Updated: Dec 24, 2019
The Boys of Sabbath was one of the core pieces of my solo exhibition “The Radiant Portal”. One of the most common questions I am asked is which of my artworks is my personal favourite. It’s hard for me to choose, sometimes the answer changes from day to day. But in the end I always come back to this piece. Spiritually, symbolically and artistically, this artwork is the most meaningful for me. The seed of the design started when I was 17, and I attempted to bring it to life at 39. After weeks of painstaking planning, I added my final touch and wept. It was a magical moment to translate onto the page so vividly what I had kept in my mind for so many years. I sometimes doubted whether it was possible. There are many elements to the design of this piece and I’d like to share some of them with you…
Although Shabbat is a magical time for all ages, I believe it is especially enchanting for children. I was particularly excited at being privy to the weekly celebration with adults. Sitting at the candle-lit Shabbat table, surrounded by excited adult chatter made me feel grown up and included in the “bigger world”. Here I represent the three “faces” of the Sabbath as I remember it – wonder, learning and imagining.
I have always felt mesmerized by Christian Art of the Renaissance period. Several things fascinated me, amongst them: the layers of rich symbolism that could be discovered through knowledge, the narratives created through juxtapositions and the concept of creating art out of reverence. But what captivated me most was the way the artists of the time created the most beautiful expressions and poses – the figures were sublimely soft and delicate yet equally strong and powerful. They were of this world but also far too graceful to be of this world.
I wanted to recreate this in my piece – the elusive sense of weight and weightlessness together. I photographed each of the three boys separately and composited them to make the final scene. To achieve the truthful expressions I realised that I could not simply place them in a position and instruct a pose. This would look contrived, I needed genuine expression, a captured moment in thought. I spent much time with each boy, first to interview them, to find out what inspired their imaginations. I then went away and devised a plan for each – fantastical stories, unusual facts, unfamiliar Talmudic interpretations and perhaps most importantly, emotional poignant music that I felt would coax the feelings and ultimately the expressions that I had in my mind. It took time for each boy to feel relaxed enough to drift off into thought, the magical moment is always the “in between” moment and I waited patiently for it to present itself.
With Renaissance period art I particularly noticed the gentleness of the hands in paintings of this period.
This was an important element for me to capture and I attempted the challenge with the third boy to express the delicacy, innocence and other-worldliness of imagining.
The composition was designed so that the placement of the boys echoed the Hebrew letter “shin”. On my path through life I have always looked to the magical twenty-first letter of the alef-beis. It is an incredibly powerful visual that has endless meaning. The three lines of the shin may be interpreted as three general dimensions of a human being: Kesser (will and pleasure), the intellect, and the emotions.
I chose to use a forest backdrop to give the sense of the Shabbat table transporting us to another world. The branches of the trees in the backdrop spell out the word ועעו which translates to “and look”. Each of the elements - wonder, learning and imagining – are ultimately about looking and seeing the world in a specific way. I like using an “and” at the start of a word because it implies everything that comes before it.
The use of the white doves has several meanings. I use doves (Yonah) as they were the only domesticated birds among the Israelites, so for me they form part of the Jewish visual story. Doves are also a universal sign of peace and innocence. Each belongs to each boy and the placement of their wings and direction echo the state the boy is in. As a visual device, the blurred birds highlight the stillness and silence of a caught moment.
I hope this explanation provides some useful insight into the work’s creation and my process of thinking when I design a piece. Ultimately the aim is to evoke an emotional connection and/or reaction from the viewer.
I’d love to know your thoughts and what you see!