Currently I am working with a film from 1937 of the Jewish community of Radom. As the film quality is poor (picture lots of people waving and the camera jumping around), I’ve decided to place stills on the website. It must have been a big event to have the community filmed as everyone turned out to be captured on film. There is a general spirit of gaiety that comes through despite having no sound. People bow, wave, shake hands, dance and hold their children up to the camera. And yet it is a sad film. I can’t help thinking that most of the people in it were murdered just a few years later. I watch for people who resemble my father, wondering if I might spot one of my great-uncles by happenstance.
I’ve also begun to spend time at the studio working on pieces for a show in London in January. I will be exhibiting my series of work that is based on my experiences in Lithuania. The work will be at the Woolfson and Tay gallery. Its founders produced a wonderful film of the survivors of Vilnius called Surviving History so our directions link up nicely. I had contacted them originally hoping to show the film in conjunction with my artwork and ended up planning a show for their gallery.
In order to simplify shipping, I am taking paintings that I have done on board and redoing them on canvas which is lighter-weight and doesn’t require framing. It is an interesting exercise on many levels. There is part of me that hates to sell a painting because each one feels unique, something that I could never capture again. Many paintings evolve in a serendipitous way through happy accidents and lots of experimentation. There is no formula to easily reproduce it. Occasionally I think I should be recording my steps in creating a painting, but I think too much analysis would get in the way of its evolution. My compromise with the analytic side of my brain is to keep photos as a record of the process. If I flip through them in a slide show I can see how the painting evolved. Because my focus is on showing a series of works, selling a core piece too soon interferes with that objective. By doing multiple works, I am more free to let go, realizing that while I may not recreate the same piece, I may well create one I like better.
I am giving myself permission to change a painting the second time, it needn’t be an exact replica. Sometimes I like version 2 better. Because paint goes on differently on different surfaces I can’t get certain effects on canvas that I could do on board. I make lavish use of medium to try to make the surfaces more equivalent.
So let me share a few version 2s with you. You may remember Buried Truths based on the Polish journalist who lived in the forest of Ponar where he witnessed the murder of the Jewish community. He wrote about what he observed and buried his pages in bottles in the ground. The original one is on the left and Buried Truths 2 is on the right. The original is a little darker, murkier. I discovered in the first one that I liked the line that cut across and wanted to highlight that so in version 2 you see it is much more distinct. One would think that this would be an easy one to reproduce as it is not particularly representational, but it was actually quite difficult. It may not come across well in a photograph, but the painting is built up with medium to create an almost fossilized effect when I glazed the medium with white. I also had some accidental drips in the first one that I decided I liked. In the second version I tried to get it to drip blue across the iron oxide thinking of the drips as the roots of the trees reaching deep into the earth.
I am probably not done yet as I think I will want to make some of the background bottles slightly darker to distinguish them from the foreground and darken some of the background. Fortunately I have lots of time to play with this.
Another one which I have been working on is Sholom Aleichem with the old man who came to the restaurant in Vilnius only to reveal that he once lived there during the time of the ghetto. There were a few themes that were captured in the original painting- a coal chute with a child who was hidden below, the gate to the tunnel which ran from the synagogue behind the restaurant under the building and out the ghetto gate. There were also circles signifying the wall of wine bottles that now stands in this gentleman's former bedroom. In the upper right corner they melt into the night sky. Again the original version is on the left and version 2 is below in the center.
While I liked the image of the man in the first painting, I wanted him to be looking more contemplative so I tried a different view and changed him a bit. I liked the wine bottles, but decided to have them overlap the man and liked having the background merge with the painting. On the right I decided to add a new image - coal. As the chute led to a a coal bin, I thought it would be interesting to paint coal which I did through the use of medium and glazes. As an aside, I find that I need to take time from the studio to do other things and let ideas emerge. In this case I was walking around the lake with a friend when I saw rocks that reminded me of coal. I promptly took that image back to the studio. The gate still needs some work and I keep debating whether to have a child on the chute. The scale seems too small for the painting. It is likely that will get painted out or reformatted in some fashion.
What I find interesting about this image is that the images of coal, the circles of the wine bottles and the night sky could stand on their own as an abstract painting. Without the central figure they take on a symbolism of their own. Perhaps they will find their way into a new painting in this form.
Both of these paintings require more work so I will feature them again as they evolve. The third painting that I have been working on is Afikomen which is based on the hidden matzo factory in the Vilnius synagogue during Soviet times. The imagery really didn't change between the original and the version 2, but I found that I couldn't get certain effects as easily on canvas. As you can see they are not dramatically different except some colors appear more blended on the canvas.What is interesting about the process is that the original evolves organically. It is only after it is done that I look at it analytically and think about repetition of form and how fields of color interact. In version 2 of this painting I was less involved in organic evolution, but more focused upon capturing color and line.
So preferences? Is version 1 just the prototype to be improved upon or does it have something unique by being more part of an organic evolution? The mere exercise of putting these side by side has me itching to make changes to my version 2s.