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.


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