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Itshak Holtz is an artist totally immersed in the Jewish genre. He was born in Poland, grew up in Israel, mainly in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Geula, and for the last 35 years he has maintained homes in both New York and Jerusalem. He is comfortably rooted in a Jewish life of religiosity, love of Israel and respect for the Jewish experience in the Diaspora. Holtz is a thoroughly modern Jew; a cosmopolitan with deep roots in Israel and America, who is also a highly successful painter specializing in one aspect of his own history and reality: Jewish genre painting.
Genre painting arose in the Western artistic tradition in the late Renaissance. In Northern Europe, scenes of everyday life suited the ascendant burgher class that celebrated the virtues and values of home, hearth and family. Frequently practiced by lesser talents, genre painting was also championed by many of the great 17th century Dutch masters such as Hoblein, Jan Steen, Vermeer and Rembrandt. Soon it caught on in Italy, Spain and England, appealing to the growing tourist trade. By the 19th century, it comprised a major secondary market in most European, English and American painting. It is the consummate form of democratic artistic expression, celebrating the prosaic life of the common man, with occasional forays into picturesque poverty and sentimental histories.
The first and most proficient Jewish practitioner was Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, especially his wildly popular series of prints, Pictures of Traditional Jewish Family Life published in the 1870′s. This series depicts the 18th century Jewish community of his native Hanau, Germany, in what was a nostalgic look at a recent but vanished ghetto past. Itshak Holtz has focused on similar material with an important difference. The world he depicts is alive and well in Monsey,
Boro Park and, of course, Jerusalem.
Returning From Shul (2002) presents Holtz’s vision of the living shtetl. Stubbornly contemporary in bright impressionistic colors with tangled electric wires strung across a back alley, his approach is nonetheless unflinchingly traditional in depicting haredi piety and customs. He paints each scene from life after researching the location for the best light and optimal viewpoint. As the painting develops, he enlists local individuals as models, plucking them from the midst of their everyday lives. Holtz revels in the contrasts and tensions between the rusted sheet metal upper floor of the house on the left, the luxuriantly green trees, and the hasid clad in black and white trudging home from morning davening. It is a celebration of the fabric of the mundane.
Unlike some of his earlier paintings that depicted tailors, sofrim, fishmongers and pressers, in this world, piety replaces the workplace. Shamash Learning in Shul (2003) combines the artist’s considerable powers as a portraitist with a detailed rendering of a synagogue interior in a painting of claustrophobic intensity. The compressed space piles the bimah, blue paroches and elaborate aron above the head of the shamash, acting as a kind of crown to the foreground figure engrossed in Talmud study. The artificially shallow space of the painting draws us into his mental universe of scholarship and spirituality in an extraordinary manner. Finely wrought details narrate a relationship between his hand clasping the Talmud, the intensive gaze of his eyes on the unseen page, the hanging “Eternal Light” and finally the two tablets of the Law surmounted by an ornate crown. This journey into the center of the painting is echoed by the triangle formed by the luchos and the two side windows that radiate above the highlighted forehead of the Torah scholar. The reciprocal relationship between the individual, his studies, and the sacred setting is intense and riveting.
For over 40 years, Itshak Holtz’s subjects have been the back alleys and markets of Me’ah Shearim, Geula, and other religious neighborhoods in Israel. Street scenes, synagogue interiors and portraits of men learning, praying and simply inhabiting the world of Yiddishkeit have been the motifs that fascinate him out of love and respect. Reflecting deep affection for his subjects, many of his favorite portraits have been held in his private collection in trust for his children. Portrait is typical in its directness and honesty. The hasid’s peyos frame his face like the columns at the entrance to the Temple sanctuary. And yet the placement of his eyes, nose and mouth is slightly off center, creating a wonderful tension between the formulaic trappings of piety (black hat, peyos and white shirt) and the complexities of a real person.
Itshak Holtz’s extensive training years ago at the Bezalel Art Academy in Jerusalem, the Art Students League in New York, especially with Robert Brackman and the National Academy of Design with Robert Philipp, still influences him. The ability to combine inventive and detailed compositions with evocations of deeply individual religious feeling stem as much from the artist as from his subjects.
Holtz’s Jewish genre painting represents an essential aspect of contemporary Jewish life. It reveals a world that many secular Jews choose to either ignore or reject. This world is an important link with a vital Jewish past even as it represents a growing Jewish present that must be explored with a finely tuned combination of sympathy and honesty. Genre painting offers a particular sensibility, attention to detail and nuance of place and time that provide a unique opportunity to explore this world. Itshak Holtz masterfully opens the door to begin this exploration.
Richard McBee is a painter of Torah subject matter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to email him with comments at email@example.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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Leah Katz, a TeenZone camper at Oorah’s TheZone summer camp and an 11th grader at Midwood High School, read her winning essay about how TheZone changed her views on Judaism at the Jewish Heritage Awards Ceremony held at Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes’s office in April. The purpose of the Jewish Heritage Essay Contest is to acquaint public school students with Jewish history and customs and to help foster a deeper understanding of Jewish culture. The contest is open to students of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. Leah’s essay is reproduced in full below.
Moshe Sharett, the head of the Jewish Agency’s Political Department, visited Egypt in 1945. In Cairo he met a most remarkable young woman, a beautiful journalist who was the darling of Egyptian high society – from high-ranking military brass, to culture icons and Muslim sheikhs, to the court of King Faruk.
The two proceeded to talk about everyday things and surprisingly her mother-in-law did not find anything else to criticize. This occurred a few more times, with my client changing the topic every time by complimenting her mother-in-law or mentioning something positive about her.
There is always a lot of confusion surrounding sensory processing disorder – mainly because there are many different diagnoses that fall under the catch-all phrase sensory processing disorder (SPD). Among them are three specific subcategories:
The doctor had warned us that even if we did everything right and followed the protocol after the follicle was of the right size, there was no guarantee of success. Fertilization still had to occur, and just like couples do not necessarily become pregnant every month, we had no way to know if we were actually expecting for two full weeks.
The next chapter of the award-winning novel.
Jewish Press columnist Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, founder and president of Hineni, the international Torah outreach organization, recently addressed an overflowing audience at the Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine in southern California. Rebbetzin Jungreis’s address theme, “Making a Good Relationship Magical,” was apropos for the evening’s main mission: raising funds for the Irvine community’s mikveh.
You have probably been planning your marriage since you were about three. Let’s fast-forward to a big milestone– your twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. (Don’t worry, you don’t look a day over twenty one!) Now, would you appreciate your husband buying you a dozen roses that some florist recommended?
As I mentioned in my earlier articles about our family trip to Israel, our night flight went pretty smooth, thanks to my children’s willingness to sleep throughout the flight. I, on the other hand, didn’t sleep a wink and I wasn’t feeling too great by the time we landed. But we were finally in Israel, and just being in the beautifully renovated Ben Gurion airport and hearing all the Hebrew around us was exciting enough.
While all the flowers that grace your Shavuos table will surely be a delight to your eye, these will be a delight for your palette as well. Create them at any level, simple or sophisticated; any way you make them they’re sure to be a sensation.
Welcome back to “You’re Asking Me?” where we attempt to answer questions sent in by people who fortunately have fake names, so they won’t be embarrassed. I don’t know how they got through school, though.
Speechless wonder is the reaction to the beautiful vision seen though the Arch of the Keshet Cave at the Adamit Park in the Galilee. One of the most amazing natural wonders in Eretz Yisrael, the Me’arat Hakeshet — also known as the Rainbow Cave or Arch Cave — can be found up against the Israel-Lebanon border just a few kilometers from Rosh Hanikra and the sparkling blue Mediterranean Sea. It is situated amid the wild scenery on the cliffs of Nachal Betzet and Nachal Namer, on the Adamit Ridge.
In the eyes of the ram lies the artist’s commentary on the Rosh Hashanah piyyut “The King Girded with Strength.” From the Tripartite Mahzor (German 14th century), this illumination simultaneously echoes the piyyut’s praise of God’s awesome power and expresses the terror of actually being a sacrifice to God. The ram is but a reflection of Isaac. It is all in the eyes.
Reaching back in time to reclaim a family for herself and, in a yahrzeit moment, to rekindle lives snuffed out, Diana Kurz’s paintings stand as testaments to victims of the Holocaust. After a successful 20 year career as an artist and teacher, (with a strong feminist bent), in 1989 Kurz happened upon a few surviving photos of her own relatives “who disappeared during the war.” Suddenly her past opened up and possessed her. This spring (April 4 – May 2, 2012) a series of these paintings was shown at the Art Gallery at Kingsborough Community College, CUNY.
Examining a choice selection of drawings done by Itshak Holtz over 30 years ago is a rare pleasure that allows for the appreciation of his unique sensitivity and insights. I was afforded that pleasure at the inaugural exhibition of the Betzalel Gallery in Crown Heights this past May. Although this modest selection of 25 drawings and watercolors of this paradigmatic frum artist ranges from 1963 to 1999, the majority of the works is from the 1970s and reveals a special aspect of his inner artistic soul. The selection of images could easily narrate the fabric of ordinary Jewish life.
Earlier this year I was presenting my survey of Jewish art, “A Jewish Art Primer,” in a West Hartford, Connecticut synagogue and during the intermission a local artist, David Holzman, introduced himself to me. He relayed his rich and fascinating artistic background and then produced a portfolio of 8 black and white prints that he generously gave to me as a gift. As a tantalizing glimpse into recent work, they are truly amazing and I would like to share them with you.
Boris Schatz (1866 – 1932) had a revolutionary vision. He believed that the creation of a new modern Jewish visual culture would become a major force to both articulate a Jewish national identity and sustain the Zionist enterprise. In 1904 he approached Zionist leader Theodor Herzl with the proposal to establish a national arts and crafts school in Palestine and got his blessing. Tragically Herzl died later that year, but the Zionist leadership in Vienna assumed responsibility for the project and its funding.
The exhibitions that precede Judaic auctions are rather special events for anyone who has a feeling for the fabric of Jewish life as it has been lived for the last 500 years. Not only is one afforded the opportunity to see a wide variety of Judaica, books, manuscripts and Jewish art of considerable historic importance, but if something strikes your fancy; intellectually or acquisitively, you can actually handle the objects. For most artwork the thrill is in seeing it up close and judging the brushstrokes and details of a painting or watercolor. One stands in the exact proximity as the creator did.
The auction at Christie’s in Paris this May 11 of a Tuscan Mahzor, created and illuminated in the 1490’s, will be an extraordinary event. This rare example of illuminated Jewish art has not been seen publically in over 500 years and, aside from tantalizing internal suggestions, lacks conclusive identification of the scribe and illuminators. Because the gold-tooled goatskin binding was made about 50 years after the manuscript and has a different coat of arms than those found in the machzor, it is assumed that this prayerbook may have quickly changed hands.
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.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/itshak-holtz-jewish-genre-painting/2003/07/04/
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