Growing up Orthodox in Brooklyn during the sixties, the feeling of being different was more acute than today. Being stared at because of your yarmulke meant all was normal, or as normal as it was going to get. This phenomenon did, however, affect my own perception of visual images and our reactions to them, leading me into a world where visual images are more than what they appear, in their untapped potential to transition into something or part of something completely different.
My father had a small shteible for a while in Midwood. Among the congregants were some saintly individuals whose old-world characteristics and mannerisms told the story of their lives. I was unaware of the impressions they made on me until years later when they emerged as the subject matter of my first series in clay “The Shtettel People.” It was and still remains for me a surreal experience, seeing their images reappear before me in clay while reaching back to the past to revisit them with different eyes.
In our homes, the defects in our chachkas and figurines were mostly intentional so as to conform to the halachos of not making graven images. So if a guest accidentally knocked something down and a piece broke off, they actually did you a favor.
The features on my own representational works are intentionally incomplete; with this in mind, I make use of the negative space effects of voids and shadows.
Being the son of an Orthodox rabbi who witnessed my artwork without scorn was a green light for me to continue. Perhaps the scorn wasn’t there because I never in any sense worshipped art, although I did adore my very first Mickey Mouse sculpture which came with a watch.
As kids we would build plastic models from a kit that came with all the parts still attached to a plastic framework. Once all the parts were removed from it, this framework was discarded. The aspect of throwing away a part of this process got my attention.
After amassing a significant amount of these frameworks I glued them together at different angles to form an abstract sculpture. Unknowingly, this was my first sculpture intertwined with the concept of baal tashchis – the prohibition of wasting or destroying something unnecessarily.
I enjoy working in several different mediums: clay, welded metal, recycled parts and natural stone. Alternating mediums allows you to disconnect and refocus with a fresh perspective. After working with clay, I became drawn to the heavy permanence of welded steel that submits only to the persuasion of the blowtorch.
The upside to working with metal is that its strength enables you to do more with less. Simplified and limited physical mass lends itself to the style of art known as minimalism, which uses abbreviated essential indications of form, a characteristic reminiscent of Talmudic vernacular, and that lends itself to spiritual and religious themes. In this style, the viewer is transformed from a passive observer to a participant who mentally connects the dots to complete the suggested image.
Using unrelated metal parts and materials, I strive to meld and weld opposing characteristics of abstract and realism at the point where they intersect in an effort to create a distinct hybrid.
Working with welded metal proved both fascinating and rewarding as small followings became commissions or my work was purchased to be displayed in homes and estates – made from parts that only months earlier were cast off by the roadside or scrap metal from iron fabricators. This became a lesson about the untapped potential of rescued materials and their transformation back into the life stream.