Introduction to Projects: Seeing Sinai and New Translations: Genesis
In 2001, felt that the connections and overlaps between abstract art and Jewish ideas needed expansion and that a learned guide could help me. I contacted professor Arnold Eisen, then Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Stanford University, whose study session I had once attended, and asked him to work with me on questions I had concerning art, the visual and the Torah.
I knew that in Jewish sources, the language of Torah, the very letters when spoken by G-d, are viewed as forming all of Creation. How can language be understood to underlie nature and the seen world, and what does that mean for visual experience and for an artist for whom the visual world is primary?
I also wondered if “the visual” as opposed to the auditory, was denigrated in Judaism and I wanted to know if is this was actually written in the Torah.
Professor Eisen agreed to find a way to collaborate with me. We worked without a clear plan: we spoke in my studio, looked at my abstract paintings, and Eisen listened as I spoke about color, light, unity, and dynamics. He understood that my paintings were anti-image paintings; a viewer was meant to experience a visual process, to apprehend the “becoming” of abstract unity, not to see an image. Over a year of studio visits and cross country phone conversations we read Torah, I painted on the basis of our study and he came to new interpretations that became commentaries.
Eisen did a close reading of the (Hebrew) text of Exodus 33-34, the central Torah text in which Moses asks to see the Glory of G-d on Sinai. My painting philosophy influenced Eisen’s reading of a section he had read so many times. Reading Torah in the studio, attentive to the questions of a visually focused artist allowed him to consider the subject of vision in a new context. The richness of specific words and meanings in the ancient Hebrew allowed me to paint with a different understanding of Formation.
I believe we created a hybrid form of Torah study and art. I had wanted the sense of insight that one can feel when looking at art to join with Torah insight. The resulting paintings and Eisen’s Commentary became Seeing Sinai. We showed the collaboration in a series of Jewish art venues and the project has been the subject of many articles in Jewish publications.
New Translations: Genesis was my response, as an abstract painter, to the new translation of Genesis by Robert Alter. Alter has wrought a translation that revives the physicality of the original Hebrew. In color based abstract collages, I made seven pieces for the seven days, trying to recreate through visual experience the interactions of light, matter and (some reflection of) Divine intention operating on/in that primordial day.