. Indeed, one could go on ad absurdom, puzzling over the strange power of Did Dontzoff’s work. But let’s simply give the last word to his kindred spirit and fellow Parisian, the late cafe poet and mensch of the boulevards, Jacques Prévert, as to what these are paintings of: “Of a world sober and drunk / Of a world sad and gay / Tender and cruel / Real and surreal / Terrifying and funny / Nocturnal and diurnal /Usual and unusual / Handsome as hell.”   
––  by Byron Coleman

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