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July 3, 2015 / 16 Tammuz, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Mazel Tov’

Baruch HaShem: Other Views

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

One Way


Paintings and Objects by Lynn Russell


Chassidic Art Institute


375 Kingston Ave., Brooklyn, New York 11213;  (718) 774 9149


Noon – 7pm; Sunday – Thursday: Zev Markowitz, director


Until January 24, 2008


 


Lynn Russell’s current exhibition at the Chassidic Art Institute challenges us with a piety that resists all easy answers.  First there are the Baruch HaShem pieces, highly unusual collaged texts combining letters, images and objects that somehow lead us to the painted and altered photographs of Jewish life, finally guiding us to her signature image, “One Way.”  Exactly where is the artist taking us?


 


In 2006 Lynn Russell created a petite series of collages that explored variations on the common phrase of Orthodox piety, “Baruch HaShem.”  She was interested in how this commonplace utterance could find itself, visually, in diverse contexts.  We see the letters initially on a box of matches, a paper cookie, a discarded piece of cardboard and finally a box of Gefen Lemon Extract.

 

 



Baruch HaShem (2006), 11 x 14, collage, photograph and oil paint by Lynn Russell


 


 

On the most banal material, the letters – each salvaged from a unique source – take on a kind of visual poetry of their own while on the more recognizable host, they battle for recognition, tending to obscure and bully the everyday object.   In her use of these commonplace objects as the foundation and foil for the expression of thanks, Russell manages to illuminate yiddishkeit with a “pop” sensibility, somehow grounding the expression of acceptance and gratitude with the nitty gritty of everyday life. 


 


As we see her series develop, the material becomes more complex, moving first into Russell’s familiar terrain of the photographic image.  Bus Lane captures an image of speed and danger in a night scene that suggests that a vehicle has just whizzed by on a busy city street, narrowly missing the viewer (or the viewer just missing the bus) and eliciting the bold asymmetrical collaged response of “Baruch HaShem!”   She next explores the varieties of newsprint, the very elemental stuff of letters, here the text pasted over an everyday automobile advertisement.

 

 



Bus Lane (2006), 5 x 7, collage and photograph by Lynn Russell


 


 

Finally her vision fixates on an ultimate manipulation of image and text in Baruch HaShem.  She has photographed a collage of the text with each letter seeming to take on a life of its own.  There are swatches of colored paper and traces of other collage material, all composed with more of an eye to rearrange the text rather than elucidate it.  But the surprise is that now Russell has photographed the original collage and painted in oils on top of it, adding yet another level of visual complexity. The final effect is of an integrated painting; viscous, deep and personal, even though the artwork is neither totally painting, or photograph or collage. 


 


Lynn Russell’s next set of images returns to works we are more familiar with from her earlier exhibitions, the manipulated photograph or Xerox print.  Here however she starts out with a very limited palette, exclusively black and white.  The first two images are immersed in celebration taken from a wedding; a kallah posing in front of a screen and a group of Hasidic men dancing.  But simple documents, they are not.


 


Kallah is a visual conundrum.  Practically the entire scene has been appropriated by Russell and the photographic backdrop a mere pretext for visual fireworks, a virtuosic calligraphic feast that squiggles and decorates a Matisse inspired tableau centered on the bride’s happy face.  Her moment of marital joy has become an occasion for the artist’s joy.

 

 


Mazel Tov (2006), 23 x 28, Offset print painted with ink by Lynn Russell

 

 


Similarly the dancers in Mazel Tov celebrate with the chassan, clad in a white kittel, but here, seem to be black-hatted actors in another more ominous drama.  The environment is super-charged with agitated lines that generate an uneasy tension and the chassan suddenly seems vulnerable and alienated from the revelers.


 


Her next set of images is even more radically rendered in black and white.  Four stark images of men; each individual virtually anonymous because of the radical nature of Russell’s copying, enlarging, re-photographing, and copying until she has transformed the original image into her own vision.   They are ciphers of religious men engaged in otherworldly pursuits, removed from the world by the very nature of the artist’s manipulation.  In a startling way these black and white images reach their fulfillment in the three large-scale, painted color photographs that crown the exhibition’s ambitious theme.


 


Each of these images represents a core value of Judaism boiled down to its essence.  Sukkot represents the hiddur mitzvah involved in carefully choosing a beautiful lulav and esrog.  Two men are patiently examining one aspect of the four species.  The image is disarmingly familiar, black jackets and hats contrasting with stark white shirts, both facing the same direction to examine respectively an esrog and a lulav bundle.  But the abstraction that results from Russell’s reworking of the photographic image obliterates their faces and individuality, rendering these pious young men into a chilling symbol of what Jewish men methodically, perhaps obsessively, do before yom tov. 

 

 


Bar Mitzvah (2006), 30 x 24, painted photograph by Lynn Russell

 

 


In her most radical distillation, Bar Mitzvah, Russell depicts the public reading of the Torah as a confrontation between the brilliantly lit white scroll and a deeply silhouetted figure, clad in tallis and kipah.   The reader is concentrating, focused only on where the yad has momentarily rested.  At this moment he clearly knows no other world than the holy words.  It is an image of enormous solitude even though we know with certainty that this scene can happen only in the public scene of a congregation. 


 


Finally the reassuring textual message of One Way stands in stark contrast to the widely eclectic visual language that Russell employs to animate this (and most other) images.  A father and son, rendered in bluish monochrome, walk hand in hand through an urban landscape fraught with visual danger.  These Hasidim stand as sacred islands in a sea of unaccountable, indeed threatening, changes and turmoil.  The surrounding world is drenched in violent colors of crimson and sickly, yellowed browns, effaced and brutalized in her vision.  The father must guard his son by the only other stable element in the composition, the simple street sign proclaiming the certainty of religious faith, “One Way”.  But is there really only one way?  Is it that simple?  It is exactly this tension that gives this image such a powerful impact.

 

 


One Way (2006), 27 x 21, painted photograph by Lynn Russell

 

 


Lynn Russell’s artwork resides on a very fine edge between the deeply felt piety of “Baruch HaShem” and all the doubts and tension that pursuing a religious life can have on our individuality, our independence and freedom.  Do the words “Baruch HaShem”, uttered in thankfulness, faith, and submission to God’s will, also mean that we must lose a bit (or more) of ourselves in the Divine will?  Do we become less or more in these encounters?  These are the questions that Lynn Russell’s current exhibition makes impossible to avoid.


 


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

A Lesson In Self-Control

Wednesday, September 12th, 2001

The objective of Pre-Marital Counseling is for couples to learn new skills on how to improve commu­nication, and resolve conflicts creatively. It would seem logical that the parents of these couples have learned from being together and through a lot of tough times that good communication is the single most important aspect of a satisfying relationship.

Take the case of Yoni and Dina, ages 22 and 19. The couple was referred to me by a leading rav in the community. Both Chassan and Kallah came from excep­tionally fine families and yeshiva backgrounds. Yoni was accepted to dental school and Dina was still in school. The wedding was only weeks away and the couple was getting a little nervous. As with all couples, I did a short intake and assessment in our first meeting.

Yoni’s personality is easy going — he likes quiet, uninterrupted time alone for reflecting, reading and studying new subjects.

Dina’s personality is outgoing — she likes people, she’s warm and friendly, and she likes organizing projects and events.

After the fifth session, I wished the happy couple Mazel Tov and off they went into the “sunset”!

It wasn’t until three months later, as I was rush­ing to get a haircut, that I met Dina standing outside the barbershop waiting for Yoni to finish his haircut. The timing was perfect. With every couple I do a three-month follow up. As we talked about married life, Dina explained that “Yoni is very busy in school and I knew how hard he was studying, but since he started school we never talked! It was just Yoni and that book! We didn’t go out anymore be­cause that would be a waste of study time.” But, as time passed, Dina said “I started feeling lonely. Yoni noticed that I was get­ting moody but said noth­ing, and with time, I started getting angry at him. The loneliness scared me, all I wanted to do was to release this rage of anger. But if I did, Yoni could no longer study. As I was just about to breakdown and cry, Baruch Hashem, I noticed that refrigerator magnet you gave us in our last session. It stated that ‘It’s not what you say, but how you say it’ and with that, I remembered what we talked about. At that moment, with all my strength, I stopped myself. I needed to talk to Yoni, not yell or cry. I did the most difficult thing I had ever done in my life, I waited until the next day. At that point, I was calm and relaxed enough to talk to Yoni. We took turns talking and listening to each other, as you taught us. We discussed our preferences and what I was feeling, and for the first time I felt that he was listening, which made me feel so much better!”

In the spring of ’76, Rabbi Moish Chait, shlita, stated in one of his lecture series at Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim that “Hashem held back a part of Himself in order to create the world. When a spouse holds back anger as a form of self control, that couple merits the Shechina to rest upon them.”

Moishe Herskowitz MS., CSW, is a marriage coun­selor and maintains his private practice in Brooklyn as founder of CPC. He is an educator, lecturer, consultant and adjunct professor at Touro College. He is the coun­seling coordinator for Career Services at Touro College and the At Risk Center in Brooklyn. Moishe is presently working as a licensed guidance counselor for the NYC Board of Ed. in Special Education.

For more information or to obtain a free brochure, please contact Moishe Herskowitz at 718-435-7388 or at Ladino23@aol.com.

CPC — Center for Pre-Marital Counseling, is en­dorsed by Rabbi Pikus of COJO of Flatbush, and leading rabbonim and Torah authorities in the NY community.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/marriage-relationships/a-lesson-in-self-control/2001/09/12/

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