web analytics
December 18, 2014 / 26 Kislev, 5775
 
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
8000 meals Celebrate Eight Days of Chanukah – With 8,000 Free Meals Daily to Israel’s Poor

Join Meir Panim’s campaign to “light up” Chanukah for families in need.



Home » Sections » Arts »

Generations


The Tenth Man – oil on canvas (6.5’ x 10’) by Brian Shapiro
Courtesy the artist

The Tenth Man – oil on canvas (6.5’ x 10’) by Brian Shapiro Courtesy the artist

Genre Painting by Brian Shapiro
brianshapiroart.com

Two Jewish holidays particularly command us to be connected with our vast history. Most notably Passover demands that we feel as if we too went out of Egypt with the Jewish masses. Less obvious is Tisha b’Av. But if the destruction of our two Temples and the subsequent Jewish communal disasters are to be properly commemorated, we must somehow transform our feelings into a personal loss. Each oppression, each murder, each disgrace must feel like it happened to our family just yesterday.

This kind of empathy is central to Jewish consciousness. As a community, what happens to each and every one of us ultimately affects us all. We are a living people with an acute memory enforced by the commandment to remember.

Generations (2010) – oil on canvas (44”x 58”) by Brian Shapiro Courtesy the artist

Generations (2010) – oil on canvas (44”x 58”) by Brian Shapiro. Courtesy the artist

Brian Shapiro’s painting, Generations, is an ambitious attempt at placing his personal contemporary life within this vast canvas of memory. His painting chronologically “begins” with the Binding of Isaac and ends with the artist today, all on one 44” x 58” canvas. This kind of pictorial program spanning 3800 years in one visual field is unheard of in Western art. The closest example of Jewish art that approximates this span can be found in the 14th century illuminated Spanish haggadot that feature many pages of images starting with creation and ending with contemporary medieval genre scenes of Passover preparation. These medieval images span a vast history that is singularly impersonal and totally based on Torah narratives and commandments.

Shapiro begins with the present in the lower right corner, his family and friends learning Torah, Talmud and, for the youngest, the aleph-beis. This strata of the painting is thematically and pictorially linked with the good Jewish life in America. There are small hints of struggle with a demonstration for trade unions, but overwhelming the images are positive; filmmaking, musicians and push-carts with bagels and fish on ice. Immediately behind them and yet pictorially in the same space is contemporary Israel – land of the Western Wall, agriculture and hora dancers.

As we move up the painting the tone changes dramatically. The scenes become monochromatically dark with blue, black and white dominating. Countless masses of Jews disembark from the trains to barracks in the concentration camps. A brutal forced march transitions to the grim reality of a snowy night in the shtetl, a place of faith amidst darkness. In the fiery upper section an entire town of synagogues goes up in flames. This is but a prelude to a violent ancient history: the Temple is destroyed, the Golden Calf is worshiped, Joseph is thrown into the pit by his brothers and Isaac is tied up and ready to be slaughtered. Surmounting the entire spectacle Moses climbs up the mountain to talk to God. In a rather curious way the artist seems to link the top and bottom of the painting. In America the artist and his family seek out God in Torah study while at the top of the painting, at the beginning of Jewish history, Moses too seeks to know God’s will and commandments.

Joseph and Brothers Study(2010)  by Brian Shapiro Courtesy the artist

Joseph and Brothers Study (2010) by Brian Shapiro
Courtesy the artist

In three preparatory studies Shapiro reveals himself as a highly accomplished draftsman and narrative artist. While the Binding of Isaac and Moses Climbing the Mountain are certainly impressive, Joseph’s Brothers is spectacular. The jumble of furious brothers are expertly composed in groups of three. The sinister figure in white holding the ill-fated multi-colored coat and guiltily looking off to the left begins another set of three white garments culminating with the white shorts of Joseph, upside down and about to plunge into the pit. The intensity of brotherly hate and violence has seldom been captured so convincingly.

Brian Shapiro is at home in this world, the world of the down-to-earth. He is a consummate Jewish genre painter, comfortable with seemingly every aspect of recent contemporary life. His long career includes countless oil paintings of Hudson River landscapes, New York cityscapes as well as many commissioned single and group portraits.

Additionally he has an unprecedented series of paintings depicting behind the scenes movie making in Hollywood that earned him exhibitions in the Smithsonian Institution in Los Angeles and a first ever show at the Motion Picture Academy.

His series of Jerusalem cityscapes include many highly detailed views of bar mitzvahs at the Kotel (many commissioned by individual families), views all around the Temple Mount and atmospheric old alleys and streets of Jerusalem.

Machane Yehuda – oil on canvas by Brian Shapiro Courtesy the artist

Machane Yehuda – oil on canvas by Brian Shapiro
Courtesy the artist

In an unexpected way Shapiro’s claustrophobic depiction of the Machane Yehuda market is a tour-de-force of genre painting. He frames the painting with a vegetable merchant on the right contrasted with the spice seller on the left. Through this scaffold flows every kind of customer imaginable, a hasid, an old lady, a beggar and a local Jerusalemite shopping for the day’s groceries. As we are drawn into the middle distance of the market we see a tray of freshly baked breads carried aloft by a burly baker. All the bustle and human activity inherent in the market is summoned forth in this vibrant image, every gesture telling its own familiar story. Even the jackets and pants for sale strung across the top reverberate with the humanity and vibrant atmosphere that characterizes this corner of Jerusalem.

For the past 13 years his work has concentrated increasingly on American Jewish life, from the New York Israel Day Parade to many joyous synagogue interiors depicting the Sabbath and holiday celebrations. Notably his series on 770, the Lubavitcher World Headquarters, has revealed an expressionistic side to Shapiro’s temperament.

Talk – oil on canvas (9”x 10”) by Brian Shapiro. Courtesy the artist

Talk – oil on canvas (9”x 10”) by Brian Shapiro. Courtesy the artist

Talk shows off Shapiro’s compositional skills to lead us to deeper meaning, framing the tallis-clad conversationalists with two men in black. The revealing contrasts between two bearded men in fedoras and the two men in tallis and tefillin allows one to contemplate the multiple paths to prayer open to both married and unmarried men.

On yet another level Phylacteries is a monument to an everyday mitzvah. The majestic triangular shape of the white tallis frames a pensive head crowned by his tefillin shel rosh. As he recites his prayers, eyes closed in concentration, the strength of faith is expressed in his massive arm wrapped in the black straps of his tefillin shel yad. His big beefy arm, constrained and yet strengthened by the mitzvah itself is a dramatic exposition of how Jewish men are bound and wedded to God daily. This is a simple, powerful and direct genre painting that goes to the heart of a central commandment.

Phylacteries – oil on canvas (11”x 8”) by Brian Shapiro. Courtesy the artist

Phylacteries – oil on canvas (11”x 8”) by Brian Shapiro. Courtesy the artist

Shapiro’s concern with Jewish history in the context of his own history is perhaps most movingly elucidated in The Tenth Man. This 6’ by 10’ painting realistically sums up much of recent Jewish history. Set in an imaginary downstairs beis midrash with echoes of his grandparent’s shul in Rochester, New York, the subject is emblematic of the sad reality of many failing communities, waiting for the 10th man to be able to start morning services. The genius of genre painting is that it can narrate its message through the oddest assortment of details, all of which add up to making a coherent vision.

The four men on the left are all facing the same direction following the searching gaze of the rabbi standing in the doorway. Their collective gaze leads the viewer literally out of the painting into the mysteriously black of a star-filled sky. It is as if this little congregation has found itself on the moon with no Jews in sight. Similarly the right side is one of dissonant hopelessness, each man in his own thoughts waiting for the inevitable. The shul is littered with communal disarray; mismatched pews, odd Torah covers and old tallaysim scattered here and there, a shul cat patiently awaiting a bowl of milk and finally the bookcase a jumble of worn-out volumes. The figure on the extreme right sums up the situation, glancing impatiently at his watch it is becoming clear to all that there will be no minyan today.

Genre Painting takes the details of the everyday and, when sensitively applied to subjects that the artist really cares about, can elevate the ordinary into the extraordinary. In the hands of Brian Shapiro ordinary Jewish life finds itself in the realm of the sublime.

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


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Generations”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
PM Binyamin Netanyahu lights Hanukkah candles in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu ‘Will Not Allow’ PA’s UN Resolution to Endanger Israelis
Latest Sections Stories
book-elisha-davidson

Written with flowing language and engaging style, Attar weaves a spell that combines mystery, humor, adventure and Kabbalah in the most magical place in the world, the Old City of erusalem.

book-path-for-life

There are those who highlight the diversity of these different teachings, seeing each rebbe as teaching a separate path.

South-Florida-logo

Rav Dynovisz will be speaking in Hebrew on Wednesday, January 7, at 7:30 p.m.

South-Florida-logo

Rabbi Simeon Schreiber, senior chaplain at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, saw a small room in the hospital that was dark and dismal but could be used for Sabbath guests.

“The secret to a good donut is using quality ingredients and the ability to be patient and give them time to proof.”

I so desperately want to have a loving relationship with my stepsons.

The Liberty Bell is a symbol of American Independence.

Because you can’t have kids pouring huge jugs of oil into tiny glasses, unless you want to turn your house into an environmental disaster.

Try these with your kids; there’s something for every age group and once all the recipes are made, dinner will be ready!

You children will build the country and you will help restore Israel to her former glory.

Bais Toras Menachem is proud to welcome its new staff member, Yaakov Mark, who will be the Administrator as well as Ort College and GED class coordinator.

Because she is keenly aware that anti-Semitism may start with the Jews but never ends with the Jews, she makes the logical connection between the opprobrium for both America and Israel so commonplace on the political left.

In this narrative of history, it is the third world Palestinians who are victims of the marauding Jews, of course.

More Articles from Richard McBee
Jerusalem to Jericho Road: photograph by Chanan Getraide
“Chanan Getraide Photographs”: 2004 exhibition at Hebrew Union College Museum

“We are living in a Golden Age of Jewish Art, but don’t know it.”

McBee-062014-Outside

He refuses to flinch from our painful history, perhaps finding a kind of solace in the consistency of irrational enmity directed against us.

“Vidduy: The Musical” breaks through the formidable barrier of repetitive confession to allow us to begin to understand what is at the heart of this fundamental religious act.

A fascinating glimpse into the rich complexity of medieval Jewish life and its contemporary relevance had intriguingly emerged.

Silverstein’s work has long concerned itself with the intersection between the personal and Jewish Biblical narrative, significantly explored in this column in “Brighton Beach Bible” (July 27, 2009).

Not surprisingly the guardians of synagogue tradition is male dominated in both Moses Abraham, Cantor and Mohel and Synagogue Lamp Lighters.

Neither helpless victims nor able to escape the killer’s clutches, the leaders had to make impossible choices on a daily basis in a never-ending dance with the devil.

Bradford has opted to fully exploit the diverse possibilities of the physical surface by concentrating on the three-dimensional application of paint (impasto) and other material.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/generations/2010/08/19/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: