“The beauty, meaning and form of Hebrew letters are the source of inspiration for Ric Pliego’s “Gematria” series, now on exhibit at El Taller Latino Americano. Based on the Hebrew numerological system, the Gematria paintings are a sequence of brightly-colored oils, depicting the Hebrew letters “aleph” through “tet” with simple but beautifully rendered pictograms.
Some are traditional interpretations: “Daled” for the four mothers, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, with a likeable “bubbe” standing in for all; “Hey,” an elegantly rendered Torah, the five books of Moses. Other constructions are more unexpected: “Bet,” which has the feel of a medieval piece, features the two figures of Adam and Eve, bewildered and in the dark as they are exiled from the Garden of Eden, with the snake and Menorah-shaped tree forever left behind.
Pliego grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Mexico City, and although not himself Jewish, many of his friends were. He enjoyed visiting them at home, and was especially fascinated by the Hebrew books he found. Intrigued by the curious and exotic letters and words, Pliego taught himself the Hebrew alphabet; eventually he married a Jewish woman and Judaism has remained a constant in his life. He and his family attended synagogue on Shabbat and holidays, and even years after his wife’s death, Pliego remains a loyal synagogue member.
The artist does not associate himself with any particular religion, but his wide-ranging oeuvre reflects his interest in a variety of belief systems and creeds. Some of the works feature elements of Santería, with its blended West African and Catholic religious origins; a series of whimsical, Cornell-like boxed structures, filled with the bric-a-brac and trinkets of a varied life, are replete with religious tokens and artifacts. Based on the large number of his works, however, which portray Jewish rites and symbols, Judaism clearly has a special resonance for Pliego.
“Gematria In The Art Of Ric Pliego” is on view through June 21, 2014 at the Grady Alexis Gallery, El Taller Latino Americano, 2710 Broadway (104th Street), 3rd Floor, as part of “35 Years Taller,” a celebration of the cultural arts center’s 35th anniversary.
Gloria Kestenbaum is a corporate communications consultant and freelance writer.