So much is not what it seems.
A young, beautiful girl is forced to marry a king she barely knows. She has to keep her ethnicity hidden; yet when the time comes she stands up for her nation and saves it from annihilation by a genocidal maniac. Though she is a powerful queen, she must risk her life by visiting the king without permission. She has to decide whether to be the agent of change in her people’s salvation, or just another anonymous victim. In the end, G-d chooses to be a hidden presence and to save the Jewish people through her actions.
The young woman is named Esther. Her name comes from the Hebrew, Hester, meaning hidden. Each spring for two millennia, the Jewish people have celebrated her story of salvation from evil by telling her story and dressing in costume to make present the hidden in ourselves. I cannot help but love the courageous, beautiful heroine of the story who risks her life for her people. Yet it is not only Esther’s bravery that intrigues me, but also the hidden nature of divine intervention. I love being part of a tradition that analytically parses text apart, and struggle to believe in that which we don’t see or can’t touch.
I love to read stories full of ambiguity and contemplate holes in the text. In the Jewish tradition, our stories are told and retold and we reexamine and question them again always looking for new insights. Our heritage values the question, often answering questions with more questions.
As a visual artist, this same sensibility prevails. I love the paintings that tell me the least. I prefer to stand before a Jackson Pollock or Joan Mitchell work ogling at the usage of paint and mark making to decipher the story or emotion the artist hid in the mystery of their abstract work.
Hidden Presence is also an appropriate description for my artistic process. Buried within each of my series of paintings is an idea that has its origin in a philosophical or religious dilemma, often an ancient Jewish text, which I wrestle with in my studio practice. This problem provides a structure for the series of paintings – colors, shapes, underlying images, composition – that I then resolve through the aesthetics of the painting process.
The Vessel series started as a response to a striking photo a friend gave me years ago of empty vessels scintillating in the sunlight. I studied a Talmudic text about the nature of beauty. In Upstream, I explored a Talmudic passage praising a bird for being able to swim against the current as a metaphor for the boundaries and contradictions that seem to inhabit my world.
Finally, in my new series of paintings, Book of Esther, the works relate to the Biblical Book of Esther through symbolic images including crowns, maps of the Persian Empire, and images from master paintings of Esther. The color palette reflects colors traditionally associated with royalty including rich crimsons, violets, gold and silvers.
Our world values knowledge that can be proved, that is scientific and quantifiable. I am intrigued by the ideas in between the things that come from our minds but that are also intuitive and emotive. Through these works I challenge the viewer to look for and try to understand the hidden presence.
Do you have a new group of paintings to view. If so where? Love JoAnne Grossman
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