On Thursday, June 14, 2018 – I spend most of the day at Cape Cod, MA.
What better way to start than museum and nature together? The Heritage Museums & Gardens was my first stop. I had a wonderful time at the gardens, labyrinth, tree house, carousel and pathways. I especially enjoyed meditating near the waterfall pond, where I attempted a quick sketch with the tools I have available – sharpies.
Inside the three various museums, there was plenty of American art – native, old and modern. I saw plenty of original paintings from Wendell Minor’s children books – and other paintings. In the carousel gallery – I saw plenty of varied artifacts, including woven baskets, ceramics, statues, tools and even the ‘teeth’ of a whale. Yes, I rode the carousel, and I also switched horses in motion when the guard wasn’t looking.
I’m not much of a nascar enthusiast, but I got to see the Indy 500 exhibition, including cards that won the race last year. Lots of cool history in there, and there are two cars you can take a picture with. I did one of them:
And finally – Sandwich boardwalk beach. What a beautiful beach! Walking on a boardwalk from the parking lot over the marshes, over a dune and down to a beach with diverse texture. Some areas are sand, some are smaller sea shells, and even smaller to larger pebbles. What I thought would be a short walk ended up being a few relaxing hours.
During my MA studies in Jewish Education, at Hebrew University, we were working in groups on analyzing artistic portrayals of biblical stories. I decided to add my own take, and make some art, since I haven’t been actively doing that in a long time. I miss it.
So, here goes.
Naomi’s devastation upon the loss of her two sons, a decade after her husband died. And this time her loss is complete, since as long as her children were alive, there was hope of rebuilding the family.
Then those two—Mahlon and Chilion—also died; so the woman was left without her two children and without her husband. (Ruth 1:5)
Note two details.
The two sons’ pronoun changes. At first they are banim, sons. Ben comes from the root binyan, which means “building”. But after they die, they change to yeladim, which merely refers to their having been born. They are children. But there is no potential for being built by them:אל תקרי בניך אלא בוניך
The Sages interpreted this verse homiletically: Do not read your children [banayikh], but your builders [bonayikh]. (Berakhot 64a)
When they die, Naomi loses her husband again. She is truly bereft of him, because now she can no longer be built by her children.
Ruth and Orpah, the daughters in law, are embraced in the background. They are also bereaving, but their loss is not as utter and total as Naomi’s.
This came to mind because I’m planning a trip to London, this summer.
My father visited London in 2009, and bought me a set of Unison Pastels. I decided to try using them right away, and placed an Etrog (citron) on our living room table, in the Old City of Jerusalem. The sun was quite kind, as I wrote this song – or rather, made this drawing.
Back in 2009, I was working with a person who owned a jewelry store in Meah She’arim. At the time, we were working on some ideas of reproducing my art in giclee – printing pastel painting scans onto canvas, and adding paint into them for a higher value.
Well, I’ll say I’ve experimented with different ways of selling my art, but I am happy that this venue didn’t work out. It didn’t feel authentic and I did not want to market myself in such a way.
Anyway, he asked if I would make a pastel painting of his wedding. First of all, I don’t really like working from photographs, and second – there are so many people in the background – overload!
Long story short, I ended up doing it anyway, and here is the result:
There is no particular order or logic to these pictures. Nor is there a development, necessarily. Some of them were an attempt to get back to pastel landscaping, after a few years without, and some were just for fun, and one of them – by commission. Sadly, lots of my charcoal works have been damages by water, and this are decorated with mold – but that does add to the beauty of the work (if not the smell).
An old still-life exercise from High School: Composition of assorted clothes. Gouache on paper.
Perhaps it is just me, but it looked to me like an awfully Dr. Seuss-ish mountain range, and I wanted to have some fun. Adding a small person on the bottom left, the scale completely changes. And now we can read “Oh, the places you’ll go”
Frame for Friday night Kiddush. Watercolor and pastel on paper.
The introduction to the saga of the Breaking of the Tablets in this week’s Torah Portion (Ki Tisa), is introduces with the commandment to observe and cherish the Sabbath, as a Sign for the Creation of the world. The following verses are famously included in the Kiddush of Shabbat Day: (Exodus 31:16-17)
The Israelite people shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time: it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and was refreshed.
Driving inspiration from this connection of Kiddush to the Completion of Creation, I have made a frame for a Kiddush text. This is part of a series on Jewish texts, which are customizable to different versions of the text.
A few highlights:
Notice that the iconic Male and Female (blue and pink, for lack of better indicator), stand as giants on top of a field. The clues for that are the scale of the tractor and the pitchfork. This is meant to indicate that humanity, through the Sabbath, become elevated, and transcend the daily work and creativity, sharing the space and love with the Creator, a living testament to Creation.
Pastel was not the best medium for details, but I tried to make a Kiddush cup. Can you see it?
Night is literally descending, creating a frame for the text.
Houses in the background are alight with Shabbat candles.
Pharaoh dreamed, and behold, he was standing on (or: by) the Nile, (Gen. 41:1)
He fell asleep and dreamed a second time: Seven ears of grain, solid and healthy, grew on a single stalk. But close behind them sprouted seven ears, thin and scorched by the east wind. And the thin ears swallowed up the seven solid and full ears. Then Pharaoh awoke: it was a dream! (ibid 5-7)
Ok. We know the story. These dreams were foretelling of the seven years of plenty, and then of famine, that were to come. Joseph interprets these dreams, and then rises to power, helping Egypt prepare for the inevitable famine.
What caught my attention was the imagery: Ears of wheat swallowing a stalk of wheat. Wow. How does that happen? I mean, sure, it’s a dream, but still, I couldn’t quite imagine how wheat does that?
And then I had a bizarre idea. In 2014, I was doing a weekly Parasha drawing for my middle school students, as a way to engage them in discussion about the Parasha. I would typically try to draw something which doesn’t often get attention. An example would be Joseph’s dreams – which are very popular, versus Pharaoh’s dreams, which aren’t often illustrated. But how to illustrate this idea? What came to my mind was Disney’s Fantasia. Just imagine – a dreamlike reality in which inanimate things come to life with the right music, and then act in strange ways. If Hippopotami can dance and Brooms can carry water, why can’t ears of wheat be threatening and devouring? So I don’t have music, and I don’t have the means to illustrate this as a video clip (which I would love to, one day!), but I had my pastels, so I got busy!
This was my initial sketch for a future drawing:
It has been three years, and I decided it is time to act. I’ve been spending considerable time studying about ancient Egypt, and was inspired to paint this idea in a Papyrus-like imagery. I even bought papyrus, but by the time the order arrived, I had invested significant time into this sketch, so the Papyrus will have to wait for a future painting.
This painting will include hieroglyphs which tell the story, and I have posted that on my Instagram feed a few weeks ago. Below are a couple pictures of where the painting is holding as of now. It will be painted in watercolor, and BE”H will be part of a series of Parasha related paintings, which I do hope to exhibit in the future.
In the drawing, I had to tone down the Fantasia style dancing of the ears, to make it resemble a Papyrus painting, while gently stretching the borders of that style. Notice that the ears are hinting at being three dimensional, and Pharaoh is standing on the Nile, as some of commentators take the verse to mean. It is a dream, so why not?
However, after completing this, I feel that it is still not so clear that Pharaoh is on the Nile. To make it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt, I added some of the reeds and lotus flowers behind him, adding as well to the natural borders of the painting.
This post is in honor of the current weekly Torah portions, and my favorite Biblical character – Yosef!
(For the general public, I will call him Joseph, henceforth).
My hero, Joseph the Dreamer. Beloved of his father, hated by his brothers, and oh, so romantic. Sold by his brothers – only to rise to the top of Egypt and meet his brothers again – and try to bond with them, once again. Yet this post is not about Joseph the Dreamer, nor the Seeker of Brotherhood, but about dreams per se. Joseph is part of a new saga in the development of the Genesis narrative: The Saga of Dreams.
Up to this point in the narrative, Biblical characters are driven by conviction and purpose, perhaps even vision or revelation (which could have occurred in a dream). Seekers and fighters, yes, but not dreamers.
From here on, we hear about several dreams: Jacob’s Ladder, and later a bizarre dream relating to the strange goat-sheet breeding episode. Joseph dreams time and again, and then becomes an interpreter of several critical dreams.
On his way northeast, Jacob makes a rest stop in Beit-El (Bethel), and in his slumber he has a defining dream – one which speaks of history (taking for granted Midrashic and Kabbalistic interpretations), the rise and fall of the Great Empires of the world, and his place in the scheme of things. But it is also a dream in which he sees himself from the outside.
He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it.
And G-d was standing beside him and He said, “I am G-d, the Lord of your father Abraham and the Lord of Isaac: the ground on which you are lying I will assign to you and to your offspring. (Gen 28:12-13)
Jacob – dreaming – seeing himself from the outside. Out of body experience? Freudian analyses, anyone?
This images speak strongly to me of a delving into the experience of consciousness itself, and the matter of the subconscious. Several contemporary ideas come to my mind. One of them is the 1990 film Jacob’s Ladder. Not an easy movie to watch, but it has a poignant interpretation of a ladder: Constant, repetitive awakening from a nightmare. Once awake, it was clear that the previous experience was, indeed, a dream. But then he wakes up again, and again, and again.
The main source of inspiration for my drawing (though poorly represented) is KurtGödel‘s incompleteness theorems. The ladder could thus represent an infinite climb to higher orders of truth, or reality, from which the lower levels can be better understood. Kabalistically, this would work well with various interpretations of Jacob’s attributes, as well as his connection to Truth and Beauty.
I tried to express, in the least, the idea of a ladder which takes us outside of the confinements of the parochial. A vision which takes us outside of the planet and into the stars.
The next drawing is about starts. And the sun, and the moon. And sheathes. Josephs’ two defining dreams, both a premonition of his greatness, and the cause of his alienation from his brothers:
His brothers answered, “Do you mean to reign over us? Do you mean to rule over us?” And they hated him even more for his talk about his dreams. (Gen. 37:8)
All that didn’t end well for Joseph.
Joseph was driven by his dreams. And dreams indeed helped him rise from the depths of despair to the top of the world.