Drawing the Holocaust

A friend, after seeing one of my wax crayon drawings based on the Holocaust asked, “why do you make drawings about the Holocaust?”

I was surprised. My friend is knows the historical, philosophical and moral importance of the Holocaust. She is also knows that the Holocaust holds a personal significance for me; that the members of my family that remained in Poland and Greece were probably exterminated, and with their deaths disappeared my connection to my family’s past. Why ask a question with so obvious an answer?

I realized that I was being asked to explain why I chose the Holocaust as a subject of my art. My answer required that I recall the artistic challenges and social issues that moved me, twenty years ago, to begin this series, still ongoing, of more then thirty wax crayon and pen & ink drawings. 

I explained to my friend that I was challenged by the problem of scale. How does one create an image that captures the enormity of the Nazi apparatus of death and destruction? In a work of art, can an image of one person or a group of people signify millions of victims?

A second challenge was discovering an expressive image that was neither stereotypical nor trite. There are many emotionally charged images associated with the Holocaust. I can see a few when I close my eyes. What image could I find that was unique and had a personal resonance? Additionally, the image had to have an objective basis, and be a reflection of reality, containing references, information and connections to the actual destructive process. I didn't want abstractions. I wanted essences without being pedantic.

First, I chose my medium, wax crayons, whose viscous texture soft and oily like fat and flesh. Wax crayons allow a thick surface to be built-up which can be cut or carved by a sharp pointed instrument. In this way a multiple of levels of line and imagery to be constructed, one on top of another, as if seen through a glass darkly.              

Morally, I had as a humanistic goal the idea to expand the Holocaust to the world-at-large without losing its particular meaning or connection to Jews, the primary target of the Nazis genocide.

PILE OF SPECTACLES I, PEN + INK, 22" X 26," 2014

PILE OF SPECTACLES I, PEN + INK, 22" X 26," 2014

My first drawing, completed in 1997, was Pile of Spectacles. (wax crayon, 18 x 24,” MiTientes Paper). The idea to draw glasses evolved from a series of my own reading glasses that rested in front of me on my desk at work. At work, I would draw clandestinely, (co-workers called it “doodling”), whatever was close-by and unobtrusive.

As I intuitively worked on the Holocaust drawings, the pile of glasses gradually took on a number of meanings: the glasses morphed in bodies with arms and legs extended in all directions, each lens,  enclosing a person’s eye--sight be a primary sense by which the world is experienced-- refers to an individual's consciousness whose voice is extinguished. 

The mountainous appearance of the heap of glasses provides a feel of enormity. Something frightening is about to happen. A darkness has come over the land. Blood will be shed. The light is apocalyptic but rather than being macabre, it is an unworldly light that gives victims an anonymous presence, a dignity, and a spiritual transcendence.

The drawings, as I continued to work, evolved gradually over time. Making art is the process of allowing the unknown to become known. It is a process of self discovery.  

To see additional images in this series, go to Work/ Select Series/Holocaust.