By Orly Goldkeleng,  Maariv, Israel, 2004

The exhibition Dream, Memory, Love of the work by Michael Rogatchi has a powerful impact on many people visiting the gallery and exhibition place of the Gerard Bechar Centre in  the centre of Jerusalem. Some of the compositions originated from the artist’s dreams. In these compositions, like in all his works, he finds a room for hope. “One of the works is based on a dream that comes from my childhood, with a mare lost in an empty concentration camp of Gulag that has been abandoned recently at the time. I was feeding that poor, hungry and lost mare with small pieces of sugar, and I wished her very well. In the work Capriccio coming from that experience and the dreams about it, the main motif is hope. And my hope is in the wisdom of mankind. Hope can be found even in the most desperate place. Our wish to combat evil, even if it means , as it happened, that we would be fighting it alone, still is ordained with hope” – says the artist.

King David. Oil on canvas. 90 x 70. 2003.

The Memory part of the three-fold exhibition is the most impressive one. It consists the works dedicated to the memory on Holocaust and to the Bible.  Sometimes, there is something difficult to hold in these works, something so painful in the artist’s choices. His King David, for example, does not look to be at the pinnacle of his splendor, or at the height of his youth. The moment that the artist has chosen for his work on King David is the moment when the King heard of the death of his beloved son Absalom, just prior bursting in uncontrollable tears. “In my paintings, I would like to commemorate a certain, powerful moments. In the case of King David, I tried to understand what he went through, this wise and pure man, at the time of crisis, how did he cope with such terrible experience”. Rogatchi’s King David is painted looking at a side corridor, his face bereft and his right hand slumped. “At though all his strength has been taken from him” – comments the artist. It is an astonishing, mesmerising work.

The love part of the exhibition is attracting and gentle. The most attractive and gentle figures there is two women, the artist’s wife and his mother. Their smiles on his portraits of them are very fine and special, their expression is meaningful and beautiful. “According to the Jewish scriptures, a man’s mother and his wife are the centre of his life. There are the most significant shapers of his character’, he explains. “So, those works are both natural and immediate for me, but it also provides me with extra light, metaphorically”. The portrait of the artist’s Mother inter-connects the different parts of the exhibition, as Rogatchi opted to resolve his Mother’s portrait as he remembers her from his childhood , when she was still a young woman. Around his Mother’s face, there are little kids from a Yiddish lullaby that Michael’s mother used to him.

Lullaby. Portrait of the Artist’s Mother. 90 x 70 cm. 1996. the Rogatchi Art Collection.

“Dream, Memory and Love are the three paths that lead a person throughout one’s life”, says the artist – ” All three paths are essential for coping with a future. Without memory, where have we come from and what is our history? In some cases, due to different circumstances, some of our Jewish people in many generations were forced or did it themselves, with intention to forget their Jewish roots. Usually, a very high price had been paid for such efforts. I believe that especially in the case of Jewish history and heritage, it is simply impossible to put it behind.

Holocaust theme is very prominent in this exhibition which is not that usual case for an art shows in Israel, especially in the case of contemporary artists. Michael’s family and his wife Inna Rogatchi-Bujanover families did lost many members to the Shoah, and the history of the Shoah is literally very close to the artist. 

The organisers of this large exhibition, the Municipality of Jerusalem and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, emphasised in interview with us that ‘this exhibition of leading contemporary Jewish artist from Finland  has been shown with great success around the world. It had been in many countries before Israel and will be shown in many countries after. As you can see, the themes of the works of Michael’s at this exhibition are predominantly Jewish. The more valuable, in our view, is that fact that the international recognition and praise of this exhibition and its works in many countries is based not on the fact that the artist is Jewish or that he paints Jewish subjects or reflects on Jewish themes, but on the artistic merits and level of the works. This is a special sign of this exhibition and of this artist” – said to us Yossi Shochat who is responsible for organising the exhibition in Jerusalem. 

This caused our interest, too. How has the exhibition been received by non-Jews in the world who visited your shows? – we asked the artist. “With a great favour – answered Rogatchi. – Of course, there are haters of Jews here and there, but most visitors have been quite impressed by the compositions. The work Final Solution ( in which shattered glasses and a tossed away streimel on a spotless Polish street are depicted) was the favourite in Poland, despite its being quite harsh, particularly for them. For Jews and non-Jews alike”. 

Final Solution. Oil on canvas. 88 x 80. 2000.

“is there a difference between the responses of Jews in Israel and Jews in Diaspora?” – we asked the artist. – ” I think that there is a certain difference, – answers Michael. – I do not think that my interest in the topic of Holocaust is exceptional. Shoah is the part of our genetic memory, in my understanding. As I can seeing it, the difference might be is that Jews in Israel are busy with surviving in numerous military conflicts, with an immediate and present danger. In this situation, it might be harder to focus on the tragedies of the past”. Rogatchi believes that his special attention to the theme of Holocaust is only natural. “The theme is simply essential for us” – believes the artist. 

This exhibition is astonishing also by its variability. Among the works, there is a great Bolero composition, exceptional artistically, stunning achievement of the artist. The large composition is comprised by 21 parts which are assembled in three large panels. All of it forms a single entity which , like in the Bolero form and step, returns to the point of origin. In this composition, Rogatchi examines the variety of emotional aspects between matador and a bull which are a prototypes of many protagonists: man and an animal, force and defence, aggression and compassion. ” Bullfighting is much more than a sport, it is a model and reflection of life – that’s why I choose it to examine many of life’s aspects’ – explains the artist. – In it – and in the composition – you are see a relationship between a man and an animal, or metaphorically, between our human and animal souls which are in every of us. You can see an every type of rivalry. You can also see a victimhood. And the choices we all have to make at different stages of our life which one can imagine in the form of a bolero.” 

The astonishing parts of this superbly impressive composition are the works where a bull is reflected in a man’s eyes and visa versum. And the one of the most emotional parts is a great portrait of a horse with blinded eyes.

Bolero. Fragment. Oil on canvas. 2000-2002.

Rogatchi says that he does not start his work until he sees the complete picture with many of its details, if not all of them, in his imagination. In his understanding of art in general, imagination, and ability to it , is a key-element of the real art. The artist works in his individual way when he is working on a certain canvas for months while finishing it then in a couple of days. 

Very often, his inspiration comes from the Bible, he says. Reading the Bible and other Jewish scriptures form in his a kind of an associative network that leads to his best paintings, he believes. “There is not a single random letter in our scriptures, and it is the source of life both literally and metaphorically. The more I am reading and trying to learn the Bible and other Jewish spiritual works, the more interest is risen for it in me. And it does affect my work as an artist directly” – he said. 

Among most original works in the exhibition, there is Clean Page oil canvas which is painted as a white sheet that it s not completely white, torn here and there, and from the teared parts, a glimpses of life can be seen. “When a child is born, the whole world is a white sheet for him or her. As his life progresses, more silhouettes are added, one after another. All these new shadows can been seen, from an artistic perspective, and philosophically too, as yet another shade of white. When a person passes away, the whole world resumes the same white perfection that he knew in his infancy. The ability to contain all the colours in white is metaphoric. This is a double-metaphor: of attitude to life, philosophically, and of creativity.  The fortunate ones among us are able to express their selves within their compositions, adding colours to the first and last Clear Pages which is, really, just one page”, – explains the artist.

Clean Page. Oil on canvas. 100 x 84 cm. 1996.

Michael says: “The attempt to expand the boundaries of mankind is the true challenge of every Jewish artist. In my work, I am trying to capture the movement of the soul in artworks, rather than just a physical movement. In every of my works, I am motivated  by the aspiration to express the various sides of a beauty of my people”. 

There is no doubt that Michael Rogatchi is successful in this noble ambition. His art is a very powerful creation of Judaism on canvas, right here and right now.