As Purim approaches, thousands of Israeli children and families grapple with poverty
The Gallery at Stageworks
41 Cross Street, Hudson, New York
Hung October 2-31, 2004
“You know, I don’t really see so well anymore,” said Tom Barron as we stood in Arthur Yanoff’s Great Barrington studio, trying to safely navigate amongst the blizzard of paper shavings that littered the floor.
” That’s why we are abstract painters,” Arthur responded nonchalantly.
I couldn’t help but chuckle. Tom wore a button down shirt, jeans, and longish silvery hair, while Arthur sported an ultramarine shirt that made his sports jacket look greenish, completing the outfit with pointy boots and a black hat. Tom and Arthur are an interesting duo; they both shudder at the mention of academics – which they affiliate with idolatry and sentimentalization – and yet they can out-theorize any critic I know.
I first met Tom in 1997 when I walked into his “Drawing And Painting The Way You Really See” class at the Brookline Arts Center with a paint brush in my sweaty little palm, quite comfortable with the notion that I was a budding Rembrandt. My friend Michael and I would later rename the course “Drawing and Painting the Way Tom Sees,” because for the life of us, we couldn’t understand what we were doing wrong. Ultimately, I found that Tom’s insistence that it is deceitful to draw the table’s fourth leg while a cloth in fact renders it invisible – is a very convincing argument.
Tom’s notion of realistic sight and his statement about his failing vision are not meant to be cute. He says that, “You must make your lack of seeing precise, and if you see precisely, you must make it blurry.” He admits that while painting a beautiful landscape, he always messed it up a bit – it didn’t feel “right” until then – and in a particularly chaotic scene, he found himself infusing it with order. This move of disrupting the orderly and making the orderly chaotic underscores a common aesthetic that Tom and Arthur share. They call it “mishigaas”.
“I am so glad you asked me that,” Arthur said when I brought mishigaas up at the end of a very painful stream of academic questions. To Arthur, it means “the fun and flexibility of being able to push something around, to not be afraid of it and to prevent the experience or the subject from suffocating you.” Arthur says, “Before there was a world, G-d created mishigaas” (tohu vavohu?).
“The thing about play is that it comes in all different sizes … I think all the great painters had that sense of play.” Mondrian, Picasso and Clem Greenberg are all players in Arthur’s mishigaas coloring book, while Tom cites Flaubert’s “La Légende de Saint Julien l’Hospitalier” and Alfred Jarry’s dramas as card carrying members of the playful club.
To Tom, mishigaas means that, “Life is porous. Everything changes in relation to everything else; it’s not hermetically sealed.” And therein lies the enemy that terrorizes the model of mishigaas: idolatry.
“Idolatry is an act of sentimentality,” Tom says. “It is not realistic. I see our work as being very realistic.” This connectedness of all things, this network of relations of forms in fact conforms to a realistic model in a way that an isolated form that stands alone fails to anticipate. Idolatry champions itself as significant and relevant in its own right, rather than part of a larger network of meaning.
Tom and Arthur have a history of this kind of rhetoric that synthesizes their Jewish identity with their art. Arthur has shown the “Western Wall Project” at Deborah Davis Fine Art; “Steerage to Ellis Island: Little Round Light” in the show “Rural Artists With Urban Sensibilities” in New Hampshire; an exhibit at the Yeshiva University Museum in 1996; and work pertaining to Isaac Luria in Santa Fe.
“Every Jewish artist is a Jew first, no matter what we say,” Arthur says. “I am not an art worshipper. That’s like idol worship to say that I am a painter who is also a Jew.”
Arthur’s grandfather, a Lubavicher Chassid, did not allow any paintings on his walls, and no photographs of him can be found. Arthur cites many halachic opinions on the matter, but “the Jewish artist who comes out of a Jewish tradition can’t help but be aware of these conflicts.”
An art history student at Harvard University, Tom dropped out his senior year to study painting with Jason Berger and his wife, Marilyn Powers. “If I loved art more than life, I thought I’d become an art historian, but I loved life more than art, so I became a painter,” Tom says.
He followed Berger and Powers to Portugal, France and Mexico on their annual four-month long trips abroad. He recalls going to Normandy and thinking that the landscape looked like a Corot, a Pissarro and a Renoir. “These painters weren’t making this up,” he says. Having thought that painters had great imaginations, he now saw that painting was about observing life, rather than imagination. “Even to this day, I don’t have an imagination,” he says.
Tom learnt figurative landscape painting from Berger and Powers. During the mid ’80s and ’90s, he exhibited gouache (opaque watercolors) landscapes that he painted in Israel (in Bet Shemesh) at galleries in Tel Aviv – Stern Gallery, Horace Richter Gallery and Tel Aviv Museum ? and Nomi Blumenthal has a painting of Tom’s hanging in her office in the Knesset.
Tom’s extensive teaching experience has included the Boston Jewish education haunt of the JCC and Maimonides School, amongst other settings. In 1987, when Tom’s paintings were evolving from figurative to abstract, a wall text at an exhibition of his work declared: “Concerned that by painting the landscape he was violating the second commandment, Barron was comforted by his family. His mother said, ‘What makes you think your paintings look like anything?’ and his father said, ‘What do you think you are trying to do, fool G-d?’”
“Why do we have to define ourselves through a European aesthetic and Hellenism?” Tom’s paintings ask, especially the painting “Horse and Soldier.” Based on a still life that Tom painted from observation, “Horse” refers to Psalm 147, “He delighteth not in the strength of the horse,” and it shows a wrestling doll – the Russian Nikolai Volkoff – a horse and a chair with two hats on it, one black and the other an official World Wrestling Federation (WWF) hat. A miniature Ten Commandments, made by Tom’s friend, the late Elle Koplow, sits on the chair, and a picture of Andre the Giant also figures prominently into the composition. Tom notes that people can draw political implications of the Russian falling off the horse, but “Everything is placed for compositional reasons, not literal ones.”
Arthur’s “Wind: 6-25-04″ shows two cloudy objects, an orange on top and a green on the bottom, with curly red lines and brush strokes dancing about the boundary where the “clouds” meet the deep blue background. It evokes sense of ruach and a certain soulfulness that arises out of the energetic, yet contemplative lines.
This painting, like Tom’s, is a different brand of painting than the kitschy, Jewish “calendar art” genre that utilizes ritual objects and narrative to convey a certain sentimentalized Jewish aesthetics. A painting of a Chassid hardly makes the painter a religious Jew, or the painting a religious experience. Arthur cites de Kooning who tried to donate a painting of his to a church, which turned him down (it is now kicking itself, to be sure).
There is something deeply religious and introspective in Tom’s and Arthur’s work. Although the viewer can’t register them as Jewish upon first sight, something Jewish creeps up in de Kooning’s and Neuman’s and Rothko’s work. If you know how and where to look for it, you will find a vocabulary that says, “My whole excitement is playing with life. Painting is not an end in itself; it is a vehicle for expressing my relationship. And that, I think, is pretty Jewish,” Tom says, claiming that his and Arthur’s work is influenced as much by Walt Disney as by Raphael. And ultimately, it is also something refreshing beyond words to talk on the phone with a knowledgeable painter like Arthur who offers me a “Zei gezunt” before he hangs up.
“Abstraction Now!” will hang at the Shelnutt Gallery at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) from November 12 until December 20, on 15th Street and Sage Avenue in Troy, New York. The gallery can be reached at (518) 276-6505.
Menachem Wecker edits the Arts and Culture Section of the Yeshiva University Commentator. As an artist, he has trained at the Massachusetts College of Art. Menachem may be contacted at: email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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‘Double Gold’ awarded to 2012 Yarden Heights wine & 2011 Yarden Merlot Kela Single Vineyard.
One should not give the money before Purim morning or after sunset.
The mishloach manos of times gone by were sometimes simple and sometimes elaborate, but the main focus was on the preparation of the delicious food they contained.
Jews, wake up! Stop educating the world and start educating yourselves.
The lessons conform to the sensitivities and needs of the Orthodox community…
The program took on special significance as it marked not only the first anniversary of Rebbetzin Kudan’s levayah but also the 27th yahrzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, a”h.
It captures the love of the Jewish soul as only Shlomo Hamelech could portray it – and as only Rabbi Miller could explain it.
Erudite and academic, drawing from ancient and modern sources, the book can be discussed at the Shabbos table as well as in kollel.
I’m here to sit next to you and help you through this Purim with three almost-too-easy mishloach manot ideas, all made with cost-conscious paper bags.
Kids want to be like their friends, and they want to give and get “normal” mishloach manos stocked with store-bought treats.
Whenever he did anything loving for me, I made a big deal about it.
“OMG, it’s so cute, you’re so cute, everything is so cute.”
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/the-aesthetic-of-mishigaas-affirming-life-denouncing-art-tom-barron-and-arthur-yanoff-at-stageworks/2004/11/24/
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