Naomi’s Tragedy and Devastation

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.

וַיָּמָת אֱלִימֶלֶךְ אִישׁ נָעֳמִי וַתִּשָּׁאֵר הִיא וּשְׁנֵי בָנֶיהָ׃

Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left with her two sons. (Ruth 1:3)

 

וַיָּמוּתוּ גַם־שְׁנֵיהֶם מַחְלוֹן וְכִלְיוֹן וַתִּשָּׁאֵר הָאִשָּׁה מִשְּׁנֵי יְלָדֶיהָ – וּמֵאִישָׁהּ׃

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.

  1. 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)

  2. 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.

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Wedding Picture

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:

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Random drawings and paintings from my years in Telshe-Stone (2003-9)

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).

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Oh, the scale you’ll go

 

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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”

Nightfall and Transcendence

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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)

וְשָׁמְרוּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת־הַשַּׁבָּת לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת־הַשַּׁבָּת לְדֹרֹתָם בְּרִית עוֹלָם׃ בֵּינִי וּבֵין בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אוֹת הִוא לְעֹלָם כִּי־שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים עָשָׂה  ה׳ אֶת־הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת־הָאָרֶץ וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שָׁבַת וַיִּנָּפַשׁ׃        שמות לא, טו-טז

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’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:

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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?

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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.

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To be continued…

Dreams

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.

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Jacob’s Ladder. Pastel on paper. 2014

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 Kurt Gödel‘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)

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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.

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Joseph in the pit. Pastel on paper. 2014

 

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

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Two pictures intended to be side-by-side: Weeping clouds
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and Angry clouds
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Next: roaring clouds, scaring everyone away
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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
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Child goes outside and shouts at the clouds
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The clouds suddenly get a grip. They see that the stars are running away!

 

Separation

This acrylic was created out of an experiment I was doing with mixed media, on some used pieces of canvas. I was going to throw this out, and then I realized I can do something with it.

The colors were right. Reminds me of something primordial. I was inspired by the line that was in between them (after removing a strip of masking tape), and this painting was born. Based on the following verses from Genesis 1:6-7:

The Lord said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water, that it may separate water from water”. The Lord made the expanse, and it separated the water which was below the expanse from the water which was above the expanse. And it was so.

ציור אקריליק, בד על קרטון. הציור הזה נולד מתוך התנסות על שילוב סוגי מדיה שונים. זו היתה חתיכה שהתכוונתי לזרוק, ואז שמתי לב ליופי הגלום בצבעים הללו. מראה קדמוני, רדום, מים…הסרתי את חתיכת המסקינג-טייפ שיצרה את הפס המפריד, ונולד הציור הזה. ע״פ הפסוקים מספר בראשית א:ו-ז

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים יְהִ֥י רָקִ֖יעַ בְּת֣וֹךְ הַמָּ֑יִם וִיהִ֣י מַבְדִּ֔יל בֵּ֥ין מַ֖יִם לָמָֽיִם׃ וַיַּ֣עַשׂ אֱלֹהִים֮ אֶת־הָרָקִיעַ֒ וַיַּבְדֵּ֗ל בֵּ֤ין הַמַּ֙יִם֙ אֲשֶׁר֙ מִתַּ֣חַת לָרָקִ֔יעַ וּבֵ֣ין הַמַּ֔יִם אֲשֶׁ֖ר מֵעַ֣ל לָרָקִ֑יעַ וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן׃

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