Weiss and Brocha Teichman.
Unfortunately, many times in the tradition-bound Orthodox community, creativity in the visual arts is frowned upon by some, based on the mistaken notion that all images are simply forbidden or that making art is not a serious pastime for the Torah community. What Brocha experienced as a child was a generosity of spirit and sensitivity to her talents by her parents. Such love and understanding can give birth to enormous creativity in the secure environment of a frum family. And that can make all the difference in the world.
Brocha Teichman has, for the last 10 years, painted the places and objects that give her joy. Her scenes from Eretz Yisrael, still lifes and portraits, are infused with Jewish sensibility that makes each one an expression of personal belief. The formal artistic training she received at the Art Students League in New York has shaped a realist’s sensibility to the daily images of an observant family life. In a rather literal way, her paintings are a direct reflection of her Yiddishkeit.
Israeli Still Life (2000) brings a classical perspective to a set of highly symbolic objects. The earthenware jug looks as if it was just unearthed from an excavation of an ancient Jewish settlement. The little looped handles are the exact kind I found with an archeologist friend in the fields of upper Galilee, while the crack along the neck seems a direct symptom of years of burial. This little icon of history is surrounded by two deep red pomegranates, echoing the hopes of a plentiful year, as associated with Rosh Hashanah. The simple painting is worthy of the French 18th century still-life master, Chardin, in that it displays a classic, triangular composition that expresses stability and reserve. It is a perfect New Year’s greeting from Israel.
Purim in Meah Shearim (2000) brings us into the heart of Jerusalem, while defining a quintessential aspect of Purim, the costumed abandon of children. A Hasid in his Yom Tov finery is seen walking away from us, surrounded in space by three sets of gaily-costumed children. Even though Teichman’s figurative paintings are all done using photographs, her manipulation of multiple images and compositional creativity belie a painter’s eye. Figures recede from the picture plane as others simultaneously advance towards us. This creates a visual tension that breaks into the fixity of the one point perspective that would normally dominate this image. Moreover, the fact that the two children in the foreground are about to turn back into the pictorial space begins a narrative that leads us into the mitzva of delivering shalach manos. In this concise little painting, the holiday is, at first, described and then pictorially narrated.
There is perhaps no genre that interests me less than Rebbe portraits. These generally murky images of venerated sages from retouched photographs or badly reproduced prints are unfortunately interchangeable caricatures of some of our greatest leaders. Teichman’s portrait of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein is a notable exception. Her clear and forceful delineation of the planes of his face in combination with the strong compositional triad based on his shoulders and crowned by his Old World rabbinic cap express the strength of his Torah personality. Beyond her masterly handling of paint, the crisp light in the painting gives it a power and integrity that reflects the very lucidity of Reb Moshe’s vision.
Brocha Teichman’s vision of Jewish art is seen in yet another expression in the field of art education. She has recently opened, with partner Zelda Weiss, The Art Studio of the Five Towns. It is located in Lawrence and offers classes for children and adults, with a special emphasis on teens. The classes in acrylic painting, drawing, watercolor and oil painting are held in the newly created studio space and are attracting a growing following of aspiring artists.
Both Weiss, who owns and operates Zelda’s Art World in Brooklyn and Teichman, are experienced teachers who offer a solid foundation in academic techniques necessary to create realistic images. They also have an opportunity to offer their students another kind of essential foundation. The Jewish values and sensibility that Teichman has been able to express, must be nurtured by an ongoing appreciation of Jewish art.
Just as the skills of drawing and painting are gleaned from the masters of Western painting, so too the sensibility and subjects of Jewish art need to be learned from the 2,000 years of visual expression of the Jewish people. To infuse fine art training with the values of Jewish art would make The Art Studio of the Five Towns a truly unique institution. I hope they seize this opportunity.
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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