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Art And Torah: Archie Rand’s ‘Chapter Paintings’

Art And Torah: Archie Rand’s ‘Chapter Paintings’

The Jewish Week and artist Archie Rand unite his art -- a painting of each Torah portion -- and our commentary.

Sandee is the arts and culture editor at the Jewish Week.

This week, we are thrilled to introduce a cycle of art to accompany the weekly Torah commentary.

The paintings in Archie Rand’s 1989 series, inspired by the cycle of Torah readings, are stunning and provocative, both ethereal and earthy. Rand boldly set out to invent a Jewish iconography.

He began the series, “The Chapter Paintings,” after a spontaneous suggestion by the young daughter of a friend. Before painting, he did extensive research, reading every translation available of midrashim, commentary and Kabbalah. In an interview, he says that he treated all of the sources with respect, without a sense of hierarchy.

For every brushstroke on these bold paintings, there’s a reason. Everything was written someplace. He actually sees the 54 as one painting, indivisible.

About his colors, he chooses bright tones like light canary yellow; there’s nothing drab here. “If you’re going to praise, the way the psalms tell you, hit the drum and praise. That’s what the colors are,” Rand says. He speaks of his playfulness as a component of engagement, and also artistic integrity.

Rand, who was born in 1949, remains very proud of this work. He has long been interested in art that relates to text, and has done a lot of work with friends who are poets.

Rand’s paintings, murals, graphic works and books have been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world, and are featured in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and many others. His first gallery exhibition was when he was 16 and he has been in hundreds of exhibitions, both solo and group, since then. He was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and the National Foundation for Jewish Culture’s Cultural Achievement Award for visual arts.

Now Presidential Professor of Art at Brooklyn College, Rand previously chaired the Department of Visual Arts at Columbia University. In 1973, he was commissioned by Congregation B’nai Yosef to paint a series of large thematic murals covering their walls; the project took three years and the synagogue became known as “The Painted Shul.”

He identifies as “absolutely Jewish, unapologetically Jewish. “

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