Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Raining Blue

It has been awhile since I've written about artwork, but I've been hard at work preparing for two shows and continuing to develop work on memory.  I've been asked to participate in a show called (Re)-Telling which takes the source material for artwork created by a Holocaust artist and asks contemporary artists to respond to it in their own fashion. Now I've done artwork on the Holocaust, but usually responding to a story by a survivor friend. I had a hook that wasn't totally mired in death and destruction.  She survived after all. There was an element of overcoming hardship, of survival. 

As I read through the selections on which Fritz Hirschberger based his work, there was little to soften this material. His work addressed the Holocaust in all its sharp and ugly edges. Finally I settled on one that while it invoked a pit in my stomach, was easy to visualize and spoke to an observation I have often made.  Horrific things have often happened in places that can appear quite innocent today, dare I say visually pleasing. In some ways that juxtaposition adds to the power of place.

I have a painting I did of the killing field of Ponar outside of Vilnius, Lithuania. Beneath the image of a forest glen are Yiddish letters meant to figuratively recall the bodies buried in the pits. They spell out the Yiddish word which means "remember". It is a pleasing image that many remark upon. I warn them that it is not an easy story before I launch into it.There is an element of bait and switch. I seduce them into a difficult story.

Place is an important marker on history. It is easy for history to be rewritten and forgotten. Remembering the events that occurred matters.Remembering where they occurred gives a heft and weight to memory. The incongruity of beauty and horror fix image in memory.

So here is the passage I selected.

Shamefully the blue fills rooms with death color, it swirls amethyst-crystals to paint death onto canvas forgetting the blue of the sea to pour death through sky to take away breath, deceiving with the most beautiful of blues, raining death blue. 
-Alice Rogoff, San Francisco 1991 

When I read this passage, I remembered my visit to Majdanek and the rich blue on the walls of the gas chamber, not aware at first of its origin from the poison that was used to kill. That moment of realization is shocking. Quiet forest glens were once killing fields, an inviting blue comes from the materials of death. 

There was a peephole into the room so they could monitor death. Light outlined the door as if the door led to something mysterious. I chose to use breath as the metaphor for people, picturing it as clouds, yellowing, absorbing the blue into its billows as death rained down upon it, gradually taking breath away.

April 14-June 1
JCCTychman Shapiro Gallery
Reception: April 19 6PM

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