We are thrilled to present Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld with these artworks by Joshua Meyer ‘91 and Hannah Bashkow ‘18. Hannah and Josh completed them in the style of “Exquisite Corpse,” in which a work is begun by one person and then added to by a different artist. Their starting point was Rav Simcha Bunim’s teaching of “two pockets,” a common theme in the Bronfman experience: participants imagine that there are two slips of paper in their pockets, one with the words, “The world was created for me;” and on the other, “I am but dust and ashes.”
A few reflections on the project:
So much of this project was built around dichotomies, which seems entirely rooted in the way the fellowship functions. Hannah and I started off by discussing the two slips of paper in our pockets, one with the words, “The world was created for me,” on the other, “I am but dust and ashes.”
Reb Simcha Bunem’s saying is true to the creative process, creating then evaluating, then correcting and creating again. Back and forth and iterative. Failures and progress. Our pigments are made of the dust of the earth, literally. But we are meant to lift them up and create something fresh and revelatory from them. But then layered on top of that, we’ve layered so many additional dichotomies. First, the idea that this is a sort of visual, creative chevruta. Together, Hannah and I span almost the whole 36 years of BYFI.
We discussed collage, surrealism and color mixing as a metaphor, Kabbalah and Rembrandt and Soutine.
As I jumped into the second of the two paintings, I wondered what would happen if I tried to make the same image again. After all, we are playing with dichotomies. Now I would never actually want to make the same painting again, that’s not what art is for. But since I was certain to fail, it seemed like a way in, a point of departure. I didn’t want to replicate the first painting, but I thought that if I started the same image a second time, then the differences between the two results would help focus and reveal the dichotomies. After all, isn’t that the base of Simcha Bunem’s idea—two pieces of the same soul?
In a very Bronfman fashion, the key question as I tried to paint on the image that Hannah began was whether and how to leave space for her while still asserting my own voice full-throatedly. Her palette is so different from mine, pure and vibrant, while I am inclined to hide anything bright or loud. The marks we make and the texture we use are so very different. Many times I painted over an area she had painted and then scraped my own paint back to rediscover her imagery or repainted her colors and forms on top of my own. Art relies on the clarity of the artist’s voice. Can you share space? Can you do it intellectually? Can you do it stylistically? A visual chevruta.
I wish we had more time and could have swapped the paintings back a few more times so that the collaborative process could have had more give and take. In the end, I don’t know that this painting-mixture succeeds as art. It is a succession of compromises and failures edging towards meaning. But it is most interesting because it stops in such an unresolved state.
I’ll end this long ramble with some words from Yehuda Amichai who was whispering these words in my ear as I painted with Hannah. I have been reflecting on Amichai as he was reflecting on Kohelet.
“A Man In His Life”
A man doesn’t have time in his life
to have time for everything.
He doesn’t have seasons enough to have
a season for every purpose. Ecclesiastes
Was wrong about that.
A man needs to love and to hate at the same moment,
to laugh and cry with the same eyes,
with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them,
to make love in war and war in love.
And to hate and forgive and remember and forget,
to arrange and confuse, to eat and to digest
takes years and years to do.
A man doesn’t have time.
When he loses he seeks, when he finds
he forgets, when he forgets he loves, when he loves
he begins to forget.
And his soul is seasoned, his soul
is very professional.
Only his body remains forever
an amateur. It tries and it misses,
gets muddled, doesn’t learn a thing,
drunk and blind in its pleasures
and its pains.
He will die as figs die in autumn,
Shriveled and full of himself and sweet,
the leaves growing dry on the ground,
the bare branches pointing to the place
where there’s time for everything.
For me, when starting on the second piece I decided to take a different approach than Joshua’s. Instead of making a new iteration of the same painting, I went in the opposite direction, for each of these two paintings employing not only different materials, but a different artistic style of mine. As an artist still searching to find the place that I work most comfortably in, going through this exercise and now seeing the two compositions side by side, both interwoven with Joshua’s work, has been a really fascinating experience. I keep looking back and forth between the two images, juxtaposing the different ways that our same hands can make and remake meaning out of color, texture, line, and form.
Being forced to paint over Joshua’s work was the most interesting method of studying another artist’s style I’ve ever tried! I definitely had fun trying to mimic Joshua’s style to blend aspects of my layer with his, while also incorporating my own color palette and brushwork into his. It was also an exercise in compromise and ephemerality — we both agreed to give each other full license over our first painting after we switched and let our work disappear as the other’s image appeared. Now, it’s almost impossible to separate it back out into different authorship or ownership, forcing me to reflect on the fact that beyond all the dichotomies and juxtapositions of the two pockets, or life, or our vastly different artistic voices, everything in learning and in art is about interconnectivity.
Thanks so much to all of you for this very special, challenging, and fun opportunity!