Vanishing Into the Mist

The last thing we saw before Moshe ascended to Sinai, was a person being shrouded in mist, into the unknown, and the scary fiery mountain. Since this is my Bar Mitzvah parasha, this subject is close to hear, and I was playing with this idea in my 2014 Barkai Parasha Drawing series.

Shuli Rand’s song ערפל – mist – comes to mind. Moshe went into the mist, for there was the Lord.

וַיַּעֲמֹד הָעָם מֵרָחֹק וּמֹשֶׁה נִגַּשׁ אֶל־הָעֲרָפֶל אֲשֶׁר־שָׁם הָאֱלקים שמות כ, יח

So the people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was. (Shemot 20:28)

Moshe going vanishing into the mist, ascending Sinai

And then I wanted to see what it would look like in a smoky, gray scale palette.

וַיַּעַל מֹשֶׁה אֶל־הָהָר וַיְכַס הֶעָנָן אֶת־הָהָר׃ וַיִּשְׁכֹּן כְּבוֹד־ה׳ עַל־הַר סִינַי וַיְכַסֵּהוּ הֶעָנָן שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים וַיִּקְרָא אֶל־מֹשֶׁה בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִתּוֹךְ הֶעָנָן׃ וּמַרְאֵה כְּבוֹד ה׳ כְּאֵשׁ אֹכֶלֶת בְּרֹאשׁ הָהָר לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל׃ וַיָּבֹא מֹשֶׁה בְּתוֹךְ הֶעָנָן וַיַּעַל אֶל־הָהָר וַיְהִי מֹשֶׁה בָּהָר אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם וְאַרְבָּעִים לָיְלָה׃

שמות כב:טו-יח

When Moses had ascended the mountain, the cloud covered the mountain. The Presence of the LORD abode on Mount Sinai, and the cloud hid it for six days. On the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. Now the Presence of the LORD appeared in the sight of the Israelites as a consuming fire on the top of the mountain. Moses went inside the cloud and ascended the mountain; and Moses remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

Shemot 24:15-18

Moshe vanishing – in gray

The Burning Bush

Another two of my parasha pastel drawings for Parashat Shemot, during my 2013-14 year teaching at Barkai Yeshivah.

  1. Pharaoh’s Daughter finds Moshe (my grandfather OBM said that the basket looks like a crockpot)!
  2. The Burning Bush

 

11 בת פרעה ותיבת משה
Pharaoh’s daughter finds the basket with the Hebrew Baby. Pastel on paper, 2014.

 

12 הסנה איננו אוכל
The Burning Bush, with the verse. Pastel on paper. 2014.

Drawings for Parashat Vayeshev

Last year I posted these pictures in the context of “Dreams“, but here I would like to focus specifically on this parasha. I posted Yosef in the pit first, and not his dreams which got him there, because it is more in line with the goal of this series.

In 2013-14, while teaching at Barkai Yeshivah in Flatbush, I would regularly draw a pastel drawing as students were preparing their parasha study sheets. My guiding principal was to find something not stereotypical, if possible. Below this picture is Yosef’s dreams – quite a stereotypical motif – which I must pay homage to. However, this is a unique picture, because it is intended to express despair, being alone and abandoned.

07-%d7%99%d7%95%d7%a1%d7%a3-%d7%91%d7%91%d7%95%d7%a806-%d7%97%d7%9c%d7%95%d7%9e%d7%95%d7%aa-%d7%99%d7%95%d7%a1%d7%a3

My Breakthrough

This Shabbat, as I was walking from Clifton to Passaic, NJ, for a family Bar Mitzvah, I had an astounding realization. I realized that I have been struggling to find a solution to an idea – and did not realize that I have not only found a solution, but have been doing it for a few years!

Let me explain…

Stage #1:

Menorah Midrash Drawing

For a long time, I have wanted to express ideas in Torah that inspired me, through art. Ideas such as the light of the Menorah being more valuable to G-d than billions of stars and galaxies, or the powerful scene of King Saul going to battle with his sons, knowing they will die – doing the right thing, or Abraham being taken to see planet earth from the outside, and several more ideas. I tried sketching them in different ways, but something just wasn’t right…and so I was stuck for several years, occasionally trying to paint them in this way or that.

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Stage #2:

When I was in the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, a few years ago, I saw paintings that were more than just a canvas, which interacted with the space around them. I realized later that I was stuck because I was trying to paint an idea on canvas or on paper, when it needs to be perceived in space.

This opened me to the idea of installation art, and I sat to illustrate installations for my various ideas. This would involve lighting, sound, and all kinds of things… but it is an expensive endeavour, and perhaps one day I will have the time and resources to launch it…and so I reached a standstill.

Avraham Outside Installation Draft
First sketch of an idea for installation art

Stage#3:

On Shabbat, as I was walking from Clifton to a bar mitzvah in Passaic, NJ, I realized that not only had I found a solution for this quest, but I have been doing it for a few years!

Imagine, standing in the planetarium of the American Museum of Natural History (as in this video), with galaxies as your backdrop, the whole mood is set – and then light a candle, or talk about individual investment and uniqueness. And then it hit me – “I can do that!” I realized that the museum is where I can convey my ideas, and have an attentive audience, I can ‘make my art’.

Perhaps what triggered this realization is a couple questions a writer for the Jewish Press asked me, for an article. But either way, what blew my mind is that I had found the solution without realizing it, and have been doing it for a while. At least for some of my ideas, this is the perfect setting. And for the rest – who knows what the future holds?

MetTour44 Melton NewYork 20181028
My favorite classroom!

Some of the questions from the Jewish Press, and my answers below:

Can you tell me one story of something that happened on a tour that encourages you in your work?

Having a 5 year old an 82 year old, an egalitarian woman Rabbi and a hassidic family all learning Torah together in the museum – where else can you do that?

How does what you do differ from a standard museum tour?

I bring my adventurers (or clients) into a world where we don’t look at “interesting stuff” from the past. Rather, we are engaging in our ongoing identity, the Saga of Klal Yisrael. To us, Nebuchadnezzar and Antiochus are yesterday, and the Assyrian and Persian Empires are things we read about in our liturgy, prayers, and our holidays. It brings the museum and our Torah to life in a special way, with an interdisciplinary educational approach.

Pharaoh’s Dream – Outline

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:

08 חלום פרעה והשיבלים הרעות.jpg

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.

pharaohs-dream-hieroglyphThis 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?

img_20170126_235135

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.

img_20170127_000406

To be continued…

Thunder and Lightening ברקים ורעמים

Just in time for winter…

These illustrations are part of a series of kids’ books illustrations I was working on with musician and author Yerucham Levi. Sadly, it never took off. They are illustrations for a Hebrew poem called “Thunder and Lightening“. Since I made these, over a decade ago, I lost the original poem. I do hope to retrieve them upon my next visit to Jerusalem.

The basic idea of the poem is that the thunder and lightening are roaring, scaring away everyone. Weeping clouds, angry clouds, roaring clouds (thus I anthropomorphized them). But then the child, who is watching this, reproofs the clouds, the thunder and the lightening, for they are scaring away everyone – even the stars!

 

Illustration with mixed media: Indian ink, gauche and aquarelle. Some of them were inspired by Where the Wild Things Are, a wonderful children’s book by Maurice Sendak. See if you can guess which?

All off these images are copyright to Nachliel Selavan. The concept for the poem is copyright to Yerucham Levi.

בדיוק בזמן לקראת החורף

האיורים הללו הם חלק מסדרה של איורים לספרי ילדים שהכנתי בשיתוף עם המוזיקאי והסופר ירוחם לוי. לצערי, הסידרה לא יצאה לאור. לחיבור קוראים ״ברקים ורעמים״ (כל הזכויות שמורות לירוחם לוי). מאז שאיירתי אותם לפני למעלה מעשור, איבדתי את הטקסט המקורי. אני מקווה למצוא אותו בביקורי הבא בירושלים

הרעיון הכללי של החיבור הוא שהברקים והרעמים בוכים, מיללים, זועפים ושואגים (הלכך האנשתי אותם), ומפחידים את כולם. הילד, שמבונן בכל זה, יוצא וצועק על העננים, כי הם מפחידים את כולם – אפילו את הכוכבים

צוייר בעזרת דיו, אקוורל וגואש. חלק מהאיורים בהשראת ״ארץ יצורי הפרא״, ספר ילדים נפלא מאת מוריס סנדק. התוכלו לזהות אילו מתוכם?ח

על הזכויות על האיורים שמורות לנחליאל שה-לבן, וכל הזכויות על הרעיון של החיבור, שמורות לירוחם לוי

thunder01small
Two pictures intended to be side-by-side: Weeping clouds

thunder02small
and Angry clouds

thunder03small
Next: roaring clouds, scaring everyone away

thunder04small
Image for two pages, across: Child in bed, with a warm cup of hot cocoa, observing the storm outside. I decided against adding lightening to the image (though it should be there), because the window is where the text would go. The lightening was a photoshop job, which didn’t happen yet

thunder05small
Child goes outside and shouts at the clouds

thunder06small
The clouds suddenly get a grip. They see that the stars are running away!

 

Song of Jerusalem

Song of Jerusalem is part of a series that never took off. I was working at the time with author and musician Yerucham Levi, in Jerusalem. We were going to make a series of ten illustrations for his book She’arim – שערים, which were to go hand in hand with texts from his book. It is a beautiful song about Jerusalem, with many elements in it driven from Midrashic and Kaballistic literature.

More recently, this painting has turned into a new tour called A Winter’s Tale about Chanukah and Purim. Here is a video that discusses some of these issues, and in which Ieature this painting:

The text is (c) copyrighted to Yerucham Levi and his book שערים (Gateways). An attempt at translation below.

שער חמדת ירושלים
חיי יום יום: אחדות ישראל
פנינת חן, מארת, פוריה, יפת-מראה, מהוללה, ירושלים, אבן פינה מאירה, ירושלים שירה.
עיני עולם בירושלים צופיה, ציפורים מצייצים שיר, ירושלים תפילה.
כל עשב, ציץ ופרח, נושמים אווירת ירושלים רינה.
ירושלים: מים, חלב, שמש, לחם, תאנה, קסם, מתק-דבש, שיכרון ירושלים – יין עתיק ישן.
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Translation (my own work, and I am not so satisfied with it, but it gets the point across):
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Gateway: Cherishing Jerusalem
Daily life: Unity of Israel
A beautiful pearl, radiant, fruitful, beautiful to behold, praised – Jerusalem, a bright cornerstone, Jerusalem – of song.
The eyes of the world behold Jerusalem, birds sing a song, Jerusalem of prayer.
Every grass, bud and flower, breath the air of the chant of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem: water, milk, sun, bread, fig, magic, honey-sweetness, [the] intoxication of Jerusalem – an ancient, vintage wine.
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Meanwhile, I will attempt to highlight the main components of the song, as I was able to relate to them. The entire song is about Jerusalem being a song manifest. Birds are singing to Jerusalem, and its walls are pearly white. The way I drew them is inspired by Dr. Seuss.

  • The fig tree, which symbolizes long-lasting fruitfulness.
  • “Challah” or bread, an icon of the Jewish Sabbath, and also being a source of sustenance.
  • Milk and Honey – need I explain? The milk and the water mix and there is a tunnel under the tree to illuminate that difference. An artistic solution to an overwhelming amount of motifs.
  • Fresh spring water emerging out of the fig tree. This is inspired by a famous fig tree in Israel, which has a spring coming out of it. The song itself just describes water coming out of Jerusalem, which is probably related to the prophecy about water coming out of the Temple Mount. See Ezekiel 47:2.
  • Olive Oil and Wine. I mixed these two in an orb, or globe, on top of which the city sits. Though I am not fully sure what the author intended, to me the two are a representation of energy and investment. I’ll explain:

Olive Oil – The motif of Olive Oil is replete in Jewish philosophy, law and kaballah, as well as history. Chanukah, for example, is a holiday in which we celebrate the “Hidden Light” of Creation. Or Zecharia’s perplexing description of Olive Oil representing the modality of God will being carried out in the world. In short, it is about potential energy. It is representing raw, pristine energy, or the very Will of Creation.

Wine – What is a more Jewish motif than wine? Every Sabbath, Holiday, celebration and even types of mourning, integrate wine. Wine is seen as both a potential greatness, or great loss. See Yoma 76b, Sanhedrin 70a.

Wine is unique in being an expression of the ultimate reward for the faithful commitment to the process of history. See Isaiah 64:4  and Berakhot 43b.

What a perfect representation for this idea: Every investment, toil and suffering, every joy and understanding, integrated into a totality of a whole creation. Wine is an expression of every hour of sunlight, temperature and cold night, the exact type of soil, its fertility, and altitude. So much goes into the creation of each batch, and no two are the same. Indeed, there is grandeur in this view of wine.

Indeed, Jerusalem of Song, or energy and light, of history, and of life.

Disclaimer: At the time, I was going back and forth about changing my family name “Selavan” back to “Cohen”, as it was five generations ago in Ukraine. To my great dismay, I signed it “Nachliel Cohen”, a hallmark of that stage in my life. I am happy to be over it.

To order prints, please contact me via email. Until the site is properly set up.

Jerusalem of Song
Jerusalem of Song. Watercolor and pastel on paper, approx. 50x70cm

The Moon הלבנה – Illustration for children’s book, incomplete:

© Nachliel Selavan
The queen of the night sky in her slumber. Watercolor on paper. Approx. 35x45cm

The Moon

Text by: Y. Levi, Jerusalem
Copyright

הלבנה

מילים מאת: י. לוי, ירושלים
כל הזכויות שמורות
לַיְלָה לַיְלָה
זוֹרַחַת
מַבְרִיקָה
צְחוֹרָה
עֲגֻלָה
קָרַחַת חֲלָקָה
לְבָנָה זוֹהֶרֶת מְאִירָה

© Nachliel Selavan
The queen of the night sky in her palace. Watercolor on paper. Approx. 35x45cm

לַיְלָה לַיְלָה
דּוֹלֶקֶת
מְצִיצָה
הַכּוֹכָבִים סְבִיבָה
בְּשָׁמַיִם אַרְמוֹנָהּ
לְבָנָה זוֹהֶרֶת מְאִירָה