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Alan Falk’s Lessons

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True to his postmodern modality, Falk frequently misdirects the viewer, establishing the real point of his narrative investigations at the margins of the image.  In Abraham and the Strangers (Hagar & Ishmael) (2005) the three strangers establish a rhythm of three figures clad in spooky white robes as Abraham dutifully washes their feet.  While at first glance it is a celebration of Abraham’s kindness and welcoming nature, the painting is actually delving into the all-important sub-plot that the stranger’s arrival will explode.  In the lower left the skeptical profile of Sarah watches the scene.  Her gaze extends through the visitors to the figures of Ishmael and Hagar in contemporary Palestinian dress.  With perfect biblical hindsight we can well understand that this episode will effectively eject Hagar and Ishmael from Abraham’s family, thereby turning the stranger’s arrival to the beginning of their exile and alienation from the descendants of Abraham.  Our contemporary conflict with the Arabs began at that moment.



Abraham and the Strangers (Hagar & Ishmael) (2005),

watercolor by Alan Falk (Courtesy the artist)


Given a bit of patience and the understanding that Falk sees a direct connection between the Biblical narrative and the contemporary world, his work seems less strange and more engaged with the heart of our core narratives.  The Scapegoat Again (The Azazel) (2009) hones in on a major motif in his explorations: Consequences. Central to the Yom Kippur service is sending the scapegoat to Azazel.  The death of this goat, combined with our proper repentance, will expiate our sins.  Of course we no longer have this Temple-based option, and must depend on the three-fold formula of Repentance, Prayer and Charity to remove the terrible decree against us as Yom Kippur draws to a close.  But the scapegoat lingers in our memory and Falk presents him close-up.  He stares at us with unnerving goat-eyes, the red string that condemned him in the first place still attached to his horns.  And yet he is trapped in barbed wire behind his neck and in his mouth.  For Falk it is the barbed wire of the Holocaust that traps our ancient expiation of sin.  Could the murder of millions somehow expiate our sins?  What are the consequences of their martyrdom that portend for us, for our sins?  Because of them and what they suffered, must we lead better Jewish lives?



The Scapegoat Again (The Azazel) (2009),

watercolor by Alan Falk (Courtesy the artist)


An artist’s job is to ask questions, questions that will startle and gnaw at our complacency.  That is the role in Falk’s art, a kind of anti-aesthetic drawn from comics, popular film and anime illustration.  He is looking to highjack our sensibilities into asking uncomfortable questions about our Jewish lives.  Our discomfort is a measure of his success that is much to our benefit. 

Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com

About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com

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