Friday, May 24, 2013

Essence and Absence

Today at the Artists' Lab* we continued to explore the work that we are doing for the exhibition. I shared my work with some of the attendees and found that the story is indeed powerful in the retelling. I have also made some alterations to the painting that make it work better visually. Can you tell what I changed?

The cans were too distracting, but as they were part of the story, I wanted to keep them in the image. I did a wash of blue black over them to make them less obtrusive so the emphasis remains on the two women. I also changed the flow of the path so it curves off to their side and is more irregular in form. Every painting is filled with many little decisions that help create the final image that you view. Some are conscious, others just happen as we find what pleases our eye.

At the Lab, our discussion began on the subject of Essence and Absence. In basic dictionary definitions, essence was defined as the property or group of properties of something without which it would not exist or be what it is. Absence was the state of being away from a person or place. We were then asked to write down the essence of our project in one word and then what is absent.

The essence came easily. I wrote the word TOGETHER. Dvora and her mother were either going to sit down and get a bullet in the head or continue walking. What was important was that they would do it together. Each was inextricably bound to the other. Hmm, an interesting turn of phrase as the story which was its inspiration is often referred to as the binding of Isaac. It took me a moment to come up with what was missing although it was fairly obvious. They were on a march with other prisoners and guards, but none of them are included in this image. The focus is only on these two women. I found this very simple exercise valuable, especially in my work which is so focused on story. What am I trying to convey? What is at the core? What do I omit, and why?

We then looked at a number of works by artist David Moss and discussed them relative to these themes. Moss is best known for his beautiful illuminated ketubahs (marriage certificates) and is credited with reviving the art form. What I found interesting about his work was the thinking that goes into it. Some artists just create and the process is outside of conscious thought. Moss has a process not unlike mine, minds that make and savor connections between imagery and ideas. He has a book of ketubahs called Love Letters which includes the many that he has done for couples as well as his correspondence with them as he tried to find the essence of their relationship and reflect it in his work.

We viewed his rendering of the Binding of Isaac. Interestingly this was made for a Jewish day school. A story of a father about to sacrifice his son would be enough to give a child nightmares, but apparently the children quickly learned to read the imagery and tell the story. The images of this 45 foot scroll are color coded and through changing forms, but constant colors, they tell the story through ideagrams. We were given the text of this passage and asked to find the various sections within the images. You can do the same with the images at the top of his website. Although I don't think all of the imagery is included, it will give you the flavor of how he uses color and forms to tell the story, all without using representative imagery.

In his imagery Abraham is symbolized by white forms, Isaac red and God blue. we get to extrapolate that a light blue represents the angel who speaks in God's stead. Time is represented by yellow, an interesting way of representing the passage of time, a concept which is given as much significance as the protagonists themselves. I particularly enjoyed some of his clever use of form. When Isaac asks his father where the ram is that they will be sacrificing you see the brown which represents animals in the shape of a ram's horn morphed into a question mark.

What I found particularly interesting were images that showed Isaac within Abraham and Abraham within Isaac, and both within God. To me it reflected the concept of being bound in a far different way than the narrative, bound to each other, what happens to one, happens to the other.

During our recent open studio event I was visited by some friends from our humanist Jewish group. They asked me if I would be willing to do the commentary at Rosh Hashanah using my painting. Rosh Hashanah is the time when the story of Abraham and Isaac comes up in the readings. The show will be up in the same building during this time so it will be an apt opportunity to explore this work further and my more contemporary interpretation of the themes of the original story.

*The Jewish Artists’ Laboratory is an arts initiative through the Sabes Jewish Community Center featuring 17 artists exploring the theme of Text/Context/Subtext through study and art making. The project is funded through The Covenant Foundation and similar projects are being done in both Milwaukee and Madison. Artists explore how the theme of Text/Context/Subtext is relevant to Jews and non-Jews, to religious and non-religious, to the community and to the individual, to the artist and the non-artist.

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