Saturday, April 13, 2013

Or a Jewish Picasso?

Another Asher Lev?        I had no way of knowing that a play I’d see at the Westside Theater Upstairs in New York City would matter as much as it did when I traveled to Israel. That play, an adaptation of Chaim Potok’s novel, My Name Is Asher Lev, about a Hassidic Jewish boy born a gifted artist, proved to be as remarkable as Potok’s book I’d enjoyed years before. While reading, I’d pictured characters almost identical to the actors in the cast. On a tiny stage with minimal props, that cast of only three brought Asher Lev’s story to life. (please see: My Name Is Asher Lev MY NAME IS ASHER LEV is a new American play, based on the best selling novel by Chaim Potok ('The Chosen') -)

Asher, a prodigy who loved to paint, encountered resistance from within and without. His stern father couldn’t comprehend his son’s interest or the work Asher produced; it conflicted with his religion. Although that lack of parental support impacted Asher, it didn’t stop him from painting; it did, however hamper his growth as an artist.

Eventually, Asher was paired with a much older mentor, an artist who forced Asher to confront artistically important subjects that he’d been taught were taboo. That resulted in a struggle that Asher resolved with images that, ultimately, the art world loved and his parents rejected. Success as an artist, regarding his family, proved bittersweet for Asher; he left them for Paris.

If Potok’s Asher had regrets, they didn’t lead to a sequel. Nonetheless, I confronted what might have served as a real life continuation in Jerusalem on a narrow street off of Jaffa Road. Of the half dozen or more galleries on that one-car wide street, I was drawn to Art and Soul. It featured paintings, ceramics, and Paper Mache figures, enough art to fill a space twice its size.

Right away I was attracted to an impressionistic piece on the right wall by Jonathan Kis-Lev. Pomegranates and a vase stuffed with red flowers sat on a table in front of a blue-shuttered window; parts of two chairs stood like sentinels. That setting, high on a Jerusalem mount, looked down on a charmed view of the Old City. A rough black border almost 3/8 of an inch wide framed the image.

Turning my back to that painting didn’t help; I could feel its energy like the day’s bright sun that was hidden from the gallery’s walls. About a dozen of Kis-Lev’s other pieces hung nearby; all were bigger, striking too in a different way than the smallest canvas with its pomegranates.

“Mixed media,” the clerk informed me. All of the paintings but the one I wanted were giclees (Giclees - Michalopoulos Gallery New Orleans: Original Oil ...Giclees . Our giclees (pronounced ghee-CLAY) are the most modern form of fine art reproduction -) on which Kis-Lev had painted. I lingered as I thought about where I’d hang the picture I related to so directly.

“Let me tell you a little about the artist,” said the clerk. Patiently, I listened; I was sold. Still the information was important; Kis-Lev is not yet thirty. That was important; it suggested to me that genius level talent was on display.

“I’d like to see more of his originals,” I said, after the spiel.

“Maybe you can. He has another gallery a few blocks from here on Jaffa.” Directions were easy to follow.

Before I left, I looked at the back of the canvas for the title. “Poem for Rubin” struck me as perfect although I wasn’t sure why.

Minutes later I rang the bell next to the glass doors of a modern two-story building with high ceilings and tall walls from which hung huge canvasses.

“Come in!” said a jovial young man. Shorter than me by a few inches, all else about him was made large by his animation. Dreadlocks almost to his shoulders framed a smile that seemed to embrace the entire world. “Come in!” he repeated. “I’m Jonathan.”

For thirty minutes we talked about the art world, and his place in it. Despite boundless enthusiasm that had been his since age five, I asked whether he’d met with opposition as a child who was so taken by art. “Yes. I have,” he said, as if reflecting on challenges he’d faced long ago. But he didn’t explain.

Instead, he answered my question about why he’d decided on “Poem For Rubin” for the picture I couldn’t forget.

“It’s for Reuven Rubin,” he told me, “the first Israeli artist to paint in the style of Eretz Yisrael.”

Although Rubin died in 1974, Jonathan draws inspiration from him still. (please see “Pomegranates On My Window” at ReuvenRubin  Reuven Rubin, Painter. b. 1893, Romania. Immigrated 1923. Studies: 1912 Bezalel, Jerusalem; 1913-15 Beaux Arts, Paris. Prizes: 1926 Lord Plummer Prize for the -) Like Rubin, Jonathan’s work exudes vitality; his bold colors seem to scream “L’chaim!”

“Have you read Asher Lev?” I asked him. Due to his last name, Kis-Lev, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had.

“No, I haven’t,” he answered. “Should I?”

I offered a brief synopsis. He wrote the names of the book and its author.

Enthusiastically, he assured me that he would read it. “I must,” he said.

I hope he does. Chances are he’ll let me know his response to Potok’s book. By that time, I may have become accustomed to seeing “Poem For Rubin” on the near wall to my left. Magical as it looks to be, I’m hopeful Rubin may see it too.

                                    B.Koplen 4/12/13

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