Showing posts with label 1937 film. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1937 film. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Show in Radom, Poland

Having shipped my Lithuanian based artwork to London, I've refocused my energies on preparing for my show in Poland in April.  I plan to bring 9 or 10 small paintings on wood panels that capture the former Jewish community of Radom, the town from which my grandfather came. 

If all goes well, my friend Dvora will be accompanying us on this trip.  Dvora is a Holocaust survivor who grew up in Radom.  She was 15 years old when the war broke out.  A remarkable woman, she has been kind enough to share her recollections with me as well as commenting on the imagery that I am capturing from the 1937 film of Radom.  She has many photos and documents from before the war and during the time of the ghetto.  When her brother and mother left to be deported, her brother grabbed random photographs.  He kept them in his shoes throughout the war.  Even in Dachau his shoes were never taken from him so the photographs survived. 

While my paintings seek to capture the community that once existed, Dvora brings a unique perspective to this effort.  In addition to showing my artwork we hope to put together imagery that tells her story and puts a real face on the former Jewish community that seems to be a subject of fascination in Poland.

It is interesting to me that the reaction of the Poles today is so different than that of the Lithuanians, my other series of Eastern European artwork.  In Lithuania there is often silence and a rewriting of history.  In Poland there is considerable interest in the former Jewish community.  A virtual Jewish community has developed without Jews, although one aspect of this is that some Poles are discovering they have long hidden Jewish ancestry.  The Nazis followed by the Soviets was certainly enough to make any surviving Jew obscure their religious heritage.

Dvora reminded me that the Poles as a government never collaborated with the Nazis as occurred in other countries.  Still the story is not always a pretty one.  I accessed a new website recently called the Historical Jewish Press.  I typed in Radom and up popped an article from September 1945 that related the murder of returning Jews to Radom.  Having survived the death camps, many didn't survive their return home. These outbreaks were attributed to the Polish Fascist Underground and were sufficient for most returning Jews to abandon Poland.  A generation later, perhaps enough time has passed to feel comfortable learning about the community that lived in their midst.

And so I continue to work on my series of paintings and scan Dvora's documents and photos.  Our effort will be to build bridges and understanding with the community that exists today.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Creating a Cohesive Whole

 I’ve been working on the series on Radom and am beginning to think about how to create a cohesive whole as well as sections that can stand as a group.   I’ve been using a limited palette of black, white, red iron oxide and phthalo blue although more brown tones are beginning to emerge as a mix of these colors .  Red iron oxide and phthalo blue are my favorite colors and form the backbone of virtually all of my paintings.

In this series the colors will unify the imagery, but I realized I also need to keep the size of the images relatively consistent as well.  That means that images like the bicyclist which are of a smaller scale will be eliminated and new images like the market will be added in their stead.  I also am thinking in thematic series within the broader series.  While colors may vary slightly between the images, the thematic series should be more unified by color. The water carrier and the market are a pair as are the two of the women in the cemetery.   I’ve begun to group these on my art website so I can begin to picture the larger piece. In my newly completed market scene you will notice that the water carrier who has his own painting appears in the background as well. 

I am drawing imagery from a 1937 film that offers very poor quality images. This is both challenging and beneficial as it forces me to interpret and reinvent imagery into something recognizable. Some images are truly compelling in their original form.  Others require consolidating multiple images to form a painting. Many of the images are of people looking at the camera and while this may not be the normal everyday scene, I like the idea of the townspeople engaging with the viewer.  I anticipate breaking it up a bit by including some imagery of buildings, but don't have nearly as much fun doing paintings of buildings so they may come at the end.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Of Bicyclists and Water Carriers

I am continuing to develop the series on the Jewish community of Radom, the town in Poland from which my grandfather came.  I am using a 1937 homemade film of the Jewish community as source material and am painting in a size of 12 inches by 12 inches.  There is something satisfying about working in this size.  It is a study, a snapshot of a moment in time. Something I should be able to capture quickly, although that is not always the case.

I’ve learned that size has little to do with the amount of work a painting may demand. Someone recently asked me how long a painting takes me. Some paintings almost paint themselves. Others start with an idea that evolves. Sometimes there are happy accidents and sometimes it is a struggle and I paint over it several times before arriving at something with which I am satisfied. When I paint something that is representational it is easier in the sense that I know where I am going with it although I may struggle to capture it. When I am trying to capture a quality evoked through texture or layering, I may work it extensively. And there are those paintings that lean against the wall indefinitely waiting in vain to be announced as finished.

I am posting two that are still in progress.  The one on the left is of a bicyclist on a crowded street. As I look at a cross-section of seven paintings I find that there are qualities I like in some better than others. In some paintings I’ve used medium to build up the surface and then carved into it giving it a three dimensional quality. I plan to go back to the other paintings to try to create that same quality so they look more unified.

Since I began this series I’ve had a serendipitous development. I’ve been doing quite a bit of public speaking on genealogy and artwork and someone who heard me speak remembered that a woman she met is a survivor from Radom. I called her up and discovered a wonderful connection quite apart from our Radom link. We’ve been getting together regularly and I’ve invited her to collaborate with me in this project by sharing her recollections around some of these images. My new friend is now in her 80s, but was 15 at the time of the war so her recollections of Radom are of school mates, summer camp and visits to the country. Her world was one in which they didn’t want to speak Yiddish because they considered themselves Polish. Youth groups were focused on Zionism. The streets were filled with people who appeared very modern next to the older religious Jews in their long black coats, very much the imagery that the film captures. We talked about the stereotypes that were fostered by Roman Vishniac’s photographs and how little they represented the reality of a city like Radom. And yet there are the anachronisms that existed side by side those more cosmopolitan citizens. In the imagery from the film there is one image of a water carrier. It seemed like a very unusual image to me and I asked her about it. Who did he carry water for? “Oh there were people who didn’t have indoor plumbing who bought water from him.” She urged me to paint him as he was truly an image from the past.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How They Lived

Working on the Shtetlinks (websites on ancestral town) has the added advantage of putting me in the middle of the information that swirls around the towns I am researching. As I do both research and artwork around family and cultural history, new information often feeds one of those engines.

 I’ve written of the 1937 film I obtained of the town of Radom, Poland.  I recently put about 80 stills from the film on the Radom Shtetlink, a rather laborious process.  As stills the images spoke to me in a way that they didn’t when watching the film. Many are striking imagery, always good source material
for an artist and they will resurface in a different form in these pages. What I took particular note of was the diversity of the Jewish community.  While the stereotypic religious elder can certainly be found in the film, many within the Jewish community looked no different than my grandparents and parents would have at that time in New York. The stereotype of the shtetl Jew told through the stories of Sholom Aleichem and the camera of Roman Vishniac fails to tell the story of many in the Jewish community of Eastern Europe.  That was particularly true of a fairly large city like Radom where one could find merchants, teachers, doctors and lawyers.

Recently I was connected by a fellow Radom researcher to an author whose work is quite evocative of life in those times.  Bernard Gotfryd is a former Radom resident and a survivor.  He worked for Newsweek as a photographer for 30 years and brought his photographer’s eye to his stories. 

Gotfryd sent me a copy of his most recent book “I Can See Them in My Dreams”, published in Poland.  Stories in Polish and English introduced me to personalities in Radom and told their stories.  One of the things that I seek to learn in my research is what the lives of my family members were like.  With the Holocaust as the end point of their lives, it is easy to focus on their deaths rather than their lives.  Between the film imagery and Gotfryd’s words, I have begun to get a sense of what their world was like.

Intrigued by his recent book, I tracked down a copy of his earlier book “Anton the Dove Fancier” which similarly paints vignettes of Radom and subsequent events during the Holocaust.  The book won the PEN/Martha Albrand Special Citation for Nonfiction as well as several additional awards.  Gotfryd captures the complexity of human interactions.  It is not a black and white world, but one populated with people thrust into impossible situations, trying to find their way through them while preserving their sense of humanity.