web analytics
April 28, 2015 / 9 Iyar, 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post


Home » Sections » Arts »

Meer Akselrod: Painting His People

 

 

Boy in Profile (1928) by Meer Akselrod

Courtesy of Estate of Meer Akselrod

 

A brilliant example is a simple portrait in profile of a young man done in 1928.  Almost classical in proportion and its central placement on the page, this drawing is nonetheless quite modern in its selective approach, only giving us the essential information to define clothing, pose and character.  However it is the deep introspection of the lad depicted that sets this drawing quite apart, inviting us into his interior universe of hope, expectation and anxiety.  Placing this young Jew in the dangerous turmoil of Soviet Russia moves this artwork into the realm of historical commentary.

Akselrod’s skills as a portraitist were evident early in his career and helped sustain him as a working artist.  Interestingly they extended to inanimate objects as well, as we can see from his frontal depiction of The Red House in Minsk (1928).  Again there is a classical balance of the composition that allows us to move around the spaces of the painting without getting lost, as it were.  The three-windowed dormer crowning the roof is echoed by the woman seated on the bench in the foreground, firmly holding the center of the image, top and bottom. We are intrigued by the contrast between the solid brick house and its incongruous aspects of ruin and disrepair on each side.  Since we don’t know its use or function, the Red House remains a delightful mystery.

 

 

Red House in Minsk (1928) by Meer Akselrod

Courtesy of Estate of Meer Akselrod

 

From the mid-1930’s Akselrod was involved with the famous Moscow State Jewish Theater and its regional affiliates as a set and costume designer.  This was one of the few places in Stalin’s Soviet Union that a Jew could express themselves in Yiddish and admit some form of Yiddishkiet.   For an artist like Akselrod it was an aesthetic oasis in a sea of Socialist Realism.  He worked on many different projects, including Sholom Aleichem’s “The Enchanted Tailor.”

It was with this material that Akselrod flourished even under the harshest conditions.  In 1941 he was exiled to predominately Muslim Alma Ata, Kazakhstan, a location over 2500 miles from Moscow, near the Chinese border.  A common wartime tactic of Stalin was to move vulnerable industries far from the German front and to punish troublesome artists and intellectuals with internal exile.  Nonetheless the drawing from the “Enchanted Tailor” series done in this time is a masterpiece of succinct illustration.  His crisp economy of line and confidence in every detail lends a liveliness and spirit to the image that evokes the narrative even if you are not familiar with the text.  A portly chassid is pontificating on his porch while a poor stranger schlepping along with his trustworthy goat listens, seemingly unable to pass quietly by.  Indeed the story concerns a poor tailor who is sent by his wife to buy a goat to help feed his family and has innumerable mysterious adventures in attempting to return home.  Akselrod captures the heart of the story perfectly.

 

 

Enchanted Tailor (ca. 1944) by Meer Akselrod

Courtesy Chassidic Art Institute

 

 

Towards the end of his life Akselrod turned his attention to a subject that directly related to his earlier concern with pogroms: the Holocaust.  Here the sufferings of his people were couched in images that were slowly emerging in the artistic consciousness of the time, mainly the use of the crematorium chimney.  It is in Smoke (1969) that the artist seeks to combine the horror of the slaughter and cremation of millions of Jews and the survival of a “saving remnant.” The Jews depicted in the foreground in concentration camp stripped uniforms seem to walk away from the fearsome furnace behind them.  They propose a kind of collective memory and empathy for those of us who did not live through those events, but knew them from afar.

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 “Meer Akselrod: Painting His People”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
The Straits of Hormuz
Iran Seizes Cargo Ship Under US Protection in Strait of Hormuz
Latest Sections Stories
Teens-Twenties-logo

The poetry slam required entrants to compose original poetry with powerful imagery and energetic rhythm bringing their poems to life – making it palpable to the audience.

Teens-Twenties-logo

“I was so inspired by the beautiful lessons I learned and by the holiness around me that I just couldn’t stop writing songs!” she says.

Schonfeld-logo1

But Pi Day is worst of all
I want the extra credit bad
But trying to remember many numbers
makes me sad.

Several thousand Eastern European Jews had escaped Nazi death and Soviet persecution by fleeing to Shanghai, China.

Now that we’re back to chometz, it’s just the right time to give thought to our wellbeing. Who doesn’t want to lose a few bulky matzah-and-potato pounds? Who wouldn’t like to eat smarter and feel better? If you’re like most people I know, these are probably the first things you’d like to address. It’s time […]

My mother-in-law and I have had our problems since the beginning of my marriage.

It was Lia van Leer who changed the image of filmmaking in Israel so that it is now seen as an expression of culture and not mere entertainment.

“People who never buy cookbooks are getting this one,” said Victoria. “They read it cover to cover and find it so interesting.”

We have recently witnessed how other minorities deal with even perceived danger aimed at their brothers and sisters. They respond in great numbers.

The Hebrew Academy students took part in all categories and used successful and innovative techniques to achieve their goals.

“The objective behind establishing small communities as places for relocation was a remedy for the excessive cost of housing and education in the large New York metropolitan market,” Mr. Savitsky explained.

Jewish Democrats did not entirely trust the son of Joseph Kennedy, a man broadly considered to be both anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi.

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/meer-akselrod-painting-his-people/2011/08/03/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: