web analytics
November 21, 2014 / 28 Heshvan, 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
IDC Herzliya Campus A Day on Campus

To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.



Home » Sections » Arts »

True Grit


Korah’s Rebellion (2013), oil on canvas by John Bradford
Courtesy Bowery Gallery

Korah’s Rebellion (2013), oil on canvas by John Bradford Courtesy Bowery Gallery

Biblical Space: Recent Works by John Bradford

The Bowery Gallery; 530 West 25th Street, 4th floor, NYC

bowerygallery.org

John Bradford is back with a dozen masterful paintings that deliver a powerful reassessment of Biblical narratives, served up in a revolutionary new painterly format.   Last seen in these pages in November 2010, Bradford’s new work, “Biblical Space,” currently at the Bowery Gallery, is a transformation of how he treats the surface of the painting, a game-changing reassessment he has been working towards most of his long artistic career.

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.  While this tactic is certainly not inherently unusual in contemporary painting, here his use of types and variations of texture in the exclusive service of narrative meaning is significant both in its sophistication and control.  With admirable restraint he patiently builds up the surface, scrapes it down, etches into it and selectively adds gritty encrustations to develop fully unexpected narrative insights to a litany of familiar biblical subjects.

These subjects can be evenly divided into those that concern the national Jewish narrative and those that concern the more intimate, familial stories. Fundamentally, our narrative as a nation begins with the Finding of Moses. Bradford asserts the unrelenting flatness of the Egyptian universe with its landscape, punctuated by palm trees and a minimalist regal structure at the horizon, in tension with a reed-clogged foreground, as the epitome of Egyptian materiality.  This is the nexus where Moses is simultaneously placed by his mother on the left and rescued by Batya, Pharaoh’s daughter, on the right, literally extracted from an impasto morass of Jewish slavery.

Next the tragedy of the Golden Calf is depicted; the sour yellow idol framed by two impastoed trees.  While far in the background we can see a tiny Moses coming down the mountain with the two tablets, the shocking revelation is in the foreground figures bowing down to none other than the figure of Aaron, the hapless facilitator of the golden deity.  Bradford’s insight that Aaron could become an object of worship is especially troubling and yet terribly believable.

The early tragic missteps of the Jewish people climaxes with Korah’s Rebellion, also set in a gray neutral landscape in which every aspect of surface can carry enormous narrative weight.  We see the multitudes of the Jewish people arrayed on either side of a stark, blank shape: the very absence of materiality, the holy Tabernacle.  Moses and Aaron stand before it, at the edge of the precipice that slices off the entire bottom half of the painting.  In a vertiginous fall, Korah’s entire crew plummet headfirst, swallowed whole and alive. The thick gray impasto hovering in the sky is immediately recognizable as the Cloud of Glory, the Divine Presence fulfilling the terrible and devastating prophecy by Moses (Numbers 16:28).  The restrained use of color and monochromatic physical space allows the dramatic changes in surface texture (smooth, rough, stippled or scraped), to explicate the narrative and create a sense of immediacy and horror.

In a total change of tone and sensibility, Adam and Eve in Eden becomes curiously playful, depicting Eve in profile, reaching for the forbidden fruit as a blue speckled snake approaches her, stretching across the left side of the painting.  Immediately on the right the consequences of disobedience oppress Adam, seen laboring in the muck and observed by a most colorful turkey!

By abandoning local color (i.e. naturalistic coloring), Bradford frees color to operate in a subtle and psychological realm, such as the eerie and unnerving baby blue of The Akeida.  This subject has been depicted by him dozens of times over the years, but here the limited (and disarming) color and violent impasto combine to create a child-sacrifice unlike any other.  The lush impastoed bush that encompasses father and son points to a fertile future about to be destroyed.  Suddenly the angel appears etched into the same color as the sky, grasping the knife and halting the sacrifice from behind.  Pointedly, the angel’s arm does double duty (as observed by critics Joan Boykoff Baron and Reuben M. Baron) as the intervening agent and, seen in another light, a reversed knife that threatens to stab Abraham himself, visually commenting that if Abraham were to slaughter Isaac he would be destroying everything he believed in; an act of suicide. The artist has brought us to the precipice of God’s greatest test of Abraham.

In an exhibition of fascinating biblical insights, David and Bathsheba stands alone.  The gray monochrome painted over a barely visible red underpainting casts an ominous pall over the early evening scene.  Bathsheba is featured in the left foreground, her flesh tones almost indistinguishable from the surrounding patio.  Surprisingly, she is not the focus of David’s gaze.  He is positioned on the right and above, clothed in violent deep red, reaching out his arms towards the crescent moon that hangs picturesquely in the sky above.  A shooting star arches just below it, completing the image of David focused on the moon and stars.  Bradford’s image complicates the very nature of David’s “offense.”

John Bradford’s new paintings assault the sanctity of modernist picture plane conventions, offering gravely antinomian understandings of the greatest narratives the Torah has to offer.

 

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 “True Grit”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Terror rockets fired at Israeli civilians from a United Nations (UNRWA) girls school in Beit Lahiya, Gaza, on August 23, 2014.
Israel Okays Ban’s UN Commission on ‘UNRWA Incidents’
Latest Sections Stories
L to R: Sheldon Adelson, Shawn Evenhaim, Haim Saban

As Rabbi Shemtov stood on the stage and looked out at the attendees, he told them that “Rather than take photos with your cellphones, take a mental photo and keep this Shabbat in your mind and take it with you throughout your life.”

South-Florida-logo

Yeshiva v’Kollel Bais Moshe Chaim will be holding a grand celebration on the occasion of the institution’s 40th anniversary on Sunday evening, December 7. Alumni, students, friends and faculty of the yeshiva, also known as Talmudic University of Florida, will celebrate the achievement and vision of its founders and the spiritual guidance of its educational […]

South-Florida-logo

The yeshiva night accommodates all levels of Jewish education.

South-Florida-logo

Recently, Fort Lauderdale has been the focus of international news, and it has not been about the wonderful weather.

Rabbi Sacks held the position of chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth for 22 years until September 2013.

The event included a dvar Torah by student Pesach Bixon, an overview of courses, information about student life and a student panel that answered frequently asked questions from a student perspective.

It is difficult to write about such a holy person, for I fear I will not accurately portray his greatness…

“Grandpa,” I wondered, as the swing began to slow down, “why are there numbers on your arm?”

So the real question is, “How can we, as hosts, make sure our guest beds are comfortable?” Because your guests will never say anything.

It was a land of opportunity, a place where someone who wasn’t afraid of a little hard work, or the challenges of adapting to a different climate and culture, could prosper.

Rule #1: A wife should never accompany her husband to hang out with his buddies at a fantasy football draft. Unless beer and cigars are her thing, that is.

There are many people today with very little training who put out shingles and proclaim themselves to be marital coaches, shalom bayis helpers, advisers etc.

The two World Series combatants, the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants, were Wild Card teams (meaning they didn’t win their respective divisions) that got hot at the right time.

It seems ironic to use the words “Ronald McDonald” and “kosher” in the same sentence, but venture out to New Hyde Park and the two go hand in hand.

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/true-grit/2014/02/21/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: