web analytics
January 31, 2015 / 11 Shevat, 5775
At a Glance
Sponsored Post

Home » Sections » Arts »

The Image Before The Text:

The 613: Paintings By Archie Rand


First there was the word. It was spoken on the mountain and we were afraid. Then it was written fire on fire. And we lost faith. Over the years Moshe wrote it down and we thought the word was tamed. We thought we knew it so we ignored it. So we lost our Temple and our Land. The 613, over the years mostly observed but mysterious, observed now, thousands of years later, distant and holy.


From 2001 to 2006, Archie Rand painted each and every mitzvah; all 613 were transformed into images. His artwork has revealed the awesome mystery and inscrutability of God’s law. The artist asserts that the 613 acrylic paintings, each 20″ x 16″, are actually one work of art. This one ensemble composed of 613 parts occupies an enormous warehouse wall 15 feet high and 93 feet wide. When the artist turns on the lights in that cavernous space, the effect is breathtaking. After I interviewed him about this ambitious project, one realizes that his conceptual accomplishment is even more daunting.


Archie Rand has a notorious career painting Jewish art. Beginning with the B’nai Josef synagogue murals in Brooklyn (1974) and the outdoor Michlalah murals in Jerusalem (1984) he has relentlessly depicted myriad aspects of Jewish belief and thought in serial form. His efforts have been met with critical distain and/or silence from the mainstream art establishment. His 54 Parsha paintings exhibited at the Jewish Museum in 1989 continued his determination to illustrate the sacred text through metaphor and symbols derived from traditional commentaries and Midrash. And just as constant as was the secular distain was the disapproval from the rabbinic and religious public, even after years of textual study and preparation.



The 613, acrylic on canvas by Archie Rand

Courtesy the artist



Caught between a secular world that could not abide Torah, and a religious world that could not abide “Art,” Archie slowly began to realize that the Jewish artist had to reassess his role. Perhaps he had to function as a 21st century “Bezalel.” Imbued with artistic wisdom, secular insight and religious knowledge, the artist had to start the process with what he knew best, the creation of images. These images had to come from within the deep sensibility of the individual artist; they had to resonate in his aesthetics, his culture and his persona. Once that visual foundation was established, only then could they be applied to the sacred text; only then could they be able to illuminate the Torah.


The Image had to come before the Text.


Rand’s images that make up “The 613″ are difficult and perplexing. Each panel is dominated by a brightly colored high-contrast image, frequently of a single head or a pair of figures or animals (that stand in for humans). The overall style is of 1950s comic book figures deeply rooted in the icons of American culture. The unifying visual feature is the gold border surrounding each image and the large Hebrew letters at the bottom that denote the mitzvah’s number according to the Rambam. This maze of Hebrew letters seems to strive to form words even as they are only meant as numbers and creates a constant tension between text, number and meaning. It is as if Rand is saying that the text can’t become meaning until it becomes an image under the artist’s control.



326 & 327, details of The 613, acrylic on canvas by Archie Rand

Courtesy the artist



The only way to begin to understand “The 613″ is to pick an image and use the number to locate it in the listing of mitzvahs the artist has conveniently provided. A striking image of a man’s leg clad in green trousers and a big shoe violently kicks another man’s face. Huh? Lets seeshin, kaf, vavthat’s 326from Numbers 5:2: “To send the impure from the Temple.” Rand’s image is violent, reflecting the vehemence and urgency of Temple purity. Ah, ha.


Next to it is 327 from Numbers 5:30: “Impure persons must not enter the Temple.” Here a funny blond man is dreaming and in the dream balloon he imagines a redhead in a bikini sitting on the beach. Huh? Here, in the reverse of illustration, the negative version of 326 has become internalized, intimating that improper thoughts must not enter the Temple of our minds. Ah, ha. Rand uncovers meaning in a mitzvah most would say was not applicable in our Temple-less times.


It is exactly the fact that many of the 613 are “not applicable in our time” that intrigued Archie to appropriate them with contemporary images and bring these commands alive. His approach starts with a visual statement reflecting many visual allusions; some cultural, personal, some from known Jewish texts − all of which require deconstruction and careful examination. The point of this admittedly difficult visual analysis is to provide a “gently apologetic invitation to learn the text.” Unless the viewer refers back to the text of the Torah and the specific mitzvah, the entire painting is essentially unreadable.



The 613, acrylic on canvas by Archie Rand

Courtesy the artist



But one cannot start with the text itself because it is irreparably encrusted with preconceived, and hence, superficial meanings. Remember, the job of Jewish art is to tell us what we don’t know already know. Therefore, the viewer must start with the challenge of the deliberately difficult and transgressive image that provides a key to fresh understanding of the mitzvah.


Archie Rand sees this painting in 613 parts as a “manifestation of love because someone cared enough about this text” to make it into art. Many of his images are riddles meant to confound the viewer and force a confrontation between mitzvah in text and mitzvah in picture, therefore these paintings take considerable effort to even begin to understand. He feels that the normal symbols that we associate with mitzvahs are inadequate for generating an intense enough emotion demanded by a command from the Lord of the Universe. He believes that only deeply personal and idiosyncratic images presented by the artist can summon a parallel emotion from the viewer.


Ultimately, these paintings must be thought of as one work that transforms the normally static system of mitzvahs into a kind of narrative. Just placing them in sequential order begins to narrate the commands, until we perceive that mitzvah after mitzvah, performed and understood next to one another and in relationship to its distant brothers and sisters, start to create a narrative of the consciousness of Jewish life. To be a Jew is to be commanded by our Creator to live in a certain manner. To be a Jewish artist is to be commanded to begin with the image as our unique contribution to the holy Jewish text.


Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com   

About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.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 “The Image Before The Text:”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
The United States condemned Iran for honoring Hezbollah terrorist Imad Mughniyeh but is not so bothered when Abbas honors PA terrorists.
CIA, Mossad Collaborated on Killing Hezbollah No. 2 Leader in Damascus
Latest Sections Stories

The musical production was beautifully performed by the middle school students.


Greige offered a post of her own. She said, “I was very cautious to avoid being in any photo or communication with Miss Israel.” She contends that she was photobombed.


This year, 40 couples were helped. The organization needs the support of the extended Jewish community so that it can continue in its important work.

In the introduction to the first volume, R. Katz discusses the Torah ideal, arguing that the Torah’s laws are intended to craft the perfect man and are not to be regarded as ends unto themselves.

A highlight of the evening was the video produced by the Kleinman Family Holocaust Education Center on the legendary Agudah askan Reb Elimelech (Mike) Tress, a true Jewish hero.

Until recently his films were largely forgotten, but with their release last year on DVD by Re:Voir Video in Paris they are once again available.

Though the CCAR supported the Jewish right to emigrate to Eretz Yisrael, it strenuously objected to defining Palestine as the Jewish homeland.

“Well, you are also part of this class! If someone drills a hole in the boat, the boat will ultimately sink, and even the innocent ones will perish as well. The whole class must be punished!”

Nouril concluded he had no choice: He had to become more observant.

I find his mother to be a difficult person and my nature is to stay away from people like that.

Here are some recipes to make your Chag La’Illanot a festive one.

Does standing under the chuppah signal the end of our dream of romance and beautiful sunsets?

We aren’t at a platform; we are underground, just sitting there.

More Articles from Richard McBee
Jerusalem to Jericho Road: photograph by Chanan Getraide
“Chanan Getraide Photographs”: 2004 exhibition at Hebrew Union College Museum

“We are living in a Golden Age of Jewish Art, but don’t know it.”


He refuses to flinch from our painful history, perhaps finding a kind of solace in the consistency of irrational enmity directed against us.

“Vidduy: The Musical” breaks through the formidable barrier of repetitive confession to allow us to begin to understand what is at the heart of this fundamental religious act.

A fascinating glimpse into the rich complexity of medieval Jewish life and its contemporary relevance had intriguingly emerged.

Silverstein’s work has long concerned itself with the intersection between the personal and Jewish Biblical narrative, significantly explored in this column in “Brighton Beach Bible” (July 27, 2009).

Not surprisingly the guardians of synagogue tradition is male dominated in both Moses Abraham, Cantor and Mohel and Synagogue Lamp Lighters.

Neither helpless victims nor able to escape the killer’s clutches, the leaders had to make impossible choices on a daily basis in a never-ending dance with the devil.

Bradford has opted to fully exploit the diverse possibilities of the physical surface by concentrating on the three-dimensional application of paint (impasto) and other material.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/the-image-before-the-text/2008/04/16/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: