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Yisgadal v’yisgadash sh’mai rabba b’alma dee v’ra chir’usay.
For many Jews there comes a time when we will say these words every day, many times a day, for 11 months as part of the process of mourning a parent. We bravely declare, “May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified in the world that He created as He willed.” Over and over we repeat this plea, this affirmation of the greatness of God who took away our loved one. Our loss becomes the occasion for us to proclaim the glory of God’s name found in His creation, the very world around us.
Ma’ayan, the creator of “Zalman’s Suite” currently on view at JKlaynberg Gallery, has transformed her mourner’s kaddish into a series of 10 paintings exploring the beginning of God’s creation and the remembrance of her father whose first yarhzeit was January 22. Most notably the paintings are all abstract with titles that reflect verses and concepts from the Torah and her personal memories of her father.
From the age of 8 she has been driven to make art, wonderfully encouraged by her father who frequently told her to “just keep painting,” music to the ears of any aspiring artist. While her work was originally figurative and landscape oriented she has shifted into abstraction as her art has become an integral part of a long spiritual journey. Over the years her concentrated study of Torah, Nach and Kabbalah has driven her emotions and aesthetic choices into developing a style that she characterizes as “abstract expressionism meets mystical thought.”
Ma’ayan’s paintings are energetic expressions of physicality, the sweep of large brushes rage over the surface occasionally allowing a drip or splash to accent otherwise carefully conceived passages. Each of the works have an impressive scale that is echoed in their actual sizes ranging from 4′ x 4′ to almost six feet by five feet. Standing directly in front of the works allows one to begin to fully experience the emotions that stimulated them in the first place. Perhaps their very physicality is an attempt to fill the haunting loss that the death of a parent creates.
She starts her paintings without knowing exactly the subject, rather simply plumbing her emotions and allowing them to surface as aesthetic acts; a color here, a brushstroke there, a line or form brought into being. Then in the process of making the painting, following its own demands and needs that an emerging visual object seems to call out in the artist, she allows her Torah knowledge to interact with the visual phenomenon. Slowly, sooner or later, a title suggests itself and if it is sustained by the visual, begins to give identity to the abstract image. It is crucial to understand that these are not paintings of “things.” The painting itself is the “thing” that is the product of a process that depends upon the complex interaction of three separate phenomena: emotions, making a physical painting and Torah knowledge.
Making art as an expression of grief is a risky business. It could easily be maudlin, depressed or escapist. Not so with Ma’ayan’s “Zalman’s Suite.” She has followed the flawless example of the kaddish - to celebrate God’s name and work hard, daily, to bring His honor and glory into the world by remembering and celebrating the parent we have lost but still love and honor. I couldn’t imagine a more moving memorial.
Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art and can be contacted 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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