The rather large grasshoppers all have different human faces. The trees have human bodies with branches sprouting out of their heads. The animals in the Peaceable Kingdom garden seated at Isaiah’s feet are painted purple, pink, blue and red. Welcome to the visionary world of Nahum HaLevi’s Latter Prophets.
Finally the King of Diamonds fittingly is represented by King Hezekiah. Quite beyond his courage in resisting the brutal assault of the Assyrian Sennacherib on Jerusalem, it was King Hezekiah’s determined religious reforms and return to the worship of Hashem that earned him the praise that he: “trusted in the Lord the God of Israel; so that there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah after him, or among those who were before him” (2 Kings 18:5).
Passion of belief can certainly lead to passion of expression, especially for an artist. Rosa Katzenelson’s paintings and digital artwork currently at the Hadas Gallery in Brooklyn could easily define the very essence of religious expressionism. As a Chabad devotee, every aspect of her work exudes a passion for both the Chassidic subjects she depicts and for the visceral act of making a painting. Nonetheless, upon closer inspection her work yields considerably more complexity.
Jacqueline Nicholls, a Jewish artist from England, presents us with a formidable challenge. Namely; what is the role of a contemporary Jewish Woman artist and how does one confront patriarchal dominance? She presents her response to both queries in her current exhibition at the JCC Manhattan beautifully curated by Tobi Kahn and organized by Tisch Gallery director Megan Whitman. The results are breathtakingly forceful, subtle and insightful.
Photographs seems like cruel little slices from the past, frozen images of what will never be again. Since we assume that the photographic image is, by and large, a factual view of some reality, it is inherently believed and trusted. But now be forewarned. It ain’t necessarily so. Bill Aron’s new images at the 92nd Street Y betray and beguile so as to force us to reassess the meaning of what we see.
Reaching back in time to reclaim a family for herself and, in a yahrzeit moment, to rekindle lives snuffed out, Diana Kurz’s paintings stand as testaments to victims of the Holocaust, one by one. After a successful 20 year career as an artist and teacher, (with a strong feminist bent), in 1989 Kurz happened upon a few surviving photos of her own relatives “who disappeared during the war.” Suddenly her past opened up and possessed her. Recently this spring (April 4 – May 2, 2012) a series of these paintings was shown at the Art Gallery at Kingsborough Community College, CUNY.
The Museum of Biblical Art in New York has mounted a remarkable exhibition with Bartolo di Fredi’s 14th century masterpiece, “Adoration of the Magi.” This small but powerful exhibition, but one of many in the 7 year history of MOBIA, is an exploration of exactly how a “painter of faith” narrates adoration. MOBIA is the only scholarly museum celebrating art and the Bible in the United States and, while has major support from the American Bible Society, is fully independent of any denomination or religion.
In 1974 Mark Podwal, noted author, illustrator and physician, created a spare, illustrated Book of Lamentations. This complete English translation is graced with 28 black and white illustrations, or more correctly, reflections, on the tragic text. Podwal maintains Jeremiah’s alphabetical acrostic of each chapter containing 22 sets of lines, reflecting aleph to tav, denoting each English set with the appropriate Hebrew letter. According to Sanhedrin 104a “ R. Johanan said: Why were they smitten with an alphabetical dirge? Because they violated the Torah, which was given by means of the alphabet,” representing the tragic reality that the Jews of his time transgressed the Torah fromaleph totav, beginning to end. Eicha!
Earlier this year I was presenting my survey of Jewish art, “A Jewish Art Primer,” in a West Hartford, Connecticut synagogue and during the intermission a local artist, David Holzman, introduced himself to me. He relayed his rich and fascinating artistic background and then produced a portfolio of 8 black and white prints that he generously gave to me as a gift. As a tantalizing glimpse into recent work, they are truly amazing and I would like to share them with you.
Examining a choice selection of drawings done by Itshak Holtz over 30 years ago is a rare pleasure that allows for the appreciation of his unique sensitivity and insights. I was afforded that pleasure at the inaugural exhibition of the Betzalel Gallery in Crowne Heights on Thursday, May 17, 2012. Although the this modest selection of 25 drawings and watercolors of this paradigmatic frum artist ranges from 1963 to 1999, the majority of the works is from the 1970’s and reveals a special aspect of his inner artistic soul. Easily this selection of images could narrate the fabric of ordinary Jewish life.
One thing is certain about Robert Feinland. He has shuls on his mind. His career has spanned over 40 years, exploring landscape, cityscape, sculpture and abstraction. For many of those years he has focused on the relentlessly changing urban landscape of New York, feeling the necessity to document and, in some way preserve, the physical fabric of the city he loves. A selection of recent paintings, most concentrating on the Crown Heights community, is currently at the Chassidic Art Institute. Many of the images are of shuls.
“Man must make the Torah manifest” in every action, speech and creative act. That is clearly the credo of Nathan Hilu; master-artist of the Lower East Side, Torah, Tanach, midrash, Gemara and beyond. There is seemingly nothing that doesn’t fall within the purview of his fertile, pious and creative visual imagination. Literally everything in his creative world is seen through the lens of Torah and Jewish sensibility. We get to peek into that world in the exhilarating exhibition “Nathan Hilu’s Journal: Word, Image, Memory” lovingly curated by Laura Kruger, director of the HUC Museum.