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October 21, 2014 / 27 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘NYC’

Making Torah Manifest: Nathan Hilu

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Hebrew Union Collage – Jewish Institute of Religion Museum

One West 4th Street, NYC; 212 824 2205

Mon. – Thurs. 9am – 5pm; Friday, 9am – 3pm.

Free Admission (Photo ID required)

Until March 30

 

“Man must make the Torah manifest” in every action, speech and creative act. That is clearly the credo of Nathan Hilu, master-artist of the Lower East Side, Torah, Tanach, midrash, Gemara and beyond. There is seemingly nothing that doesn’t fall within the purview of his fertile, pious and creative visual imagination. Literally everything in his creative world is seen through the lens of Torah and Jewish sensibility. We get to peek into that world in the exhilarating exhibition “Nathan Hilu’s Journal: Word, Image, Memory” lovingly curated by Laura Kruger, director of the HUC Museum. Through her expertise and discerning eye she has brought to our attention a rare artist within the Orthodox world: one who is as immersed in piety as in celebration of the totality of Jewish life and thought. It is clear from the 44 works in this exhibition that he is the exemplar of the very modern and contemporary American Jewish artist. And he is only 87 years young.

The “Torah manifest” text appears in How the Rabbi Ties His Shoes; a depiction of the Maggid of Mezhirech leaning over to tie his shoelaces as Aryeh Leib Sarahs comments that it is in the rebbe’s everyday conduct that he will learn the deepest meaning of Torah life. The image is primitive, direct and dominated by the text that explains Hilu’s image. While the integration of text, image and color is typical of Hilu’s approach, this is only one of many motifs that dominate his work.

The Biblical narrative is a natural for Hilu and at least eight works here testify to that. In Pharaoh’s Dream the text of Parshat Miketz is detailed with Genesis 41: 47 – 49 describing how in the “good years there was an abundance of food and Joseph gathered it in.” The bottom of the image depicts three Jews leining this parsha in shul at the bimah with the English translation surrounding them. In the top third of the image are ancient Egyptian harvesters illustrating the text. Contemporary Jewish practice, holy text and ancient history combine to create a biblical painting.

Hilu freely dips into the midrashic sensibility throughout his biblical works and a prime example is God Braiding Eve’s Hair. His simple image of a woman in profile with two hands grasping her hair from the sky is framed by the text that tells us the source is the Avos D’Rabi Nosson. The image again demands that we consider the textual and pictorial as an equal means of Torah illumination. In Chapter 4 Rabi Natan celebrates the honor due to a bride and comments that the Holy One, blessed be He, did so with Eve, fixing her hair and dressing her to bring her to Adam, her betrothed. I dare say no other artist has ever made an image of this concept.

Noah and his Family; mixed media collage by Nathan Hilu. Courtesy Hebrew Union College Museum

Noah and his Family reveals a good deal about Hilu’s methodology. It is clear that the original image was simply an ark floating on the water with a mountain behind it. As is the norm in Hilu’s work the English text would have to be inserted and so it was, surrounding the image. But then we see numerous cut-out additions pasted on the bottom of the original image. There are a bunch of animals and figures attached to the lower edge; Noah and his family are labeled as such. In the middle of the image the word “haTeivah” (The Ark) is slapped on the front of the ark and next to it a short quotation from Parshas Noach; Genesis 8:4, “And the ark rested in Mount Ararat,” is imposed on the now complex image. It is a pictorial summary of the terrifying travail of months of uncertain survival.

Serach Tells Jacob; oil patel on paper by Nathan Hilu. Courtesy Herman Lowenhar

Perhaps the most evocative image within the biblical/midrashic archetype is Serach Tells Jacob. Two figures dominate the image: Serach, the daughter of Asher chosen by the shamefaced brothers to convey the news to their father Jacob that, indeed, Joseph was alive! But here the texts battle; the bottom text tells the basic midrashic story while between the figures another tale unfolds; Jacob sublimely blesses Serach with eternal life for her kindness. By what right does our patriarch exercise this power? We have no idea. And yet it becomes true! This is the textual background explicitly enumerated as the image explodes it; positing a frantic little girl playing the violin (midrashically, a harp, but who cares?), red hair flying above her flowered dress, casting musical notes at her grandfather. They are pictorially joined in the flowered patterns of both her dress and his black bekesheh – a motif that speaks volumes about the intergenerational love and respect of the Jewish family life. They are a perfect duo, both rosy cheeked and him clapping along with her as she fiddles away.

Old and New: Podwal’s Altneuschul Paroches

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Yeshiva University Museum – Center for Jewish History 15 West 16th Street, NYC; 212-294 8330 www.yumuseum.org Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 11am-5pm; $6 adults, $4 children Until January 15, 2012

Mark Podwal is a busy, busy man. When I wrote that in these pages in September 2010 it is now clear I didn’t know the half of it…witness his current exhibition at Yeshiva University Museum. In what is effectively a love song to his adopted city, Prague, Podwal has had the delicious opportunity to give her Jewish community a spanking new Chanukah gift; the new Torah curtain, shulchan covers and Torah mantles. For a Jewish artist and lover of Prague like Podwal it doesn’t get any better than that.

Curator Zachary Paul Levine’s exhibition brilliantly contextualizes Podwal’s textile creations, both within the artist’s own work and the historical background of the ancient Jewish community. Additionally, Levine produced and edited “Steps Closer to Prague: Mark Podwal,” a 9-minute video companion on YouTube that not only includes considerable commentary by the artist himself, but also explores the working relationship he developed with the New York custom embroidery company Penn and Fletcher. From Podwal’s original drawings to digital transfers and computer driven machine-made embroidery finally appliquéd on the final textile, each step is lovingly documented. The combination is a captivating and intense course in Jewish visual symbols, Czech Jewish history and contemporary Jewish art.

Touching Heaven (1981) pen and ink by Mark Podwal Courtesy Yeshiva University Museum

Podwal’s interest in Prague and its Jewish community dates back to the late 1970s when he was researching material for a book with Elie Weisel on the mythical Golem of Prague. His fascination at first centered on the old Jewish cemetery, used from 1439 until 1787, and home to an estimated 12,000 tombstones and perhaps as many as 100,000 burials. This eerie hodgepodge of Jewish history, piety and life prompted many drawings and paintings by Podwal, often morphing into fantastic visions of multiple golems and claustrophobic ghetto houses. His drawings of the cemetery are the beginning of the exhibition’s tale that traces many of the visual elements of these current textiles back to his earlier work.

Golem and cemetery images surround an open model of the seven hundred year-old Altneuschul to familiarize us with the new home of Podwal’s textiles. We see how the shul is effectively divided into three sections by two massive pillars, reminiscent of legendary columns Boaz and Jachin found at the entrance of the First Temple. The front section was for the holy, i.e. prayer, while the remaining rear sections were utilized for communal affairs, dominated by the enormous medieval guild banner, proudly bearing the Star of David, evidently the earliest use of this symbol in a synagogue. Also noted on the accompanying text panels are the numerous symbolic references throughout the shul; the 12 grapevines on the valance over the Aron symbolizing the 12 tribes; the 12 windows to the outside world reflecting the same; and the abbreviated quotations of Psalms emblazoned on the walls. Echoes of all these elements are found in Podwel’s Altneuschul textiles.

The Old New Synagogue (1980) pen and ink by Mark Podwal Courtesy Yeshiva University Museum

Prague’s Jewish community has been on Podwal’s mind for decades. Two drawings exemplify his curious meditations. Touching Heaven is brazen in its assertion that the Jewish community of Prague is somehow elevated over all others in their city by the mere fact of their Judaism. Towering over a multitude of spires (Prague is known as City of a Hundred Spires), Podwal has shown the little Jewish ghetto, itself dominated by the Altneuschul, ensconced on a massive menorah towering over the city. This audacious image leads one naturally to Podwal’s more localized Old-New Synagogue that exposes the real agenda in these images. Here we see the Altneuschul in realistic profile with hundreds of Hebrew letters ascending to heaven. In itself not at all surprising since we believe that all of our prayers, especially those uttered in shul, ascend to heaven; nonetheless, here Podwal touches on a particular piece of Prague Jewish belief. According to legend the Altneuschul was itself built with stones from the Second Temple and in the time of the Messiah is destined to eventually return to Jerusalem. It is therefore especially connected with Jerusalem and the Heavenly realm.

Torah Covers (2011) by Mark Podwal Fabricated by Penn and Fletcher Courtesy Yeshiva University Museum

As audacious a belief as this seems, it actually is understandable in light of another legend (claimed to be ancient but probably a 19th century creation) of the Golem that was created by Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, chief Rabbi of Prague. The legend describes a deeply pious Jew mystically giving life to a creature crafted from earth to defend the threatened Jews of Prague. Much like God created Man, this human creation is deeply rooted in the holy and depicts man as potentially God-like as a mere mortal could possibly become. Hence Prague’s closeness to Heaven itself.

Leonard Everett Fisher’s Challenge

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

Hebrew Union Collage – Jewish Institute of Religion Museum

One West 4th Street, NYC;  212 824 2205

Mon. – Thurs. 9am – 5pm; Friday, 9am – 3pm. 

Free Admission (Photo ID required)

 


Just look at the expression on Yonah’s face.  It combines fear and incomprehension at his terrible punishment of floating in the belly of the great fish. So too Noah peering out of the ark, perched on the edge of understanding that there might be a future for mankind.  Both works point to the genius of Leonard Everett Fisher as an artist and interpreter of biblical narrative. 


Leonard Everett Fisher is one of the master American illustrators of the last 50 years.  His work is found in both adult and young adult publications, counting approximately 260 books since 1955 with at least 90 of those authored and illustrated by him alone.  A native of the Bronx, in his youth he studied with Moses and Raphael Soyer in addition to Reginald Marsh at the Art Students League in New York.  After a stint as a topographer during the Second World War he went on to Yale University for undergraduate and graduate degrees and then plunged into a successful commercial book illustration career.  What is unique about his success is that he continued to make solely artistic works, simply driven by his own creative desire.


The current exhaustive exhibition at Hebrew Union College, beautifully curated by Laura Kruger, exploits both aspects of his 70-year career.  In the spacious three interior exhibition rooms his mind-boggling exploits as a book illustrator and more recent creative works are explored.  A sampling of his illustrated books of Jewish interest, many authored by Fisher himself, include: The Wailing Wall, The Dybbuk, To Bigotry No Sanction (Touro Synagogue), The Seven Days of Creation, Moses, The Wicked City (Sodom) and David and Goliath.  Additionally we see some examples of his bestselling and masterful series “The Colonial American Craftsman.”  These may be Fisher’s most successful work, a 19 volume series, published between 1964 and 1976, that is aimed at young adults and visually explores the material culture of our country’s foundation. The series includes volumes on glassmakers, architects, shipbuilders, blacksmiths, weavers, tanners, cabinetmakers; virtually every imaginable 18th century trade that was essential to building our new country.  


Furthermore there is more recent artwork by this now 87-year-old artist. The Center Fielder (2010) is a large meticulous study of a baseball player about to catch a fly ball; poised between expectation and accomplishment.  It is wonderfully odd in that the player’s baseball cap is pulled down so that he cannot actually see the ball he is about to catch. Added to this conundrum is the odd insignia of his uniform, Sigma Phi, which does not correspond to any known baseball team.  It is mysteriously significant that these Greek letters represent the second oldest Greek secret fraternal organization in the United States, founded in 1827. Suddenly to expound upon the mysteries of baseball, here revealed in one enigmatic image, is yet another facet of Fisher’s creativity.  The suspended ball flying towards the player’s mitt is an example of what Curator Laura Kruger identifies as a major motif in Fisher’s work. Again and again we see suspended objects and concentrated depictions of flat vertical surfaces; i.e. walls, that explores the tension between objects in motion and concrete backgrounds.


Notwithstanding this lifetime of artistic accomplishment, it is the large series of biblical figures he created between 1963 and 1964 that has the place of honor in the main HUC exhibition space.  Eight large paintings dominate the wall with heroic depictions of Biblical characters.  Diptychs of Yeshayahu, Yechezkel, Daniel and Yermiyahu respectively ponder the different characteristics of these prophets in relation to one another.  Job is a tall muscular figure with a fearsomely intense gaze, challenging the viewer in his provocative confrontation with God Himself. There Came a Nation shows Avraham and Yitzchak in a vertical hierarchy with Yacov just beneath them representing the foundational generations of the forefathers.

 


Job (detail) (1964), gelatin tempera on board by Leonard Everett Fisher

Courtesy John Tucker Collection

 

 

Moses, Now is the quintessential image of Fisher’s style: dramatic, clear and powerful.  The great lawgiver is shown descending the mountain ready to smash the tablets in anger.  Three preparatory drawings are nearby and we clearly see the development of Fisher’s idea.  First he conceived of Moshe as a poised Renaissance character, then a dramatic Baroque figure in motion, clenched fist and stylized tallis swirling around him.  In the final painting Fisher concentrates the drama and simplifies the emotion into a monochromatic black, white and red.  Suddenly Moshe’s anger has become more reflective, his hand now open in determined gesture and his face contemplating what he is about to do to God’s holy law.  In his way, Fisher saves Moshe from the sin of heedless fury.

 

 



Moses, Now (1963) India Ink, gouache on paper by Leonard Everett Fisher

Courtesy the artist

 

 

Interestingly enough, more than thirty years later Fisher returned to the subject of Moshe in an illustrated book of the same name.  Here the lawgiver lovingly holds the tablets in a deep and tortured contemplation.  We see the mountain behind him with the long mass of the Jewish people at its base.  We immediately understand Moshe’s concern that this people will not cherish the Law as he does.  They are tragically fated to stray.

 

 


Jonah (detail) (1964), gelatin tempera on board by Leonard Everett Fisher

Courtesy Peter and Carol Mack Collection

 

 

The figure of Jonah is seen from above, floating in an abstracted well meant to evoke the giant fish’s innards.  His hands and forearms stick out from his sides in helplessness, defenseless against God’s judgment.  But it is the absolutely stunned expression on Yonah’s face that cuts to the heart of Fisher’s vision.  The artist has convincingly plumbed the soul of the prophet who momentarily thought he could escape God’s command.  He is confronted by his own rebellion and terrified by its consequences.  We can easily see from this how the sprout of repentance must grow and be nurtured.

 



Noah (detail) (1964) by Leonard Everett Fisher

Courtesy Bellarmine Museum of Art, Fairfield University, CT

 

The cleverest painting in the exhibition is Noah.  He stands inside the ark peering out its window at a dove in mid-flight bearing an olive branch in its beak.   As we have observed before the bird in mid-air is a hallmark of Fisher’s style complemented by the solid wooden construction of the ark.  But it is the play between Noah’s hands and facial expression that truly animates the painting.  His hands tell us that he is about to do something – either to grasp the bird or to formulate a thought.  The notion of being on the threshold of action is then concretized by the concentrated thought in his expression.  Pursed lips and intense staring eyes tell us Noah has just realized the meaning of the dove returning with the olive branch.  The fact that somewhere on dry land there is an olive tree tells him that soon he will be able to exit the ark with his family and all the animals and begin the process of recreating earthly life.  Fisher’s focus on this moment of revelation narrates into Noah’s story, telling us he didn’t know exactly how God would conclude the destruction of the world.   The artist has uncovered the narrative of hope and faith in Noah’s tale.


 


Noah (1964), acrylic on Masonite by Leonard Everett Fisher

Courtesy Bellarmine Museum of Art, Fairfield University, CT

 

 

The distinction between illustration and art is that illustration describes what the viewer already knows.  Its details, textures and visual delights confirm a well-known visual universe.  Art does something totally different.  Art tells us what we don’t already know.  Art reveals the hidden and realizes a new truth, surprising and thrilling the viewer with discovery.  Leonard Everett Fisher’s artworks do exactly that as he casts his insightful eye on biblical figures and the world around us alike.

 


Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com

Leonard Everett Fisher’s Challenge

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

Hebrew Union Collage – Jewish Institute of Religion Museum

One West 4th Street, NYC;  212 824 2205

Mon. – Thurs. 9am – 5pm; Friday, 9am – 3pm. 

Free Admission (Photo ID required)

 


Just look at the expression on Yonah’s face.  It combines fear and incomprehension at his terrible punishment of floating in the belly of the great fish. So too Noah peering out of the ark, perched on the edge of understanding that there might be a future for mankind.  Both works point to the genius of Leonard Everett Fisher as an artist and interpreter of biblical narrative. 


Leonard Everett Fisher is one of the master American illustrators of the last 50 years.  His work is found in both adult and young adult publications, counting approximately 260 books since 1955 with at least 90 of those authored and illustrated by him alone.  A native of the Bronx, in his youth he studied with Moses and Raphael Soyer in addition to Reginald Marsh at the Art Students League in New York.  After a stint as a topographer during the Second World War he went on to Yale University for undergraduate and graduate degrees and then plunged into a successful commercial book illustration career.  What is unique about his success is that he continued to make solely artistic works, simply driven by his own creative desire.


The current exhaustive exhibition at Hebrew Union College, beautifully curated by Laura Kruger, exploits both aspects of his 70-year career.  In the spacious three interior exhibition rooms his mind-boggling exploits as a book illustrator and more recent creative works are explored.  A sampling of his illustrated books of Jewish interest, many authored by Fisher himself, include: The Wailing Wall, The Dybbuk, To Bigotry No Sanction (Touro Synagogue), The Seven Days of Creation, Moses, The Wicked City (Sodom) and David and Goliath.  Additionally we see some examples of his bestselling and masterful series “The Colonial American Craftsman.”  These may be Fisher’s most successful work, a 19 volume series, published between 1964 and 1976, that is aimed at young adults and visually explores the material culture of our country’s foundation. The series includes volumes on glassmakers, architects, shipbuilders, blacksmiths, weavers, tanners, cabinetmakers; virtually every imaginable 18th century trade that was essential to building our new country.  


Furthermore there is more recent artwork by this now 87-year-old artist. The Center Fielder (2010) is a large meticulous study of a baseball player about to catch a fly ball; poised between expectation and accomplishment.  It is wonderfully odd in that the player’s baseball cap is pulled down so that he cannot actually see the ball he is about to catch. Added to this conundrum is the odd insignia of his uniform, Sigma Phi, which does not correspond to any known baseball team.  It is mysteriously significant that these Greek letters represent the second oldest Greek secret fraternal organization in the United States, founded in 1827. Suddenly to expound upon the mysteries of baseball, here revealed in one enigmatic image, is yet another facet of Fisher’s creativity.  The suspended ball flying towards the player’s mitt is an example of what Curator Laura Kruger identifies as a major motif in Fisher’s work. Again and again we see suspended objects and concentrated depictions of flat vertical surfaces; i.e. walls, that explores the tension between objects in motion and concrete backgrounds.


Notwithstanding this lifetime of artistic accomplishment, it is the large series of biblical figures he created between 1963 and 1964 that has the place of honor in the main HUC exhibition space.  Eight large paintings dominate the wall with heroic depictions of Biblical characters.  Diptychs of Yeshayahu, Yechezkel, Daniel and Yermiyahu respectively ponder the different characteristics of these prophets in relation to one another.  Job is a tall muscular figure with a fearsomely intense gaze, challenging the viewer in his provocative confrontation with God Himself. There Came a Nation shows Avraham and Yitzchak in a vertical hierarchy with Yacov just beneath them representing the foundational generations of the forefathers.

 


Job (detail) (1964), gelatin tempera on board by Leonard Everett Fisher

Courtesy John Tucker Collection

 

 

Moses, Now is the quintessential image of Fisher’s style: dramatic, clear and powerful.  The great lawgiver is shown descending the mountain ready to smash the tablets in anger.  Three preparatory drawings are nearby and we clearly see the development of Fisher’s idea.  First he conceived of Moshe as a poised Renaissance character, then a dramatic Baroque figure in motion, clenched fist and stylized tallis swirling around him.  In the final painting Fisher concentrates the drama and simplifies the emotion into a monochromatic black, white and red.  Suddenly Moshe’s anger has become more reflective, his hand now open in determined gesture and his face contemplating what he is about to do to God’s holy law.  In his way, Fisher saves Moshe from the sin of heedless fury.

 

 



Moses, Now (1963) India Ink, gouache on paper by Leonard Everett Fisher

Courtesy the artist

 

 

Interestingly enough, more than thirty years later Fisher returned to the subject of Moshe in an illustrated book of the same name.  Here the lawgiver lovingly holds the tablets in a deep and tortured contemplation.  We see the mountain behind him with the long mass of the Jewish people at its base.  We immediately understand Moshe’s concern that this people will not cherish the Law as he does.  They are tragically fated to stray.

 

 


Jonah (detail) (1964), gelatin tempera on board by Leonard Everett Fisher

Courtesy Peter and Carol Mack Collection

 

 

The figure of Jonah is seen from above, floating in an abstracted well meant to evoke the giant fish’s innards.  His hands and forearms stick out from his sides in helplessness, defenseless against God’s judgment.  But it is the absolutely stunned expression on Yonah’s face that cuts to the heart of Fisher’s vision.  The artist has convincingly plumbed the soul of the prophet who momentarily thought he could escape God’s command.  He is confronted by his own rebellion and terrified by its consequences.  We can easily see from this how the sprout of repentance must grow and be nurtured.

 



Noah (detail) (1964) by Leonard Everett Fisher

Courtesy Bellarmine Museum of Art, Fairfield University, CT

 

The cleverest painting in the exhibition is Noah.  He stands inside the ark peering out its window at a dove in mid-flight bearing an olive branch in its beak.   As we have observed before the bird in mid-air is a hallmark of Fisher’s style complemented by the solid wooden construction of the ark.  But it is the play between Noah’s hands and facial expression that truly animates the painting.  His hands tell us that he is about to do something – either to grasp the bird or to formulate a thought.  The notion of being on the threshold of action is then concretized by the concentrated thought in his expression.  Pursed lips and intense staring eyes tell us Noah has just realized the meaning of the dove returning with the olive branch.  The fact that somewhere on dry land there is an olive tree tells him that soon he will be able to exit the ark with his family and all the animals and begin the process of recreating earthly life.  Fisher’s focus on this moment of revelation narrates into Noah’s story, telling us he didn’t know exactly how God would conclude the destruction of the world.   The artist has uncovered the narrative of hope and faith in Noah’s tale.


 


Noah (1964), acrylic on Masonite by Leonard Everett Fisher

Courtesy Bellarmine Museum of Art, Fairfield University, CT

 

 

The distinction between illustration and art is that illustration describes what the viewer already knows.  Its details, textures and visual delights confirm a well-known visual universe.  Art does something totally different.  Art tells us what we don’t already know.  Art reveals the hidden and realizes a new truth, surprising and thrilling the viewer with discovery.  Leonard Everett Fisher’s artworks do exactly that as he casts his insightful eye on biblical figures and the world around us alike.

 


Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com

Leonard Everett Fisher’s Challenge

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

Hebrew Union Collage – Jewish Institute of Religion Museum

One West 4th Street, NYC;  212 824 2205

Mon. – Thurs. 9am – 5pm; Friday, 9am – 3pm. 

Free Admission (Photo ID required)

 


Just look at the expression on Yonah’s face.  It combines fear and incomprehension at his terrible punishment of floating in the belly of the great fish. So too Noah peering out of the ark, perched on the edge of understanding that there might be a future for mankind.  Both works point to the genius of Leonard Everett Fisher as an artist and interpreter of biblical narrative. 


Leonard Everett Fisher is one of the master American illustrators of the last 50 years.  His work is found in both adult and young adult publications, counting approximately 260 books since 1955 with at least 90 of those authored and illustrated by him alone.  A native of the Bronx, in his youth he studied with Moses and Raphael Soyer in addition to Reginald Marsh at the Art Students League in New York.  After a stint as a topographer during the Second World War he went on to Yale University for undergraduate and graduate degrees and then plunged into a successful commercial book illustration career.  What is unique about his success is that he continued to make solely artistic works, simply driven by his own creative desire.


The current exhaustive exhibition at Hebrew Union College, beautifully curated by Laura Kruger, exploits both aspects of his 70-year career.  In the spacious three interior exhibition rooms his mind-boggling exploits as a book illustrator and more recent creative works are explored.  A sampling of his illustrated books of Jewish interest, many authored by Fisher himself, include: The Wailing Wall, The Dybbuk, To Bigotry No Sanction (Touro Synagogue), The Seven Days of Creation, Moses, The Wicked City (Sodom) and David and Goliath.  Additionally we see some examples of his bestselling and masterful series “The Colonial American Craftsman.”  These may be Fisher’s most successful work, a 19 volume series, published between 1964 and 1976, that is aimed at young adults and visually explores the material culture of our country’s foundation. The series includes volumes on glassmakers, architects, shipbuilders, blacksmiths, weavers, tanners, cabinetmakers; virtually every imaginable 18th century trade that was essential to building our new country.  


Furthermore there is more recent artwork by this now 87-year-old artist. The Center Fielder (2010) is a large meticulous study of a baseball player about to catch a fly ball; poised between expectation and accomplishment.  It is wonderfully odd in that the player’s baseball cap is pulled down so that he cannot actually see the ball he is about to catch. Added to this conundrum is the odd insignia of his uniform, Sigma Phi, which does not correspond to any known baseball team.  It is mysteriously significant that these Greek letters represent the second oldest Greek secret fraternal organization in the United States, founded in 1827. Suddenly to expound upon the mysteries of baseball, here revealed in one enigmatic image, is yet another facet of Fisher’s creativity.  The suspended ball flying towards the player’s mitt is an example of what Curator Laura Kruger identifies as a major motif in Fisher’s work. Again and again we see suspended objects and concentrated depictions of flat vertical surfaces; i.e. walls, that explores the tension between objects in motion and concrete backgrounds.


Notwithstanding this lifetime of artistic accomplishment, it is the large series of biblical figures he created between 1963 and 1964 that has the place of honor in the main HUC exhibition space.  Eight large paintings dominate the wall with heroic depictions of Biblical characters.  Diptychs of Yeshayahu, Yechezkel, Daniel and Yermiyahu respectively ponder the different characteristics of these prophets in relation to one another.  Job is a tall muscular figure with a fearsomely intense gaze, challenging the viewer in his provocative confrontation with God Himself. There Came a Nation shows Avraham and Yitzchak in a vertical hierarchy with Yacov just beneath them representing the foundational generations of the forefathers.

 


Job (detail) (1964), gelatin tempera on board by Leonard Everett Fisher

Courtesy John Tucker Collection

 

 

Moses, Now is the quintessential image of Fisher’s style: dramatic, clear and powerful.  The great lawgiver is shown descending the mountain ready to smash the tablets in anger.  Three preparatory drawings are nearby and we clearly see the development of Fisher’s idea.  First he conceived of Moshe as a poised Renaissance character, then a dramatic Baroque figure in motion, clenched fist and stylized tallis swirling around him.  In the final painting Fisher concentrates the drama and simplifies the emotion into a monochromatic black, white and red.  Suddenly Moshe’s anger has become more reflective, his hand now open in determined gesture and his face contemplating what he is about to do to God’s holy law.  In his way, Fisher saves Moshe from the sin of heedless fury.

 

 



Moses, Now (1963) India Ink, gouache on paper by Leonard Everett Fisher

Courtesy the artist

 

 

Interestingly enough, more than thirty years later Fisher returned to the subject of Moshe in an illustrated book of the same name.  Here the lawgiver lovingly holds the tablets in a deep and tortured contemplation.  We see the mountain behind him with the long mass of the Jewish people at its base.  We immediately understand Moshe’s concern that this people will not cherish the Law as he does.  They are tragically fated to stray.

 

 


Jonah (detail) (1964), gelatin tempera on board by Leonard Everett Fisher

Courtesy Peter and Carol Mack Collection

 

 

The figure of Jonah is seen from above, floating in an abstracted well meant to evoke the giant fish’s innards.  His hands and forearms stick out from his sides in helplessness, defenseless against God’s judgment.  But it is the absolutely stunned expression on Yonah’s face that cuts to the heart of Fisher’s vision.  The artist has convincingly plumbed the soul of the prophet who momentarily thought he could escape God’s command.  He is confronted by his own rebellion and terrified by its consequences.  We can easily see from this how the sprout of repentance must grow and be nurtured.

 



Noah (detail) (1964) by Leonard Everett Fisher

Courtesy Bellarmine Museum of Art, Fairfield University, CT

 

The cleverest painting in the exhibition is Noah.  He stands inside the ark peering out its window at a dove in mid-flight bearing an olive branch in its beak.   As we have observed before the bird in mid-air is a hallmark of Fisher’s style complemented by the solid wooden construction of the ark.  But it is the play between Noah’s hands and facial expression that truly animates the painting.  His hands tell us that he is about to do something – either to grasp the bird or to formulate a thought.  The notion of being on the threshold of action is then concretized by the concentrated thought in his expression.  Pursed lips and intense staring eyes tell us Noah has just realized the meaning of the dove returning with the olive branch.  The fact that somewhere on dry land there is an olive tree tells him that soon he will be able to exit the ark with his family and all the animals and begin the process of recreating earthly life.  Fisher’s focus on this moment of revelation narrates into Noah’s story, telling us he didn’t know exactly how God would conclude the destruction of the world.   The artist has uncovered the narrative of hope and faith in Noah’s tale.


 


Noah (1964), acrylic on Masonite by Leonard Everett Fisher

Courtesy Bellarmine Museum of Art, Fairfield University, CT

 

 

The distinction between illustration and art is that illustration describes what the viewer already knows.  Its details, textures and visual delights confirm a well-known visual universe.  Art does something totally different.  Art tells us what we don’t already know.  Art reveals the hidden and realizes a new truth, surprising and thrilling the viewer with discovery.  Leonard Everett Fisher’s artworks do exactly that as he casts his insightful eye on biblical figures and the world around us alike.

 


Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com

Leonard Everett Fisher’s Challenge

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Hebrew Union Collage – Jewish Institute of Religion Museum

One West 4th Street, NYC;  212 824 2205

Mon. – Thurs. 9am – 5pm; Friday, 9am – 3pm. 

Free Admission (Photo ID required)

 

Just look at the expression on Yonah’s face.  It combines fear and incomprehension at his terrible punishment of floating in the belly of the great fish. So too Noah peering out of the ark, perched on the edge of understanding that there might be a future for mankind.  Both works point to the genius of Leonard Everett Fisher as an artist and interpreter of biblical narrative.

Noah (1964), acrylic on Masonite by Leonard Everett Fisher. Courtesy Bellarmine Museum of Art, Fairfield University, CT.

Leonard Everett Fisher is one of the master American illustrators of the last 50 years.  His work is found in both adult and young adult publications, counting approximately 260 books since 1955 with at least 90 of those authored and illustrated by him alone.  A native of the Bronx, in his youth he studied with Moses and Raphael Soyer in addition to Reginald Marsh at the Art Students League in New York.  After a stint as a topographer during the Second World War he went on to Yale University for undergraduate and graduate degrees and then plunged into a successful commercial book illustration career.  What is unique about his success is that he continued to make solely artistic works, simply driven by his own creative desire.

The current exhaustive exhibition at Hebrew Union College, beautifully curated by Laura Kruger, exploits both aspects of his 70-year career.  In the spacious three interior exhibition rooms his mind-boggling exploits as a book illustrator and more recent creative works are explored.  A sampling of his illustrated books of Jewish interest, many authored by Fisher himself, include: The Wailing Wall, The Dybbuk, To Bigotry No Sanction (Touro Synagogue), The Seven Days of Creation, Moses, The Wicked City (Sodom) and David and Goliath.  Additionally we see some examples of his bestselling and masterful series “The Colonial American Craftsman.”  These may be Fisher’s most successful work, a 19 volume series, published between 1964 and 1976, that is aimed at young adults and visually explores the material culture of our country’s foundation. The series includes volumes on glassmakers, architects, shipbuilders, blacksmiths, weavers, tanners, cabinetmakers; virtually every imaginable 18th century trade that was essential to building our new country.

Noah (detail) (1964) by Leonard Everett Fisher. Courtesy Bellarmine Museum of Art, Fairfield University, CT.

Furthermore there is more recent artwork by this now 87-year-old artist. The Center Fielder (2010) is a large meticulous study of a baseball player about to catch a fly ball; poised between expectation and accomplishment.  It is wonderfully odd in that the player’s baseball cap is pulled down so that he cannot actually see the ball he is about to catch. Added to this conundrum is the odd insignia of his uniform, Sigma Phi, which does not correspond to any known baseball team.  It is mysteriously significant that these Greek letters represent the second oldest Greek secret fraternal organization in the United States, founded in 1827. Suddenly to expound upon the mysteries of baseball, here revealed in one enigmatic image, is yet another facet of Fisher’s creativity.  The suspended ball flying towards the player’s mitt is an example of what Curator Laura Kruger identifies as a major motif in Fisher’s work. Again and again we see suspended objects and concentrated depictions of flat vertical surfaces; i.e. walls, that explores the tension between objects in motion and concrete backgrounds.

Job (detail) (1964), gelatin tempera on board by Leonard Everett Fisher. Courtesy John Tucker Collection.

Notwithstanding this lifetime of artistic accomplishment, it is the large series of biblical figures he created between 1963 and 1964 that has the place of honor in the main HUC exhibition space.  Eight large paintings dominate the wall with heroic depictions of Biblical characters.  Diptychs of Yeshayahu, Yechezkel, Daniel and Yermiyahu respectively ponder the different characteristics of these prophets in relation to one another.  Job is a tall muscular figure with a fearsomely intense gaze, challenging the viewer in his provocative confrontation with God Himself.  There Came a Nation shows Avraham and Yitzchak in a vertical hierarchy with Yacov just beneath them representing the foundational generations of the forefathers.

Moses, Now (1963) India Ink, gouache on paper by Leonard Everett Fisher. Courtesy the artist.

 

 

 

Moses, Now is the quintessential image of Fisher’s style: dramatic, clear and powerful.  The great lawgiver is shown descending the mountain ready to smash the tablets in anger.  Three preparatory drawings are nearby and we clearly see the development of Fisher’s idea.  First he conceived of Moshe as a poised Renaissance character, then a dramatic Baroque figure in motion, clenched fist and stylized tallis swirling around him.  In the final painting Fisher concentrates the drama and simplifies the emotion into a monochromatic black, white and red.  Suddenly Moshe’s anger has become more reflective, his hand now open in determined gesture and his face contemplating what he is about to do to God’s holy law.  In his way, Fisher saves Moshe from the sin of heedless fury.

A Gracious Community Near The Lincoln Tunnel

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

      The gala annual dinner for Mosdos Sanz Klausenburg of Union City was held on March 5. The Mesivta Sanz in Union City is a remarkable organization for all to admire and emulate.

 

      Having grown up in Union City where their father, Rabbi Harold Hirschman, was the rabbi for over forty years at Temple Israel Emanuel, the Hirschman children witnessed the declining population of Orthodox Jews who migrated over time to the northern suburbs of Bergen and Rockland counties. During the High Holidays in the late 70′s, the Modern Orthodox synagogue in Union City was reduced to barely a minyan. The local Yeshiva of Hudson County which serviced the community at the time metamorphosed into the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in Bergen County which currently enjoys a flourishing student population with over 900 students.

 

      Since the 1980′s, the Klausenburg community ensured continuity of Yiddishkeit in Union City by taking over the existing shul and community center. After the passing of Rabbi Hirschman, Rebbetzin Hirschman chose to continue to live in Union City until very recently.

 

      Anyone who wishes to conveniently catch a minyan when traveling via the Lincoln Tunnel to or from NYC is welcome to daven with the community. In fact, if you want to visit the matzoh baking factory, or to just get an extra dose of spirituality and Yiddishkeit within the enclave of Union City, feel free to stop by at 3400 New York Avenue in Union City, or call the office for more information regarding time schedules: 201-867-8690.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/community/a-gracious-community-near-the-lincoln-tunnel-2/2011/03/30/

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