Veterans: A monumental sculptor

Although life is harder here, Brown has never felt the urge to leave as many artists have.

Igor Brown 311 (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Igor Brown 311
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
‘Sculpture is my life,’ says Igor Brown, who made aliya from Lvov, Ukraine, in 1990. “I go to bed at 10:30 every night and wake up at around 3. I lie and think of how I can improve the composition I’m working on at the time, and by 5 I’m already in my studio working.”
Looking around the big dusty space where he creates his monumental sculptures, one sees likenesses of wellknown Israelis, hewn from stone. There is a bust of David Ben-Gurion sitting on a work table. Over in the corner, Chaim Weizmann gazes steadily into the distance, and there is an enormous head of Yitzhak Sadeh, just about ready to take its place in a public park somewhere.
Brown was born in Lvov in 1955, the son of two physicists. During the war, his father had been in the Russian army, while his mother had found refuge in Uzbekistan. Because his father, a university professor and head of a physics department, had been engaged in secret work for the army, he knew there was no chance the family would be given permission to leave for Israel in the ’70s when many Jews left.
“After my father died, I had to give all his papers back to the army, and it was clear even then that we would not be able to leave,” recalls Brown.
He grew up knowing he was a Jew, but not much more than that. He maintains that there was no anti-Semitism and that he encountered more prejudice as a Russian in Israel than he ever knew as a boy growing up in Russia.
Although there was no observance of religion in the family, he does recall his grandmother speaking Yiddish, and even picked up a little of the language himself.
Brown studied furniture and interior design in his home town and gained a degree, but knew it was not right for him. He had to travel to Kharkov, several miles away, to learn what became his passion – monumental sculpture.
He married Ludmilla, also an artist, and the couple had a daughter, Gal. Life was good in Lvov. There was plenty of work. He belonged to a sculptors’ organization, and whenever a town needed a statue, it would apply to this group and be assigned a sculptor.
“It was a very good profession to have in Russia in those days,” says Brown. “There was always work for both of us, and we had a very good life. But by 1990 we began to feel increasingly isolated, as all our friends had left, so we decided to come, too.”
By 1990 the Jewish Agency was so well organized in Russia that making aliya was trouble-free.
“I didn’t even have to pay for a ticket,” says Brown.
“We took a train to Romania and from Bucharest flew to Tel Aviv.”
They were able to benefit from several programs run by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, created especially for artists. After appearing before a committee of experts to ascertain their commitment to art as a means of making a living, both Brown and his wife were given a grant to buy equipment for their sculpture.
Meanwhile, Brown tried to learn Hebrew in ulpan, but his heart wasn’t in it – he just wanted to get back to sculpting.
He and Ludmilla settled in Yehud and rented a studio in Ganei Yehuda, next to Savyon – the same studio they use today. Building a reputation as an environmental sculptor was not easy, but when he began to meet other sculptors and take part in exhibitions, he gradually became known and began to get commissions. The government continued to help, sending him and other artists to international exhibitions abroad.
Today his work can be seen in many towns here. At the entrance to Ra’anana is one of his first works in this country, Horses, carved in dolomite stone for the city in 1993. His works can be seen in Eilat, Ness Ziona, Ashdod and Or Yehuda. In Rishon Lezion, he and his wife, working together, created a park – Governors of Israel – and he has just finished a big project for Mitzpe Ramon, in which six statues will be displayed at the entrance to the town.
To create his monumental works, he starts with a large piece of stone, and sometimes just looking at the stone gives him the idea of what the sculpture will be. He uses Hebron stone, as the Yarka stone he used before has become very expensive. He also works in wood – usually eucalyptus – and granite.
He occasionally looks back on the Russia he left with some nostalgia, although he has no wish to return.
“In Russia, you did one monument and it covered your living expenses for a year,” he says. “Here you have to work every day.”
Nevertheless, although life is harder here, he has never felt the urge to leave as many artists have. “I felt at home from the beginning,” he says.
And if he has encountered prejudice in the past, he knows how to handle it. “No one starts with me,” he says.
His daughter is married to a physiotherapist whose family came from Tashkent when he was a child, and they have two sons.
“I’m not a very good grandfather,” admits Brown, “but Ludmilla always says I wasn’t much of a father, either.” When you live for your art, as he does, it doesn’t allow much time for anything else.