R.B. Kitaj — an appreciation
Amnon Barzel, the prominent contemporary art curator who served as the first director of what is now the new Jewish Museum in Berlin, says he arrived in Germany as an Israeli but left as a Jew. It is as much a comment on current German philo-Semitism (I’ve always said “now they love you to death!”) as on its opposite.
The same kind of logic could be applied to American-born painter R. B. Kitaj, who spent much of his life in Britain and died last month in Los Angeles. Kitaj found his gradual self-definition as a Jewish artist through his connection to what came to be known (probably inaccurately) as the “School of London,” a term of his own invention.
Likely under the strong spell of Francis Bacon, the group counted among its other (sort of) Jewish “members” Lucien Freud, Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach. At a time when variants of abstraction were giving way to pop art, these artists remained committed to a very different, even traditional, sort of figurative painting mode. But Freud, Kossoff and Auerbach were, in their own way, legitimate Brits, and thus presumably not as put-off by the odd ways in which so many British Jews yearn for invisibility insofar as their Jewishness is concerned. Kitaj, like other contemporary American Jews, never quite felt that self-denial, even when he felt no strong Jewish attachments. Despite the Anti-Defamation League’s attempts to persuade us otherwise, American Jews have come a long way from the fearful 1930s attitudes that Philip Roth so brilliantly describes in “The Plot Against America” — when we hopelessly yearned to be perceived as undifferentiated Americans.
Two important exhibitions examining the Jewish content of Kitaj’s work will open in Los Angeles in January — “R.B. Kitaj: Passion and Memory — Jewish Works from His Personal Collection” at the Skirball Cultural Center and “Portrait of a Jewish Artist: R.B. Kitaj in Text and Image,” at UCLA’s Archive of Jewish Culture. These shows will offer the opportunity to calibrate just how “Jewish” Kitaj’s art really is — as distinct from his rhetoric about art-making in the diaspora. I doubt that Kitaj would have come up with his two “Diasporist Manifestos” (1989 and 2007) had he not lived so long in the comfort/discomfort of a London that in turns admired and reviled him as an artist — and, he felt, as a Jew.
Kitaj’s art’s connection to Judaism is not just that of a “diasporist” artist, however — always on the outside in some indefinable way, and yet also wholly celebrated as mainstream. After all, this is an artist who was long represented by the prestigious Marlborough Galleries, and his portraits of friends, even notable Jews such as Isaiah Berlin and Philip Roth, don’t necessarily suggest that his subject matter is Jewish — or do they?
Nevertheless, it should be noted that Kitaj was not the first artist to find relationships between the Shoah and the Passion of Christ, though his “Passion” works, which are included in the Skirball exhibition, reflect Kitaj’s intense need as an artist to anchor himself in the traditions of western art — which is largely dominated by Christian iconography — while also figuring his own way through issues that range from recapturing bits of Jewish history to working through Jewish ideas of thinkers, such as Martin Buber.
I first met Ron Kitaj in the late 1960s, when I was living and working in Berkeley and Kitaj came there to lecture. We became casual friends and remained so; I visited with him and his late wife, Sandra Fisher a few times in London, and then met up with him again much later in Westwood, where he moved after exiling himself from London. In 1965, I was blown away by Kitaj’s first New York gallery exhibition, at Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, which I saw when I was still working at The Jewish Museum. My interest certainly had nothing to do with his being a Jewish artist (I doubt that I even knew he was Jewish), but rather, his obvious talent. Here was a serious painter — in the age of Pop/Op and post-AbEx Color Field and all the other “isms” of the day — who was a skilled draughtsman with a very sure sense of using images, a sensibility that leapfrogged from that of the early 20th-century abstractionists and colorists right over a slew of subsequent modes, and did so with extraordinary self-confidence. Kitaj may not have been the unmatched draughtsman of his era that he claimed to be, but he was an amazingly talented artist, with breathtaking control of line and a gorgeous sense of color. His work is filled with imagery both suggestive and elusive, and often confounding.
Critical reaction to Kitaj’s work was often problematic, ranging from high praise to the damning reviews that ultimately led to his 1997 departure from London. The fluctuations were probably more the result of his not being easily pigeonholed — art writers need comfortable categorizations no less than anyone else — than because of the evolution of his work. Indeed, given the many decades of Kitaj’s productivity, it’s astonishing to consider how consistent his work was — in style, if not in subject matter.
That steadiness, too, has been off-putting to some critics, conditioned as we are to save our highest regard
Versatile Israeli Violinist Gains ‘Dream’ Hip-Hop Hit
Perusing the hot R & B/Rap Billboard charts, one does not expect to see a red-headed Israeli artist — replete with a classic “Jewfro” mop of curls — represented by the No. 3 song. ” TARGET=”_blank”>Miri Ben-Ari, however, doing the unexpected is standard fodder; so it should come as no surprise that her new single, “Symphony of Brotherhood” (featuring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech weaving in and out of an extended string solo) topped the charts just one month after its radio release.
Given the violin diva’s penchant for multitasking high-profile projects, it also should come as no surprise that topping the charts is just a drop in the bucket for Ben-Ari. Since April, she has been featured on billboards internationally as the poster girl for Reebok’s “I Am What I Am” campaign; in May, she and Israeli hip-hop mogul, Subliminal, recorded a video, “Classit VeParsi” (Classical and Persian) — which topped Israel’s video charts.
Next Ben-Ari went on national tour with the popular hip-hop group, The Roots, even as she was getting ready to release a hip-hop single about the Holocaust. Meanwhile, VH1 announced her as a new artist working with its Save the Music Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to restore instrumental music education in U.S. public schools.
For many, it’s exhausting just to read Ben-Ari’s list of accomplishments, but the artist is full of energy. She is, after all, on a mission: “I want to bring music back,” she said matter-of-factly. “In an era where everything is music samples, I’m representing a movement that’s turning to live music again.”
Ben-Ari grew up as a classically trained violinist in Israel, and as a child prodigy, she caught the attention of violin virtuoso Isaac Stern. Though she bowed to the top of one music competition after another, Ben-Ari was convinced that the classical scene was not for her.
“The whole time, I knew I wasn’t going to be a classical violinist,” she explained. “I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I was really good with the violin. It was fun playing so fast on the instrument — almost like a sport. But I wasn’t feeling the orchestra thing.”
At 17, Ben-Ari won a scholarship to study music in Boston, where she was exposed to jazz for the first time. After hearing a Charlie Parker CD, she knew where her future lay.
“I had to study whatever it was that Parker was doing,” she said. “I had to be able to improvise like he did. I had to learn that language!”
Following obligatory service in the Israeli army, Ben-Ari packed her bags and moved to the Big Apple — where she hustled gigs every night. “If I walked into a club, and there was a stage,” she said, “I’d pull out my violin and play. If there was no stage, I’d still play. At first I’d get my ass kicked. But you go home, practice all day and go out and get your ass kicked again.”
Persistence and gutsy acts — which Ben-Ari attributes to Israeli chutzpah — got her noticed by jazz greats like Wynton Marsalis and the late Betty Carter, as well as by hip-hop moguls like Kanye West and Wycleff Jean. Once the heavyweights got into her act, it was not long before Ben-Ari had played Carnegie Hall, The Apollo, and Jay Z’s Summer Jam — where she received a standing ovation from 20,000 screaming audience members.
“I was a nobody,” Ben-Ari chuckled, “but I had the second feature, after Missy Elliot.”
Since then, Ben-Ari has gone on to record and perform with pop icons like Alicia Keys and Britney Spears, and she won a Grammy in 2004 for her violin chops on Kanye West’s smash-hit single, “Jesus Walks.”
It is heartening to know that someone so openly Jewish and Israeli can receive so much love from the non-Jewish world.
“Wycleff Jean and Jay Z put me on the map,” Ben-Ari said with passion. “They were not Jewish white people. I’ll never forget that. This is also why I relate to [African American] history. I’ve been working with them. I got embraced by the black community, more than any other community — including the Jewish community. They loved me like one of their own.”
The fact that she is Israeli, Ben-Ari continued, actually strengthens her connection to African Americans, whether Jewish or not. “Struggle relates to struggle,” she said. “They appreciate that I’m from Israel, because I’m coming from struggle.”
That mutual struggle, Ben-Ari continued, was in fact the inspiration for her recent hit single: “MLK is the hero for the black American struggle. Of course, if you’re coming from a struggle yourself, you can’t help comparing…. It always crosses my mind — if we had MLK in Nazi Germany, would it have helped?
Would it have affected the outcome of the Jewish Holocaust?”
These kinds of questions are what led Ben-Ari to work on the Holocaust hip-hop single, due to be released in the coming months.
“It’s almost like they say, ‘music is therapy,'” she explained. “It’s a way to deal. There is no other way for me.”
Artists Dream in a Golden Age
Sam Erenberg spends most of the day, nearly every day, alone in a 1,000-square-foot box.
“It’s like a temple,” the painter says of his artist’s studio.
A lonely temple, that is.
“I’m the rabbi and congregation all in one,” he says with a laugh.
Working as an artist can be isolating, especially in the sprawling city of Los Angeles. And what good is inspiration without community?
The Jewish Artists Initiative of Southern California exists for artists like Erenberg. The group, consisting of about 30 members, constitutes one of the nation’s first organized networks of Jewish artists. Its aims are twofold: to create a support system for local artists and to transform the way the Jewish community relates to art.
On a recent evening, Erenberg sat among other artists in a garage-turned-studio in Larchmont Village. He, for one, was happy for the company.
“This is my ad-hoc family,” he said to the painters, photographers and sculptors who had gathered there for the group’s monthly meeting.
The Artists Initiative emerged three years ago, when Amelia Xann of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles approached USC’s Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life. Xann wanted to create a program to promote visual art by Jewish artists.
The organizations decided to found a group that would put on exhibitions, host a lecture series and provide a space for artists to explore the relationship between their Jewish identities and their art.
So, the Artists Initiative launched, with $40,000 in foundation grants for a speaker series and Web site.
The group staged its first exhibition in 2004 at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “Too Jewish — Not Jewish Enough” showcased paintings, sculptures, photographs, prints, ceramics and digital work that incorporated Jewish themes or adhered to “a Jewish sensibility.” (Art with a “Jewish sensibility,” Erenberg explained, exhibits “a kind of longing, a feeling that you’re connected to a long history.”)
The second exhibition, “Makor/Source,” concentrated on the sources of the artists’ inspiration. The exhibit opened this year at the Hillel: Centers for Jewish Life, at USC and UCLA.
Members are planning a third exhibition, which will likely have a California theme, to open in the next year or so at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. Art historian Matthew Baigell will curate the show.
Ruth Weisberg, a nationally recognized artist and the de facto leader of the group, said the initiative has ambitious goals.
“We really want to be another porthole, another entrance into Judaism,” said Weisberg, who is dean of USC’s Roski School of Fine Arts. “Younger people, especially, are often more at ease entering the Jewish community through cultural events than any other way.”
Weisberg, who illustrated the Reform movement’s new haggadah, said she hoped the group would also encourage Jewish artists to treat Jewish themes in their work.
“Many Jews who are involved in the art world keep their Judaism in one part of their life, and their cultural [expression] in another,” she said. Jews may fear being categorized — or even dismissed — as Jewish, rather than mainstream, artists. But keeping art and religious identity separate “is, I think, unnecessary and not that productive.”
Not all of the group’s members agree.
“I’m here protesting,” Channa Horwitz announced at the last meeting.
“I’m Jewish, and I’m an artist, but I’m not a Jewish artist,” said Horwitz, who uses complex patterns and bright colors in her work. “I don’t think art has anything to do with religion.”
Horwitz’s response reflects the diversity of the group, which includes Jews across the religious spectrum, from around the world, including the United States, Israel and Russia.
Despite their differences, or perhaps because of them, members find value in the group.
“It’s really great to sit in a room with people who get it,” said Laurel Paley, whose use of Hebrew text in her art has been criticized as “obfuscation.”
Members hope their network will become a model for communities across the country. To increase membership and public awareness, the group is updating its Web site. It has also applied for another foundation grant.
Should funding arrive in the fall, the artists hope to launch new projects. One idea they bandied about involves creating a Jewish community center for the arts, where the public can come not only to view art but also to create it.
As the artists speculated about the future, a sense of what could be — if only they had the world as their canvas — invigorated the group.
Exciting things happen when artists get together, said Bruria Finkel, a sculptor with works on display at the New Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington.
The Dadaists and Cubists of the 20th century began by meeting in groups, Finkel said. Now, with Jewish artists flourishing in the United States, especially on the West Coast, who knows what this group can accomplish?
“It’s a golden age,” she said.
7 Days in The Arts
Saturday, October 15
Joyous dance and celebration is at the heart of Russian American painter Ann Krasnow’s art. Take it in, and meet the artist in person at Solaris Gallery’s opening reception for “Ann Krasner: New Work.”
6-9 p.m. 9009 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. (310) 273-6935.
“1114” by Ann Krasner.
Sunday, October 16
Your favorite glass-eyed investigator gets honored by the American Cinematheque this weekend at their “Peter Falk In Person Retrospective.” Friday, see a double feature of “The In-Laws” and “Mikey and Nickey,” with a discussion in between films with Columbo himself. Saturday, see “Happy New Year,” or come later for “Wings of Desire” followed by a talk with Falk and director Wim Wenders. And wrap up the weekend with today’s screening of “A Woman Under the Influence.”
$6-9 (per feature or double feature). Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. (323) 466-3456.
(From left) Alan Arkin, Peter Falk and director Arthur Hiller.
Monday, October 17
In David Margolick’s new book, “Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling and a World on the Brink,” a boxing match in the days leading up to World War II carried the weight of the world. Hear all about it, as Margolick reads from and signs his book tonight at Book Soup.
7 p.m. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110.
Schmeling, a drenched Joe Jacobs at his side. Photo courtesy New York Daily News
Tuesday, October 18
The daughter of late British Jewish actor Laurence Harvey and supermodel Paulene Stone, Domino Harvey led a turbulent existence. Tony Scott’s new biopic, “Domino,” is loosely based on her life story as a drug- and adrenaline-addicted heiress turned bounty hunter. The film opens this week and stars Keira Knightley.
Wednesday, October 19
“If Hitler had the atomic bomb first, we’d all be speaking German,” observes one World War II British agent in the PBS documentary “Secrets of the Dead: The Hunt for Nazi Scientists.” There’s plenty of derring-do behind enemy lines to track down Nazi nuclear and rocket scientists, and then to snatch them before the Russians could. Harrowing testimony by survivors detail the deaths of 10,000 slave laborers used in the German weapon project. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
8 p.m. on KCET. www.kcet.org.
Thursday, October 20
Theatrical readings along the theme of “In a Lonely Place” take place today at the Hammer Museum. Co-sponsored by Los Angeles Conservancy’s “Curating the City: Wilshire Boulevard” project, readers include actress Dana Delaney and prototypical L.A. writers James Ellroy and Bruce Wagner.
7 p.m. 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7000.
Friday, October 14
Recall the angst-ridden days of college application season in David T. Levinson’s new comedic play, “Early Decision.” The playwright may be more recognizable as the founder and chair of Big Sunday, Los Angeles’ largest volunteer day, but the Jewish community has a role in his play as well.
Oct. 9-Nov. 13. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. (310) 392-7327.
A Big Opening
Museums, like movie studios, prefer to open big.
The high cost of museum management, from health care to advertising, has forced institutions to reach for blockbuster exhibits — Tutmania! — market them like summer movies, and pray for long lines and lasting buzz on opening day.
Then there’s Max Liebermann.
Skirball Cultural Center founder and director Uri Herscher was in Jerusalem several years ago, visiting a friend’s small, art-filled apartment. His eye caught an attractive painting, a Liebermann, his friend said, and Herscher responded, “Who?”
Virtually unknown today, Max Liebermann was the most famous German painter of his time. He died at age 87 in 1935, just as Adolf Hitler rose to power. As he watched the Nazis march through the Brandenburg Gate celebrating the takeover of Hitler, Liebermann famously remarked, “One cannot eat as much as one would like to vomit.”
In 1935, he couldn’t have known the half of it. But even by 1933, he understood plenty. Liebermann had already resigned from the presidency of the Prussian Academy of Arts, which forbade him to paint because he was Jewish and refused to exhibit paintings of Jews. After his death, the Nazis destroyed much of Liebermann’s work.
Collectors, mostly European, valued the remaining Impressionist depictions of peasants, landscapes and cultural figures. But elsewhere Liebermann remained erased from history — an artistic equivalent of what Hitler attempted on the Jewish people as a whole.
“Can you eradicate an artist?” Skirball’s Herscher asked. “What does that mean?”
Truthfully, the answer to the first question is almost certainly “yes” — if time and circumstances conjoin to make it so. The second question won’t have to be dealt with insofar as Liebermann is concerned, thanks to those who saved his work and to museum leaders such as Herscher.
Herscher posed these questions in the conference room just off his office at the Skirball Cultural Center. He was standing over the page proofs of a thick and comprehensive catalog of Liebermann’s work — the catalog that will accompany the Skirball’s upcoming exhibit, “Max Liebermann: From Realism to Impressionism.” The exhibit, which opened Sept. 15 and runs through Jan. 29, is the first complete Liebermann exhibit ever held in the United States.
Herscher refused to let Liebermann and his art remain another victim of Hitler’s Germany. But he acknowledged that bringing an exhibit of this size to the Skirball is a risk. After all, the Skirball’s exhibit on the life and work of Albert Einstein, held last year, netted a small fortune in ancillary sales — Einstein posters and ties and the like. The market for Max Liebermann desk calendars is, to say the least, untested. It took extra convincing and fundraising for Herscher — who happens to excel at convincing and fundraising — to persuade his board that the Skirball wouldn’t suffer for Liebermann’s art.
It was the right decision. Although every museum deserves and needs its blockbuster, not every deserving artist guarantees huge crowds.
Liebermann merits exhibition at the Skirball because his art is significant, but so is his life story, or more accurately, the meaning of his life story. Herscher’s initial vision for the Skirball was as a museum that would explore the role of Jews, and by extension all minorities, in the life of a democracy. And it is no stretch to apply this rubric to Liebermann.
For a brief moment, for a fleeting few years, Liebermann and his art flourished in a free Germany — the flawed and flailing tries at democracy that were unable to take root either before or after World War I. He attained a measure of success that allowed him entrée into the highest echelons of Berlin society. He was a vocal and patriotic supporter of his country during World War I. And his art came to reflect the power and satisfaction of bourgeois Germany. As for Liebermann, his self-identity was as a painter first, a German second and a Jew somewhere after that.
“I have sought to serve German art with all my strength,” he wrote upon resigning from the Prussian Academy. “It is my conviction that art has nothing to do with politics or descent.”
Months later, as the Nazis solidified their hold on Germany, Liebermann’s conviction weakened. In a letter to the Hebrew poet Hayyim Nachman Bialik, he admitted that in the past he distanced himself from Zionism.
“I now think otherwise,” he wrote. “As difficult as it was for me, I have awoken from the dream I have dreamt my entire life.”
“There was a level of self-delusion that is heartbreaking,” Herscher told me. “Only at the very end of his life, when it was too late, did Liebermann recognize his self-delusion.”
The irony of course is that an artist, whose talent rests on his perception, fails to see what is happening all around him. Liebermann painted some of his most famous landscapes around his villa at Wannsee, just a stone’s throw from the mansion where Nazi leaders planned the extermination of Europe’s Jews.
Herscher slid a print of a Wannsee painting across the table to me.
“It just shows you the limits of art,” he said.
I’ve no doubt the actual exhibit will be beautiful — and bittersweet. In spite of that — or because of that — the choice to finally bring Max Liebermann to America was smart and bold. And it’s one you should reward with your presence.
For more information on the exhibit, visit www.skirball.org.
Spectator – ‘Time’: a Truthful Family Portrait
For Los Angeles artist Shelley Adler, the epiphany came after her second diagnosis of breast cancer and near-death from diverticulitis in 2001. Following her lumpectomy and two weeks in the hospital, she returned home and glimpsed cartons of family photographs she had collected since her parents and other relatives had died.
“The black-and-white snapshots revealed little worlds and scenes I wanted to bring alive in color,” said Adler, whose “Shades of Time: The Extended Family of Shelley Adler” runs through July 1 at the Workmen’s Circle. “I wanted to paint them the way the 16th-century Dutch genre painters had done — small portraits of ordinary people in their homes, offering glimpses into their lives.” Yet, she had put off the project until that day in 2001: “I suddenly recognized I might die, and if I was to do the series, it had to be now,” the artist said.
Adler, 69, had not painted in oils for decades; she had grown up Jewish in what she describes as a repressive small town, Minot, N.D., which she escaped to attend art school. But by 1960 she had married, had children and become a librarian in an effort to “conform, to be ‘normal.'” Fifteen years later she was so miserable that she divorced, returned to art school and became a professional illustrator.
After her 2001 epiphany, she left her job as The Jewish Journal’s art director and, between radiation and chemotherapy treatments, spent hours intensely staring at the snapshots.
“Eventually, the body language of the individuals told me things I wanted to communicate,” said Adler, who left The Journal in 2002.
Her realistic paintings include a 1944 winter portrait of her stoic, taciturn uncle Ben, who stands very still in front of his Minot jewelry store, his eyes veiled behind shadowed spectacles. In a painting of Adler’s domineering father and grandmother, his hand clutches her shoulder as if he is controlling her every move. A summer 1930s portrait of Adler’s scowling mother and aunt reveals “two women who are in conflict, yet they’re in a family,” she said.
Sherry Frumkin of the Santa Monica Art Studios, which previously displayed some of the paintings, described them as “intimate little gems, which make you feel transported to another era.”
If the portraits aren’t always positive, Adler said, “I’m a truth teller. I don’t color things with niceties…. [Rather], I hope viewers will feel they’re looking through a window, as if these people will step right out of the frame.”
For information, call (310) 552-2007.
A Great Beginning
When Ed Block’s father died three years ago, he and his siblings were left to look for keepsakes while disposing of the contents of his Florida home. When opening a large, flat box stored in a closet, they were flooded by memories of their father, ever eager to show off a possession prized for 30 years: an unframed lithograph series by Abraham Rattner, a contemporary Jewish American painter.
"He loved to show them," said Block, of Laguna Hills. "But he never figured out what to do with it," he said of the collection. "He didn’t want to split them all up" between his three children.
In vivid primary colors with figures drawn in bold, black strokes, the 12 large pictures in the series titled, "In the Beginning," depict seminal moments of Jewish biblical history, along with an appropriate citation and quote. Several suggest the dreamy fantasies of Chagall; others are painted with a dark, foreboding cubism in a style reminiscent of Picasso. Just 200 were printed in the early ’70s.
Among the biblical characters portrayed are Moses at the burning bush, Adam and Eve and Sampson and Delilah. The abstract lithographs mounted in contemporary frameless Lucite will be permanently displayed on the second floor of the synagogue under a vast skylight.
The collection can be viewed through Aug. 27 in the current exhibit at the Kershaw Museum in Aliso Viejo’s Temple Beth El. The modernist series aptly fits Beth El’s contemporary architecture, reborn after an extensive remodeling from its original industrial use. The congregation relocated from trailers in 2001.
Block’s father owned the lithograph collection, because he was a childhood friend of Rattner’s publisher, New York art dealer Bill Haber.
After his father’s death in February 2001, neither Block nor his two siblings, Cheryl Gelber and Marilyn Harvey, were ready to hang the collection in their homes. Eventually, they decided to celebrate their father by making the collection a gift to Beth El. Jo Anne Simon, whose family helped establish the synagogue, served as an intermediary.
"I wanted it close to home so I could go and visit it," said Block, a physician. He and Lori, his wife, are 15-year synagogue members. His own artistic preference favors the realism of Israeli artist Tarkay, who sentimentally portrays women in vibrant scenes.
Recent appraisals valued the collection, one of Rattner’s lesser known works, at about $15,000, Block said. "It’s not that valuable. Its value is that it’s intact."
Individual prints from the series can be found for sale but not the entire collection, he said. Alan Wofsy Fine Art in San Francisco acquired Rattner’s portfolio a decade ago and currently lists signed and numbered lithographs made by the artist in the last decade of his life for $400 each.
In the decade that preceded Rattner’s biblical series, the artist’s work began reflecting religious themes and his Jewish heritage. One of his best known from that era is "Victory — Jerusalem the Golden," honoring Israel’s 20th anniversary of independence.
Rattner was born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. His parents were immigrants who came to the United States to flee anti-Semitism and czarist Russia. Work by the artist, who died in 1978, was widely exhibited in his lifetime and is included in several museum collections.
His personal papers and those of his second wife, Esther Gentle, are archived in the Smithsonian’s collections, in part because of Rattner’s friendships with some of the century’s most creative luminaries. After serving in World War I, where duty included painting camouflage, Rattner spent 20 formative years in Paris, a cultural center for disillusioned expatriates. He experimented with cubism, futurism and expressionism, which would inform his later work that pushed the boundaries of artistic tradition.
During that period in Paris, he was part of a group that included Picasso, Dali and Miro and writers such as Henry Miller, a friend for 40 years who would join the artist on a road trip in the United States.
The introduction to "In the Beginning" is by the artist’s dealer. Haber wrote, "The 12 scenes symbolize man’s aspirations, his triumphs and defeats, his wisdom, his folly, his hopes and his prayers. There is no end to ‘In the Beginning.’"
Miller, too, added an introductory comment: "I’m so happy to see that with the advance of time, my dear old friend, Abe Rattner, continues to reveal that exaltation of spirit. He has the uncommon faculty of combining wrath, biblical wrath, with ecstasy. His work speaks of a living God, a God of infinite compassion and understanding. It belongs not in the museum, but in the cathedral of a new and promising world."
At least by one measure, Miller’s comments proved prophetic. For sure, Beth El’s remodeling transformed a secular environment into a public space with cathedral-like qualities.
Artist Evokes Jewish Strength — Overtly
Five years ago, veteran comic book artist Joe Kubert visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. He expected to be moved, but since he and his parents had escaped from Poland before the Nazi genocide began, he assumed his emotional reaction would be relatively contained. Then, he saw something that struck him profoundly: "Yzeran," the name of the shtetl where he had been born, etched on a wall filled with names of towns that had been completely obliterated in World War II.
This one word began a creative odyssey that found its completion this month, with the publication of "Yossel — April 19, 1943," Kubert’s graphic novel about Jewish resistance during the Holocaust — artistic, as well as physical — with the date in the subtitle referring to the start of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
While many will likely draw parallels to Art Speigelman’s 1992 Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel, "Maus," "Yossel" actually mines what is nearly a century-old tradition. Will Eisner, who is popularly credited with the creation of the modern graphic novel, addressed the effects of the Holocaust on an immigrant Bronx family in his comic strip, "The Spirit," which was serialized in newspapers in the 1940s and 1950s; the villains in Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s "Superman" have been viewed as stand-ins for Nazis; and the Escapist, a character in Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Adventures of Kavalier & Klay," is a superhero dedicated to fighting Nazism. But whereas each of these mainstream superheroes carried a subtle message of Jewish strength in the face of oppression, Kubert chose to make this not just a theme but the very substance of his story.
"I feel that if I had lived under the circumstances of the Holocaust, I would have used any scrap of paper I could get my hands on to draw what I would have experienced," said the 77-year-old Kubert, who at age 11 started working in the comics industry as an inker and eventually moved on to edit and draw DC Comics heroes Tarzan, the Flash and Batman.
Indeed, everything about the book’s protagonist is synonymous with the writer — including his name, Yossel, a Yiddishized version of Joe. "Yossel" is a first-person account of the radicalization of a previously ordinary Jewish teenager, the same boy that Kubert believes he would have become had he stayed in Poland. Early in the story, readers are presented with Yossel as a child in Yzeran, the same village where Kubert was born two months before his parents immigrated to the United States in 1926. The drama begins shortly after his family is forced into the Warsaw Ghetto. At first, Yossel’s resistance is artistic, as he sets out to sketch his grim surroundings. But when his parents and sister are sent to Auschwitz, his resistance becomes physical, as he and fellow members of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising reclaim one last shred of humanity by fighting back against their oppressors, despite the revolt’s inherent futility.
The seeds of Yossel’s personal rebellion are first planted when Nazi soldiers stationed in the Warsaw Ghetto take notice of his drawings and mistake his loving depictions of muscled superheroes for sketches of Reich leaders. From then on, Yossel is asked to draw for his captors’ amusement, thrown a few extra scraps of food and subsequently spared the fate of his parents and sister — deportation to Auschwitz — because of his art. Orphaned and hopeless, he is soon infected by the revolutionary spirit of the now-famous resistance movement in Warsaw.
For his research, Kubert scoured dozens of books about the uprising, though he never actually visited the city. He recalled that during his research he was struck by images of Jews being pulled out of cellar windows and Nazis pulling the last remaining Jews out of the ghetto — images that are clearly recreated in the book.
"I wanted readers to feel as if they were actually there, watching the events unfold," Kubert said of his drawing style.
Unlike "Maus" — which, like most graphic novels, was drawn in ink with story boxes fit into uniform squares — Kubert’s images blend into one another. His trademark pencil drawings give the pages a raw, impressionistic style. Kubert also selected a heavy gray stock for the book’s pages, because he wanted the paper to feel like something someone could have used at that time, under those circumstances.
Kubert also had a large role in the design of the book’s cover, the image of an outstretched arm, sleeve rolled up to reveal tattooed numbers reaching out against a striped background.
"The cover drawing to me is indicative of the entire Holocaust," he said. "This graphic vision just hits me. There is something about the scrawny arm that says to me more about what happened during the Holocaust than a drawing of a gas chamber."
Despite his skill as a draftsman, Kubert said that he finds text more evocative than drawings.
"I don’t think anything is more powerful than the written word," he said. "However, graphic novels are what I do best. If I were to keep a diary, I would do it in sketch form."
Jewish Folk Art Gets Contemporary Cut
Feathery palm trees, swaying dancers, and butting rams are untraditional focal points in the contemporary Jewish papercuts of artist Deborah Heyman.
In reinterpreting this nearly lost, venerable Jewish folk art tradition, Heyman, of Irvine, finds inspiration and content for her own creations in the personal upheavals and simple pleasures of a modern life.
"They tell my stories," said Heyman, 50, a single mom who worked in a fabric showroom and took up papercutting 13 years ago. Families, tough decisions and dreams are among the subjects depicted symbolically in her work.
One of her designs is the featured cover of the Orange County Jewish Community’s Foundation 2003 annual report, which was published last month. More of her papercuts, including a large-scale tree of life that took a year to complete, is displayed in the administration building of Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School in Irvine, where her husband, Ed, serves as president.
Heyman discovered the tradition of devotional papercuts at a week-long retreat in 1990. Jerry Novorr, of Los Angeles, a retired graphic artist and docent at the Skirball Cultural Center taught the workshop. His teaching evolved from a demonstration he was asked to provide to coincide with a touring papercut exhibit from New York’s Jewish Museum in 1977.
"I had never heard of the media before," said Novorr, now 85, who is self-taught and still fulfills papercutting-commissions for friends.
Almost every culture that uses paper has a papercutting tradition. "The Jewish tradition is based on the written word," said Yehudit Shadur, an authority on the subject who, with her husband, Joseph, is author of "Traditional Jewish Papercuts: An Inner World of Art and Symbol," published in 2002.
"One way to express love of tradition is to beautify the written word," she said from her home in Amhurst, Mass. "Most papercuts include text and understood symbols that are visualizations of abstract ideas."
Papercuts use simple materials and are fashioned using a technique similar to one familiar to children clipping snowflakes from folded paper. Heyman uses acid-free, rag paper for her final works, which are mounted on a heavy, colored board. Many of her designs are asymmetrical and cut using an Exacto knife. First, though, they take shape on paper, drawn and redrawn in pencil. Final designs are worked out on tracing paper.
By comparison, most Jewish ceremonial art is symmetrical in design and often incorporates priestly blessings and Jewish iconography. Some are also painted.
The Holocaust nearly wiped out its practitioners. Where papercutting thrived in Eastern Europe and North Africa during the 1800s and the first half of the 1900s, the craft was an integral part of the customs and rituals of Jewish holidays, according to Tal Gozani, a Skirball associate curator. She curated a 2001 exhibit by one of the best-known modern papercutters, Marta Golab, a non-Jewish Polish artist who learned the art form at a Jewish cultural festival in 1989.
"She was drawn to the topic," said Gozani, of the Polish artist, who immersed herself in Jewish text and now creates papercuts with Hebrew script as masterfully as any scribe. "As a Pole, she wanted to bridge that gap, to reach out to the Jewish community, to breathe life into the legacy of Polish Jews."
Traditionally, the most popular papercut is the mizrach, meaning east; it’s a plaque hung on the eastern wall of homes directing Jews to pray toward Jerusalem, Gozani said. Other traditional subjects are decorative marriage contracts, or ketubot; depictions of holiday events, such as a Purim scene; or amulets to protect mother and child.
Heyman’s home displays several of her works, including the couple’s ketubot and a large chamsah, symbolic of the hand of God or divine protection.
"I haven’t made much effort to sell them," said Heyman, who nonetheless has sold smaller pieces for $180 to $300. Like art prints produced in small quantities to support their value, she would make no more than 50 of each design.
At a New Year cardmaking workshop last month at the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass., Shadur shared her secrets. "It’s a very simple craft. We don’t fear wasting the materials," she said. "It’s a form of creative play."
She is credited with helping reawaken interest in the languishing art form because of her participation 25 years ago in a Haifa exhibit that featured historical and contemporary works.
Her own interest was sparked by after fashioning a papercut for a sukkah in 1966. She was an art instructor at a college in Israel when recruited to help decorate the booth for a party for David Ben-Gurion, the former Israeli prime minister.
Heyman’s work may start from a traditional idea, like the eternal knot, a commonly used Jewish symbol that is central to the piece used by the Community Foundation. But she also incorporates untraditional motifs, such as its corner nautilus shells.
"I’ll have a seed of an idea and play with it and see how it turns out," she said. "I kind of went off in my own direction. None of them are typically traditional."
Neither is the Torah cover she completed last September for Tustin’s Congregation B’nai Israel, where she met her husband of five years. At the time, Ed was in the final months of a long vigil at the bedside of his first wife, Barbara, who died of brain cancer. The synagogue was as central to the social life of the first couple as it is to the second.
As the second spouse, art helped Heyman carve her own distinct identity.
"That’s another reason art has been important to me," Heyman said. "It gives me my corner."
On the Torah cover, she used a sewing technique called inverse appliqué. Its effect is much like a papercut on cloth. The cover features a white chamsah on a royal blue field that is decorated with spirals, beads and fringes that are representative of prayer shawls.
Textiles are a common thread in Heyman’s life. Growing up sewing, weaving and quilt-making, she later pursued a college degree in textile design and a career in wholesale fabric showrooms. Now, Heyman studies oil painting, which she describes as "an absolute struggle." Her patience for detail in one medium proves a poor virtue in the current one.
"When painting is too difficult then quilting is my escape," she said.
Applause for Cause
“I want them dancing in the aisles,” said Craig Taubman, a guitar-strumming crooner who is reprising his first sold-out Orange County performance at 2 p.m. on Sept. 21 at Irvine’s Barclay Theater in a benefit for Irvine’s Tarbut V’ Torah Community Day School.
The Los Angeles recording artist and producer composes and reinterprets Jewish melodies with accessible, contemporary riffs. Taubman’s popularity shifted to high gear since debuting a joyful “Friday Night Live” Shabbat service in 1998 at Los Angeles’ Sinai Temple, which he performed in June in Orange County.
The concert is a new fundraiser for the school, which is expecting nearly 600 students when classes commence this month, said Doris Jacobson, the school’s development director. Tarbut V’ Torah previously relied on several philanthropists to subsidize its annual deficit, which student tuition could not meet. Last year, the school held fundraising “salons” with parents, she said.
2 p.m. The Barclay Theater, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine. $72 (preferred seating), $36 (adults), $18 (children). For more information, call (949) 509-9500, ext. 3007.
A Stamp of Approval
There was a time when the holidays meant choosing between a traditional stamp, like Madonna and child, or a modern stamp, like snowmen. But that all changed in 1996.
"That was the first time that a Chanukah stamp had come out," said David Mazer, U.S. Postal Service public affairs and communications manager in Los Angeles. "We made a real to-do about it at the time. I personally made a presentation to 30 area institutions — Valley Beth Shalom, the University of Judaism, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion — and it really went over well."
This month, the Postal Service will re-issue the Chanukah commemorative stamp in the 37-cent denomination. About 35 million copies of the self-adhesive menorah stamp, designed by Washington, D.C., artist Hannah Smotrich, have been produced for this season.
Every year, the Postal Service’s 15-member Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee sifts through 40,000-50,000 stamp ideas sent in by the public. From that, the panel sends 25-30 new stamp ideas to the postmaster general, who has final say.
While stamps based on Passover and other Jewish holidays have not been created, Mazer pointed out that hundreds of Jews and Jewish-related images including composers Irving Berlin and Franz Waxman, artist Frida Kahlo and the Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., have graced U.S. stamps over the years.
So when it comes to holiday imagery
on government-issued stamps, are there any conflicts of separation of church and state?
A U.S. stamp will not bear individuals or institutions specifically associated with religious beliefs. However, if there is a larger humanitarian or pop culture component, these rules can be bypassed.
"Stamps are a reflection of popular culture and history," Smeraldi said. "[Christmas and Chanukah] are so widely celebrated, so it doesn’t go against those criteria."
Sounds like a stamp of approval to us.
7 Days in the Arts
Puppets, paupers, pirates and poets — especially poets — are invited to the Workmen’s Circle tonight for Slam Shirim, a competitive performance poetry event for the Jewish community. Anyone can sign up to perform, judges are chosen randomly from the audience and the rest of the audience is encouraged to share their reaction to the poetry, so expect a raucous evening. The flyer says it’s “like an amusement park adventure of spoken word.” We say it’s good, artsy fun.
8 p.m. $7 (members); $10 (nonmembers). 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.
Chanukah comes early this year, but it can’t come early enough for the kids. Universal Studios understands, and they’re bringing out the chanukiah — and the stars — a few days early for a big park-wide celebration today. Spider-Man spins the dreidel, the Rugrats characters light the candles, Mayor James Hahn will lend an official air to the proceedings and Jerry’s Famous Deli will present “The World’s Largest Latka.” Plus, the performances range from the sweet Mallory Lewis and Lambchop to Jewish rapper Remedy of the Wu-Tang Clan. This Chanukah celebration, co-sponsored by The Journal, has something for everyone — it’s Universal!
10 a.m.-6 p.m. With coupon it’s $35 (adults) and $25 (children).
100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City. (800) 864-8377.
“When you’re a Hip Hop Hoodio, it’s Chanukah-time 24/7, 365 days a year.” So say the members of Hip Hop Hoodios, the Latino-Jewish rap supergroup, and listening to their music, you believe them. In addition to a beat-heavy version of “Hava Nagila,” the group’s album, “Raza Hoodia,” includes their attitude-heavy Chanukah track, “Ocho Kandelikas.” UCLA Hillel and Yiddishkayt L.A. bring this free concert tonight, with multiethnic samba-funk-rockers Bayu and an afternoon discussion panel on what all this fusion means.
2 p.m. (panel). 2408 Ackerman, UCLA. 8 p.m. (concert). Bradley International Hall, 417 Charles E. Young Drive West, UCLA. (213) 389-8880.
Set in the near future, George Larkin’s new play “Perverse Tongue” portrays an America ruled by an absolute literalist interpretation of the Bible. Follow the story of two sisters, the younger of whom must flee the Soldiers of God, enforcers who want to put her on trial for having been raped.
8 p.m. $15. Mon.-Wed., through Dec. 18. No performance Wed. Nov. 27 or Mon. Dec. 2. MET Theater, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood. (323) 957-1152.
< She may be better known for her decades of social activism, but Betty Sheinbaum is also recognized for her art. When she's not filling banquet halls with friends for a fundraiser, Sheinbaum fills galleries with her paintings. Now at Santa Monica's The Artist's Gallery, her collection "Bullfighting" examines the dramatic tension between man and beast.
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Through Nov. 30. The Artist’s Gallery, 2903 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 829-9556.
Sculptor Keith Edmier doesn’t claim to be the only artist inspired by an angel, but he may be the only one to collaborate this well with a Charlie’s Angel. Edmier began a collaboration with Farrah Fawcett in 1999 and the fruits of their labor are on display now at LACMA. Fawcett, an art major in college, contributed equally to the six-sculpture, multiple-photo exhibit, which set out to examine the relationship between artist and muse.
Through Feb. 17, 2003. $7 (adults); $5 (seniors and students); $1 (children).
5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 857-6000.
Light one candle, have some latkes, then head out to celebrate the first night of Chanukah with a few laughs from Eric Schwartz, known to listeners of KIIS-FM as Smooth E, the Suburban Homeboy. The Thousand Oaks-raised comic will be sharing the stage with some big names next week at The Jewish Federation’s Vodka Latka gala, but you can also catch “Lose the Gelt,” “Welcome to the Valley” and other hip-hop ha-has this weekend.
8 p.m. Also Sat. Hornblowers Comedy Club,
1559 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura. (805) 658-2202.
7 Days in the Arts
Monique Schwartz has people talkin’ about our mommas. No need to organize a posse though. This is actually kind of Schwartz’s way of doing that herself — to analyze and combat stereotypical depictions of Jewish mothers in film. Her documentary “Mamadrama: The Jewish Mother in Cinema” screens today as part of the Laemmle’s “Bagels and Docs: A Jewish Documentary Series.”
10 a.m. Laemmle’s Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. For more information, including other screening dates and times, call (323) 848-3500 or visit www.laemmle.com.
The wacky duo is at it again, only this time they’re being sponsored by Muslims. Thanks to the Iranian Muslim Association of North America (IMAN), the comedy duo of Rabbi Bob Alper and Egyptian-born Ahmed Ahmed continue their goal of “building bridges in troubled times through laughter,” tonight at IMAN Cultural Center.
7:30 p.m. $18 (in advance), $20 (at the door). IMAN Cultural Center, 3376 Motor Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 202-8181.
It’s been 10 years since “The Quarrel” hit theaters, and this morning, the Sunset 5 hosts a special screening of the film about two old friends reunited after the Holocaust and the differences and disagreements that still separate them. Following the screening, the film’s writer-producer David Brandes moderates a discussion on “Good and Evil in Islam and Judaism” between Rabbi Joseph Telushkin and Dr. Khaled M. Abou Fadl. Proceeds benefit The Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity.
10 a.m. $12 (general), $118 (sponsors). Laemmle’s Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 556-5639.
Panic grips your heart as you realize you only have only 27 days left till Chanukah. We know, that lunar calendar’ll get ya every time. But fret not, dear readers. For today is the Contemporary Crafts Market. Jewish trinkets and tchochkes are yours for the buying at this gift extravaganza. So quit the kvetching and head on down.
Nov. 1-3, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. $6 (adults), free (children 12 and under). Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, 1855 Main St., Santa Monica. (310) 285-3655.
We know there’s a pole-vaulting joke in here somewhere, but we’re pretty sure the folks involved in the two one-act plays that make up “Folk and Race” have got that covered. So instead, here are the basics: Act One is the dramatic interpretation. It’s a play about a Jewish pole vaulter who hides his religion to gain a spot on the 1936 American Olympic team after his better is kicked off for being Jewish. And Act Two is a parody of Act One, a la Mel Brooks. Take the leap and check it out.
8 p.m. Nov. 4, 5, 11, 12, 18 and 19. $12. The Theatre District at the Cast, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 651-5862.
Bursting with fruit flavor is Jewish artist Rebecca Newman’s latest exhibition “Between the Branches.” The 17 new drawings continue her study of Southern California tropical tree species, everything from bananas to bougainvillea. They’re on display now at TAG, The Artists’ Gallery.
11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Tuesday-Friday), through Nov. 9. TAG, The Artists’ Gallery, 2903 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 829-9556.
Things we can learn from (818), a non-profit “dedicated to furthering the education, production and distribution of filmmaking in the San Fernando Valley”: 1. “Valley film” is not a euphemism for porn. 2. The Valley has already made important contributions to the world of film. 3. It’s a worthwhile trip over the hill this week for the Valley Film Festival, screening 16 films, including four from Valley residents and one from Israel, called “Raging Dove.”
Nov. 1-7. El Portal Theatre, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. For information call, (818) 754-8222 or visit www.valleyfilmfest.com.
The UJ’s series “In Their Own Words: Conversations With Writers” continues tonight when Journal arts and entertainment editor Naomi Pfefferman interviews author Dara Horn. Horn will discuss her first novel “In the Image,” a story that examines the nature of good and evil, and the presence of God.
7 p.m. $15. University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1546.
So you think the ballet “The Nutcracker” just conjures up Christmasy images of Sugar Plum Fairies. Not if Akiva Talmi, the kibbutz-bred producer of the esteemed Moscow Ballet, has his way. He pushed his ballet to informally dedicate its 2002 season to” celebrating the contributions of Jewish cultural heroes of the former Soviet Union,” who had to downplay their heritage to succeed back in the U.S.S.R.
Nov. 7-9, 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee. Terrace Theater, Long Beach Convention Center, 300 East Ocean Blvd.,Long Beach. (213) 480-3232.
Mark of the Werewolf
In the 1970s — dubbed "the Bronze Age" by comic book historians — I was a kid living in Canarsie, Brooklyn, N.Y., where, every week, I blew my allowance on Marvel Comics. What I didn’t know at the time was that Don Perlin, a Canarsie native, was illustrating some of those books in my very neighborhood — at one point, on my block! With next week’s San Diego ComiCon International, the nation’s biggest comic book convention (Aug. 1-4), I reached my childhood hero by phone at his Jacksonville, Fla. residence.
Born in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn to refugees of the Russo-Japanese war, Perlin moved to Canarsie at age 3. Aside from his years in the Army and a brief residency in Crown Heights, N.Y., Perlin lived in Canarsie until 1996.
"When I was a kid, I thought it was the greatest place," Perlin, 74, said of the then-Jewish/Italian neighborhood. "We had big empty blocks. It was a lot freer than the city."
Perlin’s grandparents and mother spoke Yiddish. His grandfather would teach Perlin the Aleph Bet and the Chumash.
But Perlin was encouraged to practice something other than Judaism: "I always wanted to draw," Perlin said. "It was the one thing I did the best. Other than that, nothing outstanding. Except I was good-looking."
Perlin got his start in the 1950s, employed by legendary cartoonist Will Eisner, and later Eisner’s ex-business partner, Jerry Iger, to do menial work. Iger fired Perlin, telling the aspiring cartoonist that he couldn’t rule a straight line. A determined Perlin put a portfolio together and marched back into Iger’s studio, landing a staff artist position.
Perlin began drawing and inking Western, horror and "big foot" (humor) comics for all of the majors. In between, he supported his wife and three kids on gigs such as designing box labels.
In 1972, Perlin returned to Marvel, at the height of company’s monster craze. In 1973, Perlin began to work on "Werewolf By Night," a monthly series in which Perlin and Doug Moench chronicled the angst-ridden exploits of Malibu resident Jack Russell, who wrestled with lycanthropy during a full moon.
Perlin took over the werewolf saga with issue 17, following popular artists such as Mike Ploog.
"The kids loved Ploog, and they weren’t too happy to see me get in there," Perlin recalled. Heated debate over Perlin’s art filled the letter columns in "Werewolf." Perlin got it from the top, too.
"You can’t have him running around like Captain America," Perlin said he was told by one Marvel executive, who proceeded to demonstrate a werewolf’s lope by running and jumping atop the office furniture.
Despite the hubbub, Perlin modified the Werewolf’s design and made the book his own with a savage, almost primitive imprimatur. "Werewolf" sold well, before culminating with issue 43 in 1977.
In the 1980s, Perlin pulled long stints on "Ghost Rider" and "Defenders," wherein writer J.M. DeMatties became obsessed with the superhero team’s soap opera relationships. Perlin became a master of showing costumed superheroes crying over love lost. Again, readers complained. The editors forced DeMatties and Perlin to re-focus their energies on superheroics. Perlin admired DeMatties’ conviction but admitted, "You’ve got to remember who you’ve got reading this stuff. They weren’t getting the sales on it. It’s what cost us the book."
Perlin was an original artist on two toy-inspired titles that, this year, have enjoyed major revivals: "G.I. Joe" and "Transformers."
"The ‘Transformers’ was probably one of my most difficult books," said Perlin, the guy whom Iger claimed couldn’t rule a straight line, and was now assigned to sketch scores of robots. To Perlin’s relief, Marvel graduated him to managing art director (1987-1990).
At Marvel, Perlin co-created two popular superheroes: Moon Knight and Gargoyle. While his Marvel days have eclipsed the rest of his career, Perlin feels that his best work came in the 1990s on Acclaim titles such as "Bloodshot" and "Timewalker."
Looking back over his career, Perlin remembers his favorite artists, including his mentor, revered artist Brune Hogarth.
"When people ask me who is my favorite cartoonist, I answer ‘God.’ Just look around at all the characters he created."
In 1996, Perlin relocated with wife, Becky, to Jacksonville, where he now serves as president of National Cartoonist Society’s (NCS) Florida chapter. Perlin, who for years drew werewolves running amok through Los Angeles, has only visited our city once — in 1997, to collect his Reuben Award from the NCS. Even then, he never left his Pasadena hotel.
Perlin’s career has had its ups and downs. Yet he still freelances. When asked about his profession’s rewards, he quoted his favorite adage: "Find something you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life."
Drawing Away Nazi Horror
Artist Mauricio Lasansky was infuriated after viewing Alain Resnais’ graphic 1955 Holocaust documentary, "Night and Fog."
"I felt full of hatred [for the Nazis]," says Lasansky, founder of the University of Iowa’s esteemed printmaking program. The Argentinean-born artist felt compelled to express his profound disgust through art.
It took him until 1966 to complete "The Nazi Drawings," the subject of Lane Wyrick’s 1999 award-winning short documentary by the same name, which will be shown at the Directors Guild Theatre on Oct. 14. The 30 raw, life-sized pieces include images of skull-faced soldiers, crucified women, suffering children and oblivious bishops. Lasansky signed his name upside down in the last drawing — his self-portrait — "to force viewers to bow in reverence to the victims," the Iowa native told The Journal.
Unlike Holocaust artists such as Samuel Bak and Felix Nussbaum, Lasansky, 86, is neither a Holocaust survivor nor victim. Though the printmaker’s father was born in Vilna, he is deliberately vague about his Lithuanian Jewish background and insists "The Nazi Drawings" is a humanist, rather than a Jewish, work.
Yet, the Shoah so haunted Lasansky that he worked virtually around the clock to complete the series, suffering intense headaches and angst. "He would come back from his studio, madder than hell," recalls the artist’s 46-year-old son, Phillip, who was a child at the time.
Lasansky’s powerful series was selected as an inaugural exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1967.
Today, it’s mostly relegated to storage at the University of Iowa Museum of Art — one reason Lasansky was keen to publicize his "Drawings" through the documentary. "I dream someday about a little simple building … where people can come in and see [the work]," he says.
Lasansky and Wyrick will participate in a panel discuussion with ABC correspondent Judy Muller after the Oct. 14 screening. For information, call (323) 938-5325.
7 Days In Arts
Saturday, Aug. 18
“None of us mortals are going to be able to reach his
standard,” acclaimed violinist Itzhak Perlman said when asked about his thoughts
on violinist Jascha Heifetz. Today, the Hollywood Bowl Museum is exhibiting a
photomontage of Heifetz’s life in honor of his 100th birthday. The display casts
an intimate light on the legendary artist, showing pictures of his non-violin
hobbies such as sailing and Ping-Pong. His musical contributions are also
documented in photographs from his 45 concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic
and rare footage of his famous Carnegie Hall appearance. Free admission. Museum
hours: Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sundays, 4:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Through Sep. 16.
Edmund D. Edelman Hollywood Bowl Museum, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles. For
more information, call (323) 850-2000.
Sunday, Aug. 19
Spanish-Judeo music originated more than 500 years ago
and flourished throughout the Spanish Diaspora. Tonight, the Sephardic Music
Festival features three artists who have helped keep the historic melodies
alive. Vocal soloist for the St. Helena Ensemble and the San Francisco Consort
Judy Frankel is accompanied by Sephardic Musical Heritage Award winner Gerard
Edery and widely acclaimed oudist and composer John Bilezikjian. $25 (general
admission); $18 (group rate). 7:30 p.m. Brandeis-Bardin Institute, 1101
Peppertree Lane, Simi Valley. For tickets or more information, call (323)
650-3157 or visit www.ivri-nasawi.org.
Monday, Aug. 20
Robert Inman captures the essence of living in the
Midwest in his exhibit “Reflections”. His paintings portray the huge expanses of
his native city and his experiences living in the country that he believes makes
one “feel a part of nature and peace.” Inman has created art pieces for the
entertainment industry and has exhibited worldwide, including a solo display at
the Umeda Museum of Modern Art in Osaka, Japan. Today, 25 of his acrylic, mixed
media and monotype images will be on display. Gallery Hours: Sun.-Fri., 9 a.m.-5
p.m. Through Sept. 14. Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, 22622 Vanowen
St., West Hills. For more information, call (818) 888-0583.
Tuesday, Aug. 21
Children’s books can teach a lot in terms of life
lessons, in their words and pictures. The illustrations in some of these
classics portray diversity and tolerance and are on display today in the exhibit
“Every Picture Tells a Story”. The spider and the pig formed a strong friendship
despite their differences in species and status on the farm in “Charlotte’s
Web”. Similar lessons can be learned from “Stuart Little” and Dr. Seuss books.
Throughout the duration of the exhibit, celebrity artists will read from their
own favorite children’s books. Gallery hours: Mon.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Fri.
10 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Through Nov. 2001. Museum of Tolerance,
Simon Wiesenthal Plaza, 1399 S. Roxbury Drive, Los Angeles. For more
information, call (310) 772-2529.
Wednesday, Aug. 22
Sa’adia ben Joseph al-Fayumi translated the Jewish
bible into Arabic and was appointed chief rabbi in Baghdad in 928. Today, the
Museum of Tolerance is holding a discussion group on this author of “The Book of
Beliefs and Opinions” and his contribution to the study of Jewish philosophy.
Free (members); $3 (nonmembers). 7:30 p.m. 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. For
reservations or more information, call (310) 552-4595 ext. 21.
Thursday, Aug. 23
The original combination of the woodwind, bass fiddle,
classical guitar, and percussion is what sets apart the jazz quartet, Oregon
from the rest. They have performed their mix of classical and jazz music at
Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the Berlin Jazz Festival. Glen Moore, who has
played with big music names such as Jim Morrison; percussionist Mark Walker,
with his distinctive African and Brazilian style; Ralph Towner on classical
guitar and Paul McCandless on woodwind make up the Grammy-nominated group. Free
admission. 7:30 p.m. The Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los
Angeles. For more information, call (310) 440-4500.
Friday, Aug. 24
Some countries did not realize the actual degree of
torture bestowed upon the Jews during World War II. The reason for this is
illustrated in the new musical “Musical Chairs”, with music provided by Academy
Award winner Joel Hirschhorn. The story is set in a concentration camp in
Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia. To fool the world into believing that the Jews
were treated well, the Germans hired a small orchestra to play music for the
secretly terrorized ghetto. Through the sweet melodies of a kindhearted and
promising pianist, the inhabitants become inspired to fight for survival. $25
(general admission). Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8
p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Through Sept. 23. Circle Theatre, 5269
Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. For tickets or more information, call (818)
Drawing on Life
The best running joke from the pilot of Fox’s upcoming “Larry Sanders”-style puppet satire “Greg the Bunny” centers on struggling cartoonist Jimmy Bender, played by Scott Green (from the Austin Powers movies). Whenever someone refers to Bender’s work as a comic book, he defensively corrects them: “It’s a gra-phic no-vel!”
For comic book aficionados, this joke resonates. Many independent comic book creators strive for respectability in an art form that has often reeked of lowbrow. Yet over the past two decades, independent cartoonists such as Harvey Pekar and the Hernandez brothers have accelerated the medium’s maturation by ignoring decades of superhero shenanigans and funny animal antics in favor of honest, personal fiction tackling flesh-and-blood issues — relationships, race relations, religion, politics, mortality, etc.
Now comes “The Golem’s Mighty Swing” (Drawn & Quarterly), a new graphic novel by James Sturm. “Golem” isn’t the first Jewish-flavored work by any stretch — for starters, see Art Spiegelman (the Pulitzer Prize-garnering “Maus”), and Ben Katchor (MacArthur recipient for “A Jew in New York”). But it is a departure for 35-year-old Sturm, whose 1990s work, while layered, began with comics that were more ostensibly lighthearted (“The Cereal Killings”) or esoteric (“Ween”). Sturm’s latest propels the writer-artist further down a more straightforward road where human drama and historical interest intertwine.
Set in the 1920s, “The Golem’s Mighty Swing” features the Stars of David, a struggling Jewish minor-league team that succumbs to a Chicago promoter’s scheme to enlist a team member to don the costume worn by the title character of the 1915 German silent film, “Der Golem.” This gimmick becomes a double-edged sword for the team, which succeeds in boosting attendance, but at a price that fans the flames of anti-Semitism.
Ultimately, “Golem’s Mighty Swing” becomes a metaphor for the dualities of being an American and a Jew.
Nostalgia and melancholy mingle in the air within Sturm’s lush black-and-white panels. The cartoonist conjures up crisp character design, exquisite draftsmanship and lively human drama.
With an official launch at next week’s annual San Diego Comic-Con International, the largest and most prestigious convention in the comics industry, the picture novella has already attracted attention well before its publication. Pages and preparatory sketches from “Golem” were recently displayed in Philadelphia at Temple Judea Museum’s “Beyond The Comic Image: Cartoon and Commentary” exhibit; baseball literary journal Elysian Fields Quarterly printed a 23-page excerpt in its spring issue; and the Generation J Web site posted 15 pages in March.
Initially, Sturm had a different objective in taking on “Golem.”
“I wanted to explore the immigrant experience and not specifically the Jewish experience, how old traditions live when faced with a totally new world,” Sturm said. “I had done a comic about a Christian revival and did a fair amount of research for that. Afterwards, I realized that I knew more about Christianity than my own religious-cultural background.”
Born in New York City and raised in Rockland County, Sturm did not experience a deep connection with his Jewish roots as a youth.
“I grew up in a Reform household that spoke of the importance of being Jewish but, when pressed for more specifics, could not produce any answers that were satisfactory,” the cartoonist said. “As a kid, any event that centered around synagogue or a Jewish holiday was a big drag.”
Early in his career, Sturm worked on the production side of one of the RAW anthologies. Assisting Spiegelman made him privy to sketches and revisions that went into “Maus.” But while the experience may have influenced his cartooning, it did not inspire him to inject overtly Jewish content into his comics.
Sturm eventually headed to Seattle, where he co-founded a hip weekly called “The Stranger,” which continues to be a showcase for cutting-edge cartoonists and illustrators.
Researching “The Golem’s Mighty Swing” inspired Sturm to reexamine his Judaism. That, and becoming a father. Sturm recently left Georgia, where he taught sequential art at Savannah College of Art and Design, for Hartland, Vt., where he and his wife, Rachel, are raising their infant daughter, Eva.
“Since last October, I started trying to observe Sabbath. Just give myself a day to forget about work, not answer the phone, and even step back from my artwork. It’s been wonderful,” said Sturm, who concedes that going to synagogue services still makes him uncomfortable. “My wife, Rachel, comes from a closer-knit family. Since Judaism centers around the family, having a family makes everything seem more Jewish.”
Currently, Sturm has two shorter stories in the works. One is a whimsical pantomime rumination on impending parenthood, another a Jewish folk tale about a weaver. For the moment, Sturm will focus on shepherding “Golem’s Mighty Swing” through the superhero-obsessed waters of the comic book industry. After all, the last guy to marry the Golem legend with an immigrant’s tale won the Pulitzer.
“I enjoyed [Michael Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay”] quite a bit,” Sturm said. “It’s hard for me to judge it on too critical of a level because so much of it was so familiar — immigrants, Jewish cartoonists drawing Golem graphic novels. It was like watching a home movie!”
For more information on James Sturm’s “The Golem’s Mighty Swing,” call your local comic book store or go to www.drawnandquarterly.com.
Painting Nightmares Away
Thea Robertshaw suffered recurring nightmares long after her parents hid Jews in Nazi-occupied Holland. “They were always about ominous, faceless soldiers waiting in the dark,” said the artist, whose dream paintings are on display at the University of Judaism and the ElevenSeven Gallery in Long Beach.
The soldier-phantoms emerge from flaming red trees in Robertshaw’s autobiographical painting “Her Story.” They lurk behind skeletal birches in “Ode to My Father 2,” in which the young Thea clings to her father as he bicycles down a deserted lane. The trees cast long shadows reminiscent of prison bars.
The piece recalls a time when Robertshaw, 67, felt imprisoned by fear.
“Every day before I went off to school, I received a lecture from my mother and father,” she recalled. “It was ‘Don’t tell anybody about the [Jews hidden] in this house or how many people live here. If you do, we’re all going to die.'”
In 1943, Robertshaw’s devout Christian father became concerned about Jews who were disappearing from the family’s working-class neighborhood in Eindoven, Holland. Soon thereafter, three Jews moved into the family’s tiny brick row house. There was Franz, the psychiatry student; Mr. Fruhling, a portly, nervous little shoe salesman who chattered incessantly; and a young woman, Bep De Vries, a slender concert pianist who had taught at a famous Berlin conservatory.
Whereas Anne Frank’s family hid out in a secret annex in Amsterdam, Thea’s house didn’t have a special hiding place — only a tiny basement, which the refugees scurried to whenever a stranger rang the doorbell. Robertshaw knew the penalty for hiding Jews was death; her anxiety bothered her more than the malnutrition that caused boils to erupt all over her body.
Nevertheless, she formed a close friendship with Bep, who gave her music lessons on the family’s rickety upright piano. But about 18 months after the Jews arrived, Thea’s mother had a premonition of danger. She managed to secure alternate hiding places for the two Jewish men, but found nothing available for Bep. Three weeks later, Robertshaw came home from school to find two Gestapo agents in the living room. “They held their guns to my head, then they went straight to the basement,” she recalls. “I’ll never forget the sad, frightened look on Bep’s face as they took her away.”
Before long, underground contacts informed the family that Bep De Vries had been gassed at Auschwitz.
One pale, gaunt man with a shaved head ate ravenously at the dining room table. “I made him batch after batch of pancakes,” Robertshaw said. “I thought he was never going to stop.”
The war continued to haunt Robertshaw even after she emigrated to the United States at the age of 18. Her heart raced for no apparent reason, and she suffered from a psychosomatic ailment that paralyzed her esophagus.
Nightmares jarred her awake in the wee hours. Relief came only after she began to paint her dreams in the mid-1970s. For example, “Child on a Bridge,” reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” depicts young Thea shrieking as a bomber approaches.
“Once I painted the dream, I never had it again,” said Robertshaw, an art professor at Long Beach City College. “I exorcised my nightmares by painting them.” Robertshaw also painted canvases that drew on her wartime memories, such as the time her mother locked her toys in a cupboard, then sold them off for food.
But it was only in the past few months that she mustered the courage to paint her most traumatic memory — the arrest of her beloved Bep.
She began the piece when she realized she was still obsessing over what she knew De Vries had endured in Auschwitz. Within a few hours, she had outlined the painting: Bep being led away as the dog-like figure of Anubis, the Egyptian god of the dead, snarls from under a piano. “I cried for days while completing the piece,” Robertshaw recalls. “Then I realized I had previously been too frightened to cry. This painting brought home the tragedy. I was finally able to feel the grief.”
Robertshaw is one of six artists whose paintings are displayed at “Dreams & Reality,” an exhibit through July 1 at the University of Judaism, (310) 440-1203. Her one-woman show, “Between Worlds,” is at the ElevenSeven Gallery through June 30, (562) 590-6535.
That’s a Mezzuzah?
Late November and early December is Chanukah festival time in L.A. This weekend, no less than 30 artisans from all over the globe will converge on West L.A.’s Temple Isaiah for the Festival of Jewish Artisans, which celebrates its second decade this year. Making her first appearance at the annual event will be metal artist Aimée Golant – a young artist not much older than the Festival itself – who fashions mezuzot and menorahs in a quasi-abstract style.
Now based in San Francisco, Golant, 27, is actually a local girl who grew up in L.A.’s Carthay Circle. In her work, she not only draws on inspiration from her grandparents’ Polish heritage (grandpa is from Chmielnik, grandma is from Lodz), but from their history – the Beverlywood residents are Holocaust survivors. During the war, Golant’s grandfather, who had a reputation for working with his hands, was chosen to work at a Nazi office as a machinist, while her grandmother accompanied him, employed as a maid. Golant said that when her grandparents first saw her work, they couldn’t believe that the Holocaust had touched her life.
Golant, who attended San Francisco State, has always felt connected to her Jewishness. She went to Hebrew school as a youth and lived in Israel for two months when she was 15. At a Holocaust museum there, she saw concentration camp footage that she said moved her more than a “Schindler’s List” ever could. And she relishes the fact that her pieces can be something of an enigma.
“People who aren’t Jewish don’t have the foggiest idea what they are,” she said, “and Jews sometimes look at them and say, ‘That’s a mezuzah?'”
Since 1998, Golant has been working on her own, attending trade shows and selling her art wholesale to galleries, museum shops and museums. And her work will, quite literally, reach unprecedented heights with her “barbed wire mezuzah,” which was commissioned by the 1939 Club to be taken into space by an Israeli astronaut who wants to take along a symbol of the Holocaust.
The 20th Annual Festival of Jewish Artisans takes place Nov. 18-19. An opening concert, “Celebrate,” will feature Rev. Andrae Crouch and Cantor Evan Kent. For more information, call (310) 277-2772. Sample art can be viewed atwww.TempleIsaiah.com. Aimée Golant’s work can be seen at www.aimeegolant.com.
It’s not always easy to contend with an artist who decides to bite the hand that feeds him. But that’s what happened recently as the Skirball Cultural Center opened its current show, a triptych called “The History of Matzah: The Story of the Jews,” with a presentation by the artist, flamboyant Larry Rivers, before an audience of some 350 people.
Rivers, who is nothing if not irreverent, proceeded to insult everyone from the staff member running the slides to many of the guests who were intrepid enough to raise questions. The audience refused to be guyed, however; they laughed at Rivers’ numerous jokes and stayed until he abruptly ended the lecture with a gruff, “Alright, let’s go home.”
To anyone familiar with Rivers, 73, this should not have come as a surprise. Rivers, born Yitzroch Loiza Grossberg in the Bronx, a first generation American, escaped family and neighborhood just as his parents had escaped the pogroms of Eastern Europe. He took up the saxophone (he is a gifted player), changed his name, studied art. From the beginning, his was an outsized personality, and he was at the center of what could be called “the scene” in the New York art and poetry world of the 1950s.
His friends included musicians and writers and, of course, fellow artists, most of them leading abstract expressionists of the day. He also, it turned out, was a superb draftsman. He hit upon the idea of larky themes (e.g., Washington crossing the Delaware) and of leaving his mistakes — or at least some of them — within the paintings.
The paintings tended to be large in scale and narrative in theme. Biographical figures found their way into the work; as did jokes and personal references. It was celebrated by some critics; attacked as illustration by others. But criticism aside, Rivers himself was always at the center of a particular social world, one that included hip musicians as well as writers and such poets as Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg. He was known as much for his personality as for his audacious art.
He is currently raising eyebrows at the Skirball with his glibly titled “The History of Matzah: The Story of the Jews.” The 10-by-14-foot canvases depict 3,000 years of Jewish history, from Moses to the Diaspora, pogroms to the Lower East Side. The densely-packed panels are painted against a backdrop that looks, in places, like matzo. The piece utilizes Rivers’ technique of “recycling” images from Old Master paintings and photographs, and his penchant for visual punning.
Moses is depicted as he appears in a Rembrandt painting, except the features are those of Rivers’ jovial, elderly cousin, Aaron Hochberg. Michelangelo’s “David” is circumcised and has Semitic features, resembling those of the artist. The czar of Russia is shown with a knife through his forehead; and a figure of the child violin prodigy, Yehudi Menuhin, is capped by a halo.
At the Skirball, Rivers joked that he is the result of the Jewish migration from Eastern Europe to America — and of his parents “doing it.”
He told The Journal that his parents sent him to a Workmen’s Circle school, where he encountered “a lot of strict-looking men with beards who made my life slightly uncomfortable.” He despised the “bad rabbi art” he saw in the neighborhood.
He changed his name one evening in the ’40s, while he was playing a jazz concert in the Catskills. An emcee chanced to introduce him as “Larry Rivers,” and the name stuck. “It felt more comfortable,” Rivers admits. “In America at that time, you were very conscious of the fact that a great deal of the population hated you.”
By 1953, Rivers had become an artist and had burst onto the art scene with his brash painting after Emanuel Leutze’s “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” &’009;
Over the next two decades, he also created a handful of Jewish-themed works, some of them based upon photographs of his family. He was “commercial and careful” about the style, however. “At that time, everyone was hung up on the ‘avant-garde’ and the idea of how you paint,” Rivers said. “Artists who painted Jewish subjects weren’t taken very seriously. You’re sensitive when you’re in that world, so I felt that if I dealt with Jewish subject matter, I had to do it peripherally.”
Rivers was in his late 50s when two New York art dealers commissioned him to do a history of the Jews in the same epic spirit as his vast 1965 assemblage, “The History of the Russian Revolution.” Because he was daunted by the task, he sought a Columbia University professor to help him make a “list” of salient historical events. He consulted his friend, the author Irving Howe, and studied hundreds of photographs provided by a researcher at The Jewish Museum in New York.
Rivers began the piece by projecting some matzo on a canvas and painting it on. In panel two, he playfully pays homage to his patrons, the art collectors Sivia and Jeffrey Loria, by painting their “donor” portraits inside an 18th-century Lithuanian wooden synagogue. Sivia is shown sitting in the women’s balcony, per Orthodox custom. Panel three ends before the Holocaust, Rivers suggests, because he ran out of room. &’009;
The artist hasn’t received all accolades for the piece, however. When “History of Matzah” debuted at the Jewish Museum in 1984, The New York Times compared it to the kind of illustrated history book one reads in religious school. An observer at the Skirball called the paintings “retro.”
Rivers, for his part, admits that painting the highly-illustrational piece “was scary for a person of my generation.” He initially thought of exhibiting the triptych in Brooklyn, he quips, “because I didn’t think friends of mine would go to Brooklyn.” &’009;
However, he feels the manner in which he paints rescues the work from “looking like a post office mural.” And, as he once told The New York Times, “Why can’t a person…do something that doesn’t have to do with the onwards and upwards of art?”
“The History of Matzah” is on exhibit through May. For more information, call (310) 440-4500.
Collins’ “Survivor” and Rudner’s Laugh Stop
After 76 years, Harold Collins is finally getting theretrospective he deserves. The product of a passionate andwell-trained artist, Collins’ sculpture, paintings, murals andbronzes are on display through Oct. 8 at the Long Beach JewishCommunity Center. The opening of his “Sixty Years of Art” exhibitiondrew more visitors to the center than any other gallery event.
His Judaica-themed pieces, whether of Moses or Zechariah orHolocaust survivors, seem to strain from within with a propheticpassion. His more universal works, such as “Animal Fantasies” or”Lovers,” display a kind and sensuous embrace of life and nature.
“Most of what I do is about social justice, peace, universalthemes,” Collins tells Up Front.
Born in New York, Collins began sketching at age 5, encouraged bya grandfather who recognized his talent. After attending Cooper UnionArt School on a full four-year scholarship, he shipped off for armyservice, participating in the D-Day landing on Omaha Beach.
Upon returning stateside, he tried his hand as a commercial artistbut soon gave that up to get a master’s in art education from NewYork University. Collins has taught and made art for most of sixdecades now. His works are in the permanent collections of theSkirball Cultural Center’s museum, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’sMuseum of Tolerance and several synagogues, churches, hospitals,universities and restaurants.
Call (562) 426-7601 for more information. — Robert Eshman,Associate Editor
Rudner’s Laugh Stop
Comedian Rita Rudner won’t tell any of her Jewish jokes. She’ssaving them for her Sept. 25 performance at a benefit luncheon forthe Julia Ann Singer Center at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, she tells UpFront.
Actually, Rudner is not known for Jewish humor. She has made awinning career with her daft, demure, wide-eyed, spacey observationsabout life’s banal grotesqueries, all delivered with the sweet voiceof a little girl lost. Her tiny, wicked smile punctuates punch linesabout the absurdities of diets, cosmetics, banks and, most often, thegender gap.
“When you want to break up with a man,” she advises women, “don’tsay, ‘This isn’t working out’ or ‘I don’t want to see you again.’Just say: ‘I love you. I want to marry you. I want to have yourchildren.’ Sometimes they leave skid marks.”
Rudner decided to do the Singer benefit luncheon after touring thecenter, which is in Cheviot Hills. She was impressed by the81-year-old outpatient facility that helps abused, emotionallydisturbed and learning-disabled children and their families rebuildtheir lives. She learned about the innovative therapeutic school forchildren, met counselors in the family therapy program and vowed todo what she could to help.
What the 41-year-old comic will not joke about at theluncheon is her real mother (she’s made up a fake one for her act),because that topic is not funny. Her mother died of cancer whenRudner was 13, and her attorney father “worked all the time” to paythe accrued medical bills. An only child, she found herself alonemuch of the time, rarely the focus of attention — and “that’s onereason I was drawn to show business,” she told Parade magazine.
The teen-age Rudner immersed herself in her ballet dancing,performing in ballet companies, but, at home, the memories of hermother’s illness remained too vivid. After graduating high school atthe age of 15, she gave her father an ultimatum: Either he would lether seek her fortune in New York or she would run away.
Several months later, she landed her first job, dancing in theroad company of “Zorba,” and Rudner went on to work in Broadway showsand TV commercials, announcing “to the country that I have bad breathand problem perspiration,” she quips. By the early 1980s, her careerwas stagnating, and she turned to stand-up comedy on a lark.
At the time, there were few female comic role models, save theself-deprecating Phyllis Diller variety. Rudner, for her part,studied the recordings of George Burns and Jack Benny, quietly tooknotes during other comics’ acts, and, before long, she was lamentingher love life onstage. “My last boyfriend was very noncommittal,” sheonce remarked. “We were playing tennis one afternoon, and he couldn’teven say, ’30-love.'”
Yet Rudner’s story has an happily-ever-after ending. She marriedBritish producer Martin Bergman and rose to the top of her field,frequently appearing on “Late Night with David Letterman” and infilms co-written with her husband.
But, no, she doesn’t do Jewish jokes for mainstream audiences.”You don’t talk Torah and get laughs in Vegas,” she says. “There, badtoupees are more prevalent than yarmulkes.”
For tickets and information about the luncheon, call (310)202-0669. — Naomi Pfefferman, Senior Writer