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May 24, 2015 / 6 Sivan, 5775
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Archie Rand: Three Major Works

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As Rand continued to develop a multi-faceted strategy (much like Isaiah Berlin’s resourceful fox) of making biblical art that would fully engage the text, he posited that his primary job was to create a visual language that need not be tied to verbal rabbinics.  Increasingly the visual had to be primary for the works to be totally evocative of the narratives.  Psalm 68 (1994) was an early example of this methodology.

Psalm 68 has thirty-six complex verses that chart the struggle of God’s faithful for the Final Redemption and recognition of God’s sovereignty.  Each painting is an abstraction (except verse 12) that accommodates the handwritten text in English in a rectangle (except 4 circles and 1 triangle), each along an edge. Recognizable images can be found, as in almost all abstractions, but I don’t believe this is the point. Rather these paintings operate as visual meditations meant to exist alongside the poetry of the psalm.  They are not representations; rather they are anti-illustrations, simply meant to allow the viewer to read the psalm in a visual context.  Much like biblical poetry, they evoke meaning obliquely, defying easy interpretation.

They also are illustrative of a major theme that runs through Archie Rand’s work: a fascination and love of text in relation to images.  In the “Chapter Paintings” Rand essentially uses the Hebrew name of the parsha as a label atop ornate painted frames that contain the images.  The “Sixty Paintings from the Bible” internalize text in cartoon-like dialogue balloons, embedding text in image.  Finally the text is simply imposed on an abstract image in Psalm 68, emphasizing its distinct function.  Other paintings of Rand likewise experiment with text/image combinations: “The 613,” a series of paintings of each biblical commandment numbers each painting with its equivalent in Hebrew letters, effectively turning a label into numbers that are expressed in text. The “19 Diaspora Paintings” depict the 19 blessings of the Amidah as biblical episodes with prominent Hebrew quotes as part of the composition.  In “Had Gadya,” a series of 10 images from the Passover song, the verses are written in English on the painted frame and then found again in Aramaic in word-balloons in each image.  In more recent paintings by Rand he seems to inevitably include text-balloons, now mostly in Hebrew.

This consistent motif in Rand’s work seems to be aiming for a final reconciliation between the intensely textual bias of Judaism and the equally alluring visual tradition of Western culture.  Rand’s art wants to have it all and, true to form, this fox is unrelenting in his search for the marriage of exciting biblical meaning with a visual experience that fully appropriates our sumptuous Jewish inheritance.   That’s foxy!

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


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