Essay by Inna Rogatchi – November 2021. The Essay was first published in The Times of Israel ( November 7th, 2021), followed by re-publications in Le Tribune Juive ( Paris, France), The JerUSAlem Connection Report ( Washington D.C., the USA), and the other international media.
Remembering Leonard Cohen on the 5th anniversary of his passing in the special series of artistic homages.
Inna Rogatchi (C). Postcard from the Bald Monk. Homage to Leonard Cohen. Art collage boarded on panel. 80 x 120. 2021.
“This is not silence
This is another poem” – wrote that remarkable man back in 1958, when I was still a baby, and Leonard, who was from the generation of my parents, was a young poet of twenty four, and who already then said that he ‘knows the silence’.
This man was a pride of Jews and the world: sublime talent in literature, music and painting, genuine warmth, fantastic humour, elegant modesty, rare charm, self-ironic dignity, and immense magnetism. We all were blessed by his presence at our age. I am positive that anyone who once visited Cohen’s concert left the premise becoming a bit better person. I am also positive that that was the real mission of Leonard’s earthly life: to make many of us a bit better by his own inner light, would it be via a couple of lines, or a song which would jump into your subconsciousness for good, or a drawing which is drastically different from anything you saw and is so honest intellectually that it let you to hear the artist voice speaking to you through his as if a bit naive lines.
And we personally, my husband and I, we were very blessed by Leonard’s always amazing and always warm and smiling presence in our both lives. Five years on since you cannot speak with Leonard any longer, his ring is on my husband’s desk in the most central place, just in front of Michael’s eyes, his photos with his autographs to us are in my study and in our dining room, and his books, also autographed, are everywhere, and are read often. The only thing still problematic during these five past years is Leonard’s records. To my own surprise, I still find it uneasy to listen to his records because his voice makes the missing worse.
Towards this sad anniversary, commemorating the five years since Leonard Cohen’s passing, we were asked to prepare a special presentation of our both’ art dedicated to our beloved man.
I am sharing it with a wide audience now remembering the man who ‘knew the silence’ , but who also knew in his masterhood how to ‘ring the bells’.
When Michael created his well-known Jewish Melody series, he did one of the best works in that very strong and universally admired collection as a homage to Leonard. The work Zion Waltz which is well-known today was inspired and is dedicated to Cohen. And he loved it. Michael did a special large version of the work and we sent it to Leonard to Los-Angeles. It was close to his 79th birthday. We heard from Cohen at once: “Michael, at my age, I am busy with giving my things to people. But not this one. Not this.” ( September 2013, Leonard Cohen’s letter to Michael Rogatchi. The Rogatchi Archive).
Michael Rogatchi ©. Zion Waltz. Homage to Leonard Cohen. Special version. Original drawing in mixed technique. 65 x 50 cm. 2013. Leonard Cohen estate. Canada.
The smaller version of this drawing ( 50 x 35 cm, 2013) is still a part of our The Rogatchi Art collection. It is really hard to part with this very work.
No wonder that Michael chose dove as an artistic allusion to Leonard. Michael’s own refrain throughout the years that we knew Cohen, was always the same: “Leonard is the real Cohen, in anything he does, and how he does it. Even when he does nothing”.
And I am not surprised for a bit why Leonard who did love Michael’s art in general and appreciated it very highly, why he felt that special attachment to these doves on Michael’s artwork dedicated to him, so immediately and so firmly.
Here we go: “ I saw the dove come down, the dove with the
green twig, the childish dove out of the storm and
flood. It came towards me in the style of the Holy Spirit
descending. I had been sitting in a cafe for twenty-five
years waiting for this vision. It hovered over the great
quarrel. I surrendered to the iron laws of the moral universe which
make a boredom out of everything desired. Do not surrender,
said the dove. I have come to make a nest in your shoe. I
want your step to be light”.
And his step was light indeed. One might call it a flight.
Later on, Michael has created an emotional oil painting based on the image which has become so close to the heart of Leonard, the doves.
The work was created during the last period of Leonard’s life when he was suffering a lot and was quite fragile, but always customarily brave. Michael painted his homage to the great man full of light and warmth, emphasising that in his perception, the warmth of Leonard’s legacy has filled the world, literally. This one was most likely the last work created by Michael which Leonard saw in the course of our personal exchanges.
Michael Rogatchi(C). Zion Waltz. Oil on canvas. Homage to Leonard Cohen. 120 x 100 cm. 2016.
Leonard also knew and appreciated Michael’s earlier homage to him which was created as a result of us attending several of Leonard’s concerts in Europe in 2010 during his famous World Tour 2010. Every one of those concerts was different. It was Leonard’s life, or a serious part of his life lived on stage and generously shared with thousands, every time he performed. Seeing Leonard personally in Florence and Warsaw allowed Michael to get close to his world and the complex way of expressing it. This is how Michael’s first homage to Leonard was born. The work was created in Florence, and was part of Michael’s notable Rogatchi Blues 10-month exhibition in Florence ( 2010-2011).
Michael Rogatchi (C). Blue Sound. Homage to Leonard Cohen. Oil on canvas. 110 x 100 cm. 2010.
But there was a very special story regarding that Leonard’s concert in Florence that has marked that very concert in hearts of many people, including Leonard himself.
I never spoke about that heart-wrenching episode publicly. It was his only concert in Florence in September 2010, and it was organised at the Santa Croce Square with a double-purpose: to accommodate the maximum amount of people while staying in the historical heart of Florence, as Leonard wanted to make this one concert in the great city not in artificially for Firenze modern setting, but in an organic history-breathing centre of it. People were all over Santa Croce that night. Additionally to lucky ticket-holders, dozens of people literally were popping out every single window and balcony from all the houses around the square. It was a super feast, with these added innumerable lights from myriads of windows all around. I never saw anything like that and will remember that light filled with smiling faces from over-crowded windows and balconies forever. Everybody was very happy in that spontaneous multiplied audience. It was late in the night. The concert was supposed to start at 9 o’clock, but ran late. Still, everyone was rather cheerful under the plaids in the fresh air.
When Leonard appeared on the stage, as often, in his customary jumps and with that ever-boyish smile, the thousands of people waiting for him on the square and all around it, up to the evening skies of Firenze, were greeting him cheerfully. He smiled again and started to work, the concert started. Soon into that, some shriek was heard very loudly among the audience. And many people thought – and told each other – ‘Ah, what an exalted person! Why could she not hold her excitement until Leonard will finish his song?.. What a misbehaviour, really.’ The shrieking happened during Cohen’s second or third number during the concert, at the very beginning of it.
Then all lights around the improvised hall under the open skies went on suddenly, and the concert itself was put on hold. The announcement went on informing us that there has been a medical incident among the members of the public and an ambulance is on its way as one woman was very unwell. You need to know Italy and Italians: when it concerns somebody’s health, people are very patient. Fortunately, the hospital was very near. In the silence, with Leonard behind the scene, we all were waiting for the ambulance. People on the balconies saw the situation better. Nobody left, neither from the audience, nor from windows and balconies.
Instead of Leonard’s band playing his melodies, we all were listening to the accelerating sound of the ambulance which rushed in. We waited. Doctors rushed the patient to the hospital. The pause was substantial, up to 40 minutes. When Leonard was able to continue the concert, I saw around – nobody left, neither from the ticket-holders area, nor from the balconies and windows around. No one. When Leonard came back on the stage, in a subdued mood, understandably, people greeted him as a member of one’s family. And we were indeed the one family under the ultramarine skies of Firenze that evening when Leonard Cohen sang there. I was wondering knowing his sensitivity if he would be able to continue to perform that night which started so misfortunately. Not only he did. He did it so cordially, so intimately, so humanly that he and his organic compassion covered us all in the midst of the night which became chilly as it could be in Italy in early Autumn.
There is also Michael’s study for that oil painting, which was done by him after that memorable family-like concert at the Santa Croce. The study is unique. Michael Rogatchi (C). Study for Homage to Leonard Cohen. Pencil on cotton paper. 50 x 40 cm. 2010 Florence.
Leonard’s passing in early November 2016 was a heavy blow to us although we knew that it would be imminent. Still, it is always so incurably painful. As Leonard said himself: “And death is old,
But it is always new”.
Michael’s artistic reflection on Leonard’s passing has become his soulful artwork Full Moon Drink IV.Michael Rogatchi (C). Full Moon Drink IV. Thinking on Leonard Cohen. Indian ink, oil pastel on dark-blue Italian hand-made cotton paper. 65 x 50 cm. 2017.
My own first artistic homage to Leonard was created in 2012, with a special artwork Heart Talk. The work is picturing snow with a red leaf in the middle of it. I actually did nothing to create it. When we returned from a journey, I went to our garden and saw there that leaf on snow, very lonely, and at the same time transforming, melting the snow, making it much less frosty, especially near to the leaf. Making it bearable, in one word. And I thought immediately: “This is the portrait of Leonard. Nothing more, nothing less”. Inna Rogatchi (C). Heart Talk. Homage to Leonard Cohen. 2012. Private collection. Chicago, the US. Special Leonard Cohen Commemorative Edition. 2021.
The work was exhibited widely at many of my exhibitions of various projects, such as The Joy of Mercy, and Horizon Beyond Horizon, and became rather popular among the global fans.
Leonard was aware of this homage to him, my Horizon Beyond Horizon collection, and the video-essay which was opened by his poetry, and he did very graciously thank me for ‘fine understanding’, with that unique smile, always so personal and always so warm. How is it possible to make such a fleeting gesture of our behaviour as a smile into the legacy? – I often think, because of some few people who did manage to do it. Leonard’s smile is indeed a legacy of its own.
Later on, in connection with the second anniversary of Leonard’s passing, I created another artistic homage to him, original art panel Letter to Leonard ( 2018). We were travelling again, it was chilly and busy around. Fortunately, we had a great tree in front of our residence. That tree was almost speaking to me, day and night. Or was it I who was speaking to it?
Letter to Leonard. Homage to Leonard Cohen. Original drawing in mixed technique on authored pigment print mounted on an art panel board. 80 x 120 cm, framed under museum organic glass, size in frame 84 x 124. 2018-2021.
For the first time, the artwork was presented as an illustration in my essay Way Out of the Maze of Longing dedicated to the second anniversary of Leonard’s passing. Later on, I produced a large original Letter to Leonard art panel.
The third of my personal artistic homages to Leonard is a recent work, and it has been created for commemoration of the 5th anniversary of Leonard’s passing. The works refers to Leonard’s famous Anthem song from his Future album ( 1992), the song which has become one of the Leonard’s most popular ones, because of the line which has become a motto for millions,
There is is crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in. Inna Rogatchi (C). Homage to LCohen. Caran d’Ache Neopastel, encre l’alcool on authored pigment print on cotton paper mounted on board. 80 x 120 cm. 2021.
As we all know, these lines have been overused, possibly. But at the same time, it is so true. So very true. Dear, dear Leonard, he knew it – and so many other essential things – so well. He formed it so eloquently, so beautifully. In that very best possible understated way which gets to you immediately, straight to the heart, no questions asked. And stay there. As it is seen from my fourth artistic dedication to the great and unique man in my new Postcard from the Bald Monk work completed recently. Bald Monk was Leonard’s name in his private email address. I still have it in my email system. How on earth can I delete it?.. It makes me smile every time I came across it. And I hope his spirit smiles as well in its gentle hovering over us here.