Meir Panim’s Tiberias Free Restaurant not only provides warm meals, but the opportunity to socialize as well.
John Bradford’s exhibition of nine paintings, done in the 1990′s - presents us with a conundrum. Clearly these are paintings you must see, but I cannot recommend that you see then now. They make their subjects immediately accessible even as the road to this visual enlightenment is blocked by the unfamiliar and strange. And last but not least, the work shown here represents a pictorial methodology rejected by the artist himself. In short, it is Bradford’s conundrum.
Bradford’s work has appeared in these pages many times over the last three years. His work has provided rich insights into the Torah subject matter that he has, as a non-Jew, devoted himself to. His last exhibition in December 2002 showed work of extreme simplicity, a radical High Modernism in the service Biblical exegesis. The starkly spare line against a flat picture plane devoid of atmospheric effects successfully echoed the elegantly simple Biblical texts that he chooses to comment upon. The current exhibition is dramatically different, looking
backward at work that is still rooted in many of the Renaissance traditions of Western painting.
We see in these paintings normative concepts of pictorial space; foreground, middle ground and even deep background space. There is a persistent sense of looking into a framed scene or tableau in marked contrast to the radically flat surface of the more recent works. Even the exhibition space is traditional, a Gothic chapel in the Union Theological Seminary. While most readers of the Jewish Press will probably not feel comfortable viewing this artwork in a Christian seminary, nonetheless the paintings bear important messages for us to uncover.
Esther’s Feast (1996) seems to represent the final confrontation between Esther and Haman in a straightforward manner. The King and Haman are grouped on the left opposite a reclining Esther. A bizarre orchid-like flower intrudes from the side establishing the exotic decadence of the scene. As we follow the three heads across the middle of the canvas, other annoying details become apparent. The King is seated in a chair that visually binds him to the figure of Haman. Haman is striving in the opposite direction, threatening to tear asunder this unnatural pairing. If we note the scale of Haman’s head we realize that he is probably much deeper in
the pictorial space than the King. We have been tricked by a mere juxtaposition. Once our eyes adjust to this spatial reconfiguration the real subject of the painting begins to emerge.
The painting is actually depicting the confrontation between Esther and the King. They are locked together in visual struggle across the diminutive banquet table. Her face is in shadow
while her arm gestures accusingly. The King’s profile is staring directly at her as he leans forward and begins to rise in apprehension. Her singular presence rooted at the base of a massive column demands the King make the just decision to destroy the enemy of the Jews. Bradford has revealed that up until now the King was ambivalent. Now he must choose. This drama is played out in a paradoxically empty royal hall, observed only by two witnesses in
the distance precisely midway between the King and his Queen.
The use of deep space in Esther’s Feast is collapsed into the interior space of Jael and Sisera
(1995). We find ourselves deep inside Jael’s tent, witness to her assassination of the defeated general Sisera. The warm interior of the tent contrasted with the sharp triangle of the opening to the outside sets the scene of her deception and struggle. The hammer is seen brilliantly illuminated beneath the bed as a counterpoint to the tent peg silhouetted in Sisera’s skull. She slinks around the body on all fours, perhaps stunned at her power in slaying the man whom the Midrash describes as “in his might has conquered the whole world ? there was no city whose wall he could not cause to collapse with his voice…”
Once again Bradford’s painting confounds our narrative expectations of Jael’s triumphant victory by use of unusual pictorial space. A typical triumph should normally ascend in a vertical format, whereas this painting assaults the viewer by thrusting Sisera’s feet and legs literally into our faces. It is the ignominious view of a corpse in a morgue, his legs flayed out like a drunk on the sidewalk. Sisera is disgraced by the very space the artist has assigned him.
The Covenant of the Parts (1991) utilizes the depiction of space in the most radical manner of
these paintings. A superficial reading of this image yields a simple description of a series of dead animals that delineate the foreground leading towards a smoking fiery presence at the extreme left. The starkly lit figure of Abraham is seen midway into the open field that stretches before us. Far in the distance a mysterious structure, perhaps a steeple, a monument or a smokestack, dominates the horizon.
This enormous painting, nine and a half feet by twelve feet, is an overwhelmingly dark and brooding meditation on what cannot be expressed, indeed what cannot be made into art, namely the fundamental covenant between G-d and the Jewish people. The nature of the mystery is explicated in absences in the painting. Each pictorial element, while pretending to normatively describe a scene, is lacking essential details. The consuming fire at the far left is only seen in reflection of its smoke, its essence hidden offstage. Likewise the slaughtered
animals, symbolic of future sacrifices that will atone for the Jewish people, are not yet clearly cut in two as the biblical text demands.
Billowing smoke (the smoky furnace of the text) enters the painting from the right and further
obscures the all-important sacrifices. Finally this same smoke partially blocks our view of Abraham, covering his lower half and isolating him. Bradford’s depiction of the covenant giving the Jewish people the Land of Israel is filled with uncertainty and dread. All that seems to make visual sense, symbolically, rings hollow and distant. He seems to be telling us that, while we all continue to believe in this covenant, because of the subsequent history of loss and exile that extends up to this very day, we cannot fully apprehend the Covenant Between the Parts.
Bradford’s current exhibition celebrating his unorthodox use of traditional pictorial devices allows us to see his past work after seeing his most recent modernist works. This distortion in his artistic chronology uncovers one salient idea stemming from ‘Bradford’s conundrum.’ Jewish art, especially biblical subjects, are not limited to one ideal means of artistic expression, even within the work of one artist. Rather the complex nature of these subjects demands the use of multiple avenues of creativity to bring out continuously richer and more fruitful
Note: The review of Remembrance: Russian Post-Modern Nostalgia; at Yeshiva University Museum, originally scheduled for this week, has been postponed so that more research can be done on the subject. It will be published in the near future.
Richard McBee is a painter of Torah subject matter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to email him with comments at www.richardmcbee.com.
About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Today is day six without a phone.
Besides for feeling slightly isolated, it’s not too bad.
I’ve been doing things that I know I would not be doing if my phone was sitting next to me, shiny screen beckoning.
Is anyone else alarmed by the way extended warranties are sold on just about anything and everything? It means one of two things – either someone has found a great way of getting consumers to part with more of their hard earned dollars or manufacturers have no faith in their own products. Neither of those options is particularly heartwarming.
As I described Gaon in a review in June 2001 (“In Search of Ancestors, Sculpture by Simon Gaon” at Yeshiva University Museum), his Bukharian Jewish roots are deeply embedded on both sides of his family, echoed in his early yeshiva education.
Let me begin by congratulating my dear machatunim, Soraya and Jay Nimaroff, on being the recipients of the Community Service Award at the Sderot Hesder Institutions 18th annual anniversary dinner.
Think of your issues this way: due to those different backgrounds, you have a “shovel” to deal with difficulties while he has a “spoon”.
Do you remember the good old days when kids were kids and there was never anything to worry about? Those days never really existed, but today there are issues kids worry about that weren’t issues for some adults. They include fear of bullying, natural disasters, divorce, and violence.
In Part I talked about celebrating 30 years of Regesh Family and Child Services providing services to children, teens and families. I shared the agency’s origin and the many lessons I have learned through this journey. As I mentioned, it is my hope that my experiences will add to your toolbox of life skills.
Unfortunately, a map of the Middle East with no mention of Israel is nothing new… It is surprising however, that the world’s largest publisher of children’s literature, Scholastic Books, has joined in this trend.
About six months ago my parents and I started discussing ideas for a mitzvah project in honor of my bat mitzvah. I wanted to do something unique that would be meaningful to me and also do something that my friends could participate in. Immediately I thought of an organization called Sharsheret.
“I’m disappointed that the agreement reached with Iran leaves our unfulfilled our ultimate objective: a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program and related activities.
Southern NCSY will be holding a leadership training Shabbaton at the Young Israel of Bal Harbour December 6 and December 7. Rabbi Steven Weil, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, will be the special guest speaker.
Is there a beginning and an end to the universe? What role can medical breakthroughs play in conception or genetic engineering? Can science help us pinpoint the end of human life? Does the soul emanate from the brain or vice-versa?
Last month’s column sketched the myriad of social programs in which the Orthodox American communal worker and leader Adolphus S. Solomons (1826-1910) was involved. Adolphus married Rachel Seixas Phillips (1828-1881), a descendant of colonial patriot families and together they had eight daughters and a son.
The fact that the Jewish Museum’s curator Susan Tumarkin Goodman presents these issues as the inescapable core of her exhibition demonstrates the courage to challenge her audience with deeply discomforting images and concepts.
Lynda Caspe’s current exhibition at the Derfner Museum is an extraordinary event. In this show of 12 bronze relief sculptures and 14 cityscape paintings we have the opportunity to see the full scope of her last six years of work that, as least with the sculptures, marked a radical change in subject matter and technique.
The philosopher Theodor Adorno famously wrote in 1949, “cultural criticism finds itself with the final stage of the dialectic of culture and barbarism. To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” This statement posited that the Holocaust exposed the unredeemable rotten underbelly of Western culture and therefore the very notion of creating beauty and sensitivity was at an insurmountable impasse. Alas, as cultural history has shown, he was wrong. Strikingly, it might be said that one of the few ways still provocatively available to speak about the Holocaust is in fact through poetry.
“Hyman Bloom: Paintings and Drawings (1940 – 2005),” currently at White Box (the cutting edge international art space on Broome Street), is a rare opportunity to observe the creative process of one of the most important practitioners of 20th century Jewish Art in America.
The “book” is a mighty big place these days and the current exhibition at MOBIA, “As Subject and Object: Contemporary Book Artists Explore Sacred Hebrew Texts,” is no exception. Highly mobile ebooks compete with online publications and traditionally bound volumes, scrolls, accordion-style tomes and folios that present equally exciting options for contemporary artists to interact with image and text in one unifying medium.
At the Chassidic Art Institute one artist, Harry McCormick, has rather amazingly fathomed the authentic heartbeat of the individual Jewish life. This exhibition, running until July 25, shows a mere 16 paintings, but six of them reveal a deeply perceptive and sensitive chronicle of Yiddishkeit.
Judaica Auctions and the exhibition that precede them at Kestenbaum & Company are always a cornucopia of aesthetic delights. The sheer variety and overall quality of the ceremonial objects and works of art make the exhibition and catalogue a museum-like experience. The current exhibition is no exception.
Whether it is the disastrous report of the 12 spies or the furious condemnation that doomed an entire generation to die in the wilderness, the Torah narrative in Bamidbar turns terribly grim after the glorious inauguration of the Mishkan in the second year after leaving Egypt. With this in mind, just imagine my surprise at an encounter with two artists who address these (and other Biblical) themes right around the corner.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/bradfords-conundrum-paintings-by-john-bradford/2003/11/14/
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