web analytics
March 4, 2015 / 13 Adar , 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post


Home » Sections » Arts »

Shuls On My Mind: Robert Feinland’s Paintings

Synagogue for the Arts (2000), oil on linen by Robert Feinland. Courtesy Chassidic Art Institute

Synagogue for the Arts (2000), oil on linen by Robert Feinland. Courtesy Chassidic Art Institute

Chassidic Art Institute
375 Kingston Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-774-9149
Noon – 7pm; Sunday – Thursday

 

One thing is certain about Robert Feinland – he has shuls on his mind. His career has spanned over 40 years, exploring landscape, cityscape, sculpture and abstraction. For many of those years he has focused on the relentlessly changing urban landscape of New York, feeling the necessity to document and, in some way preserve, the physical fabric of the city he loves. A selection of recent paintings, most concentrating on the Crown Heights community, is currently at the Chassidic Art Institute. Many of the images are of shuls.

Brooklyn born, he was in a way typical of the 1960’s hippie generation until a chance encounter on the subway with a Chabad chasid changed his life. Seeing the way Feinland was dressed, the man simply said, “Hey man, you have to go talk to Rabbi Schneerson.” The man wouldn’t leave him alone until Feinland agreed. He went to Crown Heights and was very impressed with the totally unique world of Jewish religiosity. For a while he attended HaDar HaTorah, the newly founded Chabad yeshiva for baalei teshuva. While he never did speak to the Rebbe, he was, for quite a while, immersed in Jewish religious life. As the artist comments; “I did come in touch with my soul through my experience with 770 in the 1960’s.” Life has never been the same for him.

During the 1980’s Feinland began painting the Lower East Side, concentrating especially on the downtown synagogues. His technique, plein air painting (working outdoors in front of the scene, first favored by the early Impressionists), demands that he return over and over to the motif until he is satisfied with the painting. Perhaps out of the rigors of this discipline and the repeated confrontation with the physical presence of the scene, he has developed a unique approach to depicting urban landscapes. The curvilinear perspective he uses is at first unsettling, reminding the viewer of wide-angle (fisheye lens) photography. But of course his dedication to on-site observation is anything but unthinkingly photographic. Rather he is determined to fuse the optical effects of seeing a street scene up close with the attendant awareness of its inherent social importance. Incidentally, this technique was first discussed by Leonardo di Vinci, ca. 1500, and its multiple perspective points is paradoxically considered an approximation of how the human eye actually sees.

Synagogue For The Arts (2000) demonstrates the use of curvilinear perspective to visually situate a Jewish house of worship on an otherwise drab Soho street. When a visitor stands in front of the shul, one just sees it as an odd bulging structure sandwiched between 19th century cast iron facades. But of course in order to see the synagogue in context of its neighbors, one must scan the block horizontally and then up and down to get a sense of its physical presence. And that scanning of multiple points of view is exactly what Feinland is representing in his painting. By curving the street and its buildings he provides the experience of profoundly encountering this shul. The visual experience of the painting creates an approximation of confronting the incredibly anomalous and dramatic sculptural nature of the shul’s architecture. This is made even more dramatic since the painting depicts the shul in the late afternoon when it is in shadow, thereby emphasizing the mass of its form without the obviousness of morning sunlight.

Aside from this formal analysis, Feinland may be ironically commenting on how the shul actually came to be on White Street in Manhattan. Originally there was a synagogue for the civic center workers on Duane Street that was razed to make way for the Jacob Javits Federal Office Building. This shul was “imposed” upon the adjacent commercial properties as part of the eminent domain settlement. Thus the “distorted perspective” of urban planning and resulting need to address its consequences.

Feinland’s painting of the Millinery Center Synagogue (2005) is part of a similar social commentary. Here the narrative is one of valiant resistance. The forces of development, exemplified by the blurred rushing traffic in the foreground, confronted the brave little congregation of the Millinery Shul and, as is dramatically expressed in Feinland’s painting, it has become “the little shul that could” resisting the relentless real estate development of the late 1990’s. The leadership refused to sell its property in the face of a plan for the massive redevelopment for the entire block. It remains a synagogue there today. While it struggles, it continues to function providing multiple much needed Mincha and Mincha/Maariv services.

The image centers on two little buildings on Sixth Avenue just north of 38th Street, the Millinery Center Synagogue and its four-story neighbor to the right, surrounded by empty lots ready for development. A sidewalk bridge already threatens to the south and the empty northern lot’s diagonal crane reaches skyward pointing the way to the inevitable future. Pictorially, all of the towering forces in this urban environment are arrayed against this diminutive bastion of faith.

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 “Shuls On My Mind: Robert Feinland’s Paintings”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
An Arab sheikh hands out flowers in a gesture of brotherhood and good will.
Haifa U Research Confirms, ‘Think Good & It Will Be Good!’
Latest Sections Stories
Yarden Merlot

Bottles of wine accompany the Pesach storytelling – each glass of wine represents the four expressions used by G-d in describing the redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt.

Schonfeld-logo1

There is a point that many parenting books miss: children do more for us than we do for them.

Brigitte was a nine-year-old girl when Islamic militants launched an assault on a Lebanese military base and destroyed her home.

The husband needs to make some changes!

Purim is a fantastic time for fantasies, so I hope you won’t mind my fantasizing about how easy life would be if kids would prefer healthy cuisine over sweets. Imagine waking up to the call of “Mommy, when will my oatmeal be ready?”… As you rush to ladle out the hot unsweetened cereal, you rub […]

‘Double Gold’ awarded to 2012 Yarden Heights wine & 2011 Yarden Merlot Kela Single Vineyard.

One should not give the money before Purim morning or after sunset.

The mishloach manos of times gone by were sometimes simple and sometimes elaborate, but the main focus was on the preparation of the delicious food they contained.

One of the earliest special Purims we have on record was celebrated by the Jews of Granada and Shmuel HaNagid, the eleventh-century rav, poet, soldier and statesman, and one of the most influential Jews in Muslim Spain.

Jews, wake up! Stop educating the world and start educating yourselves.

The lessons conform to the sensitivities and needs of the Orthodox community…

The program took on special significance as it marked not only the first anniversary of Rebbetzin Kudan’s levayah but also the 27th yahrzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, a”h.

It was only in the reign of George III (1760-1820) that Jews became socially acceptable in Britain, and Nathan became music master to Princess Charlotte and musical librarian to King George IV.

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/shuls-on-my-mind-robert-feinlands-paintings/2012/04/26/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: