A Great Jewish Painter
During my last visit to Israel I was exposed to two great Jewish artists. One was Hermann Struck, whose exhibition in Haifa was described in one of my previous columns ("Hermann Struck: Jewish Artist, 1876-1944," July 8, 1994). The other one was Boruch Nachshon, whose visit to me was one of the most memorable experiences I had in Israel. Nachshon has been called the most important Jewish artist of our generation in that he expresses the deepest layers of the Jewish soul and tradition in his deeply symbolic and significant paintings, which at the same time display an outstanding artistic talent.
Nachshon, wearing a beret and beard, revealed to me his unusual history. Born in Haifa, he already displayed a love for art when he was 3 years old. As a young boy he was introduced to Solomon Neroni, a disciple of the famous French impressionist, Paul Cezanne. He spent 7 years in this great master's presence. But his turning point came when he encountered Lubavitch. This happened through hearing the nostalgic, haunting nigunim (melodies) of Lubavitch, which drew him to the deep world of the Tanya, which revealed to Nachshon the "essence of the Torah." This led to his longing for the mystical.
He decided to travel to Brooklyn to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe in person. He was privileged to have a yechidus (private session) with the Rebbe, which lasted three hours. The Rebbe discussed with him art and art's potential message, about which the Rebbe had a great deal to tell him. In fact the Rebbe was so impressed with the young artist, that he arranged a scholarship for him to study painting in New York.
Back in Israel, Nachshon and his family settled in Hebron after the Six Day War in 1967. The city fascinated Nachshon. He roamed all over its hills and dales, discovering its ancient spirit. He savored its holy air, permeated by the presence, for over 3,6000 years, of sainted Jews, starting with our father Abraham.
Nachshon painted Hebron and its inhabitants incessantly. He rented a room across from the Maarat Machpelah (Cave of the Patriarchs) and established there the first-ever art gallery in the holy city of Hebron. His penetration into mysticism grew from day to day. An old chasid kept telling him that in order to experience G-d's presence in Hebron, he must read and re-read the Book of Psalms daily. As an artist, he was waiting for the kind of visions that could be translated into visual art. Finally, he had an overpowering experience, which he describes as follows: "Once during the morning prayers at the Cave of the Patriarchs, the heavens opened up before my eyes and I saw visions beyond our plain existence. Since then, the heavens have opened up for me on numerous occasions, and what I have seen I have translated into shapes and colors."
He started traveling to exhibit his paintings in various cities, starting with London, thereafter, Australia, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Argentina -- and, of course, New York.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe encouraged him to exhibit his paintings near 770 Eastern Parkway, the Lubavitcher headquarters, and the Rebbe himself -- in an unprecedented act -- visited the exhibition for a long time and invited Nachshon to another extended yechidus. During this yechidus the Rebbe suggested to Nachshon to paint biblical themes, especially on the lives of the Patriarchs. The Rebbe's remark to Nachshon was "Many generations have passed, yet art has still not reached it's true Tikkun (fulfillment and perfection in accordance with the Torah)." Nachshon has made it his life's mission to fulfill the Rebbe's wishes and dreams in the area of art and aesthetics.
Nachshon has also developed a unique technique of expressing his ideas through colors. He depicts the struggle between good and evil by contrasting dark, wild beasts for evil with flowers and a shofar -- in light colors -- for goodness and survival. The theme of redemption is symbolized by candles shining brightly. The shape of his objects could almost be called surrealistic. However, these are not the way-out, unbalanced images of Salvador Dali, but sharply delineated images and representations. The Rebbe himself is sometimes the central figure in his paintings, surrounded by lofty birds and sunlight.
Nachshon said this about G-d's creation and his own experience of it:
"To stand silently covered by a Tallit and crowned with Tefillin, near the Cave of the Patriarchs and to be inside the letters of the prayers, to see them shining and to begin to see the meaning of the scenery developing from word to word ... a scenery of infinite light that was in a state of constant flux, and to see the waters of G-d's wisdom, the infinite influence that comes from above, and to have the will to see more and more ..."
The strength of Nachshon's painting is so outspoken, that it has happened to him that a completely secular person may step up to him and ask to buy one of his paintings by saying, "Your painting reminds me that I am a Jew." Such strength seldom flows from the work of the many other Jewish artists who have conquered the world of art in the last 100 years. Nachshon comments on that aspect of his art: "My art aims at awakening the slumberer -- to arouse the Jewish soul and help connect it with its Source." His strong belief in the coming of Mashiach, of course, also shines through his paintings and gives the viewer, as one observer commented, an emotional overview of the wonders that await us in the Messianic age.
Although Nachshon has not been in the United States in several years, it is my hope that a gallery will soon be found that can exhibit his outstanding works, which will without a doubt attract the widest attention -- not only in the Jewish world -- but also in the world of the leading experts in the arts in general.
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