Michael Rogatchi’s special interview to The JerUSAlem Connection Report magazine, Washington, D.C. was given by the artist in March 2017. 

The full text of the interview can be also be read below: 

Artist Michael Rogatchi:  “Mirror Always Contain the Qualities of Its Owners”

Michael Rogatchi on his Zion Waltz Series and His Art on Jewish Heritage
Special Interview – for The JerUSAlem Connection Report
The Rogatchi Foundation (C)

March 5, 2017

Washington, D.C., the USA

Renowned European master Michael Rogatchi has recently completed his important art series of large oil canvases Zion Waltz with which he was invited by the Ministry of Culture of Israel to commemorate the 50 th anniversary of the re-unification of Jerusalem in May 2017.

In his interview, Michael Rogatchi is talking on his new art series, Jerusalem, Jewish people and the Jewish theme in his art.

TJC: You have created your new Zion Waltz series of 15 large oil paintings in commemoration of the 50the anniversary of the re-unification of Jerusalem, which will occur in May 2017. Why have you decided to commemorate it in a way of ‘a concert’ as your series has so strong musical message in it?

MR : Zion Waltz series of oil canvases was born as continuation of my previous series on the Jewish theme which also had happened to be musical one, Jewish Melody but was done in the different technique, as the mixed media works on the cotton paper. That series was created back in 2013 upon the invitation to participate with solo exhibition at truly special event, the IV World Litvak Congress in Vilnius, Lithuania. The timing of the Congress was chosen to commemorate of ever emotional for us date; it was the 70 th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto. And my thoughts for the Jewish Melody were to commemorate this date not only by black silence, but by the Melody; by beautiful Jewish melodies which are singing and speaking powerfully, however sad they can be, against and despite any efforts to destruction of our people. We are in-tuned in those melodies because beauty, soul talk, reflections means life and memory, not death and destruction.

The response by the public – and the Lithuanian public is very sophisticated and demanding in the best way – was so positive that instead of a month, the Jewish Melody was exhibited there for a half of an year. Later on, the series was shown, also very successfully, in Tallinn, Estonia, and was inaugurated there at the special event celebrating both the Day of Jerusalem and the anniversary of the splendid Tallinn New Synagogue. Later this year, we hope to bring the Jewish Melody and some my other works, to London, for the special pre-High Holidays exhibition at the great Western Marble Arch Synagogue known as ‘the London address of the World’s Jewry’; the synagogue where Rabbi Lord Sacks is administrating High Holidays, and where our dear friend brilliant Rabbi Lionel Rosenfeld, the leader of the congregation, is directing the fantastic Shabbaton Choir.

Coming back to the Zion Waltz, I can say that when I started to work and think on the series to created for the commemoration of the 50 th anniversary of the re-unification of Jerusalem, the date which is so very special and close to my heart during all my life, the Jewish Melody, the principle and the motto of that series, in has developed into the new series, Zion Waltz.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Zion Waltz. 2016.

To explain the two core elements in the title – and the thought behind it -, the meaning of Zion does not need an explanation, I believe. It is the core of our belonging; it is both a physical place and the most powerful symbol of the covenant between the Creator and Jewish nation. It is also the proud symbol of the very essence of Judaism. Waltz – because of the perpetual character of the dance, and also because of its beauty, romanticism and its engaging character and power.

Once you start to waltz, you just cannot stop, and, metaphorically speaking, dancing around Zion, it is what we, Jewish people, are doing non-stop, with love and unity. Looking back on the Jewish history, I do think that the moment of unity of the people who were receiving the Torah at the Mount Sinai, had been the most important quality and key-moment in our history. Thinking throughout our long and so dramatic history, I do think that the unity – or absence of it – had always been its core element at any stage of our long way. I do believe that every Jewish person shares a very special attachment to that moment, to the moment of the receiving Torah at the Sinai. I believe that this special feeling is present in every Jew, to different degrees, naturally. And even those Jewish people who does not recognise this feeling in their daily-life, they still have it in their sub-consciousness, I believe. This is what unites us all, this is the foundation of our unity as a nation, as the people. And this is what I meant to celebrate in my new series of works, the celebration of the core – and the source – of our unity.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Symphony Rain. Homage to Jewish musicians. 2016.

TJC: Why have you chosen to create your message in this series via images of music? To paint music is a very uneasy pattern, with a lot of pitfalls on the way of an artist.

MR: I did not think about pitfalls, frankly. To create works on music in celebration of spiritual patterns or historical events has come rather naturally to me. Maybe, because I know, and I feel that music embodies the soul of the people. I am thinking on our shofar ( ram-horn trumpet) very often. I have several shofars at home, and even made one by myself. Shofar and its sound is such distinctive bond for us, Jewish people; if to think about it, it is simply amazing how a sound could become such physically palpable bond in important spiritual dimension. We know that shofar sounded tremendously at Sinai at the time of the giving Torah; we know that shofar sounded as the most important and critically timely messenger of hope at the moment of Akedah ( sacrificing of Isaac). We know that shofar sounds basically as a metronome of our lives, marking our annual circle every Rosh-Hashanah ( Jewish New Year).

To me, a sound of shofar exists in any Jewish music, traditional or modern. It is there. It adds that special message which is so characteristic to our music. And for me it is important to connect the first sound of the shofar at the Mount Sinai with any sound of any Jewish music afterwards.

There is no occidental that music always had and still has such central place in the education and upbringing of children in Jewish families. I can say that music has become a part of the Jewish psyche, and very substantial part of it – that’s why I am painting so much music in my works on Jewish theme and in general,too. Do you know that every Jew, would it be a man or a woman, do have his or her own nigun ( tune, melody)? Some people are aware with it, and some are not, but it does exist. In my case, as long as I remember myself since my very early age, I always had and still have my nigun. And I am often hearing my wife’s nigun even when she herself does not notice while she sings it, it often comes semi-consciously.

I can tell you that everybody’s personal nigun varies as one’s life is going on, it changes. In the case of this personal, individual melody, it seems that the music originates from nowhere. Or rather, as if from nowhere. But I know that it comes from the Creator. It is given to the Jewish person as a signal of recognition on who we are. I am so ever grateful and am ever fascinated with existence of this beautiful, unique connection.

I believe that music is a natural source where from many other essential patterns of life originates, and that’s why I never tired if painting it.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Yiddish Son. Homage to Elie Wiesel. 2011.

TJC: Elie Wiesel once said that ‘a simple Chassidic melody is more important’ for him ‘than melodies of Mozart, Bach and Beethoven together’. How do you rely to that?

MR: It is absolutely the same for me. We had a big honour to know Elie Wiesel, and to me, he is the one of the greatest men on this planet. I love music, and Mozart is my beloved composer who is also very important for me as for the artist. I have created a special image of Amadeus in early 1990s, and since then am working on this image in many of my works. I also love Vivaldi and Bach, and some other classic composers and the giants of modern music, as Piazzolla, for example.

But Elie Wiesel said it for me, too: I simply adore Chassidic music. It gives me such a joy, unlimited joy, and it is crucially important for me as it speaks, sings directly to my soul. I have several works in which I tried to express this feeling and my gratitude to the kindness projected by the best of Chassidism, and I am very glad that the one of such works belongs to the family of our dear friend Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetzki, the one of the most brilliant Rabbies of our times.

When you are listening Mozart – which I am doing it all my life, and am working while listening to Mozart, Bach and Vivaldi, but Mozart the most, – you are having a cosmos opened for you by his genius. And still, Mozart is very important, essential, but one element of your life, in my case, at least. Mozart, and the other great composers are self-contained cosmoses. But when you are listening to a simple Chassidic melody, it brings you into the world which is your life in generations. It is your world, and you are feeling it in a way that only your genetic memory can tell you about.

Interestingly, in one of the Mozart’s concerts, I believe, in his Concert 26th for violin, there is one part very much resembling a part of the birkat hamozon (grace after meal) melody. I was very intrigued to discover this semblance. It would be write to say that all Jewish music as a whole is essential part of my life.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Under the Sky of Jerusalem. 2016.

TJC: Speaking on some works from your new series, we have seen quite different Jerusalem in your new work Under the Jerusalem Skies in comparison with Jerusalem from your well-known My Stones. Jerusalem work which is at the Art Collection of the Municipality of Jerusalem. Can you tell us about it?

MR: Yes, it is quite different Jerusalem, and most likely, it is the sign of my own maturing and the way how I see the most important for me place in the world. But there is also some history in the first work that you’ve mentioned. My Stones.

Jerusalem was created in mid 1990s when Hurva synagogue that was intentionally blown up in 1948 by the Arab Legion, had been not restored yet. That arch which was left of once largest Ashkenazi synagogue in Jerusalem and which stayed in the skies in so tragic exclamation, had never left my mind. I simply could not avoid creating that work which now is at the Art Collection of the Municipality of Jerusalem.

But even in that dark and dramatic work, the main element for me there was the opening in skies with immense light coming out of there, and the sun with its mighty rays which was under the walls of Jerusalem. Fortunately, the Hurva Synagogue has been finally restored in 2010 – and Rabbi Kaminetzki has played the pivotal role in making it happened. Today it is the one of the most memorable sights of the heart of Jerusalem. It is also the beautiful sign of victory of our Jewish spirit.

Twenty years on, I created the other Jerusalem on my new canvas. In this new work, there is a lot of light, there is encompassing gentleness, and there is also a lot of symbols. This is Jerusalem of joy and happiness – as we are celebrating the 50 th anniversary of the re-unification of the capital of our state. I painted twelve olives there as the symbol of our Twelve Tribes; there are very many faces you can find as if engraved into the unique Jerusalem stones; there is a ram from Akedah, too; and a semblance to the Hebrew letters. Everyone in this painting is united because we all belong to the same nation; everything there is inter-connected, and everything originates from the certain source in the unifying way.

It is only Jerusalem olives’ leaves can embrace the sun, in my understanding. Such understanding gives me a joy which I tried to put on my canvas. It is very enlightened, youthful piece, I would say; the piece which tells on one’s love as it is felt in one’s youth – all is light, all is joy, all is nothing but unlimited gentleness, because it is with this kind of love we love our Jerusalem.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Kletzmerim. 2016.

TJC: What about some other works in your series, all about music and its different genres, which be put together looks like a concert itself: such as Jewish Melody, Le Rose di Florese, Yiddish Tango, Kletzmerim? 

MR : Those works are portraying Jewish music and Jewish musicians, importantly. In Jewish Melody, the idea is to show that Jewish musicians are playing with such lightness that even a feather can withstand it. A feather is the one of my favourite metaphors, in general. I have painted it in my philosophical Who Said So? series; in my Italian series; and in my Jewish series, too, always with a different meaning and in different reading of the metaphor. In this case, I know that Jewish musicians do have unparalleled qualities. How can you describe what Maestro Perlman is doing on his violin? You cannot describe it, but you know that this is a spark of Divine presence in this music and this talent, and you know that he and Jewish musicians in general can easily play staying on a feather and flying on it. And we are flying with them.

As for Le Rosa di Florese, it is quite special work for me. The name comes from old ladino song. And this is my commemoration to the so very tragic destiny of the Spanish Jewry. My wife father’s family is originally from Toledo, back in generations, so it is quite personal for us, too. I would never forget what a terrible destiny fell upon that talented, intelligent, great part of the Jewish people, what has been done to them in Spain, with such animalistic barbarianism. I painted what I feel in this regard in my Spiral of Belief diptych, in its part 1, 1492.Toledo. This is the one of the darkest pages of the world history in general, I believe. But despite that sadistic attitude towards Spanish Jewry, such arrogant and willing destruction of them, their music, their language, their images, their heritage have survived. It is another miracle of our Jewish spirit, of our genetic code, if you wish – to survive despite anything.

Le Rose di Florese, an old ladino song is telling on the beginning of a rose blossoming. And what is a rose in our tradition? The rose is as beautiful, as very important intellectually symbol in Jewish tradition. One can write a book about this subject along – as Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz did indeed, in his The Rose of Thirteen Petals classic, the one of my very favourite books.

Michael Rogatchi (C). El Rosa di Florese. 2014.

The stunning qualities of a rose are its phenomenal gentleness and its outstanding resilience at the same time, this quite rare dualism which also corresponds very much to the Jewish national character, as far, as I can see it.

It is not only because a rose is my favourite flower that I love to paint it, as I did in the works on Esther, or on the works like Shavuot Rose, Yiddish Sun, Simcha Dance, Nissan Rose, or many others. I am doing it because of this essential symbolism. In the case of Le Rose di Florese, this work is my song in the memory of the obliterated Spanish Jewry. And it is not dark or tragic work, purposefully so; it is the work full of life and energy, and the eternal beauty which the beasts who did attack our people with such zealotry were simply unable to destruct.

Yiddish Tango is a love story. It seems that this genre itself – because love story can be seen as a genre, too – occupies a lion share in what I do in art. I just cannot help it. It is the way of one’s life, and it is the life of one’s art, as it was in the case of Chagall, or Modigliani, or those artists, writers and composers who were working primarily in that ‘genre’.

In this work, Yiddish is a key-word for me. I do love tango and share this love with my wife. We both see the ocean of life – and love – reflected in tango music. And of course, Piazzolla who was a music genius, to me, is a giant of tango, and as a matter of fact, a giant of music. I completed a special series called Libertango. After Piazzolla in which I am trying to examine that larger-than- life phenomenon. Interestingly – and tellingly, to me – I have learned from Piazzolla’s biography that he said that he has learned the rhythm and the rhythmic varieties from the Jewish musicians whom he lived nearby with and whose music he listened a lot , would it be Jewish weddings or other occasions. I think that it is quite interesting glimpse into the Piazzolla’s world, the detail which has been largely overlooked.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Yiddish Tango. 2016.

The Yiddish tango as a musical sub-genre is probably the one of my very favourite ones. It is so rich, complex, and emotional in the best, unsentimental way, and very beautiful, too. I feel as being able to create few more works reflecting on Yiddish tango – as I did also in I Love You Much Too Much work – and I think it is quite appropriate to include this work in the Zion Waltz series, because I tried to project in that work fine and complex internal world of our people.

In the work Klezmerim ( Kletmer Family) three generations of the same family of musicians are depicted. The main message of the work is continuity, perpertuality, unceasingly thread – as in our Jewish music, as in everything it tells about. It is about the continuity defining the Jewish thread in general. Because of my optimism, diue to this continuity, the work is so light, colourful and joyful, and the musicians there are as if flying in the midst of a joy. We have many things and reasons to celebrate, too, you bet.

TJC: In your series, there is also a group of paintings which are devoted to different stages of life, one’s childhood, marriage, the birth of child, as if you are recreating a family life on canvas. Can you please tell us more about it?

MR: I feel that I can do it indefinitely. Family is the core of life in Jewish tradition, and I am speaking about it not in an abstract way at all. Family, my family and my extended family has been always the nucleus of my universe, so to say; and I am painting it a lot. It is felt as very natural, to me. The work My Grandmother’s Songs is truly dear for me, and it is literally as it is done on the canvas, including my grandmother Sofia Litowsky-Reiss’s face which could be seen in the enlightened cloud in the middle and above the personages of all those songs which my granny sang for me and which I love and remember all my life.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Yiddish Lullaby. 2016.

In another work named after Yiddish lullaby, Ljuli-Ljuli, it is my lullabies again although the work is depicting the Jewish family in its canon way and is more generalised as a picture. I think that an artist is truly lucky when he can produce a reflection originated from his own life into more general picture, relating to a larger phenomenon. When I am mentioning ‘lucky’, I do not speak about technical abilities, but on the fact that an artist has the material from his own life to reflect upon it while relating to things in more general meaning. One is very privileged in life to have that good material, with heart and soul of it; the heart and soul of one’s family which is the only nutrition in life which sustains us as long as we live. I do believe in it, and am very grateful to my wonderful family for this main heritage in my life.

Two more works on this Life mini-series within the series, are the two parts of the Simcha ( Joy) diptych depicting groom and bride at the Chuppah, the Jewish wedding. The two parts of the diptych are contrasted each towards the other, because a contrast is the salt of our life, as I can see it.

Why do you think Jewish weddings are so special and so different from the other weddings? Why wedding has such enormous meaning in the entire Jewish life? When Jewish couple get married, we are witnessing just uncontrollable joy during the whole event, and I created my Groom in the way we feel at our weddings. Such joy as you can witness at Jewish wedding, is only felt on the occasion of the birth of a child, but the latter joy is a bit different one, it is a bit more rounded and thoughtful, I would say.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Simcha Dance. Him. 2016.

When I painted this Groom, I was thinking on King David, my favourite character in whole Jewish history, and on his famous dance before the Creator when he was just absolutely exalted with joy, even beyond controllable. I do feel that King David’s joy very closely, I understand it well. That was a joy of King David’s feeling of his closeness to the Creator and there is no feeling in the world which is anywhere close to that illuminating joy which is going inside oneself.

In my work, it is also a joy of the Groom who is close to the fulfilment of the quite- essential part of our Covenant – that the Jewish people would become as many, as the stars in the skies. My Groom is dancing his joy out on the stage in his life when he will contribute to the reality in which Jewish nation will multiply and it will be strong. What can be more important and bring more happiness to a Jewish man?

And the second part of the diptych portrays the Bride which in my work symbolises the best in Jewish woman: beauty and love, warmth and modesty, and just unlimited gentleness. I was also thinking on the most touching description of Shabbat in our tradition which calls Shabbat a Bride. Here it is, the Bride of Jewish Nation, the soul of Shabbat. 

Michael Rogatchi (C). Simcha Dance. She. 2016.

 TJC: And what about two very distinctive works in this series, Strength of Love and Zion Waltz?

MR: The work Strength of Love hardly needs explanation, I believe, but I am happy to share with you the sub-title for this work which I do intent to put on the display while exhibiting the work – “Do Not Even Thing About It!..” . As a matter of fact, I wanted it to be the work’s only title, but has made a compromise with my wife of keeping the line as a sub-title. I did this work not only to emphasise once again the symbolic meaning of Lion of Judah as our eternal defence and the symbol of the strength of Jerusalem, but mostly, to emphasise the fact that this defence is ever present in Jerusalem; the reflection of this belief is a central element of the work. Jerusalem in this work is as if made out of pearls, it all shines. The thing is that for me, Jerusalem shines always, at any weather, in any season, at any time of day or night.

Michael Rogatchi (C). The Strength of Love. 2016.

The work Zion Waltz is dedicated to Leonard Cohen whom we were very honoured to know and who also knew our both’ works and appreciated what we do. On the wall in my study, there is a Cohen blessing hand-written by Leonard, with his famous heart-shaped Mogen David. I am watching on it and reading it with warm gratitude every day. It was an exchange of gifts between us. When I created the first version of Zion Waltz work for the Jewish Melody series, back in 2013, we have sent a special version of the work, in a bigger size, to Leonard as the present for his 79 th birthday. In his kind letter back, Leonard with his unbeatable sense of humour wrote: “Michael, I am in such age that I am pretty busy with giving things away to people. But not this work, my friend. It is very fine and exquisite, and I am honoured to have it”. And soon after, I have got his customary Blessing written and drawn by Leonard, the Blessing which I treasure very much.

We love and admire Leonard Cohen greatly. I do think that he was unique man, and that he was the Gift, both the gift to the Jewish people, and the gift by the Jewish people to the mankind. I do think that Leonard was a super-rarity in the combination of things which are not necessarily easily compatible: gentleness and resilience, introvert depth and brilliant elegance in his so long performing life. I also think that it is very difficult to find more devoted Jew than Leonard was. He was the real Cohen, the exemplary Cohen; the Cohen like a Cohen is expected to be. He was brilliant, lovely man. And I am very glad that I was able to dedicate my important work to him, and that the work is a title work for the series to commemorate the 50 th anniversary of re-unification of Jerusalem. I hope, Leonard would approve it.

TJC: You are working as the artist, with serious emphasis on the Jewish theme, for almost 30 years. Have you changed as the artist during these years, in your perspectives, focuses, interests, techniques?

MR: In my understanding, I am working as a Jewish artist in anything what I do, even in the works dealing with non-Jewish theme, because it is who I am. I personally am able to trace various aspects of Jewish themes, or Jewish perception, in all my works, and there are quite many works which are not depicting Jewish themes or motifs in particular. Yes, there are certain changes in style and vision which are coming with time, indisputably so. When one is young, it can be seen in his works in more direct and more powerful colours, in more straightforwardness of the works, in the more contrast way and a bit more simplistic lexicology of works. The life is seen with more clearness when one is young – or you are thinking this way, being unaware with what your experience will bring you with age.

Michael Rogatchi next to his Lion of Judah work. 2008 (C) Michael Rogatchi Archive.

The age, as paradoxically as it might sound, brings more joy and more gentleness to the work of artist as I am experiencing it. It brings you the joy of every new day, and it brings you the kind of gentleness which is accumulated with your growing knowledge. This all leads to the different choice of colours, opting for not trivial ones and more subtle in shades. It makes your way of thinking and reflecting more complex, invariably, and it makes you to be interested in more inter-connections which results in more complexity of the works. I t would be fair to say, perhaps, that your work reflects your experience and your personal development much more than we are ready to admit. For the artist, his canvases are always his mirror. The point is that your mirror would have positive qualities. According to the Talmud, mirrors contain the quality of their owners.

And I am trying to remember about it always.

Michael Rogatchi. Special Interview to The JerUSAlem Connection Report, Washington, D.C., March 2017. 






June 15, 2019

Dear friends and colleagues, 

I would like to invite you to imagine a picture and situation about 100 years ago – when talented Jewish artists, mostly from the Eastern Europe, wanted and tried to express themselves in the world beyond a shtetl. 

The centre of freedom, possibilities, opportunities and new world for them was Paris. Paris was and has become a cosmos for them.

As we know, the name Ecole de Paris, was given to the group of the most talented artists by the French anti-Semitic art critics with a twist of irony. They wanted to make a joke at the expense of those defenseless bunch of foreign Jews in a tightening atmosphere of Paris in the second part of the 1930s. 

In fact, the irony should be directed in the opposite direction, towards those critics. The group of the artists to which Marc Chagall, Chaim Soutine and the others belonged, it was a group of brilliant artists, very well educated and trained, very well prepared, real masters.

In my modest view, the true name of this group should be not Ecole de Paris, but Ecole de Vitebsk – because they all stayed loyal to their heart, their origin, our national history and our tradition which does have its miraculous quality: it is going on unbreakable for all these thousands of years, till today. 

In this tradition, certain images are essential and irreplaceable.  

When I saw Chagall’s works for the first time, his hens jumped into my mind. 

Michael Rogatchi (C) on Inna Rogatchi (C) authored original archival print. Ecole de Vitebsk. 2018. The Rogatchi Art Collection

My first reaction was: I saw these hens before. Where did I see them? – I thought. And then I realised that I saw them in my own house. The very same hens were drawn by my grand-mother. 

Many years later, I saw these hens again. Those were drawn by the grand-mother of my wife. 

To me, these Chagall and our both grand-mothers’ hens are real symbols of our life, our home, whenever we are: in Tel-Aviv, in New York,  or in Paris. 

When I saw the works of 18 Jewish artists at the remarkable exhibition on the returned to public art of the murdered artists from the Ecole de Paris, the exhibition in Haifa in the second part of 2018, resulting from a focused several years of effort, research and discoveries,  I saw these hens again, in a symbolic way. 

I saw our Jewish way of telling about our life and our people with love, gentleness, and unbounded humanism,  does not matter what. 

As far, as our  devotion to the Jewish soul will be continued and will be present in our works, the works of the contemporary artists, our silver thread, both in artistic and in spiritual meaning, will be preserved. To me, it is the only way to create, to feel that thread un-thorn.




The Artist On His Blue Collection

By Michael Rogatchi (C)


The feature of The Life of Two of Us collection that binds it all together is the idea that I should ‘write a book’, create a collection of visual novelettes. Each painting in the collection is a story, with its plot, its beginning, its unfolding, and its end. To get this right, the reason-and-consequence linkages had to be addressed in this form as well; visually I tried to do this in such a way that details on the canvas are drawn each from the other, literally, and for sure many of them are interconnected. 

But before depicting a story on the canvas, you have to create it. The starting point for me for that was the work on C’est Fini: Black Trombone, which is my favourite painting from the collection, and a rather special one for me. It was this work that prompted me to make my own story after Serge Gainsbourg’s Black Trombone piece. The experience was so engaging that I constructed the entire collection that followed my Homage to Serge Gainsbourg on the same principle.

C’est Fini. Black Trombone. Homage to Serge Gainsborough. 2010.

Black Trombone by Serge Gainsbourg is such a powerful and absorbing piece that at some stage I somehow started to see it simply. So, I tried both to follow the Gainsbourg story, and at the same time, to create my own. On the canvas, it is not the whole story though, but the essence of it. Looking at the woman’s figure there, it is not quite clear whether she has left definitely, or still would like to stay. At the same time, the man does realise that she is leaving, and he certainly does not wish it to happen; he is in anguish, but some part of him is getting distanced from her already, he has transported himself into his trombone, to be there alone. As for her, she realises that it is time for her to go, but deep inside she just doesn’t fully understand why. The drama here lies in the fact that both of them still feel for each other, but in parallel, not in harmony, any more; the bond is about to break. C’est Fini…

There is more behind the Black Trombone painting than one song of Serge Gainsbourg, of course. I just love this person dearly. And also feel it a pity somehow that I had not enough time to bring to The Life of Two of Us works devoted to Leonard Cohen, inspired by him. Those two men are quite different as personalities, but the quality of their extraordinary talent, and the impact that it has had, is similarly significant to me. 

To say a little more about how I see some other works from the collection, Longing is another dear work for me; somehow I do feel particularly sorry for lonely women, and this story is all about that. Black Diamond is a special work, conceptually and technically, and it was prompted by those special Italian nights, unparalleled in their beauty – and their rich complexity. Cappuccino for Two is a story about hopeless love; but personally, I still want to give it some hope, too. Crystal of Love is speaking of the degree of love that unleashes an all-consuming mutual connection. Blue Night’s Ballad is a story of the forgotten memories of two people. This might be not that conventional a concept but I can imagine that it is not only we, but our memories too, that can depart each from the other, sadly. Tuscan Wind is drawn from my understanding of Tuscany, one of my very favourite places. Tuscany for me evokes a quite essential tenderness. Arno Blues is the most characteristic Florentine work in the collection for me. The Florentine evenings, the Florentine nights are a phenomenon in their own right. This painting projects my understanding and perception of Florence – its supreme tenderness, its elegant passion, and that special Florentine charm, indescribable in words.

Arno Blues. 2011.

When completing the collection of those 22 novelettes, I was thinking that my aim in the work of that collection is to stimulate people looking at the paintings to get their own stories out of the canvases. One’s own story is a personal thing, and in my understanding, it must always be treated this way. But if in looking at my canvases from The Life of Two of Us my audience does start to pick up something from there, to understand a story of their own, maybe, something important for them, then this collection of novelettes will have served its purpose, I think.



Approximations of White

 by Michael Rogatchi (C), 2003

From Conversations with My Wife

The Path to the Easel

 One’s life can perhaps best be visualised as a series of shadows of white and variations on white. When a human being is born and is still new to this world, this white is untouched. As life progresses, a large variety of shades of white combine to create a characteristic tapestry or pattern to life that is unique to the individual. When a human being leaves this world, this life passage can also be thought of as a return to white. But the quality of this white, as well as that of the future colour of memory, is ours to determine. The degree of decency with which an individual life is led will determine the brilliance, purity and depth of this colour.

The ability of white to reflect and produce shadow and its unique capacity to produce the full spectrum of colour is also a metaphor for creativity. Producing a shadow entails the creation of volume: indeed, a special form of volume, unseen but implied and the result of intelligence alone. For those lucky individuals who possess the privilege of artistic self-expression, the creative process – filled as it is with the torments of composition, involving tension, irritation, effort, repetition, change, destruction and an eventual return – is nothing but the aspiration to reach illumination, nothing but continual approximations of white. The creative act is an attempt to find and express the absolute in this world. If this act is truly creative it requires neither proof, nor explanation, whether it is expressed through the medium of music, painting, literature or science. This is why art falls into two categories: that which is unconditional, and the rest.

Michael Rogatchi(C). Clean Page. 1994.

The greatest and most perfect creative act was of course the Six Days of Creation. The selectivity demonstrated during this process was amazing: only ten phenomena were brought into being during these Six Days, yet these phenomena are fundamental to our world. It is difficult to comprehend, as each of us is focused on a multitude of different priorities. But eventually we always return to those ten basic phenomena created during the Six Days of Creation. If an artist proceeds from a moral core, he will gradually be drawn towards this initial and most perfect creative act: that of the beginning of Creation. Interestingly, the Creator chose the thirteen year old Bezalel to make the first religious art – including the Menorah and the Ark containing the Tablets with the Ten Commandments – that gave form to the faith’s central beliefs. In doing so, the Creator filled him with a creative power that is supposed to be beyond human ability. This attempt to transcend human limitations remains the essential challenge for the Jewish artist and individual. This is what I define as the creative process.

Painting is a more abstract form of creativity than singing or dancing. This art is closer to literature and to the creation and performance of music. Painting also demands more intellectual and creative effort. As this art form developed, human beings distanced themselves from more primitive forms of expression. As is true in any creative domain, the less mechanistic the works of art became and the more soul invested in them by the painter, the more significant and meaningful the resulting art.

Throughout the long history of mankind, millions of portraits have been painted by millions of artists. But those few paintings we remember are the creations of true masters who revealed in their work their own attitude towards their subject. Along with the great Renaissance masters, El Greco is a brilliant example of this.

Even in the work of such a genius as Rembrandt, one can easily detect when the artist was painting primarily for money and when to satisfy the demands of his soul. Even if one is ignorant of the strange history of the famous Night Watch, one can sense a sharp contrast between this group portrait painted on commission and the sense of warmth and life Rembrandt brought to the portraits of his eternal old men and women.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Homage to van Gogh I. 1994.

In addition to clearly expressing its creator’s attitude towards a person or event, a true painting lives and breathes because of what lies at its core. For me this is its warmth. In Dali’s extraordinary and technically flawless paintings, we witness the height of artistic technique, paradoxical vision and infinite fantasy. Nevertheless, Dali’s work lacks the warmth that is the principal quality of Van Gogh or Chagall’s paintings. If Dali’s work is comparable to a flawless diamond, the paintings of Van Gogh and Chagall represent sunlight to me. One can live without a diamond, one cannot live without the sun’s rays. After all, how would we recognize a diamond’s value without seeing its radiance in the light of day? Dali’s form of playfulness precludes the representation in his work of that innermost and most magnetic part of a human being: namely, warmth. However, the indisputable attraction of Chagall and Van Gogh’s paintings lies precisely in their warmth, and in the extraordinary generosity with which these artists filled each of their works with their own soul.

Approximations of White is also the product of the qualities and labour of an individual artist’s soul. For me, the essence of a painter’s art is defined by a combination of the absence of a mechanical approach in his work and the generosity with which he has shared his soul with his audience. Great art requires courage and the determination to overcome the artist’s need to share his personal and innermost thoughts and emotions with the world. These are the qualities that combine to create a true master.

With age, I find myself becoming increasingly selective when choosing the subjects of my paintings. If earlier themes were effortlessly inspired by dreams, now they are the product of a mental process whereby a thought inspires and is shaped by many associations before reaching its final form. The time of fixed, quasi-photographic images is gone. Years of work have also contributed towards this increasing selectivity. If earlier subjects almost leapt onto the canvas with ease and following little deliberation, in response to my artistic sensibility, emotions and aesthetic, now I find myself considering the choice of a subject far more meticulously. Today my priority when working on a painting is not to concentrate solely on my own senses and emotions, but to depict more general and synthetic phenomena. My subjects are different episodes from man’s history as I see them in this era: episodes that I am interested in exploring refracted through the perceptions of our time.

Reading the Torah as well as the other texts that form the keystones of Judaism always provides me with a creative impetus. The chain of thought and associations that they inspire and redirect is due to the unbelievable richness with which the spiritual and philosophical approach of the Torah opens up new visions of the world. It evokes new combinations, reveals the interconnections and interdependence of life’s phenomena and prompts the reevaluation of many concepts. From this point of view, the selectivity and the discipline demonstrated by an artist in the choice of a painting’s subject reflect, to a certain extent, the general theme of significance in art.

Leonardo is one of the most obvious and brilliant examples of this approach. Why did such a genius endowed with the greatest technical facility for painting the most complicated figures and compositions, and whose livelihood this was, leave us so few oil paintings, having worked on each so hard and so long? Precisely because the key principle underlying his work was to put as much as he possibly could into each of his paintings. In the literary realm, a bad writer will describe everything at length, while a good author will carefully select every word that he produces. This brings us back to the Torah together with all the works written by the Sages of Judaism, where not just every word but every letter has been deliberately chosen and contains its own message.

If in the past I produced my paintings far more quickly and with greater ease, indeed sometimes in a single day, today I find the creative process much slower and more thorough, though by no means for technical reasons. I find myself spending much more time thinking things over in an attempt to put the maximum into each painting. In this manner I try to give myself reasons for being an artist, as opposed to a dilettante.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Dream on Eden. 1995. Private collection, Stockholm,Sweden.

There is no more ridiculous request than to ask an artist ‘to explain a painting’. I would never expound on the nature of my thoughts while I was working on a work of art. However, I willingly discuss the composition, technical aspects and other concrete details of a painting, and am happy to bring to light the historical allusions or the individual history underlying each work.

I believe that on principle artists should not ‘explain’ their work, as the perception of a work of art varies according to each individual and this fact alone precludes all explanation. A painting’s principal role should be to make its viewer think, in the process prompting the individual’s thoughts, senses and spiritual growth.

Therefore, to explain the essence of my paintings is impossible and unnecessary, but as to sharing certain thoughts that arise in relation to them… Why not?

Some of the early and frequently exhibited works in this album form a Romantic Collection entitled CapriccioCat’s SmileThe Real Dream and the Capriccio triptych are part of this Collection. In Cat’s Smile, for example, the work’s paradoxical title is meant to initiate a dialogue with a viewer, as it is known that cats cannot and do not smile. However, I was astonished to discover how many people are not aware of this simple fact, or indeed of the existence of the writer Lewis Carroll, who played with this paradox as well as innumerable others so masterfully in his books. A cat’s smile is therefore an existing impossibility. It may not exist because it is by definition impossible, and yet could be said to exist because of the implication that it might be possible.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Smile of A Cat. 1993. Private collection, Finland.

What lies hidden where consciousness merges with the subconscious, our presentiments and hopes? Perhaps the secret of a cat’s smile, this existing impossibility many of us carry within ourselves. I am indebted for the painting’s title to my friend and former colleague Maxim Pashkov, an exceptionally talented actor and musician from St Petersburg. The extraordinary ballad of this Russian Tom Waits entitled Cat’s Smile entered our lives towards the end of the 1980s, and remains an inspiration.

Occasionally a childhood dream will inspire or even take form as one of my paintings. This occurred with the Capriccio triptych. The subject was a childhood dream of an abandoned Stalinist concentration camp in winter, with a miserable, lost mare left wandering there. She was hungry and half-blind with nowhere to go and nothing to hope for, except that someone might give her some food. Of course, this dream was not a fantasy but a reflection of this period in our lives. Capriccio is a painting of routine horror. Nevertheless, in this painting I wanted to reflect that there was hope amidst this horror. There is no place for hopelessness in my work. Human intellect, will and prayer will not allow even places of horror to remain without hope. When we mobilize ourselves against evil we are already beyond a state of hopelessness. This resistance alone gives an individual hope and becomes a source of strength. One cannot buy the ability to resist in this manner, nor can one ‘learn’ how to do it by following another’s suggestions. Only belief in the Creator provides a human being with this strength.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Capriccio. Triptych. 1993.

Another Collection could be described as an attempt at a ‘deeper look’ at the characters and figures that have fascinated me throughout my life, from Don Quixote to Van Gogh. No one could convince me that a fourteen or fifteen year old teenager who has read Don Quixote for the first time has understood the novel completely, and has perceived all the delicate and complex nuances of that ‘journey of a soul’ which Cervantes wanted to depict in his great work. No one could convince me that for a fourteen or fifteen year old, Don Quixote could become a favourite, treasured book in the same easy, unquestioning way as, for example, my beloved Three Musketeers. A mature adult with the wisdom of his own life experience will perceive Cervantes’ novel and its hero in a very different manner, one aspect following on from another. What is important is that these aspects are neither flat nor one-dimensional, but converge – counterpointing, reflecting and illuminating each other – in the process creating a new work altogether. In my portrait of Don Quixote, I attempted to express this image through a new method of painting, employing a different technique. As a result, the portrait marked the beginning of a new phase in my art, which I am continuing to explore. Don Quixote represents a significant breakthrough in my search for a new form of artistic vision and expression.

In my painting, Don Quixote is an exhausted, lonely and even lost figure, but not a despairing one. Physical and mental tiredness has prompted him to stop for a moment’s rest in the middle of the road. As he sleeps, leaning on his old spear, there is a feeling of sadness, disappointment and weariness. However, though Don Quixote is troubled there is no place for despair in him. This was also the case for his creator. At the time of writing Don Quixote, Cervanteswas imprisoned, his feet had been amputated and he was penniless, yet he managed to retain his strength and his spiritual and mental freedom. The same is true for all those individuals who are able to survive because of their moral, rather than physical, strength.

Michael Rogatchi (C0; Don Quichot. 1995.

July 29th: In Memory of Van Gogh is a painting of love and understanding. I wanted it to be a testament to the whole life of this genius, who remained so misunderstood. As a very kind person endowed with a largely positive attitude towards his contemporaries, Van Gogh could have expected a corresponding attitude from them. Instead, the outside world regarded him as insane. No doubt from a purely medical point of view he was mentally ill. But from the point of view of the soul, Van Gogh was far saner than all those around him. In my painting dedicated to his memory, I tried to capture and fix the moment when a human being departs this world: that heartrending moment when the material world is left behind but the soul has not yet reached its final destination… I painted two small gleams in the encroaching darkness, which I believe would have been the last things that Van Gogh saw before he passed away. Those ‘gleams’ are spots of colour – colour that was everything to the artist in life, in the same way that sound is everything to a composer, words to a writer or the smell of chemical reagents to a scientist. Looking back on my own life, I remember that years after I had left behind my career as a scientist in my dreams I could still smell the chemical atmosphere of the laboratory.

Michael Rogatchi (C). July 29th. In Memory of van Gogh. 1996. Private collection, Finland.

It seems to me that the extraordinary magnetism of Van Gogh’s art is derived from that quality of soul given to him by the Creator that allowed him to translate and convey his own spirituality through the use of colour. Colour brought into being with a stroke of the paintbrush, colour simultaneously transformed into movement and which begins its own existence on canvas. This talent for transforming colour combined with Van Gogh’s immense kindness became the foundation that breathed life into the artist’s paintings, and fills them with their almost palpable warmth.

If we now compare the creative processes of musicians and painters of genius, we can observe that a master composer, in very much the same manner as Van Gogh, does not merely combine the elements the genre provides him with in a variety of different ways, but allows ordinary mortals access to that unknowable world in which genius evolves, suffers and lives life impetuously. Musical talent, of course, lies not in the ability to compose a piece from a combination of existing modulations, but in the ability to endow these modulations with frequently surprising contrasts and volume. Mozart’s genius lies beyond the understanding of normal human beings. This is unsurprising, as Mozart inhabited his own unique universe where sound was everything: a definition of all that was present in the entire world. A table, a chair, a quill, an ink-pot, were all sounds for him. His world was reflected in the magnificence of his music.

My other favourite composer, Vivaldi, created an eternal ‘tapestry of music’ from modulations derived from quite different perceptions. Vivaldi’s music appears to me closer to Van Gogh’s work through its central quality of tenderness combined with rage. It is impossible to imagine Vivaldi creating anywhere other than Venice. Through similarities in their senses and visions embodied in the creative process, musicians and artists resemble each other far more than members of any other creative profession. Perhaps this is why I feel music to be an integral part of myself. I could not work without it.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Vivaldi. 1996. The Rogatchi Art Collection.

If I consider the great paintings that feature so largely in our education, I am sometimes struck by a paradox inspired by a mistaken perception. For instance, when observing Leonardo’s Homo Vitruvius, we instinctively feel that when Leonardo created this symbol of harmony, life was far more balanced than it is now. Of course, this is untrue. The essential features and parameters of life on this planet remain unchanged. The existence of computers does not make their owners Homo Sapiens any more talented or skilful than an individual equipped with a goose’s nib. In many cases, quite the contrary. Man’s mind and conscience are still travelling in the same direction, searching for harmony. Through the ‘golden ratio’ that he illustrated in Homo Vitruvius, Leonardo provided a hypothesis that explained the harmony present in the human body shaped by the Creator.

In my work Homo Vitruvius (Twentieth Century), I wanted to show what happened to a human being, in itself an expression of harmony, when cast into the maelstrom of the twentieth century. The subject is attempting to escape the ludicrousness of the past century, that whirlwind of evil that reached its height with the concentration camps, fascism and the extermination of six million Jews: the horrific culmination of a historical process at work over the past century. On first seeing my painting, a close friend from Texas reacted with typical straightforwardness: ‘Oho, this guy is in trouble!’. One could not express it better. This stands as a rare case of complete understanding of an artist’s idea by his public!

Michael Rogatchi (C). Homo Vitruvius. XX Century. 1996. Private collection, the UK.

In an attempt to break through both real and imaginative barriers, I then started work on the painting entitled “Welcome to the Hotel California…”. Since childhood the knight has been one of my favourite chess pieces. Whether consciously or unconsciously, I have always imagined the knight as a figure that continually aspires to go beyond the limits of the possible. In chess, the horse is not the castle, which only moves in a straight line, nor the bishop, which always moves diagonally. In this work, my fondness for this chess piece as well as my love for horses coincide in an interesting manner. For a long period I had also made it a tradition to paint a horse at least once a year.

Returning to the theme of chess, a chessboard always represented for me not just sixty-four squares, but life itself. It is significant that Jews must play chess at Shabbat. Within the sphere of the game, the most important figures are the king and queen, which are entitled to do anything. However, it is interesting to note that when only two kings and two queens remain on the chessboard, the result is a drawn game, whereas if a knight also remains in play, the situation becomes truly dramatic. As a child, I was always thrilled that the knight could make its moves in so original a manner: indeed, that it is able to jump over other pieces. I believed that if a knight was able to jump over a queen, anything was possible. In short, I was inspired by the figure of the knight, which always aspires to movement, to atypical moves and to breakthroughs.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Welcome to the Hotel California. 1998. Private collection, Russia.

The horse in the painting “Welcome to the Hotel California…” is not just breaking out of a wooden chess figure, but is also attempting to widen the scope of the chessboard itself – the sphere of its life – to infinity. I presented this work to the man who in my view best corresponded to this image: General Alexander Lebed. This man whose life ended so abruptly will be remembered by many different people for a very long time.

Rosinante’s Dream and “Poor Yorick!…” also evoke the theme of memory. When an individual remembers someone, the subject’s life energy does not fade away, but is stored and remains alive within the thinker’s memory. Our own individual memories revive our pasts. There is no doubt in my mind that the more intense an individual’s spiritual life, the more energy is stored in his or her memories. When life slows and dwindles, the fact that it does not fade away completely is due to the soul’s ability to remember – to the life and presence of memories. My subjects, Yorick and Rosinante, both lived intensely. Sometimes the intensity of one’s life can be determined by its length. However, it also happens that so much can be compressed into a short period of one’s existence that it is as though we have lived twice during this time.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Rosinante’s Dream. 1998.

In my painting Yorick, who as an actor lived many lives, is a tired old man. The only bright spot in this work is the reflection of a yellow bell hanging from his jester’s hat in a mirror. This spot represents his youth. Rosinante is also aged in my portrait. This old horse sees himself in his dream in exactly the same manner many people do: as he would wish to be remembered. When I am working on paintings which explore memory, my priority remains not to emphasise the bitterness of lost time, but instead the light left in us by this time: not the hopelessness inspired by memory, but its mercy.

Another Collection I would like to evoke is entitled Who Said So?. A painting from this Collection, The Days and Nights of Pygmalion, reinterprets the story of Pygmalion and Galatea. Without question, the beauty of this story has made it a recurrent theme throughout history. However, its existing classical interpretation has been over-embroidered, as is common in Greek mythology. We all know of the strength of Pygmalion’s love for Galatea, but have no idea what Galatea looked like. Who said that she was a perfect beauty, in the sense of the beauty of the Creator’s Adam and Eve, which was passed down to Sarah, Joseph and Rachel? Galatea was the creation of man. Could Pygmalion have been blind? The subject with which he fell in love so overwhelmingly was probably an ideal of beauty, but his own ideal. In the story, an artist becomes passionately enamoured of the product of his own hands. But how do we know these were the hands of a Cellini or a Picasso?

Michael Rogatchi (C). Poor Yorick. In memory of Marcello Mastroianni. 1999.

In my view, the story of Pygmalion is ultimate proof that the essential factor determining the quality of human relationships are one’s own feelings, and not the object of those emotions. Love is not dictated by the perfection of the beloved, but by the lovers’ spiritual kinship. In The Days and Nights of Pygmalion, the subject is drowning in the ocean of his love. He is experiencing a terrible restlessness of the soul. By night, he loses himself in his worship of Galatea, by day he imposes the harshest possible demands on his creation. I believe that Pygmalion was born with the idea of Galatea. This idea, the product of his senses as well as his mind, was initially unclear and both disturbed and tormented him. He invested even the unfinished block of marble from which she was fashioned with a surfeit of emotion. We do not know whether Pygmalion eventually completed the sculpture in a manner that fulfilled his original conception. The exhausting torments of love that were his misfortune and which he lacked the strength to overcome could be regarded as his destiny. This creator’s love for the object that resulted from an overwhelming creative impulse led him to mistake day for night.

If The Days and Nights of Pygmalion explores man’s attitude to woman, another work from the same Collection, The Abduction of Europa, explores the reverse side of this phenomenon. Who says that Europa did not enjoy being abducted? Who says that she resisted it? Perhaps she saw this abduction as a form of liberation. Perhaps her attitude towards Zeus in the form of a bull was not that previously believed. Perhaps, like many other women, she was delighted by this ‘abduction’. Could she have been grateful to the bull, and found herself gradually responding to him (as happens so often)? It is no coincidence that many similar ‘Beauty and the Beast’ stories are to be found throughout human history, reflecting this interpretation.

Thus, the idea underlying the Who Said So? Collection is that it is always interesting to reexamine our most fundamental myths from a slightly different point of view. If more people bothered to question existing preconceptions, life would evolve faster and would become richer and more dynamic.

The Heart of the Matter is one of my favourite paintings from the Love Collection. Therefore, I am glad that it belongs to a real man, my friend Christopher James. This painting contains everything: our origins, life and beyond – as when a man and woman come together and become one, that one which goes on to bear fruit. Such a union is best thought of organically, as an immense tree. Full of light and strength, this tree produces a myriad of small leaves. However, without its deep and powerful roots, the tree’s bright and quivering leaves would dry out. I believe that the biggest reward in life is the presence of a similar union, with its interconnections of life, feeling, love and delight.

Michael Rogatchi (C). The Heart of the Matter. 2003. Private collection, the UK.

For me love is admiration and adoration. However difficult life may become, if the love is real the adoration remains.

In my Collection Bolero, which consists of twenty-one paintings, my priority was to explore another form of union, in which man is also present. The Collection forms a mosaic exploring different aspects of the corrida, which encapsulates the essence of man’s physical existence.

Man’s physical presence as well as his mental universe are constantly interacting with those external factors and challenges with which we are faced. In the corrida, this intermingling is expressed in its most concentrated and accomplished form. This form gave my Collection its title: Bolero

Michael Rogatchi (C). Bolero composition. Fragment. 2000-2002.

In the corrida, man’s intellect, instincts and strength are constantly in play with those of an animal. This movement is perhaps best visualised as a circle of thorns. Both man and animal have their own souls. If one wishes to understand the corrida, this should not be forgotten. Two beings in an arena are never equal: at any one time one is always stronger or weaker than the other, and in any physical fight the balance between strength and weakness will always become apparent in a unique manner.

This inequality produces its own effects. Sometimes the participants in a corrida begin to experience a form of mental interchange, whereby the torero appears transformed into a bull, and even seems to adopt its expression. Moreover, he begins to think like a bull. In order to be victorious, he must uncover the intentions of his opponent in the arena. In his turn, the bull could, in theory, overpower a man – an opportunity rarely accorded animals. Such a bull is rewarded with his life, according to the rules of the corrida. It is no wonder that such intelligent bulls earn not just the respect but also the enthusiasm of the public. A bull that wins its life in this fight against man never again participates in a corrida.

The hidden logic of the struggle in a corrida often provokes admiration. Every stage of the fight, every single movement has been shaped in a truly unique manner. Its impetuous but very precisely determined dance of movements makes the corrida a constantly intriguing form of bolero. The interaction between the torero, the bull and the other participants at hand also possesses its own strict inner logic. However, this logic only becomes apparent after the corrida has taken place.

During a corrida, my greatest sympathy goes to the picadors’ horses. Their eyes are bound. An animal whose eyes are bound is at once completely dependable and utterly helpless. During the spectacle, the blinded animal walks with death. The horse senses danger but cannot see it. It is forced to obey its rider’s shouts and spurring, but the picador’s main goal is naturally to preserve himself. Of all the creatures in the arena, the horse’s situation is the most desperate, and is completely different from that of the bull. The bull may die but this will be the outcome of an equal fight, and as a result it will die with dignity. The bull fights for his life. However, while in the arena the horse’s being is completely suppressed. It does not stop to think, to feel or to understand. This is why the mare in Bolero is grey. She is like the majority of people living under totalitarian regimes, who understand everything but proceed blindfolded. They are forced to live lives in which screaming can always be heard. Sometimes, they experience slight fear, sometimes terror. They are always desperate.

Michael Rogatchi (C). BOLERO composition. Fragment. 2000-2002.

However, the situation is completely different in the corrida caballero, during which toreros compete on horseback. In this form of corrida, the horse is left completely free, and as a result consciously aids its rider, making him both more inventive and dynamic. A horse in a regular corrida and a horse in a corrida caballero are as different as a slave and a free man. This is why the corrida caballero is a truly beautiful spectacle in which there is no despair, but instead a fireworks display of movement and freedom. Freedom that remains the highest value for man. This is the same for any living being, even a tree.

The Jewish theme is key to my work: indeed, it forms its raison d’être. Outside this context, I could not imagine myself as an artist or even as a person. Interestingly, all my works focusing on a Jewish theme have provided me with an impetus to explore new ideas and different artistic directions. When an artist completes a painting it is always a source of satisfaction, provided the painting is good, of course. However, whenever I finish one of these paintings, I am overwhelmed with not just satisfaction, but a sense of joy, completeness and intellectual pleasure. This combination of feelings is comparable to that of the scientist who has completed an important project.

In my Biblical Collection of paintings, I am attempting to grasp and to express the essence of Jewishness: that inner core which makes one a Jew. Sooner or later we all come to the realisation that it is necessary to try to understand the foundations of our beliefs. The Jewish people’s destiny both converges and diverges: some reject their Jewishness in a vain hope ‘to be like everyone else’. This is foolish as by definition Jews are not like everyone else. Others experience a need to comprehend their history, traditions, philosophy and basic attitudes towards the world. Discovering and drawing on this inexhaustible source of humanism and wisdom allows one to lead a life that is both practical and enlightened.

In my portrait of Moses, I have tried to convey the weight of responsibility that he bore. To be responsible for oneself and one’s own actions is one thing. However, it is quite another to consciously accept to bear responsibility for an entire people, and what is more a persecuted people at the most crucial point in their early history. Usually Moses is portrayed as a mythical figure, whereas in reality he was a living human being. A completely uncompromising man endowed with a powerful temperament and a complicated nature, he was nevertheless very kind and loving. Moses was subject to enormous pressure for decades – the result of the huge weight of responsibility which he carried, accumulated psychological and physical tiredness, crushing moments of disappointment and permanent doubt as to how he could accomplish his mission. Nevertheless, the prophet loved his headstrong and complicated people with such selfless commitment, that our Jewish sages reveal the Creator himself was impressed by Moses’ absolute honesty and loving devotion. For me, the prophet’s greatness lies in this combination of his devoted love for those under his care and his awareness of his immense responsibility before God and the Jewish people.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Moses. 1996.

Amazingly, while I was working on this painting, I clearly sensed how it had been at the moment when the Ten Commandments were first written on the Tablets. The letters were drawn from the air one by one, and as Moses grasped the meaning that lay in every single letter, the letters combined into words and the words became sentences. Some time after the painting was completed, I read in the Talmud that the letters of the Hebrew alphabet are regarded as protoplasm – the basic material of Creation. I remember thinking that if I, an ordinary man, was granted the vision and understanding of such knowledge, how special my people are.

It is strange for me when I am asked if I am a Jewish artist, or whether I would define myself in some other way. Naturally I am a Jewish artist. When I paint a work, whatever the theme, it emerges from the ground of my upbringing. I cannot imagine life without the Shabbat and the Shabbat family supper. My happiest and most delightful childhood memories are of the Shabbat suppers during which my whole family assembled in the home of my grandmother, Sofia Aaron-Rice. These memories are always with me: a large table covered by a white tablecloth, and on it candles and the Book. I remember my great-uncle Lev Aaron reading from the Book. Thus it was only logical that my first work on a Jewish theme should have been Family Supper.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Family Supper. 1993. London Museum of Jewish Art, the UK.

This relationship to the Book is also reflected in another painting, Heeding the Book. There was always an immense respect for books in our family, to the extent that even touching a book filled us with a special kind of joy and energy. This was doubly true for the Book itself.

My Train was painted before my first visit to Yad Vashem. Therefore I was amazed to discover the train from my painting during my stay in Jerusalem. In the painting, the train is on its way to infinity, bearing away relatives and loved ones, but one is left behind, powerless in its tracks. From childhood, all Jews feel the presence of this train within themselves. Willingly or not, every Jew bears a small part of this knowledge of Horror.

However, every Jew is also endowed with part of the Fire that was first breathed into us by the Creator. The Way, a painting I presented to Simon Wiesenthal, remains one of my favourite works. I believe that this man above all other contemporaries embodies the righteous Jew. I am privileged to know this outstanding individual personally, and with every year that passes, as I observe his words and actions, I am more convinced that this is the case. Wiesenthal’s attitudes and judgements may sometimes appear strange to those without the power to see. Yet the more I study Jewish literature, the more my admiration of Simon Wiesenthal grows. I regard him as a bearer of the deepest Jewish traditions. In The Way I wanted to say that the Jewish way is the way of the Fire of the Creator, the way of the chosen people. To be chosen entails responsibility: a responsibility to yourself first of all. This burden is far from easy.

Michael Rogatchi (C). My Train. 1996. The Rogatchi Art Collection.

In Samson, I wanted to capture the precise moment when the exhausted and blind Biblical hero begs the Creator for the only means that will enable him to crush his enemies the Philistines, even at the price of his own life. As he departs this world, Samson’s smile shows his gratitude to the Creator for answering his prayer and allowing him the opportunity to be returned to his people.

Samson’s ultimate test was to sacrifice himself. Still more was asked of Abraham, though initially one might wonder what greater sacrifice could there be than that of one’s own life? The vision underlying my painting The Akedah resulted from the understanding that for all Jews: ‘Abraham Is the Rock from Which We Are Chipped’ (Isaiah 51:1). In addition to being a physical giant, Abraham represents a moral rock for the Jewish people. In a moment of unbearable torment, during which he was prepared to part with his beloved child forever to satisfy the Creator’s will, the forefather of the Jewish people resisted tears. Through the greatest anguish, he had arrived at his final decision to fulfil the Creator’s will. As incomprehensible as this decision may appear to us, Abraham retained his fundamental belief that the Creator would never do anything to harm his pure-hearted children.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Samson. 1998.

To comprehend the movements of Abraham’s soul during this trial is very difficult for ordinary people. However, over the past centuries Jewish sages and tsadiks have approached this understanding, and have aided us in coming closer to it. It is significant that Isaac, who at the time of The Akedah was a thirty-seven year old man, fully understood both his father’s torment and the Creator’s will. This identification with his father results in the smile on Isaac’s face in my painting. As the great son of a great father, Isaac was also fully conscious of and obedient to the Creator’s will during the three-day journey to the location of the Akedah. I have tried to convey in this painting that rare and amazing unity between father and son born from their limitless belief in the Creator.

In all my works, I attempt to portray a physical or spiritual movement. Occasionally it happens that a single touch can bring to life the movement that will uncover the essence of a painting. In the case of The Akedah, I felt that it was important to include Sarah, who eventually died from grief when she realised why her husband and only son had gone out so early that morning. In the painting, Sarah takes the form of a woman whose hands are outstretched over Abraham and Isaac, as though to protect them. Significantly, the concept of The Akedah, and even the word itself, has become a common noun designating the greatest trial of all for the Jewish people. I did not wish to treat this subject in a purely illustrative manner, with bound legs and hands. Instead, I wanted to capture the spiritual moment – a moment of the greatest possible spiritual strain that has become the touchstone in the history of the Jewish people.

The knowledge of the Holocaust is with me every day of my life. Sometimes this takes the form of a subconscious feeling, but far more often I consciously consider the subject. In my paintings about the Holocaust, I do not impose a particular structure. The images of horror appear to me as though by themselves. All technical details are worked out subsequently. My painting The Final Solution expresses the essence of the Nazi attitude towards the Jews: they have been exterminated and their belongings abandoned. The hat and the crushed glasses in this painting come from memory. This is a picture of the fulfilled Nazi order, a ‘still’ of the end.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Final Solution. 2001.

Perhaps a few ghettos surrounded by specially constructed walls have been razed, perhaps a shtetl (a small Jewish village) was destroyed, or even an entire city. Or perhaps a whole country such as Lithuania or Poland has been ‘cleansed’. Perhaps the entire Jewish people has been wiped from the surface of the earth. But our people’s possessions remain even after their owners have been exterminated. These objects will not allow the world to forget them.

I further explored this vision in paintings such as Kaddish and Shoah. When I was working on Shoah, I was considering the ghetto in general terms. However, subconsciously I appear to have drawn on the reality of the Krakow ghetto, even before my first visit there. When I eventually saw this part of Krakow, I realized in terror that it was exactly as I had imagined it. Even today, over sixty years later, horror and fear are still present in that place.

Sadly, many decades after the horrors of the Holocaust the issue of anti-Semitism is still with us. The painting Unforgiving, which is owned by a family friend, the Israeli Ambassador Josef Hassen, was completed in one day. It was directly inspired by the profanation in one night a decade ago of three hundred out of four hundred graves in the Jewish cemetery of the peaceful and quiet Finnish city of Turku. It would appear that even the graves of Jews remain objects of hate. I will never forgive such barbarians – past, present or future.

In the painting The Western Wall I wished to express a mixture of pain and hope. This combination is perhaps one of the main features of the Jewish people’s character and fate. Another is wisdom forged in torment, but enlightened by belief. This wisdom has provided our people with the strength to survive while retaining their decency.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Kaddish. 1998.

Yet individuals like those represented in the painting Memories of Safed are a source of eternal hope and support to our people. Obviously, this type of human being does not emerge from nowhere. Safed is undoubtedly an utterly unique place on this earth. Everyone who has visited this small town agrees that it possesses a powerfully charged spiritual atmosphere. It is a very special place for many reasons: to name only one, the synagogue of the prophet Elijah is located there.

All Jews feel from childhood on that Jewish wisdom is filled with love and compassion. As we grow older, we realise that our love is also founded on wisdom. This is the theme I wanted to express in my double portrait of Abraham and Sarah. According to our sages, an individual Jew represents only half of the whole, and in order to become whole requires the missing half. Love, delicacy, consideration, mutual self-sacrifice, a unique understanding and the inability of one to live without the other – all of these elements defined the lives of Abraham and Sarah, the first Jews and ancestors of our people. These elements formed the origin of the moral and ethical tradition that underlay human existence for hundreds of centuries afterwards. Abraham and Sarah are the perfect example of the whole shaped from the organic amalgamation of two halves.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Sarah and Abraham. 2002.

Jewish life over the last millennia has not merely been shaped by extraordinary bitterness, pain and torment, but also by hope, love, joy, jokes and humour and music and song – in short, by our talent for life. The painting Freilax is inspired by family tradition – that of my wife combined with my own. I come from a very large, close family. In our home, religious festivals were always celebrated with music, dance and Jewish songs. On Purim one of my uncles played the piano, my mother Maija Rice sang and everyone danced. My wife’s family, though far from rich, was also warm and generous. They also loved to come together and celebrate, sharing their joy with all who entered their house. All were welcome there. My father-in-law, Isaac Bujanover, danced the Freilax with the enthusiasm of a child and such soul that he seemed to electrify the space around him. Whenever the melody of the Freilax is heard, it sends out a special signal to any Jew present. It inspires immediate joy, however difficult circumstances may have been. Wherever they find themselves, Jews always stand up when they hear the Freilax and start dancing as though ten of them were a hundred. This is what we are destined for: to gather and embody this strength in such proportion.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Freilax. 1995.

Another painting from the same collection, The Dance, is dedicated to my father-in-law’s memory. When singing and dancing, Jews are liberated from everything. They cast off all their troubles and problems. When an individual feels free while dancing the dance becomes more than a dance.

The painting Caprice molto perpetuo is a homage to our Jewish musicians, who produce the most beautiful music. I both admire and adore them. One can feel how much soul, warmth and understanding has been brought to the music from the moment when the Creator first breathed a harmony into King David’s harp. It has been enriched over the generations, and has produced an extraordinary tapestry of work and a unique quality of sound, which translates into the unparalleled brilliance and mastery present in the art of Jewish musicians.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Caprice Molto Perpetuo. 1996. London Museum of Jewish Art, the UK.

After all, the quality of sound is not defined merely by physical parameters, but by the quality of the soul. It is precisely this that I try to convey in my paintings. I wish to capture the movements of the soul on canvas. In everything I paint, my ambition is to express joy, suffering, knowledge, labour, torment, merriment, tears and laughter – in short, the beauty of the soul of my people.

(C) 2003