Robert Kirschbaum: Small Paintings from The Akedah Series
The Gallery at Three Rivers: Three Rivers Community College
574 New London Turnpike, Norwich, CT – 860-886-0177
November 1 – December 2, 2011
Our encounters with the Divine are precious moments of personal religiosity. We believe that when we pray we are speaking directly to God and that at that moment we are in the Divine presence. And yet we are seldom conscious of the awe and fear we should also feel.
For many, at the core of Jewish monotheism is terror. Its source is in Chapter 22 of Genesis, the story known as the Binding of Yitzchak. God‘s faithful servant, Avraham, has been ordered to take his beloved 37-year-old son, (a child he had at the miraculous age of 100) and offer him as a sacrifice. After a three-day journey Avraham has bound his son Yitzchak, placed him on the altar and grasped the knife to follow God’s command. At the very last moment an angel calls out, “Avraham, Avraham…do not stretch out your hand against the lad nor do anything to him.”
Avraham’s blind obedience to God causes him to brutally suppress his innate kindness and love for his son, as well as abandoning his expectation to fulfill God’s original promise to “make of you a great nation.” The sudden transformation of Avraham from loving father to child-slaughterer to father again was no less wrenching for Yitzchak, who was ready to be a victim, only to be replaced by a miraculously produced ram. The shared near-death experience creates the terror of not knowing what an all-powerful and yet inscrutable God will command next. One is simply rendered helpless and terrified.
Nonetheless, the tragedy is averted and Avraham has successfully completed God’s final test of the depth of his faith. Yitzchak marries and produces his sons Yaakov and Esav. This narrative that effectively concludes Avraham’s dialogue with God is Yitzchak’s introduction to the God he will call his own and pass on to the Children of Yisrael. This God, transcendent and ultimately unknowable, is known as Pachad Yitzhak, the Fear of Isaac (Genesis 31:42). This encounter between God and man is the subject of Robert Kirschbaum’s Akedah Series.
The ten paintings currently on view at the Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, Connecticut, are mixed media on paper, all 9” x 8” and created in 2008. While modest in scale, Kirschbaum’s utilization of abstract elements effectively narrates the biblical text of the Binding of Yitzchak while taking it to a surprising and dramatically creative conclusion.
Each of the 10 images he creates repeats a scene in which a limited number of elements operate. A band approximately one-fifth of the page wide flows across the top and bottom, repetitive and yet with enough variation to engender visual interest. Dividing the pages into three registers, with the center panel always the largest, allows the artist to introduce rectangular shapes that grow, multiply, morph into 10 floating cubes, disappear, appear and finally become mysteriously a kind of doorway. Predominately black marks on a white ground set a constant tenor to the series, linking all the images. A very selective introduction of color against the black and white allows it to evoke disproportionate emotional power. Considering the limited color and repeated format, each of the works is surprisingly rich in the range of marks, calligraphy, gestures, shapes and pictorial space brought to bear on this extremely perplexing subject. While not immediately apparent, Kirschbaum is constantly walking the fine line between abstraction and symbolic representation.