Notes on the two main paintings


Notes On The Two Main Paintings

Some notes on the development of the two large paintings entitled Yahweh In Converse with Job and Mexican Wedding and the drawings and smaller paintings which were essential to producing them.

The working sketch for the Yahweh piece is the small lithograph to be found on the lower right of the same wall with the two large paintings. The first stage litho is hung above it. I worked this raw proof over with pen and ink and a little paint while at Cranbrook in 1953. There is the Cranbrook Connection. This image of Yahweh rumbled around in me for 54 years and resulted ultimately in the large painting. I always knew it was my vision of the fierce and cruel Yahweh of the Old Testament – in my view the creator of some useful laws, but mainly of false promises and broken covenants including, most spectacularly, the Holocaust.

This image of the Old Testament God remained within me, in limbo, but still powerfully haunting, ominous and smoldering.

In 1993 my wife, Jean, and I visited Oaxaca, Mexico. It was there that we came upon the clay folk art masterpiece by Angelica Vasquez Ruiz. This was serendipitous and immediately ignited the Yahweh theme again, because, suddenly, the image of the mindless, warlike and quintessentially masculine nature of my version of Yahweh had a force, equal and opposite: namely the warm and nurturing feminine. I attempted at first to understand the essential nature of Ruiz’s piece but I loved it so much I could not avoid just copying it. I attempted to put the two images together in 1995, and many other drawings not in the show. I even tried to somehow marry them, so to speak, by moving their forms and rhythms together. Looking back on these efforts, I realized that they would work better as two separate paintings. The small square pastel paintings of 2006 represented a major breakthrough. I was able to deal with color in both of them for the first time, and in the case of Mexican Wedding I began to be able to take liberties with the characters and to make them mine. Qualities of humor and flirtation manifested themselves. The goddess Mary began to take on a less sectarian quality and morphed into Gaia, a female force, vastly surpassing Yahweh in the qualities of love, mercy, and nurturing.

The promise of the two small paintings emboldened me to start the large works in 2006. As the Yahweh piece developed, I began to realize that my studies in the Book of Job were seeping into the painting. I now feel that the vision of Yahweh I have presented captures that moment in that book of the Old Testament when Yahweh finally responds to the pleas of the tortured and extremely ill Job in his attempt to find out from God what Job’s sin was. At first intimidating Job with His vast creative power and macho might and describing the Behemoth and then Leviathan (Whale), in compulsive technical detail, Yahweh finally capitulates to Job's undaunting and implacable quest for justice. By His de facto redress of Job's grievance and His ire at the advice of "the friends," this redress implies that Job had committed no sin and that He was wrong to let Satan torture Job, kill his childeren, and make him sick to death in a wager designed to test Job's faith. This redress was an inferior justice, since it did not restore Job's original childeren or servants, but Job apparently accepted it and went on with his life. The book of Job is the saga of God's bet with Devil, which the Devil lost. (And so did God.) It also is a refutation of the notion that bad things won't happen to good people. As we all know from the Book of Job in the Old Testament, Job's faith never wavered, even though his wife urged him to commit suicide at his lowest point because his pain and illness were too much to bear. This confrontation between man and God, this “conversation,” this vision of Yahweh that I imagine Job had of the primitive, menacing and finally strangely humanized Yahweh, is what the painting Yahweh in Converse with Job deals with.

The development of the large version of Mexican Wedding was an amplification of the color indications and character development in the smaller version. I had a lot of fun playing with it. I tried to not stray too far from the form and spirit of the Ruiz sculpture. I felt as if I was “riffing” on it as a jazz musician might with a theme from a standard. But all the characters became individuals, some taken from life, from people I knew, and I pushed the idea that they were all flirting, making music and having fun. I believe in a God who dances. Humor has not been something I have been given to deal with in my painting up to this point, though it is an important element in my life. Beyond that the painting gives off the more serious feeling that people are lovable in their diversity and that all are brothers and sisters. The Eternal Feminine holds the world together in her capacious arms and binds up the wounds inflicted by the Yahweh/warrior syndrome.

Larry Bernstein