Paintings from the Legend of Baal Shem Tov (1998-2002)
Click the thumbnails to see a larger version of the painting.
For the Baal Shem Tov, to dance was to pray. An 18th century Jewish visionary and founder of the Hasidic movement, he proposed to address God not through solemn incantations, but with joyful song. God, to the Baal Shem Tov, was a loving partner to be approached with reverence and fear, true, but with laughter and gaiety, as well. Although tremendously un-orthodox, his unique method of worship soon attracted a growing following of believers for whom joy, celebration and God all became intermingled in an ecstatic fervor of worship.
At the core of the Baal Shem Tov’s beliefs was that the word of God could be passed on through legend and metaphor, stories that at times approach the wonderful enigma of a Zen koan. A growing selection of legends grew up around the teachings of this mystic and came to represent the Baal Shem Tov’s vision of God and how to approach Him.
This series of paintings captures the Baal Shem Tov’s joyous manner of worship and the legends that he engendered. In the works, you will see the ecstasy of color and emotion, the wonder of movement through God’s world and some of the mystery that the Baal Shem Tov imparted in his teachings. Each painting is based in one particular story. First, I develop a series of images relevant to the legend through working on dozens of preliminary sketches. Then, using the images thus created, I fashion the work by weaving the images together into an abstract painting, thereby representing the intention of the great sage’s instruction using the vibrant patois of a contemporary visual language.