Artists' Statement: Tallit

I could say this work represents a departure for me, but although that would be correct in one sense, it would be wrong in another. Those who know me as an artist working in oil, watercolor and pastel would understand that this format and media, namely tallitot made with embroidery, textile paint and dyes on linen and silk, may be surprised. However those who have followed my career may be so familiar with my “departures” that a true departure for me would be to work in the same way over and over again.

I was a painting major decades ago in art school, but even there, I had found animation and explored that along with the expected, conventional media. I started my life as an artist making thousands of small watercolor paintings, eventually filmed in 16mm, to create silent narratives with themes such as the Binding of Isaac or Adam and Eve. One film, Bus Stop, depicted a typical bus ride in Detroit but with allusions to Jeremiah, Isaiah and even the New Testament’s Book of Revelations (Detroit is that kind of place.)

In 1988 I left animation to return to painting on static surfaces, canvases, pastel boards, etc. but the common denominators in my work were narrative, color and movement. I explored a variety of imagery—portraits, landscape, sky, water and figurative—yet the themes remained. In 1992, I had a large show with artist Mickey Gault entitled Ishmael in the Wilderness (Artspace) and later one-person shows: Pictures from the Birth of the World (Horace Williams House) and then The Divine Milieu (Raleigh Contemporary Gallery.) When I was an animator, I would always say that my aim was “to take my viewer flying”; and now, as a painter, I strive for composition that keeps the viewer’s eyes moving.

If the re-appearing themes suggest a Jewish education, that would be deceptive. I have had no disciplined schooling; but there was always a “wanting to know,” which led to somewhat haphazard but deep readings over the years—as my Father would say during Sunday drives, “following my nose.” Yet my nose didn’t lead me to some of the most common understandings I might have known if I had had a conventional religious upbringing. So when, a few years ago during a conversation, my friends Rabbis Rachel Jurovics and Sarah Stein mentioned the idea of tallit and tzitzit taking the wearer flying to a sacred ground, it was a brand new idea for me. It was exciting. After all, if I am about anything, it’s movement.

I wanted to explore all reasons and whyfors. A tallit is a horizontal rectangle allowing for 4 corners on which to affix tzitzit so the commandments may be remembered; it’s a flying machine; it’s a shelter, a tent; it’s a sacred space that allows for experiencing the consciousness of the Divine; it’s a radiant garment; a containment for spiritual energy, a vessel. The idea of making a tallit became so much more than than that of making a painting.

When I was asked if I would show work in this space, I wasn’t sure what I would do. I began to think about making tallitot but approaching this task as a painter rather than a designer. All imagery must be meaningful as well as beautiful. And then during a Yom Kippur service, I read this in the Blessing of Redemption:
“Give us refuge in the Shadow of Your Wings”
and the imagery became clear.

Two pieces were made before starting work for this show, and each one of those took about 5 months to make. Because of other commitments, I only had about 4 months to make new work—not really enough time to explore where I wanted to go eventually. So consider these a start. Preparatory work in the form of watercolors and drawings are also displayed. Finally I decided to include other work, paintings, simply to explain my background as an artist.