Interestingly enough, more than thirty years later Fisher returned to the subject of Moshe in an illustrated book of the same name. Here the lawgiver lovingly holds the tablets in a deep and tortured contemplation. We see the mountain behind him with the long mass of the Jewish people at its base. We immediately understand Moshe’s concern that this people will not cherish the Law as he does. They are tragically fated to stray.
The figure of Jonah is seen from above, floating in an abstracted well meant to evoke the giant fish’s innards. His hands and forearms stick out from his sides in helplessness, defenseless against God’s judgment. But it is the absolutely stunned expression on Yonah’s face that cuts to the heart of Fisher’s vision. The artist has convincingly plumbed the soul of the prophet who momentarily thought he could escape God’s command. He is confronted by his own rebellion and terrified by its consequences. We can easily see from this how the sprout of repentance must grow and be nurtured.
The cleverest painting in the exhibition is Noah. He stands inside the ark peering out its window at a dove in mid-flight bearing an olive branch in its beak. As we have observed before the bird in mid-air is a hallmark of Fisher’s style complemented by the solid wooden construction of the ark. But it is the play between Noah’s hands and facial expression that truly animates the painting. His hands tell us that he is about to do something – either to grasp the bird or to formulate a thought. The notion of being on the threshold of action is then concretized by the concentrated thought in his expression. Pursed lips and intense staring eyes tell us Noah has just realized the meaning of the dove returning with the olive branch. The fact that somewhere on dry land there is an olive tree tells him that soon he will be able to exit the ark with his family and all the animals and begin the process of recreating earthly life. Fisher’s focus on this moment of revelation narrates into Noah’s story, telling us he didn’t know exactly how God would conclude the destruction of the world. The artist has uncovered the narrative of hope and faith in Noah’s tale.
The distinction between illustration and art is that illustration describes what the viewer already knows. Its details, textures and visual delights confirm a well-known visual universe. Art does something totally different. Art tells us what we don’t already know. Art reveals the hidden and realizes a new truth, surprising and thrilling the viewer with discovery. Leonard Everett Fisher’s artworks do exactly that as he casts his insightful eye on biblical figures and the world around us alike.
Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org