While most of these paintings are clearly non-narrative since they originated as portraits of contemporary Jews, nonetheless there is almost always an implied narrative lurking beneath the surface. Sunday Morning in the Tent of Abraham presents yet another domestic scene crying out to be interpreted (i.e. narrated). Abraham is depicted here concentrating on his prayers while simultaneously keeping an eye on his young son Isaac. The three registers that divide the painting horizontally reflect three very different realms. The lower section seems to reveal a foundation of abstract order, while in the middle section human life as it tries to reach out to God. Finally the Divine realm is echoed in the calm beautiful sky. But still there is mystery as Abraham’s head intrudes upon the upper register, just as the child’s leg encroaches on the otherwise symmetrical rug. In the quiet stillness of this scene we are led to think of Abraham, alone in his belief in one God, patiently exploring how to reach out to Him, even as he must be a good parent to his helpless child. And significantly Isaac looks out from the painting, perhaps at us, imploring us to imagine his future. From a contemporary portrait of Jewish father and his child the artist has transported us back to the interior mental landscape of our forefather.
Elke Reva Sudin describes herself as a cross-cultural painter and illustrator whose work explores “the tension between the traditional and the contemporary coexisting in a shared space.” Educated at Pratt Institute she continues to curate exhibitions of other artist’s works as well as founding and running the media outlet Jewish Art Now that aims to “redefine 21st century art for the Jewish community.” While the paintings in this current exhibition certainly successfully reflect these goals, I believe they also open up another fruitful artistic field. It is extremely significant that the depiction of biblical matriarchs and patriarchs is being done by an observant Jew. Many frum artists shy away from pictorial representations of the Avos and Imos, presumably because these individuals are thought of as too “holy” to come under artistic scrutiny. That is, I believe, a mistaken approach. Just as they are closely examined by all of our traditional commentators so as to learn from lives and roles for the Jewish people, so too visual depiction and commentary can be easily as fruitful. Sudin has successfully scaled that conceptual wall to excellent results.