Life of Jewish Art

Comments and discussion about the role of Jewish visual arts in Jewish civilization.

Moshe Rynecki: A Window to the Past

My great-grandfather, Moshe Rynecki (1881-1943), used his paintbrush and palette to chronicle the life of his community - the Jewish people of Poland. He painted Jewish worship and religious study, as well as cultural and lifetime milestones such as wedding celebrations and death. Most of all, he had a special affinity for portraying people at work in their everyday tasks. More than merely recording the scenes he painted, he features details that are often lost in the background of day to day life, illuminating and making plain the essence of his subjects.

In painting a group of men sb2ap3_thumbnail_gyj_light.jpgitting at a table studying the Talmud, Moshe highlights the Rabbi gesticulating as he speaks and men's spines curved from hours of studying. Instead of showing a dark interior scene with a contrasting window, he emphasizes the window as the sole source of illumination, rays gently streaming from the window to highlight men reading the Talmud. His talent was to respectfully and intimately convey private moments of the world he knew and loved. His work is a window to the past, bringing back to life a people whose lives and culture were torn asunder.

I am pleased and proud to share my great-grandfather's works with others beb2ap3_thumbnail_self-portrait.jpgcause I believe his oeuvre of work opens interesting gateways for educators. The subjects of his pieces lend themselves to Jewish history, religious studies, art history, and ethnicity and identity issues. For example, Moshe often painted the religious community, but painted himself in western garb, more as ethnographer or observer than as part of the community he portrayed. The physical paintings open up an even more interesting discussion of Holocaust studies as they themselves have their own Holocaust story of separation, destruction, loss, and partial redemption.

Museum curators often think of the Moshe Rynecki story either as a Holocaust story or as the tale of a Jewish painter and his legacy of fine art. Today I believe there is an opportunity to reframe the entire discussion. b2ap3_thumbnail_gyw_water.jpg
As the world loses more Holocaust survivors, there are fewer people to bear witness and share their experiences, so there must be other ways to pass on their legacy. The children of survivors cannot speak for the survivors, but we can carry their stories forward.

My great-grandfather once hoped his original collection of 800 paintings would be reassembled after the war, but that was not to be; my family has just over 100 paintings. I know the collection will never be whole again, but today I search for the lost and missing canvases and share the work we do have because his story, and the larger story of the paintings, is an important part of the Jewish cultural tapestry.

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Map Collage and Jewish Themes

The goal with my artwork -- map collage -- is to make the particular universal and to focus on combining imagery that illustrates passages from the Torah with ecological, technological and scientific concepts.

I strive to find common ground between these seemingly disparate realms. Maps that I incorporate into collages may be part of the regional, geographic, geological or religious narratives.  Usually there is more than one story a map can convey.  My work also has more than one story to tell.  I may be both trying to describe the curve of the earth on a flat piece of paper and using maps to blur the boundaries between the natural and the manufactured/technological world, representing simultaneously land, sky, water and architecture.

My use of contemporary images, symbols and metaphors while working with Torah stories shows the adaptability and applicability of the stories across the millennia.b2ap3_thumbnail_Peah.png

As an example, in a recent collage, titled "Pe'ah: the Corners of Our Fields".  A passage from Parsha Kedoshim invokes farmers to share grain from the corners of their field for gleaners. Rather than a field of traditional grain, this field "grows" solar power, inspired by a solar power company in the Negev that donates power to worthy organizations.  Some viewers will appreciate the Biblical aspect of the collage while others will relate to the ecological and charitable aspects.
Another example is  the "Tower of Babble" collage was influenced by the well-known Brueghel painting of the Tower of Babel.  b2ap3_thumbnail_Babel.png
My basing the collage on this rendition of the fabled structure was integral to the concept of bringing the ancient up to date and made complete by my inserting cell phones in all the windows and archways. The "built in" message is that our addiction to mobile technology, of which we are so proud, will be the undoing of our ability to communicate. Just as the Babylonians were proud of their advanced technology, their success in baking bricks allowed them to think they could build a tower high enough to reach the heavens, but it led to the destruction of their society.

Additionally, I make collages that illustrate a significant passage of a Torah Portion for bar and bat mitzvah that can be made into the invitation to the simcha.

To see more of my art please visit my website:
most specifically these pages:

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