Event DetailsSeptember 30, 2021, 7:30PM – October 23, 2021, 12:00PM
The Artists House, Tel AvivElkharizi St 9
Tel-Aviv Jaffa, Israel
Romanian Heritage – A Journey in Time
Curators: Vera Pilpoul, Arie Berkowitz
Foreign landscapes, ancient structures near modern high-rise towers, synagogue interiors, mountain villages on slopes leading down to a blue lagoon with big sailboats and scenes that seem to be from illuminated manuscripts – the Romanian landscape is spread out before us, with the cities and towns that Beverley-Jane Stewart visited and documented for three years. In Stewart’s draftsman like paintings, Time seems to have stopped, and yet she succeeds in connecting past events from Romania’s local secular and Jewish religious history, family history, and Yiddish cultural history, with the present. Evident in her works is an original interpretation of her ties with her Eastern European roots and the constant dialogue she maintains with them. Active and abandoned synagogues populate quite a few of her works, marking the artist’s cultural, communal, and religious affiliation: they are located at the center of the urban environment depicted in the paintings.
Stewart’s major mediums used in her research-based works are painting, drawing, engraving in wood and Perspex, and reliefs. She attributes great importance to the visual option of binding her family stories and the history of Jewish life in big cities and small towns in olden Romania to the contemporary country as a bridge between past and present, as well as integrating the local Christian culture with the Jewish culture that grew up there over centuries. The collage-like compositions depicting the urban fabric stretch from past to the present: the Yiddish theatre of Bucharest, synagogues, secular, urban, and rural buildings – all are enmeshed, testifying to the social and community changes in the community of Romania, the history and traumas of Romanian Jewry who suffered from pogroms and discrimination as far back as the 19th century, and the large numbers of Romanian Jews deported to the concentration camp and murdered in World War II.
Stewart, a London-based artist, defines herself as a practicing Jew. Her attendance at her local synagogue where she prays on a regular basis, and her impressions of synagogue architecture and interiors of prayer halls, has led her over past decades to paint numerous synagogues in London, throughout England, and in other locations in Europe. Along with her pictorial documentation of synagogues from the high viewpoint of the women’s section, Stewart researches the Jewish community environment in its sociohistorical context as well as processes of Jewish communities’ integration into the European public space over the centuries preceding World War II and the years following it.
Through the artist’s eyes, past and present merge in the works exhibited in the Tel Aviv Artists’ House, representing Jewish community life and contributions to Romania’s culture and local economy from the 18th century to the present. “I am attempting to compose a painterly tapestry of Jewish life emitting sounds of life from the past, in a modern context,” in Stewart’s words.
Working on the surfaces she selected creates an atemporal collage-like narrative intertwined within her non-linear painterly world. She connects family photographs, such as the 1880 photograph of her great-grandparents in Romania, with the history of Romanian Jews who helped the country’s economy flourish over previous centuries. The wedding photograph is integrated into her painterly collage in the most personal piece in the exhibition.
Past and present dwell together in many of her works; for the most part, the past is colourless, receding into the background while the colourful present bursts with many hues. Thus, for example, the painting A Jewish Story of Remembrance in Alba Iulia depicts the modern Jewish cemetery in the city of Alba Iulia where the Gluck Family is buried. The background features a colourful painting on canvas, while the foreground depicts the artist’s family’s past on a semi-transparent Perspex surface on which Stewart engraves and draws her family’s history and the great contribution to the city’s synagogue and the Jewish community.
Sighet was a pastoral mountain village that in the past had a very active Hassidic shtetl; one of its residents was Elie Wiesel (whose former home is now a museum). Sighet, The Light Beyond, Pyrography, shows the current more secular lifestyle that developed in the center of the town. During the war, the Jews of Sighet were concentrated and deported to death camps. Parts of the work addressing the past remain as a colourless linear drawing on the exposed wooden surface, making the past seeming to fade away like memory often does, while the scenes of contemporary community life are in bright lively colours.
Stewart journeyed to the town at the center of Botoșani County where her great-grandfather lived with his family, a city surrounded by low, forested hills with excellent transportation connections to surrounding countries. This was an ideal place for business conducted by the large Jewish community. The artist’s great-grandfather was a master carpenter, a skill that was passed down for generations, apparently associated with the woodcarvings he made with images similar to the representations of flora and fauna carved on Jewish gravestones in Romania in cemeteries that Stewart visited. Woodcarving is a traditional art that impacted Stewart, as well, and in some of the works on view, Stewart engraved on wooden boards with an electric wood-burning pen (pyrography).
Beverley-Jane Stewart’s paintings may see similar to naïve paintings which attach no importance to perspective, presenting environmental space vertically and not in deep space, as well as a philosophical style that originally was used to convey theological messages through the depiction of biblical scenes from both the Old and New Testaments, later developing to portray secular scenes, as well. Stewart represents even the tiniest details, with special emphasis on architecture, forms, and ornamentation, on the façades as well as in the interiors she frequently portrays. A look at Stewart’s oeuvre shows that she seems to hover timelessly over the locations she paints, creating a kind of atemporal collage connecting inside and outside, human figures and landscapes are taken from her family’s narrative and historical research materials. Stewart flies over her townlet, depicting its residents, customs, and landscapes without adhering to the rules of perspective. She provides viewers with a broad, personal, subjective view through a timeless prism, presenting a Jewish sound and nostalgic samplings with a contemporary spirit comprising a cultural mosaic evoking deep longing.