web analytics
July 6, 2015 / 19 Tammuz, 5775
At a Glance
Sponsored Post

Home » Sections » Arts »

Rock-Hard Paintings

MATERIA: Recent works on paper by New York artist Tobi Kahn

Through January 31, 2007

Works on Paper, Inc.

1611 Walnut Street, Mezzanine, Philadelphia

(215) 988-9999, http://www.worksonpaper.biz/



         The notion of a foreground and a background in a painting is an illusion. Painters use a variety of tricks to fool the viewer into thinking that pictorial space can contain real space, including perspective (objects higher up in the picture frame tend to be more distant) and palette (“warmer” colors are closer, “cooler” ones further). 


        Additionally, one of the many “problems” of painting is trying to show the space between objects. Air is formless and colorless, and the artist often has a hard time convincing the viewer in paint upon a flat surface that a certain amount of air separates two objects, and a different amount separates other objects.



“Kudoht (study#1A).” By Tobi Kahn. Acrylic on paper. 2006.



         Tobi Kahn’s Materia, which is inspired by rock formations, is a body of paintings that shows nothing but positive space. The works evoke aerial photographs (indeed Kahn is at work on a series of paintings based upon aerial views of Israel) and are so bold that they would probably work well in textile or clothing design.


         Kahn is no stranger to these pages and needs no introduction – only an update on his work since the last review. On June 28, 2006, Richard McBee observed, “Tobi Kahn’s ritual objects and mysterious paintings demand Jewish sensitivity without admitting their Jewish content,” and on February 2, 2005, he wrote, “Eschewing traditional Judaic form and symbol, Tobi Kahn is determined to eke out objects and images that bring each mitzvah into the present modern reality.”



“Nodeh (study).” By Tobi Kahn. Acrylic on paper. 2006.



         When the Jewish Museum acquired Kahn’s Saphyr, Omer Counter, McBee covered the “totally new form of omer counter [which] is a delightfully intriguing wall construction.” And on July 18, 2003, he reviewed Kahn’s Sky & Water series: “At once modern in its abstraction and postmodern in idiosyncratic naturalism, this assertive exhibition has deep links with Jewish meditation even as it champions a non-denominational spirituality.”


         Perhaps most ambitiously, McBee conceived of Kahn’s Microcosmos series as the very Talmud itself: “The tension of differences seen in the same text or image becomes a pathway to greater knowledge. This is the context in which to see the paintings of Tobi Kahn.”


         It seems that Kahn cannot touch anything without making it Jewish and art, and happily, he continues to produce more and more work. This is all the more remarkable, because his paintings involve many painstaking layers of paint, which makes the works’ surfaces – somewhere midway between cloudy and pasty – so fascinating. Kahn exhibits a thrill about his work, which ought to be standard fare for all serious artists, but is quite rare and refreshing. He is obsessed not only with Jewish art, but with Jewish artists, particularly the next generation of people interested in Jewish art, which he says did not exist when he was growing up.



“Yynah (study).” By Tobi Kahn. Acrylic on paper. 2006.



         And yet, Kahn’s current exhibit at Works on Paper in Philadelphia is arguably most relevant to Jewish art due to its departure therein. In his review of Kahn’s show, Edward J. Sozanski, art critic at The Philadelphia Inquirer, made a startling argument that Kahn’s work should be considered as Eastern, rather than Western, art. “Kahn’s paintings don’t look particularly Asian, yet their exquisite balance and quiet intensity make them as serenely contemplative as the calligraphy of a Zen master. The more one studies these paintings, the more one realizes how much craftsmanship contributes to that result.”


         Sozanski used the word “craftsmanship” twice in the review, which left Works on Paper owner Evan Slepian unhappy. Slepian told me he felt the references to craftsmanship downplayed the art, which he felt was so powerful that he was tempted to hang just two or three painting on each wall, “because they hold the wall.” In the press release, Slepian wrote, “Kahn’s new work, based on rock formations, exemplifies a meditative abstraction with the rich surface and sinuous line that are his distinctive signature.”


         The work in question is a rock formation study that began when Kahn, a Kohen, first visited a cemetery after his mother’s death. The funeral was in Israel, and Kahn lingered about the edge of the cemetery where his mother was buried, so as not to become impure. (Kohanim, or priests, are not permitted to be in cemeteries or to come in contact with other impurities.) For the first time, Kahn saw the stones mourners left behind on the graves to mark their visits, and he was so fascinated that he began working on a piece about rocks. He also gathered rocks from Maine, El Paso and Cape Cod (where he visited for exhibitions of his work). The body of work became Materia.




“Zahram (study).” By Tobi Kahn. Acrylic on paper. 2006.



         Both Zahram (study) and Nodeh (study) – all of Kahn’s titles are pseudo-Hebrew – evoke rivers. Zahram is a blue-gray and white painting that resembles a river with islands. Nodeh looks more like a meandering tributary, fighting its way around rocks and small hills. Upon close inspection, both paintings (and indeed all of Kahn’s paintings) reveal a great deal of variation in color and brushstrokes, which further lends the painting an aquatic feel.


         On the Works on Paper website, Slepian insightfully posted the paintings beside close-up shots of details from the paintings. Seeing those zoomed-in shots, the paintings appear to have a great deal of bold movement, and yet looking back at the original paintings, I am always struck by the serenity and balance in them. Kahn has achieved balance not by using inert and dull objects, but by setting each object in so much dynamic motion that they balance each other. This is perhaps the way they most closely resemble Zen thought.


        Menachem Wecker is a painter, writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. He welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

About the Author: Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.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 “Rock-Hard Paintings”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Future guard? Arab child with Hamas headband aims toy rifle on the Temple Mount after prayers in the Al Aqsa mosque.
CNN Promotes Old City on Verge of Extinction Due to ‘Political Tension’
Latest Sections Stories

Orlando was once a place where people came only to visit and vacation. Now it is home to a burgeoning Torah community, a place Jewish families can be proud to call home.


The smuggler’s life has been changed forever. He is faced with a major criminal charge. He will probably be sent to prison.


“Thanks to a local philanthropist who shares our core mission, we now are able to connect more Jewish teens to Israel than ever before,” said Todd Cohn, executive director of Southern NCSY.

In September 2013 he was appointed head rabbi of the IDF Central Command and is currently in charge of special projects for the IDF chief rabbinate.

Last month we outlined how a few years after Judah Touro’s death a public movement was inaugurated by the citizens of New Orleans to erect a monument to his memory, and that opposition to this tribute came from a number of rabbis throughout the country who claimed that Judaism forbade the erection of any graven […]

Marceau suggested a dark reason for his wordless art: “The people who came back from the [concentration] camps were never able to talk about it…. My name is Mangel. I am Jewish. Perhaps that, unconsciously, contributed towards my choice of silence.”

Anna Henriques, who hopes to one day head back to Jamaica, says, “Rabbi Raskin must be willing to respect what exists in Jamaica. The way to the future is to gently bring in the traditions of the past and at the same time embrace the idiosyncrasies of the Jamaican people.”

The Silver Platter has it all: gorgeous photography, oodles of useful tips and, more importantly, incredible recipes that you will find yourself making again and again.

It may be that seeking to connect with the past is rooted in the impermanence and impersonality of modern life.

It is very hard to build a healthy marriage when you do not have good role models.

My best book is one that hasn’t been published yet.

We tend to justify and idealize this division with pride attributing these tendencies as demonstrating a higher level of kedushah.

More Articles from Menachem Wecker
Menachem Wecker

The exhibit, according to a statement from guest curator Michele Waalkes which is posted on the museum website, “examines how faith can inform and inspire artists in their work, whether their work is symbolic, pictorial, or textual in nature. It further explores how present-day artwork can lead audiences to ponder God, religious themes, venerated traditions, or spiritual insights.”


It all started at an art and education conference at the Yeshiva University Museum. When one of the speakers misidentified a Goya painting at the Frick Collection, both the gentleman sitting next to me and I turned to each other and corrected the error simultaneously.

One of my favorite places when I was growing up in Boston was the used bookstore on Beacon and St. Mary’s streets. Boston Book Annex could play a used bookshop on television; it was dimly lit and cavernous, crawling with cats, and packed with a dizzying array of books, many of which sold three for a dollar. But used bookstores of this sort, however picturesque and inviting, are a relatively modern phenomena. In the Middle Ages, for example, I would never have been able to afford even a single used book unless I had been born into an aristocratic family. (Full disclosure, I was not.)

Jewish medals, several with Hebrew inscriptions and provocative imagery, were among the gems at The European Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, Netherlands, as I wrote in these pages two weeks ago. Another mini-trend at the fair, which will interest Jewish art aficionados, was an abundance of works by Marc Chagall.

It’s virtually impossible to ignore the financial aspects of TEFAF Maastricht, the annual arts and antiques fair in the historic city about two hours south of Amsterdam. More than 250 dealers from nearly 20 countries sell their wares—which span from Greek and Roman antiquities to contemporary sculptures—in the halls of the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre, whose corridors are adorned by nearly 65,000 tulips.

Max Ferguson’s 1993 painting Katz’s may be the second most iconic representation of the kosher-style delicatessen after the 1989 Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan film, When Harry Met Sally. Ferguson’s photorealistic painting depicts the deli from an interesting perspective, which is simultaneously inviting and hostile—in short, the dichotomy of deli culture.

The whole idea of an artful pushka (tzeddakah or charity box) is almost a tease, if not an outright mockery. Isn’t there something pretty backward about investing time and money in an ornate container to hold alms for the poor?

Located about nine miles north of Madrid, the Palacio Real de El Pardo (Pardo Palace) dates back to the early 15th century. Devastated by a March 13, 1604 fire that claimed many works from its priceless art collection, the Pardo Palace and its vast gardens were used as a hunting ground by the Spanish monarchs.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/rock-hard-paintings/2007/01/24/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: