I have found inspiration in the work of a few Jewish artists. While not necessarily religious in practice, they can’t avoid the presence of God in their culture and references to Him are addressed in their work.
My interest in Jewish art was increased through reading Chaim Potok’s two “Asher Lev” novels. They are the story of a Jew from an orthodox family who struggles with the contradiction his extraordinary artistic talent creates in his life. His art appears to pull against everything he and his family believes but he feels compelled to use his talent to portray his own perception of truth.
There are probably many parallels between the struggles of the fictional life of Lev and actual Jewish artists, who have played a role in modern art history.
One who interests me is Marc Chagall, who often used a collection of seemingly unrelated symbols in a single painting but somehow made them fit together. I’ve tried a couple of times to paint something inspired by him but every attempt seems to take a different direction and the end result has nothing in common with his work. But that’s a good thing. His work provides a spark to start a project but the resulting painting isn’t a mere copy of what he did.
My most recent painting started out with his work in mind but took on its own life the more I worked on it.
Currently a favourite artist is Samuel Bak, a holocaust survivor whose work is strongly influenced by his childhood experiences. He is another with a personal collection of repeated symbols. Perhaps his most moving/challenging are those he has based on this well-known photo:
Some of Bak’s paintings inspired by the photo are in an exhibition catalogue that can be downloaded from this link http://www.puckergallery.com/pdf/Bak.Icon.2008.pdf
I have been reading a little about Bak and his paintings and have seen a video featuring him. There are several to be found on youtube.
Bak starts his work with detailed drawings on the canvas. That is something I haven’t tried yet, but I am keen to give a go to see what I can achieve with a more structured approach. So far my painting method has been very organic, trial and error, seeing what works and what doesn’t as I paint. It can be a frustrating experience, but when things start to work out it is very satisfying. On the occasions when I have tried to plan what I’m going to do it has never worked out the way I hoped, so I have mostly avoided planning too much beyond starting with a very basic idea. That idea sometimes doesn’t survive but will transform into something else as I paint.