Michael Rogatchi’s Homages to Leonard Cohen exclusive art poster will participate at the Peru Design Biennale 2021, the largest design Biennale in the both of Americas. The Biennale 2021 commemorates the 200th anniversary of Peru’s Independence and is organised under the auspices of the UN and its cultural programs.
Michael’s exclusive art poster was selected by a top international jury from almost 13 000 artworks presented.
Homages to Leonard Cohen represents several original artworks of the artist created in different time, from 2004 through 2017, and in different techniques, oil paintings and works on paper, all dedicated to the great Leonard Cohen whom the artist knew personally.
Among the five works depicted in the exclusive art poster ( 120 x 70 cm, 2021), one work belongs to Leonard Cohen private collection. After the musician’s passing, it is still in his estate and is with the family. The other work was created by Michael as a result of him visiting Leonard Cohen’s concert in Florence back in 2010, the work was known to Leonard. One more work was created by the artist as his personal reflection on the great man’s passing.
Michael’s work will represent Finland at this largest in Americas Design Biennale to be organised in Lima in November – December 2021.
Five works by Michael Rogatchi will be exhibited at ‘I’ exhibition at the top CICA Museum in South Korea in April 2022.
The exhibition will explore the visualisation of ‘I’ concept from different angles, views and techniques. Michael Rogatchi’s works were invited by the leadership of the CICA museum and curators of this interesting conceptual exhibition due to their impressiveness, originality of concept and imagery, deep and human metaphors, and mastery of the artist’s craft.
Michael Rogatchi selected to show at this exhibition the works created throughout his artistic career, from Cognition, the one of his first oil paintings, to the new version of his well-known Yesterday rendition. The works represent Michael’s various series and collections, such as his portfolio of metaphorical works ( Cognition, Clean Page), Daily Miracles collection ( Childhood), as well as his works dedicated to music and its artistic visual interpretation ( Yesterday, and Breakthrough from the artist’s famed Libertango. Homage to Piazzolla series).
CICA Museum is one of the top international art museums, with its own concept, high professionalism , and dynamic interest in contemporary art.
The ‘I’ exhibition at CICA Museum will take place in April 6-24, 2022.
Michael Rogatchi will participate in the Abstract Mind 2022 international art exhibition at the CICA Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art, in South Korea.
CICA Museum is a well-known art institution which was established in the mid-1990s and started to operate from 2006 onward. The Museum started as the studio and gallery of the leading Korean contemporary sculptor Czong ho Kim who was studying, working and exhibiting also in New York, Los-Angeles and Geneva. From that starting point, the international dimension of the museum was started and developed. The Museum is well-known due to its numerous international projects with American, in particular, New York based museums and art institutions.
Abstract Mind 2022 is a customary CICA Museum international multidisciplinary exhibition in which the works in various genres of contemporary art render the main theme.
To participate in this exhibition, Michael undertook his artistic analysis and examination of his previous works, such as his well-known The Wheel of Fortune or Origination of Life works, as well as created new works for this exhibition specifically, such as Collage in Orange or new version of White on White, Memoir Sketch work. Five of Michael’s artworks will be present at the exhibition at the CICA Museum in South Korea.
Michael’s wife, artist Inna Rogatchi, also will be participating in the Abstract Mind 2022 exhibition with his works. It will be another international ‘joint show’ of the Rogatchi family, after their successful At the Same Time dual exhibition in Rome, Italy.
The exhibition will take place from February 23d till March 13th, 2022.
Jerusalem in the works of Michael and Inna Rogatchi
First published in The Times of Israel – https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-feeling-of-jerusalem-artistic-perspective/, as well as in Tribune Juive ( Paris, France) and The Jerusalem Connection Report ( Washington, D.C., the USA)
When examining the stones of Jerusalem, one can get as close as it gets, to the real understanding of what the Lurianic teaching means when it says that stones have their own soul, too. Stones accumulate the energy of people and their emotions throughout the time. This energy does not disappear. It stays in stones. And never deeper than in the stones of Jerusalem.
In the Temple Tunnel, there is one particular, very special place, archeological sensation. I never saw anything like it in the world. In the same hall called as Hall of Epochs by the Temple Heritage Foundation, there are physical stones, architectural details, and artefacts from five epochs: the floor and from the period of the First Temple, the stones from the Second Temple period; a column and pillars from the Hellenistic time; the arches from the Hasmonean period; and corridors from the Roman rule time, – all of it in the same physical space of not that large hall.
Jerusalem, My Stonesart video essay which includes my art photography and collages and some of my husband Michael Rogatchi’s paintings, is dedicated to all Jerusalemites, those who are physically in the Holy City and those who hold it in their hearts.
When the Silver Thread becomes the Golden Bowl
Bar-Mitzvah ceremonies for Jewish boys are organised regularly in the Tunnel today by the Temple Heritage Foundation. Significantly, many of those boys are orphans and from underprivileged families. This is what I call the Silver Thread – or the Silver Cord as it often translated from Ecclesiastes – “Remember Him before the silver cord is broken (and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed), (Ecclesiastes 12:6).
I find it very symbolic that there has been only one documented episode in the entire Jewish-Arab history where there was Arab and Jewish unification on a certain issue. What was the issue? Back in the early 20th century, between 1907 and 1914, there were scandalous and farcical escapades of British aristocrats led by Monty Parker, to excavate in the heart of Jerusalem to recover nothing less than the Ark of the Covenant. They efficiently bribed the Turkish officials who were administering Jerusalem, and they went for unauthorised excavations hiding what they were doing in the most hilarious way. When word went out that the Brits were after the Ark, Jews and Arabs of Jerusalem united in fierce riots against the illegal doings of Monty Parker’s ‘brigade’ and made him flee for his life.
At the junction where Muslim Quarter comes to Temple Plaza, there is another remarkable place, the Ohel Yitzhak Synagogue, which was destroyed by Jordan to its foundation – the same as the Hurva synagogue was – in 1948, and which had been restored in mid-2010s. The synagogue which formerly was the Synagogue of Hungarian Jewry and was built in 1870s and now it is back to life, is very light, gracious and beautiful . Just before it was re-opened in mid- 2010s, we saw the IDF soldiers with their officers there with some of them able to pray at the quiet and inviting place. This is how the Ecclesiastic Silver Thread is becoming the Golden Bowl – without cracks.Inna Rogatchi (C). Ohel Yakov reborn. Fine art collage. 70 x 50 cm. 2014.
The energy of these stones has provided the nourishment for many generations of the Jewish people, for all those who keep Jerusalem in their hearts as the nucleus of their universe.
There is no other sensation in the world like the one felt when one’s hand is touching those warm, wise stones, the stones which are speaking to you, one to one. Inna Rogatchi (C). The Thread of Jerusalem. Fine art photography. Limited Edition. 2015.
When we had visited Jerusalem for the first time in the beginning of the 1990s, we were trembling in excitement and disbelief at being on Israeli soil.
The most powerful sensation that I’ve had at the time was losing the sense of time. I felt as if the city had been kept above the earth and held upward by a superior power. It was a very distinct magnetism, gentle, but extremely firm. Most importantly, time has no power over it. I also was stricken by the the gentleness of the air around us, that unique Jerusalem gaze, those tones of gentle blue and rose and shimmering beige being melted into that one and only aired, flying colour of Jerusalem. If colours can fly, it happens at this very place.
The Feeling of Jerusalem is the sort of a sensation which transforms into conviction.
As a matter of fact, Jerusalem, to me, has never been a city – it is the Place. The unique, blessed Place of unparalleled, re-assuring power and magnetism. The source of strength and hope. The place which is upheld by the ultimate power. The Talmud provides a straightforward explanation for this: “Eternity – this refers to Jerusalem” ( Berachot 58a). Inna Rogatchi (C). The cloud of Glory. Watercolour, wax pastel, oil pastel, lapice pastel, perle le blanc on authored original archival print on cotton paper. 50 x 70 cm. 2013-2020.
The Wonders of the Tunnels
Later on, exploring the Temple Tunnel, we were extremely privileged to be at the place which is just ninety metres from the Holy of Holies. The place which is the holiest one for the Jewish observant people, is quite simple but appropriately adorned. It is a place for praying, with many praying books around, a few chairs, and a couple of rows of seats. Everything there is unpretentiously gracious and just incredibly calm.
I always think that we, people, are so small staying next to the solid parts of the Wall which are 55 and 45 thousand tons of weight each, correspondingly. But as small as we are next to these stones, we do feel their warmth – which is wondrous given the fact that they are staying erect from the Second Temple period, and are under the level of earth for thousands of years by now.
In the Tunnel, one can also see the place where the Kotel really ends, and one realises, happily, that the Kotel – and our strength emanated and sustained by it – is substantially longer than the visible part, those precious 87,5 metres of the Wall at the Temple Plaza today.
Inna Rogatchi (C). Giant of the Wall. The Temple Tunnel. Watercolour, wax pastel, oil pastel, lapice pastel, perle d’or on authored original archival print on cotton paper. 50 x 70 cm. 2014-2020.
Among the wonders of the Tunnel, we can also see the part of the authentic, original street from the Second Temple period, – and one just close of losing one’s mind trying to comprehend that we are able to touch and to be present among the stones which were witnessing and were the part of life in Jerusalem at the time of the Second Temple.
The Oleh Yitzhak Synagogue re-birth story was preceded by the well known Hurva Synagogue, a crown of the Hurva Square today. After the date of its completed restoration in 2010, it is almost impossible to imagine that this central place of the Old City once looked very different. Additionally, the Hurva story was particularly painful as it was the largest Ashkenazi synagogue in Jerusalem. Inna Rogatchi (C). Hurva Reminisce. Fine art photography. Limited edition. 1993-2013.
But when it comes to Jerusalem, there is something particular even in despair. In the early 1990s, the Hurva’s only surviving arch jumped into my husband’s and my hearts and stayed there. There are symbols like that in one’s life. Despite all the sorrow, that very arch meant our bridge to Jerusalem, for both of us. Reflecting this tangible bridge, Michael painted his so very special My Stones.Jerusalem painting which belongs to the Permanent Art Collection of the Municipality of Jerusalem, alongside famous works of Chagall and other great Jewish masters who did love Israel and Jerusalem with all their heart.Michael Rogatchi (C). My Stones. Jerusalem. Oil on canvas. 110 x 90 cm. 1993. Permanent Art Collection, the Municipality of Jerusalem.
Seventeen years after the completion of Michael’s work, Hurva Synagogue was restored. And then we united our artistic efforts and our love for Jerusalem and its spiritual treasures, and have created a special art collage, existing in the only copy. In that work, the ruins and the Arch of Hurva painted by Michael are merged with my artistic photograph of the Hurva restored. The piece is entitled Hurva Return, and we have presented the work to the outstanding Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetzki who was an instrumental figure in making the restoration of Hurva possible. Inna & Michael Rogatchi (C). Hurva Return. Fine art collage on canvas. Unique. 2013. Permanent Art Collection, the Chief Rabbi of Dnepr, Ukraine.
With Jerusalem in heart in the desert of Gulag
Our generation is lucky to remember the Day in 1967 when it had happened, when historic justice prevailed due to human courage and commitment.
My husband will never forget when Jews exiled to the Soviet Gulag who were listening to the Voice of America secretly, risking their lives, were coming out to the streets in Kazakhstan crying out of joy “We’ve made the victory! We won! Jerusalem is ours, back again!” ‘We’ – were crying with joy Jews exiled in nobody’s land. Many of us have been sharing their joy every year since Iyar 28, 1967 all over the world.
When many years and decades later, Michael was approached by the Jerusalem culture authorities with an idea to create a special collection of his works dedicated to the city, he worked with love and joy. Some of these works are the part of his special Zion Waltz series of exuberant paintings created in 2015-2017.Michael Rogatchi (C). My Yerushalaim. Exclusive art poster. 100 x 80 cm. 2021.
It is interesting to observe the transformation of feeling of Jerusalem in the artist’s heart: from painful, dramatic unsettling in Michael’s visioning of the Kotel as the essence of the Jewish history of suffering in his Portrait of the Kotel ( 1999) to the airy, flying, gentle Under the Skies of Jerusalem in 2016. In between those drama versus flight point, there are two depictions of the Lion of Judah, created by Michael with an 8 years gap, his shining Lion created in 2008, and his soothing one created eight years later, in the work called Strength of Love ( 2016). The interesting and telling detail in the both works is the thoughtfulness of the Lion. The determination of love defending the essence of Judaism and the heart of Jewish nation in the second work is pretty clear manifestation of the artist’s thoughts.
Embracing ‘the whole Jerusalem’
My heart aches every time I pass the house where Israel patriots were hiding while fighting in the underground in 1948. My heart jumps every time when I am privileged to hear our Psalms at the Great Synagogue with its magnificent choir led by Ellie Jaffe. My heart stops when I feel the gentle but powerful push of the wind at every Shabbat we start at the Wall. That push of that wind signals us that the people of the nation are heard.
And I am thinking of Bella Chagall who was willing ‘to embrace the whole Jerusalem’ when she was a five years old child sitting with her family in Vitebsk, thousands of miles from it, – but knowing by her heart, the heart of a Jewish child, what Jerusalem is about.
Thirty years passed since my first acquaintance with Jerusalem, and our life has been stuffed with events. But I still remember and do feel the sensation of my personal discovering of Jerusalem three decades ago as if it was happening today. Probably, it was the main discovery in my entire life.Inna Rogatchi (C). The Dove of Israel. Exclusive art poster. 70 x 50 cm. 2021.
The Talmud provides the insight into the secret of the Kotel: according to it, there is a mirrored image of the Temple in the Heaven, and that entity keeps the Wall standing, no matter what occurs. Yet more importantly, it transcends the Presence. This presence is felt by anyone who ever visited the Kotel, even the most self-convinced atheists.
For those who are not, in the beginning and in the end of the day, Jerusalem is the only place in this world where a person can talk with the Creator directly.
Michael Rogatchi’s Interpretation of Astor Piazzolla
Music and Soul: the 100th anniversary of Astor Piazzolla
Cultural Diary series
Ageless sources of solace
Perhaps one needs to live enough to realise that a genius is ageless.
Non-existent age of a genius has to do also with migration of souls whatever sceptics on the subject might be saying on this magnetic fact of the universe and experiences of our existence there.
According to the certain school of thinking in Judaism tradition, every soul bears its certain ‘age’, so to say, which defines the behaviour of the person in whose body it lives. This is what people mean when saying about someone ‘he or she was born as an old man or woman’, or to the contrary, this is, in fact, the reason explaining ever youngish behaviour and reactions of the people in an advanced age. It all is there, marked by ‘the age’ of our souls that we, our bodies are hosting during a span of our conscious existence in this world. Or rather they, our souls are hosting us which would be the more correct way of describing it, I think. Michael Rogatchi (C). Dance II. Oil pastel on cotton paper. 42 x 24 cm. 2013. Private collection, Austria.
The souls of geniuses are like diamonds which have been put into certain bodies to illuminate the world from within. These people are blessed to communicate with the Ultimate Source of their knowledge, their talent, their energy and their intuition directly, and this is an essential quality defining a genius who might be living and working among us. This kind of blessing is not a syrup poured over the chosen personality’s head. So very often, it is a torment, like it was in the cases of Mozart, and Leonardo, and van Gogh. What they had created very often was the outcome of a painful inner struggle, and very often it had appeared in a process of sublimation of torment into stunning reflection.
This kind of revelation is not for faint-hearted ones, it is for those who just cannot do otherwise, does not matter what. It is for those who are led by the Ultimate Force to create by the talent given to them via their unique souls and to originate completely new phenomena in our lives. The fruit of those people’s labour lives on for years, decades and centuries on – meaning that in every given generation, there are many people who accept a song, a poem, an image as their own personal, intimate treasure. As a building material for one’s own soul. As ever existing contra- punctum of solace. Michael Rogatchi (C). Breakthrough. Libertango. After Piazzolla series. Indian ink, oil pastel on lilac hand-made Italian cotton paper. 50 x 35 cm. 2013.
Unique communication of a soul
Unlikely any other field of art, music forms both our inner and outer atmospheres, sometimes simultaneously, sometime in turn. But it is always there.
In Judaism, music is regarded as the primary means of self-expression, and also, importantly, as a primary creative faculty of a person. I believe that this postulate is universal. And I understand why: it is the most organic, immediate way of letting one’s emotions out, both in joy and sorrow. It is the soul’s talk which does not require any translation. In this, such communication of a soul is unique.
Astor Piazzolla whose 100th anniversary of birth is on March 11, 2021, is among ageless geniuses, too. What he had created qualifies to this level of human achievement, indeed. Interestingly enough, and not that usual, it is not the way he played, there are some, very few, of his interpreters – like the one of his last pupils, incomparable Richard Galliano – who might come even close in their interpretation to what Piazzolla meant while creating his ageless ocean of emotions.
What Astor Piazzolla has created is not some music however interesting it might be. His genius is in creating the universe, a totally original, encompassing universe of musical dimension that absorbs a human being and which opens its own sphere of emotions. In my opinion, there is no other music created in the 20th century which does it with the same harmony, same novelty, and same beauty. Michael Rogatchi (C). Piazzolla Universe. Indian ink, oil pastel on lilac hand-made Italian cotton paper. 50 x 65 cm. 2012.
Fearless nudity of a soul
In a paradoxical way, while I call Piazzolla and his genius ageless, I am convinced that his musical language is quite-essentially organic to the 20th century. That syncope-crypted world, that fearless nudity of a soul, not due to self-centered exhibitionism but due to inexplicable strength to face the pain as it is. That screaming silence of insuperable scars and voids, both self-inflicted and received from outside. All this language of a musical monologue, and Piazzolla is an emphatic monologue, has originated namely in the 20th century, with its raging disfiguration of soul. This unique musical language has also incorporated into itself a stunned silence of a human being of the 20th century facing fruitless efforts of amending the disfigured remnant of oneself in the non-stopping turmoils of that utterly tragic period in history of civilisation.
Because of the character and quality of the energy emanating from Astor Piazzolla creations it is utterly impossible to realise that became 100 years old on March 11th, 2021. Because of its superb intellectuality, the quality which is extremely rare in music, Piazzolla’s music is perceived as ultra-modern ever. Because of his honesty and courage to share what his soul was seeing in a mirror, Piazzolla has created a unique cosmos of revelations that people often are not daring to make for themselves. With this gift of disturbing, edgy, beautiful emotional experience, Piazzolla has become the part of so many of us.
In an amazing experience of creating beauty by sharing pain, Piazzolla did express the feelings of people in a more articulated way that we dared to do it ourselves. He did it with such dignity of suffering that it has become a distinct human achievement of all times. That is what has earned him the place among those ageless geniuses – making suffering dignified and beautiful. Michael Rogatchi (C). Talk to Me II. Indian ink, oil pastel on dark-blue hand-made Italian cotton paper. 65 x 50 cm. 2013. Private collection, Washington D.C., USA.
Interpretation of music as a reflection of mentality
As a devoted member of Piazzolla followers world-wide, the matter of various ways in which musicians from different countries, with different backgrounds and of different generations are reading and understanding Piazzolla interests me always. And I never tired of hearing 20+ versions of a certain Piazzolla’s piece to compare them in nuances of interpretation.
In those interpretations, once and again, apart from accordionist Richard Galliano, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Gidon Kremer, over the years, I am repeatedly taken by the authenticity of the understanding of Piazzolla by the musicians especially from Russia and Poland. And I understand where it comes from. The degree of required openness of musicians’ nerves in the musical schools of both Russia and Poland, albeit different ones, provides the finesse of reading of Piazzolla by their musicians.
There is no surprise in this, though, as interpretation of music reflects a general mentality. Piazzolla requires courage of a special sort: courage of opening one’s inner feelings to an uncomfortable, and for many, forbidding degree. Piazzolla also requires intellectuality, his sensitivity is very brainy one. And finally, Piazzolla requires a pleasure of paradoxicality, his music is a melodic Magritte. All these qualities are historically organic for the mentality and inner distinctions of culture of people both in Russia and Poland, and for their music schools, as well.
If Polish musicians are playing Piazzolla in the most filigrane nervous equilibre imaginable, many Russian masters of music are playing Piazzolla as one breaths, without even noticing – or caring – that one may be staying on the edge of a cliff. Sometimes I think that those musicians are getting in their never-tired search for an ultimate secret of Piazzolla code yet deeper under his skin than he did sometimes allow it to himself. Michael Rogatchi (C). Tango Memories II. Indian ink, oil pastel on dark-blue hand-made Italian cotton paper. 24 x 42 cm. 2012. Private collection, Italy.
But my total surprise of the finesse of the interpretation of Piazzolla and simply bottomless, tangible tenderness of it was caused by Mongolian Symphony Orchestra. I have no explanation for that extraordinary phenomena but love. And I am so grateful for that.
Artistic homage to Piazzolla
My painter husband Michael who plays several musical instruments, accordion including, himself, and who is painting music all his artistic career and who flies in the Piazzolla space all his life, knowing , seeing, reading, thinking about Astor for years, additionally to constant listening to his music in all its variety, started to work on his homages to the creator of tango nuevo from 2011 onward. In 2013, the main part of Michael’s Libertango: After Piazzolla series appeared. The series has been exhibited widely, in many countries, with great success. Michael continues to work on this important theme for him – “because there always is something new in Piazzolla that emerges from the melodies which you are supposed to know by heart and to understand well, you thought. But in fact, Piazzolla’s thought, his inner message fluctuates on a daily basis. It enriches life to the degree of total amazement, and I am never tired of following his tunes, his inner tunes, trying to discover something intimately personal for myself. And, with never seizing gratitude to great Astor Piazzolla, I always do”, – said Michael on his ongoing work on looking, artistically, into the Piazzolla’s mirror. The expanded series of Michael’s homage to Piazzolla refers to many musical phenomena within that unique Piazzolla universe. Michael Rogatchi (C). Libertango. After Piazzolla. Homage to Piazzolla series. Indian ink, oil pastel on dark-blue hand-made Italian cotton paper. 50 x 35 cm. 2013.
Perhaps, one needs just to concentrate a bit in the midst of a hectic life whirling around to realise that a genius always is of the age of one’s at the given moment. Especially in music. And particularly in the ocean of a tango nuevo.
One hundred years of Astor Piazzolla? We are so incredibly lucky to be his contemporaries. And it is only the first century of the music of the man who brought an open heart on the proscenium of music.
Michael’s Dance painting ( 1995) created in the same period that his Freilax has won him the place among the finalists of the highly prestigious and professionally demanding British National Art Award in a very tough competition conducted by the world renowned Ben Uri Society in London, and was exhibited widely internationally. Every time it is hanged on the wall of any exhibition hall in the UK, Italy, Israel or any other place, it stands out . Michael Rogatchi (C). Dance. Oil on canvas. 92 x 60 cm. 1995.
So many times we were hearing amazed feedbacks of the people who were as if feeling that dance almost as real one. The work is close in the time of its creation to Freilax and has a similar warm atmosphere and the coloristic of that complex Jewish cosmos, with all its dark elements inevitably present due to the course of our history, and also due to the challenges of our lives in any given generation. But still, our Jewish atmosphere is keeping us by its warmth, its humanity, its comfort of common memories, experience, and values.
It is only in this kind of weaved by kindness world, a person can dance in the way Michael’s Jewish dancer does: by flying. To me, the most important element in this special figure is his emphatically erected back, with one hand behind it, and the pose of his straight up head. This is the pose of Mordechai who would not even think about bowing down any Haman on his way. The grace and self-respect of this canonic by now figure of the Jewish man dancing with his flying heart has become the one of the most important, most personal, and most beautiful statements of the artist in his entire Jewish-themed oeuvre.
In the ocean of imaginary of Jewish musicians and dancers in the visual art, it is not easy to create original characters. Michael Rogatchi opted to resolve this challenge by addressing the aspect of universality of multi-centuried Jewish experience and its emotional expression by placing his playing, singing and dancing heroes in the abstracted space of our common accommodated experience throughout our painful, but so bottomlessly humane history, and settling his figures with flying heart in the space of encompassing devotion, portraying the essence of Jewish character at the time of its pure emotional peaks – such as at the time of Purim, the time of victory of our spirit. Michael Rogatchi (C). Soul Talk. Jewish Melody series. Indian ink, oil pastel on dark-blue hand-made Italian cotton paper. 35 x 50 cm. 2013.
The 5th century BCE? Absolutely. And ever after, a year after another, living through our history, our memory, our terror and our relief, our tears and our joy. Guided by miracles, in an unique mode of survival in human experience. Being carried on in our joyful dance by the warmth of our families. Being sustained in our life journey by the warmth of our homes. Keeping hands with our people, including those who live in our memory now. Celebrating with a flying heart.
The Joy of Purim in Michael Rogatchi’s Art
Joy with Tears
In Jewish tradition, we have ten major holidays annually, with only two of them, Simcha Torah and Purim, is about exalted joy. And on Purim, that joy comes after miraculous rescue from a mortal danger and prospect of total extinction.
Many of us knew in generations that our Jewish joy is so often a joy mixed with tears, so often it contains an essential drama in it. We are genetically aware of the complexity of our joy, and many of us, also in generations, value it as a more precious gift in our lives, the same as it was known in our families and went back by generations.
And of course, the Jewish history, as the history of one big family, imprinted in our common psyche all these special marks of so many of our holidays made us to hold our breath, to pray ( including non-believers), and to have yet another layer of trials pushed onto us by those who toyed with an idea about world without Jews.
Of many and many terrible ‘specific-date’ pointed executions of Jews in Europe during the Holocaust, a horrific mass murder of over 5 000 men, women and children, with prevailing number of children there, many of them buried alive, in the Minsk Ghetto on March 2nd, 1942, on Purim, stands apart in its volume and cruelty.
Of all Jewish holidays, for some reason, Hitler and some close to him butchers were obsessed with Purim of all ten of our holidays. From the fierce ban of Purim from 1938 onward by Hitler personally, through repeated return to the theme of Purim in particular in his speeches during WWII, highlighted by his hysterical warning in an important radio-broadcast in January 1944, when he started to realise that he was losing big. What was on his devilish mind? That the Jews ‘could celebrate their second triumphant Purim festival!’ When a psycho is in a panic, he turns a seer.
And of course, that most striking sample of Purim’s miracle in our times when ten of modern-time sons of Haman, in capacity of highest the Third Reich officials, were hanged in October 1946 after the Nuremberg Trial, with the eleventh of those convicted to this punishment, Hermann Göring, committing suicide, in an incredible parallel to what has happened to the Haman’s daughter, the eleventh from his and his wife’s children of that vile family. That’s why the episode of the ten top-Nazis’ hanging in 1946 is marked in history for good by the terrified scream of one of them, Julius Streicher, the notorious publisher of Der Sturmer and the evil who personally ordered destruction of the Great Synagogue of Nuremberg in the Kristallnacht pogrom. When Streicher got on the platform just before being hanged, he screamed “Purimfest!” . Indeed, it was – and the day, October 16, 1946, was actually Hoshana Rabbah, the day of final judgement in a Jewish year. I always wished so much that Hitler was next to them on that platform on that day. And so many others, as a matter of fact who never got their punishment.
Hamentashem’s scent of victory and belonging
On a personal note and recollections, in our Jewish families, every year, with no failures, so much of that special, gift-like, hopeful joy was brought with every Purim, despite often close-to-impossible circumstances of life of the Soviet Jewry in post-Holocaust life.
Before the blossoming, larger-than-life Pesach celebration, our grandmothers were so very happy to bake hamentashems, every time with joy, that special joy of defiance, stoicism, belonging. I still remember the shape of my grandmother’s hamentashems and their taste. Most importantly, I vividly remember her smiles while she was baking them for a large enough family. My grandmother Adel Chigrinsky-Elovich, the niece of a treasurer of a huge Ekaterinoslav Jewish community with 96 synagogues in the city built by Catherine the Great as the third capital of her empire, and the daughter of Meir Chigrinsky, the person who saved that huge community of famine in the 1930s, was a limitlessly kind person. She was easy-going, warm, soft, a beauty, a fun, an able musician, and a cook extraordinaire. No wonder that her rare transformations into a steel-like, determined and absolutely off any compromise personality, always impressed me greatly. A few times in life that I saw my ever-singing grandma like that, were always about the same: self-traitors, Jews who decided to convert. The feeling of belonging in my grandmother’s world was paramount. Does not matter what.
The smell of Purim in our home was the smell of hope and smell of victory. Can a professional writer successfully describe these kinds of scents that were filling the houses of the people who were prevented by the tough and utterly unfriendly regime from using the word ‘Jew’, not to say practise Judaism? It is a hard mission to accomplish.
But we are lucky to have other means of expression in our family’s creative arsenal. My husband Michael’s large and devoted Jewish family was also Purim-tuned always, despite being pushed to live in the harsh circumstances of exile in Kazakhstan. With years distancing us from the reality which sometimes seems not that real, we are thinking on what kind of feast a few hamentashems must have been in the homes of the people where dinner sometimes consisted of a piece of rye bread, an onion, and some sunflower oil, and where herrings added to that list, was regarded as delicacy. And there had been always hamentashems, for all large Michael’s family, does not matter what. Miracle? Dreaming? Belonging.
Flying Jewish Heart
And still, they danced, they sang, they played our great music, with every accord, every move, and every breath celebrating this unique joy. The joy of flying Jewish heart – especially on Purim, of all ten of our annual celebrations of spirit.
In Michael’s Klezmorim ( 2016), the family of Jewish musicians in three generations, violinist grandfather, clarinet playing son, and contrabassist grandson, is whirling in non-stop music which is a pure joy, for the change, and which colours the world around them – and us – into the feast of hope. In this Michael’s work from his Zion Waltz series, the overwhelming joy created by celebrating musicians transforms reality into the bright dimensions marked by the colours which are not that often constituted reality for Jewish people. Michael Rogatchi (C). Kletzmorim. Oil on canvas. 120 x 100 cm. 2016. Zion Waltz series.
But on Purim, our world becomes like that: inviting, easy, infused with light, happiness , and a non-stopping melody of joy. Special, Purim joy.
Some 20 years before that painting, Michael has created another study of Jewish joy, dedicated to our families and their way to celebrate. The work Freilax ( 1995) is a warm lyrical reminiscence of the inherited way of celebration when every move of every dance, every syncope and every melody are soaked in our memories, both of immediate family one and of our common one, with all the Purims, from the 5th century BCE onward. Michael Rogatchi (C). Freilax. Oil on canvas. 77 x 94 cm. 1995.
Knowing the history of music well, Michael has a special place in his heart for Jewish musicians, many concrete ones, and also for an archetype of them, and during his career, he has created many well-known images of them. But the violinist in this work, who quite possibly has opened the gallery of Jewish musicians among created by Michael characters, stays special – in his thoughtfulness, the balance of his emotions, his content, and his belonging to air of our Jewish homes whenever they could of being.
The composition resolution of this tangibly warm painting also brings the metaphor of ever-lasting presence of major phenomena in Jewish life: the characters in this painting are playing and dancing not in the concrete place or time. They are doing it in the cosmos. Jewish cosmos which is everlasting and warm. This is what we bear in ourselves, and this is what bears us in life.
The Ancestors Families Series, part III of 4 – fine art essay by Inna Rogatchi
Fine Art Analysis by Inna Rogatchi (C)
First published in The Times of Israel, January 2021.
Artistic View: An Accord of Four Types of Spiritual Light
The Ancestors Family series
Michael Rogatchi Contemporary Biblical Art
As central as the Jacob family is in Jewish spiritual life and narrative, as it is in Michael Rogatchi’s series of his contemporary Biblical art works known as Forefathers project.
In the case of Jacob and his family, the artist sees it in two ways: as continuation of the line of the Patriarchs, of which Jacob was the last one; and as of fundamental beginning of the Jewish nation. “We all are children of Jacob”, – Michael says often.
What is interesting is that Michael’s paintings on the Jacob family created in different periods of time during a six years period are all united by the dominating expression in them, light. According to the core of all portrayed characters, that light in Michael’s paintings is different. It represents four different types of spiritual light.
Jacob: the Light of Faith
Reflecting the dual essence of Jacob, as the last of the Patriarchs and the pregenitor of the Jewish people, his Jacob on well-known Jacob portrait ( 2004) is a reflective and thoughtful man as if observing his difficult, turbulent life from a distance of time.
Of all three Patriarchs, Jacob is perhaps the most enduring character although his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham had had to endure their own enormous and unique lots. But Jacob had to overcome appearing barriers repeatedly throughout his life, from the time of his early youth after dramatic switch of identities in front of his not well-seeing father, being sent away from home by his courageous, loving and providential mother ( I personally think that Rebecca had a lot of prophetess qualities in her noble self), until his old age being confronted with terrible blows of believing that he wouldn’t seeing his beloved son Joseph again and suffering, with his entire family, by the devastating famine before being saved from all that by Joseph re-appearing in his life.
In the middle of his life, Jacob had had to fight for his love, to experience a tremendous disappointment being cheated by the close relative, the brother of his mother, Laban, over Jacob’s marriage to his daughters. He had to overcome a huge fear facing his twin Esau at the point of his life when he was responsible not just for himself, but for many children and four wives in front of his brother capable of a lot of harm to be caused to anyone, and especially so to his antithesis Jacob.
Jacob had had to witness the utterly premature death of the love of his life Rachel on the road, without being able to bury her within the land of Israel as he knew everyone expected him to do. He was left to live without the only woman he really loved for the rest of his long life while Rachel passed away so early.
Then he had to withstand the most severe blow being told that his beloved son Joseph had perished. Joseph was 17 at the time. And if all that was not enough, at the late stage of his life, Jacob and his large family had to sustain a severe famine before being saved by Creator sending Joseph back to him.
We often are thinking after reading and returning to Jacob’s story of the life of that almost devastating non-stop trial: how did he sustain it? And why was such a righteous person, such a good man, exposed to it all, the one blow after another? There is a known concept in the Rabbinic commentaries that says that a person is exposed to his or her trials in accordance with that person’s inner capacities of taking it. It is logical to see the point in this, and the life of Jacob is probably the most convincing sample of this line of thinking.
I also think that being the last Jewish Patriarch and the progenitor of Jewish people, Jacob was destined to become an ultimate example of endurance which is the core characteristic of Jewish man and Jewish people in general.
Faith is not a recreation. Faith is work, a hard work, often. It is not just knowledge, or awareness, it is living according to it – and this is not always an easy thing to do. It does require understanding, conviction, and quite a lot of strength to live in that accordance, not merely a willingness to be in an accord with a world-view and norms dictated by the faith. And here, the role of Jacob for Jewish people in all and every generation is the most important one. His role as the one who overcomes the most demanding circumstances in one’s life is not only an exemplary, it is all-assuring for every single Jew in generations.
Michael’s Jacob is thoughtful, he is in the midst of people and events as he was destined to be his whole life. He is also quite firm and decisive in this portrait, as Jewish man has to be. And he is beautiful, as all three Patriarchs were. There is another kind of beauty present, as well. The beauty of life experience is imprinted on Jacob’s reflecting face. There are wrinkles – and wrinkles. The wrinkles on Jacob’s face on Michael’s portrait of him are not only the imprint of his trials. It is also the statement of his wholesomeness.
And that look, that very special look of the man who is not surprised by challenges, but who knows how to meet them. This is the essence of the man who has become the father of Jewish people. Jacob’s endurance is the quite-essence of our genes. Especially if we are able to comprehend its necessity.
The light of Faith created by the artist in this painting is not homogenous. It graduated from its dark version into its blissed one, reflecting the whole spectrum of Jacob’s firmest, and so very dramatic in its genesis light of Faith.
Leah : the Light of Determination
Michael’s reading of Leah ( Leah, 2009) is truly special and out of usual. In the world’s art, the Matriarch Leah’s depiction is somewhat standardised: very rarely, she is portrayed alone, on her own, far more often it is done in double-portraying her with her sister Rachel in a rather predictable way and unfavourable for Leah comparison. In well-known work by Italian Dante Gabriel Rossetti ( 1855), Leah is not only obviously sad, with less life in her than Rachel, but also with very clear message-stamp by the artist who painted Leah in a violet dress, unequivocal sign of unhappiness in traditional colour code of Italy. In a well-known mural by Tiepolo done a century before Rossetti’s work ( 1726-1729), Leah is portrayed as obviously unhappy and clearly less beautiful than her sister. Even when Leah is portrayed alone, very rarely, as being sculpted by Michelangelo in his famous composition for the tomb of the Pope Julius II in San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome ( 1542-1545), she is obviously sad and tired, sculptured by the artistic genius in tangible detail.
Michael’s Leah is portrayed on her own, on purpose, with clear understanding and with intention of the artist to merit the matriarch who born six of twelve Jewish Tribes. The artist searches for Leah on her own, for what Leah was in Jacob’s life, their family and in the history of our people.
This Leah is reflective, as there is so much on her mind perpetually, her husband and her sister who are so closed between themselves that they are as if amalgamated into the one, in Leah’s perception, both painted next to her. But there is also the Lion of Judah, the symbol of our national strength, and Jerusalem on the horizon, the essence of our spiritual home, fortified by David and Solomon, Leah’s descendants. And there is also that donkey which has played such a special role in Leah’s life and her complicated contest with her sister for the man they both did love so much.
Michael’s painting of Leah is light and bright, Leah herself is dressed in a lovely garment. Yes, her story is complicated, but it is not negative, neither is it the story of rejection. How can it be in the case of the mother of six Tribes, including the tribes of Levi and Judah, the essentially important families for entire Jewish history and the way of the nation?
Personally, Michael treats Leah with emphasised respect, and artistically, he wanted to paint a different Leah from the known ones in the history of art. In my view, he succeeded. Leah’s light in Michael’s artistic interpretation is the light of determination – powerful, not always too warm, but quite lucid one. And this lucidity certainly helps to overcome many obstacles.
This painting has also a very special effect being hung on the wall – it starts to illuminate and enlightens everything around it. We have experienced it many times in different circumstances and places, and the effect is always the same. The work produces a palpable and lasting all the time special therapeutic effect. It is one more phenomenon of a nice mystery of art.
Rachel: the Light of Beauty
In history of art, Rachel, expectedly, is painted probably ten times more often than her sister Leah, and this mass of depiction is divided in two large, but not equal, groups, one, prevailing in quantity of depictions, with young, sometimes naive, sometimes poetic, always beautiful Rachel as it is done by Chagall, Ryland, Dyce, and the smaller but still large enough group of Rachel in her dying hour, with grieving family around her, like we know from the great works of Francesco Furini, Jacques Pilliard, or Giambettino Cignarolli.
In contrast to his depiction of Leah, Michael’s portrait of Rachel ( 2009) is emphatically sad. It is sad because the artist is compassionate to Rachel’s destiny to die so young, to be buried outside Eretz Israel, and to be torn off Jacob, her dear sons Joseph and Benjamin , and her entire family’s life so abruptly, and so tragically. This Rachel is not naive. This beautiful young woman looks at us with full knowledge of her tragic destiny, and also with her understanding of that very special role which she would be playing after her death.
The artist’s aim in his portraying Matriarch Rachel was to expand that special light radiating from her soul and transcending all over the place and time, from the place of her burial, with that famous ancient olive tree nearby, towards the numerous Jewish souls in generations. Rachel’s is an essentially tragic story of an unique character: her tragedy transcends light that relieves despair not only among the members of her immediate family, especially Jacob and Joseph, but among multitude of those who were and are in need of consolation.
There is a telling historical detail in that connection on Sir Moses Montefiori’s personal attachment to Rachel’s tomb. As it is known, the tomb as we know it today and as it hinted in Michael’s work , has been the result of Sir Moses’ initiated and undertaken reconstruction of the Ottoman period’ building in 1841. It was at that crucial reconstruction that Sir Moses who luckily had a very able Italian Jewish architect cousin David Moccata, added an important chamber for praying to Rachel’s tomb, but also quite importantly he did obtain the key from the shrine for the Jewish community which was his another great, crucial deed for the Jewish people and Eretz Israel at the time.
Two decades after the renovation of the original Rachel’s Tomb, the replica of it had appeared at the Montefiore’s private estate which also is the location for their private historical synagogue to this day, in Kent, England, as Lady Montefiore and Sir Moses’ place of their final rest. The special attachment of Sir Moses to Rachel was in him from his childhood, his mother’s name was Rachel, as well.
Joseph: the Light of Strength
The connection between mother and son in the case of Matriarch Rachel and Joseph is worth a book of itself, as well as the role of Joseph in his family, his relations with his troubled but stoic father, and his siblings, the Tribes. Joseph is so very special not only because of thriller-like circumstances of his life, but mainly because of the purity of his outstanding soul and strength of his barely imaginably will. He is the epitome of the best in Jewish people. Maybe, that’s why Michael Rogatchi decided to paint only one brother from Jacob’s twelve sons, Joseph.
According to Midrash, Joseph was the first person who was praying at his mother’s place of burial when he was broken away from his Egyptian captors on the way to Egypt, to turn to help and protection in his utter despair. He knew and remembered the place as he was seven at the moment of Rachel’s burial. Ten years on, on his way as a captive of Egypt, Joseph ran, if even for a moment, towards it, marked with the pillar of stones, one of which was put by himself.
The fact that his mother was buried literally on the road was the open wound in Joseph’s heart for all his life. His father Jacob knew about it and tried to explain himself to his beloved son after they reunited twenty two years after the trick that his brothers did to him.
Based on the teaching of Tosafos, brilliant Baal HaTurim, Jacob ben Asher, the one of the most important Torah commentators, provides important commentary on the crucial role that Joseph played in the entire Jacob’s life, in Jacob’s own perception. According to it, and supported by the meaning of corresponding gematria, “this teaches us that Jacob did not have any good years without suffering except for 34 [years of his life], that is, seventeen years from Joseph’s birth until he was sold, and seventeen years in Egypt [during he and Joseph were together again]” ( Baal HaTurim Chumash, The ArtScroll, 2004). This is 34 years from Jacob’s 147 years of life.
No wonder that this expressive work always commands a powerful attraction among the audience when it is exhibited at Michael’s shows. The meaningful composition resolution in this painting is the artist’s metaphor of the light which encapsulated Joseph and all of us in the world which can be antagonistic, hostile and unmerciful. This is a captivating message of this profound work.
When looking and thinking on those works of Michael Rogatchi dedicated to the Jacob’s family, the combination of these four different types of spiritual light comes out as a major factor for each of these works and for all of them together: assuring light of Faith of Jacob, settling light of determination of Leah, consoling light of beauty of Rachel, and protecting light of strength of Joseph. All together, the light of the illustrious family of the progenitors of the Jewish people which still sustains us and infuses us with our ability to survive and to keep our spiritual integrity, the oxygen of life.
The Ancestors Families Series. Part II of 4 : by Inna Rogatchi (C)
Fine Arts: The Isaac Family in Pictures
Artistic interpretation of the Torah in Michael Rogatchi Art
By Inna Rogatchi (C).
First published in The Times of Israel , November 2020 .
In between the first Jewish couple of Abraham and Sarah and the couples that their grandson Jacob set with Leah and Rachel, the couple of Isaac and Rebecca might be slightly off the attention which it deserves, in my understanding.
Perhaps it was traditionally led by our non-comfortability towards Isaac. People are always at loss when they are facing someone who went through something unimaginable. And Isaac’s experience of a trial of Akedah is the ultimate one in the history of mankind.
So how Isaac should be treated by anyone around him, in generations? Pretending that nothing has happened to him and he is like any other person? Or to go to another end of a psychological make-up and to sit on his trial forever thus inflicting the awful experience onto him perpetually? To dismiss the non-comfortability of our own facing the extreme in the open without really knowing of how we personally would behave under the circumstances? Probably, the prevailing inclination towards the third, neutral-safe behavioural option has slightly shifted Isaac and his family off our attention in comparison with his father and his sons. Do we really understand Isaac? Do we know enough about him for that?
I always was paying attention to this aspect and was thinking about Isaac and his family with additional attention. That is why Michael’s artworks rendering Isaac and his family are having a special magnetism for me.
Isaac and his eyes
In his Forefathers project, including the Patriarchs, the Matriarchs series and drawings on the theme, Michael Rogatchi has turned to Isaac few times, firstly portraying him in Akedah in 2001 – detailed analyses of it and Abraham family is here – , and then in two more works, portraying Rebecca and her ( and Isaac’s) family in 2009, and reflecting on a special introvert character of Isaac in his drawing of him made in 2016.
There is a serious difference between the images of Isaac in the earlier artist’s undertaking and those one which he produced later on. If in Akedah Michael’s Isaac is a beautiful and attractive man projecting goodness and kindness, in Rebecca ( 2009) and Isaac ( 2016), he is much older and obviously sadder.
In the psychological history of mankind, Isaac is unique. His personal experience is so unbelievable from many points of view that it clearly sets him apart from everyone. Who else went through such a trial? What consequences did Isaac bear to the end of his days because of him to be chosen as a test of devotion of both his father and himself? How did it all affect Isaac’s family, his wife Rebecca, one of his two sons Jacob in particular, and even the one of his grandchildren, the most special of The Tribes, Joseph?
We know – and can easily follow it on the grounds of conventional logic – that after Akedah, Isaac has become clearly introverted. To emphasise it, both the Talmud and the Zohar are teaching us that Isaac was preoccupied with digging wells. As a result, he has improved the quality of Eretz Israel, both literally and metaphorically. And it is a very direct indication on what Isaac’s introvert essence meant : depth that seeks vitality. What’s more, we learn from the Talmud that Isaac dug five wells, with their exact locations provided. The Talmud mentioned that these five wells correspond to the five books of Moses.
Michael’s Isaac in his gentle, loving drawing of 2016 shows the man of devotion and reflection. Isaac in this drawing is slightly but clearly melancholic, with his eyes dimmed, in direct reference to the Torah.
Why did Isaac’s eyes become dimmed? Did he not suffer enough because of Akedah? There are several explanations or rather short mentions about it in our Scriptures, with the most grounded of them telling that it was the direct result of King Abimelech’s curse upon Isaac’s mother Sarah at the moment when Abimelech has realised that he would never have that woman. “Let it be for you an eye covering’ – Abimelech pronounces to Sarah in Genesis ( Gen. 20:16). Isaac’s blindness is understood by our Sages to be the direct fulfilment of Abimelech’s curse. Isaac was destined to pay for his great mother’s integrity. The drama of life projects these difficult things on the best of us sometimes, starting from our Patriarchs and Matriarchs.
Michael pays special attention to Isaac’s dimmed eyes in both of his later portrayals of him, eight and fifteen years after he portrayed Isaac in his Akedah. One is seeing in his close-range portrait of our second Patriarch in the drawing made in 2016, and another one as the telling detail on the large canvas portraying Rebecca in Michael’s stunning statement on our second Matriarch that he created in 2009 as part of his elaborated, extraordinary The Matriarchs series.
There is another very interesting circumstance in not that straightforward relations between Isaac and his son Jacob, or maybe in Isaac’s who as we know from the Torah ‘loved Esau’, in Isaac’s attitude towards Jacob. Many years after highly dramatic episode painted in Michael’s work, when Jacob was himself the father of twelve sons, and when he was mislead to think that his beloved son Josef is dead, Isaac who was still alive, he knew the truth, he knew that Joseph is alive – and he did not tell about it to his son who is in complete torment. How come? Why? The Talmud tells us that Isaac’s line of thought at the moment was subdued:” If H-shem does not let Jacob know that Josef is alive, who am I to intervene?” – he thought to himself. Drama bearing more drama. But this behaviour is completely understood if you remember that it is Isaac , the person who survived Akedah. This kind of trauma never goes away.
The interconnection inside the Patriarchs families is amazing. The connection between Isaac and his grandson Josef gets its own aspect yet later on, at the moment of Isaac’s death. What is the connection? The Talmud sees it as the direct one: Isaac died at the very moment when Joseph stood in the font of the Pharaoh. Isaac knew that his grandson who was in awful and imminent danger for so long, would be OK now. His soul was in peace and could depart.
Rebecca and her vision
Michael’s portrait of Rebecca is the one of the rare paintings which one can gaze upon for a long time, time and again, every time finding yet new layers in the narrative of the portrait which has been classified by the art expert as a historical portrait, the portrait of a historical personality.
One can immediately see that Rebecca is portrayed here in the most dramatic moment of her life, at the moment when she decided to go on with her bold – and elaborated – plot to make Jacob, her beloved son, the one who would get Isaac’s blessing, the pivotal moment not only in Jewish, but in the world’s history as well. Would not Rebecca intervene, Esau – and the forces which he was embodiment of – might get the blessing of his father, and the history of the world would become much bleaker, undoubtedly.
On the canvas, we can see a beautiful woman of exceptional qualities deep in thoughts. Beautiful she was resembling in her outlook Sarah, as it is mentioned in the Talmud. And this also was created with a purpose, to console Isaac after his great Mother’s death, and to continue the genetic line of the Patriarchs, also phenotypically.
Actually, Dr Freund who was very well versed in Jewish history and in the Torah, did not take his fundamental point on correlation between the psyche of a son and the psyche of a mother from nowhere. He took it from the Torah and Talmud practically literally and then developed it to something never proven and utterly subjective. But he knew the secret – that basic point of the most important inter-connection between a mother and her son will always resonate in most of his patients precisely because there is a pre-dispositioned knowledge about it which is related in the Talmud. That knowledge tells that a son is always deeply and on many levels inter-connected with his mother – until the moment when he gets married, and when that inter-connection switches from son-mother bond to husband-wife bond. The first instance in which the Torah tells us about it is Parasha Toldot in which Isaac gets consoled after the tragic death of his beloved mother Sarah when he married Rebecca.
One should not forget that as Sarah died at the time of Akedah without knowing of its happy-ending. It is also quite plausible that Isaac could well project some subjective self-guilt of that tragedy on himself. That’s why he was so specifically double-mourning, that’s why he needed that consolation twice as usual man under usual circumstances might need it. And that’s why Rebecca was resembling Sarah, she was ‘in the image of Sarah’, according to the Talmud – as she is in Michael’s beautiful, lyrical and very thoughtful painting.
This painting also refers directly to another very important detail in the Parasha Toldot and our knowledge from the Torah on that so crucial first meeting between Rebecca and Isaac when Rebecca without second thought knowingly and willingly followed Abraham’s ‘special envoy’ Eliezer whom Isaac’s father sent to his family home to get the right wife for his Isaac, and when running camels on their way back to the house of Abraham and Isaac, Eliezer and Rebecca and Eliezer met Isaac in the field.
What field was it, by the way? According to the Talmud and Mishah, it was the field next to the Cave of Machpelah, the place of burial of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs except Rachel, that Abraham has acquired some while before in famous episode ( narrated in the previous Parasha Chayei Sarah) for Sarah’s burial.
What Isaac was doing in the field at the moment Rebecca and Eliezer were approaching? He was praying, being in talis, and with his hand in front of his face. It was mincha, the afternoon prayer which has been instituted by Isaac, as we know. But what’s more, there is no coincidence in that, as there is no coincidence in any event narrated in the Torah and Rabbinic literature. Isaac who was conceived on Rosh HaShanah, was born on Pesach, and it was midday, according to Bereshit Rabbah tractate of the Talmud. So the afternoon prayer mincha instituted by our second Patriarch, has been ‘marked’ to happen in this way by the very time of his birth.
In stunning consistency of important signs, we know from the Talmud that when Eliezer saw Rebecca for the first time next to the well ( and here is another parallel to the well as a symbol and main occupation of Isaac in life in general), it was mincha time, as well, tellingly.
What detail in the artwork in question speaks directly on the important symbolic detail in the Torah narrative in the parasha Toldot of the episode of Rebecca and Isaac’s first meeting? The veil.
Seeing Isaac and was impressed to her innermost, Rebecca instantly has put her veil over her. That veil in the understanding of the Talmud meant twins. In Michael’s painting, the veil and its two contrasting colours represents exactly that, with depth of a very dark blue for Esau and warmth of sun for Jacob. It is wrong to think too simplistically on many phenomena. Isaac loved Esau, and later on in life, Jacob did receive his name of Israel from the Esau’s archangel, thus meaning that as Ishmael had repented at some point as it is known from the Talmud, as Esau did have important potentials and at least once had used it in a seriously meaningful way. And that decisive blue also means necessary action by Rebecca, and refers to that part of her thoughts. So, deep blue is not a total black.
As for Jacob, on the painting, the more concentrated, heavy tone of yellow part of Rebecca’s veil which is closer to her and symbolises all uneasiness of her and Jacob’s decisions and deeds in getting the blessing from Isaac which he prepared for Esau, that heavy colour gets more and more lucid behind Rebecca’s head and figure symbolising that Jacob’s way in life and what he did on his way that started from his home when his mother has sent him, with Isaac’s blessing, for safety, meant sun and purity for our people in coming generations. We all are children of Jacob and his sons, after all. And in a stunning artist’s statement, small figure of Jacob is completely alone on that long road. From now on, all decisions are his, and all responsibility too.
Because of her unparalleled bravery, Rebecca was emphatically marked by the Creator: she is the only Matriarch and the only female in the Torah with whom the Creator spoke. It happened at the moment when she was praying for having children. “H-shem said to her…” . The Talmud comments that it has been done, that the Creator has spoken with Rebecca uniquely, via Shem.
Why Shem? Because Rebecca was praying to the Creator at the very special place, the Academy of Shem and Eber, as it is written in Bereshit Rabbah. To the further excitement, the place is still there, it is situated in Safed, and I have personally found it completely on my own, with Creator’s help, a decade ago. It was an overwhelming feeling to be there. Later on, in a historical book, I’ve read that Sir Moses Montefiori and his wife Lady Judith were brought on their special request to this very place when they were visiting Palestine in 1839.
There are many things in Rebecca’s life which made her unique. Additionally to those mentioned above, she was also the first woman in history who married the man who was circumstanced in full accordance with Jewish law, on the eight day after his birth.
Michael is often asked by experts, curators and public members: “Why is your beautiful Rebecca so sad in your portrait of her?” The artist usually replies that he chose to portrait Rebecca at the moment of her taking the most difficult decision in her life – as she knew that she would not seeing her beloved son Jacob again.
This is a definite tragedy of our beautiful and very brave second Matriarch Rebecca. And also, I personally find it very sad that there is no mentioning about Rebecca’s death in the Torah, unlikely to the rest three Matriarchs. Why is it so? In Pesikta Rabbati ( 12:22), the Talmud says it that as is happened, at the time of Rebecca’s death, Jacob was not there, and Isaac “was sitting at home, his eyes dimmed”. Because the two closest to her beloved men in her life would not be able to accompany her bier for burial, she did ask the Creator to grant to her that she ‘would be taken out during the night’, so the Torah does not mention her death following and respecting her will. Rather sad, I would say, the same sad as the circumstances of Sarah’s death. In their deaths, both most important women for Isaac, his mother and his wife, were encountering similarity, as well.
Turning to the more positive side, Michael’s own interpretation of this painting about Patriarch Isaac’s family is about a miracle. In his own words, “ This painting is about a miracle. Rebecca was a chieftain’s daughter who never usually went to the well to get water for animals due to her status. But one morning she went there. And when she did so, and was about to start collecting water, she did not have to bend down to the well as the water jumped into her jar. That was the morning when Eliezer, Abraham’s trusted servant, went in search of a bride for Isaac on Abraham’s behalf. To my understanding , the memory of those miracles provided Rebecca with the strength she needed to be able to send her beloved son Jacob at the crucial moment to save his life, despite knowing that she would never see him again. Miracle and Jew are inseparable. There is no Jew without a miracle. Belief in miracles is one of the strongest elements in the entire Jewish world and heritage, even though many of us do not fully realise it. And miracles are definitely an explanation for our survival” ( Michael Rogatchi. Forefathers. 2011).
If anything in about a miracle in our incredible Jewish spiritual history, and in its origin, the history of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs families in particular, the miracles of Rebecca and Isaac are certainly about it, from the beginning to the end.
The ANCESTOR FAMILIES SERIES. ARTISTIC INTERPRETATION OF THE TORAH IN MICHAEL ROGATCHI ART
FINE ARTS: The ANCESTORS SERIES
Artistic Interpretation of the Torah in Michael Rogatchi Art
First published: The Times of Israel
Published: Tribune Juive, France
In memoriam: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks passed away on the morning of Shabbat Parasha Vayera. In our eulogising the great Rabbi and our friend, it has been mentioned about the special timing for his abrupt and shocking passing away. Parasha Vayera and following it Parasha Chayei Sarah when the shiva for Rabbi Jonathan Sacks will end, both are telling about the Abraham family, the first and most important among Jewish families.
Michael Rogatchi has been inspired by the Torah in his art profoundly. Michael also has developed a special intellectual and human affiliation to Rabbi Sacks, in his teaching and him as a warm, thoughtful and special person. In his turn, Rabbi Sacks knew and appreciated Michael’s work. “I found the work of Michael very beautiful and deeply spiritual”, – Rabbi Sacks wrote to the artist a year ago, in November 2019.
I would like to dedicate this essay to enlightening memory of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, thinking with love and compassion of his wonderful wife Lady Elaine, his children and all the family – IR.
The Flight Into Other Dimensions
The families of Patriarchs and Matriarchs in the Torah are more than a family. It is a prototype, ‘a matrix’ of a nucleus of our most important way of life. The fact that their own lives were full of events, drama and unexpected turns that needed unorthodox resolutions adds the convincing power to the Torah narrative when it is applied to our all’ lives, thoughts and ideas. But not only.
Art is a special domain of human activity. It makes our lives richer, interesting, spirited, it fills it with beauty and fantasy, with originality and dream. With freedom. It fills it also with imagination and allows us to find ourselves in other dimensions. And other dimensions we do need, as a rule, but now, in the realities of the pandemic which has altered our lives so deeply, widely and dramatically, we do need it more than ever. Much, much more. We need it badly.
In this ANCESTORS FAMILIES series of my FINE ARTS collection of writings, the attention is focused on the key-families of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs and the Moses family. In his Forefathers project, Michael Rogatchi has paid special attention to these four groups of our ancestors in his artistic interpretation of the Torah in a rare undertaking of contemporary figurative art. We are learning about these families every year while reading the Torah through our annual reading circle. Michael’s special attention to these four families has to do with the role of the Patriarchs, Matriarchs and Moses family in the Jewish spiritual psyche. In our common, and still, everyone’s individual identification to various degrees with these fundamental personalities and the key characters of the Torah.
What kind of people were our Patriarchs and Matriarchs? What can be added to their stories, their decisions and deeds narrated in the Torah from the worthy sources of primary commentaries of Rashi, Maharal, Malbim and the other early commentators? What special details are enlightened regarding the characters of Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Pirkei Avot, Talmud, and Mishna? What perspective is added to all that by the visions of our great contemporaries such as Rabbi Steinsaltz, Rabbi Sacks, and HaRav Ginsburgh?
It is from the tapestry of all that knowledge and insights that Michael bases and waves out his artistic interpretations of the fundamental Biblical figures, and forms his own, distinctive imaginary of the people who have become symbols, the pillars of our attitude to life and our understanding of it.
Abraham and Sarah in the landscape of the Torah
In his contemporary Biblical artworks, Michael created two double-portraits of Abraham and Sarah. It is the only couple, the only Biblical heroes whom he painted twice. Unlike many artists, Michael does not return to the same subject or character often, except when he is working on music reflecting on its ever-fluid changes. But this is another story.
In his Biblical series, the artist stays to his principle and his way of work which he has developed due to his scientific background: from elaborating the task, making a thorough research, forming the understanding, to expressing it.
Of course, art would stay science if an idea, thought, concept and knowledge in it would not be enriched by feeling, emotions, vision and originality. One can produce pretty useful scientific outcomes by being diligent in something not quite original, but important and useful. In art, if one is banal, he or she is lost. Copying, even of the best quality, is for learning, as all artists know, from Renaissance ones to Rotko.
In his approach to his work on the Biblical themes, Michael is guided by the aspiration to create a distinctive new image to express the phenomenon which is the primary one for his heroes in his understanding.
He painted Abraham and Sarah for his The Patriarchs series in 1999 and Sarah (and Abraham) for his The Matriarchs series in 2009 as a couple, instead of as separate characters. “Abraham and Sarah are that rare very happy case when a husband and a wife are becoming the one”, – Michael tells on the background of his works on the first Patriarch and Matriarch portrait.
His work created in 1999 is essentially about this vital amalgamation.
Michael has explained this rendition in his own essay on the subject: “ According to our sages, an individual Jew represents only a half of a whole, and in order to become a whole requires the missing half. Abraham and Sarah are the perfect example of the whole, shaped from the organic amalgamation of two halves. ” ( Michael Rogatchi, Forefathers essay, 2011).
Not surprisingly, the artist solved the work practically in a monochromatic way, with slight lightening of the unifying orange in the Sarah part emphasising the enlightening role of a woman in general, in a Jewish family, in any family, and in this very case.
The choice of the colour in the work refers to Eretz Israel in a symbolic way, its sun, its sand, its desert, which is seen by the artist – who genuinely likes a desert, in a rare quality – not as a threatening and hostile challenge, but as an accumulation of sun, as a reflection and depositary of it. And also, importantly, as an expression of energy, strength, livelihood which were characteristic for both Abraham and Sarah individually, and of their couple, as well.
A simple composition of this symbolic frontal double-portrait, which is at the same time is also a family portrait and is a romantic portrait, is clever to convey several important symbols via both Abraham and Sarah’s unified hairs which form ‘the borders’ of the portrait. It symbolises key elements of the Israeli landscape, its sand, mountains, slopes and rivers.
The stories of the Torah, and those of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs in particular, creates the phenomenon which can be described as the landscape of the Torah. To render that landscape artistically is a rare pleasure.
The orange harmony on Michael’s work is also about coexistence, its merits, its comfort, its conditions and principles. In the words of the artist: “Love, delicacy, consideration, mutual self-sacrifice, – all these elements defined the lives of Abraham and Sarah, the first Jewish married couple. In their case, there also was the crucial element of self-discipline, that unique mutual understanding, and their inability of one to live without the other. In this, they are quite different from Adam and Eve”, – believes the artist ( Michael Rogatchi, Forefathers essay, 2011).
My favourite term, and actually, the part of the vision of my husband in his perception of Abraham and Sarah as a whole is ‘delicacy’. How rare and precious it is in human relations in general, in marital relations in particular. Perhaps, the long-run relations are successfully long and loving just precisely because of this ability to exercise delicacy towards each other.
As Abraham was able not just merely listening, but hearing and believing what Sarah was telling to him, even if he sometimes not quite understood her or her motives, or it did not come to him immediately. As Sarah always was seeking to do what is good and right for Abraham, even if it might lead to her own suffering. Their bond was unique – and doubly important because it was the first one on both intuitive and conscious levels in the history of humanity and civilisation.
In this warm and thoughtful portrait of Abraham and Sarah, the most important feeling, to me, is the mutual content of our first Patriarch and Matriarch with their inseparability, as it is resolved in the work by a double-effect of their shared eye with those soft smiles and quiet radiation of unshakeable confidence of both of them in their shared love.
Sarah and Abraham: the beauty of the soul
Ten years after Michael’s first portraying our first forefathers in his the Patriarchs series, he continued the Forefathers project with The Matriarchs collection ( 2009-2010). Then Sarah appeared among his painted heroes again, this time in the leading role of the couple’s next portrait.
The second Michael’s double-portrait of Sarah and Abraham is the portrait of a mature married couple. Everything is different here from their first portrait: the portrait’s composition, its coloristic resolution, the expressions of his heroes’ faces.
If the first portrait was a portrait of overwhelming mutual magnetism, the second one is a portrait of wisdom. If the first portrait was a statement of a synchronised breathing of a pre-destined couple, the second one is about synchronised thinking of the same couple. This ongoing dialogue between Michael’s Abraham and Sarah does not need words.
The colours in the second portrait are as if coming from the first one, as life develops from its starting point when a family is formed. The same orange which was the only colour of Michael’s first Abraham and Sarah, stays on as a background of the second portrait, with colours of experience in their life weaved into that: dark-red of wisdom, light-red of the gentleness of love, blue of resilience, the emerald of will, the turquoise of challenges, light rose of loving-kindness, the light blue of hope in a child, the first Jewish child of the first Jewish couple; the dark green of determination. And a lot of light yellow, the light of sun over Jewish people, the descendants of Abraham and Sarah.
Altogether, in Sarah and Abraham’s second double-portrait, the artist presented a full, vibrant palette of life which has originated from the first portrait’s monochromatic colour of promise rooted in deep conviction and warmth of love.
The expressions of Sarah and Abraham’s faces on the second portrait are similarly thoughtful as in their faces in the first portrait, but with a different kind of thoughtfulness. In this work, their thoughtfulness is more knowledgeable and bears the signs of life-experience. And what life-experience our first Jewish couple has had, indeed.
Quite interestingly, the emotional balance in this portrait keeps the ratio of the first one. In the second portrait, Sarah has a similar enlightening smile which is as if coming from her innermost, and Abraham has that inner expression of his unconditional support of Sarah, her thinking, her ideas, her feelings, her intention, whatever it is.
In a contrast with the first portrait, the composition of the second one is different. Instead of looking directly at us frontally, now Sarah and Abraham are looking at each other. It is like their joined life full of so many challenges and dramas, which did provide them both with so much to discuss, with words not quite necessary to convey the feelings.
Their faces are beautiful, and it is an important integral part of the artist’s understanding of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs who were emphatically beautiful people. There is a serious metaphor in their beauty which is much deeper than just the features of their faces. It is a special kind of beauty which the Torah sets for us. It is a beauty of the soul. An ideal towards which we all should strive if beauty speaks to us. And what else speaks if not beauty?
Sarah ( 2009) is a sophisticated and modern portrait of Matriarchs and Patriarchs, but it is also quite a tender one. One of its winning and special qualities is transparency, the effect which Michael likes to use. It is a difficult thing to achieve technically, but when it is applied successfully, the entirely new dimension appears in artwork, transcendence, and this is the category which is essentially important for our very understanding of Judaism.
In the case of artistic interpretation of the Torah, and this very work, the transcendence of light in it projects the image and the principle of the tradition gently. It is achieved by setting the attractive light of the nest of life which has been set for us by the first Jewish family of Sarah and Abraham.
Akedah: the rock-bed of Jewish family
Abraham and Sarah’s only son Isaac is portrayed by Michael in his The Patriarchs series as part of the family, along with his parents. Michael said that he sees Isaac ‘as the part of the unit with his parents, Sarah and Abraham, perhaps, more than any other central Torah figure, for a historically logical reason: together, the three of them institute the origin of Jewish people, the beginning of the line of Jewish generations. The birth of Isaac, the giving the son to Sarah and Abraham by the Creator, is the key-moment of Jewish civilisation”.
Michael has chosen Akedah, the most dramatic moment in the lives of all three of them, as the plot to portray his own interpretation of that meaningful unity of the first Jewish family. Was not he worried to step into such over-exploited territory? Akedah probably is the most referred to Biblical episode. On the contrary, Michael responded. “ I did not want to treat this episode in a purely illustrative manner, with legs and hands bound. I wanted to capture the spiritual moment, the moment of that father and that son’s greatest possible spiritual strain that – because of their both’ giant spiritual efforts – has become the touchstone in the history of our people”.
In the expressive masterly painting, the contra-punctus combines ‘the melodies’ of Abraham and Isaac in the most daring moment for both and each of them. Father and son, they both come from the rock ( following the Isaiah famous saying “ Abraham is the Rock from Which We Are Chipped, Is. 51:1) and return to the rock of our fundamental convictions as Isaac in the painting are forming the same rock with Abraham, expectedly, as his son, but in much-enforced motion after his ultimate life-threatening trial, consciously so.
Akedah is a triple-portrait. Sarah is created here by the artist as the figure above Abraham’s head, with her hands stretched forward in her dramatic effort to save her only son. With Sarah’s figure in that position of motherly wholesome gesture of sacrifice and protection, the portrait of Abraham’s family is complete. With her character and her resilience, Sarah is absolutely the part of the same Abraham’s Rock, the strength of our nation. The whole family is very embodiment of this strength. And the drama which is obvious in Sarah’s desperate gesture is that she would die of horror of the thought of her only son’s death being poisoned by the terrible thought by Satan intentionally. A woman’s heart is not made from steel.
Colouristically wise, the artist as if combines the ideas behind the two previous portraits of Abraham family, with its further development: the orange from the first Abraham and Sarah’s portrait is coming here as the main colour as well, being enforced into its darker tones, to emphasise the drama of Akedah. The contrasting beautifully deep turquoise background, the colour which is not used often in contemporary art, and in general too ( because it is quite demanding against all other colours), bears the idea which Michael will develop colour-wise, in the second portrait of Sarah and Abraham which he will create eight years after the Akedah. The contrast achieved in this painting is deep and thought-evoking, and as far from a banal resolution, as possible.
In this unusual family portrait, father and son are looking at each other in the same way in which Abraham and Sarah will be facing each other in the second portrait of them painted by Michael in 2009. I find it fascinating that Isaac here is having the very same place which his father would be having on the second portrait, and even their both faces are quite similar, as it should be because from the Rabbinic literature we know that Isaac and Abraham looked so similar that people often mistook them each for another.
Michael’s Isaac is special. One can see that in the portrait, he is an adult man, he was 37 at the time of Akedah. At the same time, his special thoughtfulness and immersion into his own reflections is distinct. The artist’s message is clear: a person who survived such a trial as Akedah, is special, different, and he becomes thoughtful and introverted until the end of his days. As Isaac was indeed, as we know from the Torah and the Rabbinic literature. This image of Isaac is memorable in the existing image gallery of the depictions of our second Patriarch in art.
Sarah’s figure in her desperate effort to save her only son is a bold and elegant composition decision. She is trying to protect Abraham and she is trying to reach Isaac. The only person she does not think here absolutely is herself. Typical Jewish mother. It is this dynamic metaphor that unites the three of them together, thus making their unit a family. Ceiling it as the family, actually.
And this is what it all is really about: when powerful, talented, mighty individuals are able to make a family which is the nest for everyone at any age. Who knows what kind of families there would be among the people in the Jewish world unless we won’t have the stunning, magnetic, powerful, and so very absorbing in their dramatic history samples of the families of our ancestors, starting from the Abraham family. The Rock of Jewish nation Abraham, the exemplification of femininity Sarah, who together, with Creator’s willingness, produced the heights of thoughtfulness in Jewish tradition, Isaac.
In Michael Rogatchi’s interpretation, all this is reflected in a special way of knowledgeable artistic thinking and fine expression, bringing the origin of our tradition closer to our modern way of perception and reflection.
The publication of The Ancestors Families series in Michael Rogatchi Art continues
Essay by Inna Rogatchi about the depicting the Isaac Family by Michael Rogatchi in his contemporary Biblical series has been published internationally. This is continuation of The Ancestors Family in art series analysing Michael’s interpretation of the main Biblical families in detail. The essay in full can be read here.