In celebration of Chanukah, I wanted to take a moment to talk about a few artists of Jewish descent that have somehow shaped the discipline they ascribed themselves to.
Starting off with one of the larger names in art history, Amadeo Modigliani was an Italian Jew. He grew up hearing about the master paintings held in the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence and when he fell sick with typhoid fever at the tender age of 14, his mother promised to take him to visit when he recovered. Clearly, he did, and she didn’t merely plan a visit to the museum, she signed him up for lessons with the painter Guglielmo Micheli. Modigliani showed great skill in painting, but reacted against the conventions of the time. He preferred painting indoors as opposed to en plein air, and rather than paint landscapes (to my knowledge, three exist) he chose portraiture and the human figure. Moving to Paris, he contracted tuberculosis- which he treated with alcohol and drugs, creating a whirlpool of physical pain, addiction, and depression that fed into his art style. In his work, the figures are elongated, and his work fits into no specific discipline.
Onto one of my favorite artists, Mark Rothko. Rothko was born in Russia, moving to the United States- to Portland, Oregon before moving to NYC to attend Yale. After dropping out, he fell in with the avant-garde crowd and began to paint as well. His early paintings were dark urban interiors, but it wasn’t until Milton Avery encouraged him that he felt he could pursue a career as a fine artist. At his core, he was a radical activist who connected strongly with his Jewish heritage, and was deeply passionate about worker’s and women’s rights. He was raised by a staunchly Marxist father who abhorred religion. As he matured, so did his work, slowly evolving into fields of color.
Judy Chicago was born into a family with a long lineage of rabbis, and grew up knowing she wanted to be an artist. Born Judy Cohen, she adopted the last name ‘Chicago’ to embrace her greater understanding of not just the world she lives in, but also herself. Following that, she fully dedicated herself to women’s rights and empowerment, whether it be through her own teaching, work, or supporting other women artists. She’s shared her view on many things from ‘the male gaze’ in Powerplay, to narrating childbirth through The Birth Project. Following those projects, she became more interested in her heritage in The Holocaust Project: From Darkness to Light, most of which is currently on display in Pittsburgh.
Happy holidays to all, be safe and best of luck for the coming year!