web analytics
July 4, 2015 / 17 Tammuz, 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
UN Human Rights Council
UN HRC Condemns Israel (But Not Hamas) for War Crimes
Latest Sections Stories
South-Florida-logo

Orlando was once a place where people came only to visit and vacation. Now it is home to a burgeoning Torah community, a place Jewish families can be proud to call home.

South-Florida-logo

The smuggler’s life has been changed forever. He is faced with a major criminal charge. He will probably be sent to prison.

South-Florida-logo

“Thanks to a local philanthropist who shares our core mission, we now are able to connect more Jewish teens to Israel than ever before,” said Todd Cohn, executive director of Southern NCSY.

In September 2013 he was appointed head rabbi of the IDF Central Command and is currently in charge of special projects for the IDF chief rabbinate.

Last month we outlined how a few years after Judah Touro’s death a public movement was inaugurated by the citizens of New Orleans to erect a monument to his memory, and that opposition to this tribute came from a number of rabbis throughout the country who claimed that Judaism forbade the erection of any graven […]

Marceau suggested a dark reason for his wordless art: “The people who came back from the [concentration] camps were never able to talk about it…. My name is Mangel. I am Jewish. Perhaps that, unconsciously, contributed towards my choice of silence.”

Anna Henriques, who hopes to one day head back to Jamaica, says, “Rabbi Raskin must be willing to respect what exists in Jamaica. The way to the future is to gently bring in the traditions of the past and at the same time embrace the idiosyncrasies of the Jamaican people.”

The Silver Platter has it all: gorgeous photography, oodles of useful tips and, more importantly, incredible recipes that you will find yourself making again and again.

It may be that seeking to connect with the past is rooted in the impermanence and impersonality of modern life.

It is very hard to build a healthy marriage when you do not have good role models.

My best book is one that hasn’t been published yet.

We tend to justify and idealize this division with pride attributing these tendencies as demonstrating a higher level of kedushah.

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: