Sunday, June 21, 2009

New Artwork Directions

I’ve written quite a bit about my trip plans and genealogy pursuits. I am also contemplating the direction my artwork will take on my return. I’m interested in what vestiges I may find of the once vibrant Jewish community of Vilnius that may work their way into my artwork. There are several directions that I may explore and for which I’ve done some exploratory work.

I seem to do a lot of paintings around the theme of transporting. To transport means to carry between and has meanings far beyond the geographical interpretation. I like the process of going somewhere, the transitional space we occupy as we move from one point to another and the way we pass our time in transit. Often we are at close quarters with others, yet disconnected from them, encased in our solitary bubble. In reviewing my past work I realized that I have many paintings of people on subways and buses that reflect these themes.

I recently began a series of images from a train window which ended up being a triptych. Normally I am a figurative artist so painting a landscape seemed somewhat atypical until I decided to include the suggestion of a person. A young man with a striped jacket sat in front of me and his reflected image can be found in the series of views from a more rural landscape into the city. This particular set of images is based on a train ride to Chicago.

This is a theme that I hope to explore in upcoming travels in Eastern Europe, to the landscape within which my ancestors lived. This seemed a particularly apt subject when I looked up the definition of transporting.

1. To carry from one place to another; convey.
2. To move to strong emotion; carry away; enrapture.
3. To send abroad to a penal colony; deport.

My family members who remained in Europe were transported to their deaths during the Holocaust. They traveled through that landscape on the way to concentration camps, deported from their homes and communities. But I imagine they also had moments where they experienced that landscape in a utilitarian manner and perhaps were enraptured by a beautiful spring day. I will be visiting the shtetls, the little towns in which my family lived, visiting the cemeteries looking for family names, feeling their presence in what remains of the space which they once occupied. Although I am more often a figurative artist, I will be seeking my family in the landscape as they no longer exist on the land. Perhaps the suggestion of their presence will emerge in these paintings as well.

Yiddish is the language my parents spoke when they didn’t want me to know what they were saying. From that standpoint it always seemed rather mysterious. It also embodies much about the Jewish culture that once existed in Eastern Europe prior to WWII. Learning Yiddish is a part of learning the culture from which my ancestors came.

In preparation for my trip, I began to review books on Yiddish and was soon captivated by the expressions and proverbs. I was amused by the colorful expressions and the story telling quality of many of them. I was especially interested in the literal meaning of these expressions as that tells me something of the culture in which they lived. One of my favorites, Az drei zogen mishugeh, darf der ferter zogen “Bim bom”, means “majority rules”, but the literal translation is “if three people say or do something screwy, the fourth has to go along”.

I decided to do a series of paintings based on Yiddish expressions with the expression imbedded in the image. The first one I did is actually based on a colorful Yiddish curse, Vahksin zuls du vi a tsibeleh, mitten kup in drerd which translates to “may you grow like an onion with your head in the ground and your feet in the air”. I incorporated an image of myself at 10 years old with my skirt billowing out in the form of an onion plant. I frequently use language in the body of my paintings and this series definitely called for that. The writing becomes a part of the imagery mirroring the spiky onion leaves.

Another expression I found reflective of the culture was der betler iz shyn in dritn dorf which means “the beggar’s on his third village already”. Its meaning is “hurry up, get a move on”. I thought about what images that conjured for me. The first thought that came to mind was an outstretched hand. That hand morphed into a road with shtetls along it and the words written on the road.

Haken a tsheinik means a boring, long-winded and annoying conversation, someone who talks for the sake of talking. Literally it means to bang on the tea kettle and derives from when a tea kettle knocks when it is empty. My painting is of a tea kettle between two hands which are pounding on it. Words spill from the kettle spelling out the expression.

The expression lakhn mit yashtsherkes literally means "laugh with the lizards" and refers to a bitter kind of laughter, the kind that keeps you from crying. I posed a lizard on a seed pod that I found visually interesting and then had to contemplate what a lizard looks like when it laughs.

While these two directions present some possibilities for future artwork, I may find some surprises that take me in entirely new directions.

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