Sunday, September 15, 2013
Beneath the Stairs
My painting time will soon be limited as I begin a consulting job, shifting gears to one of my other pursuits. I was telling my friend Dora that I didn't feel that I was using my time as well as I should and she told me an old Yiddish story of a man who complained to the rabbi that his home was too small. The rabbi told him to move his goat into his home. When he returned complaining of how difficult it was to share quarters with his goat, the rabbi told him to now move the goat out. He then returned to thank the rabbi profusely because his home was now so much larger. I suspect that after some months of moving consulting into my time, I too will have a new appreciation for the time that I now have.
I am actually at a good breaking point with two exhibitions in the coming months of my Identity and Legacy series. My husband is hard at work making frames for me. I'll be hanging that show later this month and giving several talks in conjunction with it.
As my window of time narrows, I've been working on a small series of paintings on my friend Dora's Holocaust stories. I spoke some time ago with an organization that focuses on Holocaust education. They suggested I introduce some of my paintings into educational settings. With that in mind I'd like to have a small group that tell powerful stories. As you may recall I had done the painting We Walk Together for the Jewish Artists' Lab based on Dora's story of a death march from Auschwitz.
Another story Dora told me was also quite vivid and occurred when she was in the Radom labor camp. One morning she was ill so stayed behind at the apartment while her mother went in to work at the kitchen. Suddenly she heard the sound of guards.. She desperately looked for a place to hide. The practice was to do an unannounced sweep of the buildings and to drag out those who were not at work. They would line them up and shoot every tenth one. Not to hide meant a 10% chance of death and a 100% chance of terror.
She looked around in vain until she noticed a small space under the stairs. There was a small door, maybe two feet wide. I used a bit of artistic license and made it a hole with a more interesting form. It was too small for a person, but in desperation she twisted her body to squeeze her head and shoulders in, then her hips and last her feet. Still in her nightclothes she crouched in fearful silence. Above her head she heard the guards' boots resounding on the steps as they ran up the stairs. Then shots of the unfortunate 10% soon followed.
Her mother returned from work fearful that her daughter was no longer alive. She too had heard the shots and knew what they meant.
This painting went through many stages before I was satisfied with the direction it was going. The discarded approaches divided the painting into distinct color fields and showed the entire figure. I take photos along the way and ultimately backtracked to an earlier version that hid portions of the figure and felt more mysterious. It reminded me of a womb or a body within a sarcophagus, fitting perhaps in that her success or failure in hiding could mean life or death. Behind the stairs are the suggestion of ten figures, each with a yellow star, a target.