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.
  

Intuition

After a time, making art becomes intuitive, meaning that most of the thinking that takes place is not rational or linguistic. Art is, after all, a visual medium not a linguistic one. But language is so deeply allied with thought that we often think in words. However, we are always using all our senses, and this form of thinking occurs “below” the linguistic level. An intuitive visual art process does not need words. Getting beyond words requires confidence in one’s perceptions and feelings. 

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