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Daniel's alternative life  story of Eliya

Email sent to Eliya Stein 12/03/ 2010 

Eliya Stein was born in a Soviet Gulag in 1933. The world was in turmoil and for those in the camp, like Stein’s parents Sonya and Rodya Stein, the Gulag was the personification of it all, laid bare in its curt brutality. Stein however was a peaceful boy who seemed all through his childhood to be unplagued by the suffering around him. He became a source of hope and inspirations to the prisoners who, having finally clung to religion to stem the tide of anguish, made him a maharajah at age 9. But the Gulag Maharajah could not be contained. Sensing the hopelessness of his situation he defied both the Soviets and his admirers, and fled the camp at age 12, heading west towards the iron curtain. On his way he encountered many officers returning from the front and from them divined much information about Soviet industrial routes and military checkpoints. He befriended one officer, Leftchensky. Leftchensky was left-handed and a notorious drunk, and together they would become partners in crime. Leftchensky deserted, and Stein used his savvy to gather information that protected them, while Leftchensky educated Stein in the art of drinking Vodka. By the time the duo reached the East Berlin it was 1946 and the direction of things was crystallizing. Eliya went out on the Oberbaumbrücke one night and faced the most difficult decision of his life: stay in the USSR and try to liberate the Gulag where his parents might still have been toiling, or make a run for West Germany and never look back. He took his last swig of Vodka ever, chucked the bottle off the bridge and never thought of Russia again.

Stein managed to get all the way to England where a cousin of Leftchensky, a travel agent, helped him secure passage on a luxury ocean liner to New York City. Stein enjoyed upper-class comforts for the first time in his life. He became close friends of the stage band, of which one of the members could speak a little Russian. And so his studies in English began. He would never tell anyone about his past as the Gulag Maharajah, but his way with people continued to be charismatic. Everyone wanted to be near him. By the time their ship reached New York Harbor, Stein was hiding up in the hold, having acquainted himself with one too many of the wealthy passengers wives. He made his dash as soon as they docked and went in search of work in America.

 It was at this time that Stein took up painting. He was working at a book-binders by day and an Italian restaurant by night and when he discovered the erotic works of Gustav Klimt in a book at his day job, he suddenly found he had a calling. His early drawings were painstakingly detailed designs that filled entire canvases, a way of exorcising the palpable burden of his history perhaps. Soon his work evolved to include female nudes that interacted with abstract forms. Stein spent many hours on the Brooklyn Promenade selling canvases and the emotions elicited by these early paintings were appreciated by art collectors. He was soon selling enough to quit both jobs and pursue another passion he’d discovered at the book-binder’s, astrophysics. Initially, he had dreamed of creating his own atomic bomb with which hold the entire world hostage and demand the release of all Gulag hostages “worldwide”, but he resisted those thoughts of the past and his interest soon developed into a full-fledged understanding of particle theory. 

By the early 60’s Stein was selling paintings on the far-out liberal art scene in New York, while conducting early research on anti-matter at Columbia University. He grew his hair long and started smoking marijuana, swearing that he could see atomic particles when high. But by the end of the decade a notorious story that involved his possibly having started the mudslide at Woodstock as well as the riot at Altamount damaged his credibility in the science world (not in the art world) and he left Columbia. Sobering up in the 70’s his art reached a new stage of maturity and the critical reception was nuclear. Critical careers have been made and broken on analyses of Stein’s works. “Stein rarely uses explicit symbols, but when he does they are detached, awash in a sea of muted colors and vague impressions” read one review. Some critics called him the new Picasso while others dismissed his paintings as “outsider art”, there was never a consensus, always an uproar.  In 1985 at the age of 52, Stein shocked everyone by publishing an article in Rolling Stone that declared “All of my art career has been a sham. A deliberate sham. I’ve enjoyed nothing in this life more than watching critics try to read deeply into my paintings only to arrive at their own conclusions, which have no relationship to my life. The critics might be right, but I always consciously tried to create meaningless art. I also enjoyed the immense sums of money for which my paintings sold, and the many women in whom I’ve found great company and pleasure. With that, it’s time for me to say ‘later dudes.’”

He turned the art world on its head and ceased to paint for the public. Instead he enjoyed his fortune, travelling extensively in the tropics and Pacific Islands. But in the 1995, inspired by a telephone conversation with friend Stephen Hawking, he came up with a new particle theory that once again rendered everything meaningless and stupid while making Stein even more awesome and adored. I dare not attempt to print the theory here for its complexity could only boggle one’s mind unless one happens to be any of six physicists worldwide who can grapple with it. But suffice it to say, the theory drove Eliya Stein to a new conception of painting and he has been diligently turning out fresh canvases ever since. He currently resides in New York City, though he spends much of his time in Tahiti where he says he prefers the women and the weather.  


Upstate Home, DEC 2019

Daniel & Eliya on their birthdays MAR 2019

Upstate home, Summer 2019

Daniel Levine

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