14 July 2007

Revealing…Panel 1 of "NUMBERS"

Part 1, “Numbers”

If you have not read some of my recent posts related to this particular piece then you may wish to go back here and here for these posts will enlighten you about some of the subject matter in “Numbers”.

This particular piece, which has taken me four weeks, has had some real challenges to it for the following reasons…

I was presented with about 125 photos.
The brief was from a long time friend of mine, Robert.
I wanted to make a book.
He was emphatic that it had to be a collage.
He wanted it to be on his wall, every photo was important to him and he wanted to walk out of his bedroom every morning and into his home every evening and see his family and friends on the wall.

Dilemma 1: How was I going to present this?
Dilemma 2: 125 photo spanning 70 years – a mix of colour and black and white and photo’s so worn with age that some of the faces were almost unrecognizable.
I overcame the dilemmas by separating the photos into subject matter. There became 3 distinct sections.

The piece had to be done in 3 panels.

Panel 1 is what I am presenting to you now.

Panel 1 was critical to get right as it was to set the standard for the next two.

Panel 1 had to broken into 2 parts as I could not find a canvas board large enough to accomodate the size of the piece. Needless to say, I was not happy!

How does one do justice to such subject matter as the Holocaust? This requires the utmost sensitivity and quite a wealth of knowledge and experience in its presentation. As I have stated before, it’s what you don’t put in that is crucial.

No matter how many times I tackle the subject, I still felt a weight of enormous responsibility putting this together.

It did not seem to matter that I have known Esther and Sam pretty much all my life.

Their son, Robert and I have known each other since kindergarten.

As first generation children of “Survivors” we were brought up with the “Never Forget” legacy. It has been inculcated into every facet of our lives. There are those Survivors who never speak of their experiences, but we had parents who spoke of them. The message is ingrained in us; it is in our blood, as it were. There are constant reminders, whether it is small snippets of information told around a Friday night dinner, or knowing that it was a bad night as your parent had nightmares, or you look, as is Roberts case at his mothers arm and see her number tattooed on her arm. There are many examples, too many to mention.

This is not a piece of art about found images.

It is a piece of art about real people, with real stories.

Horrific stories.

Stories that remind us, in this century, to be tolerant of all peoples and cultures.

With every Visual Anthology I do, I go on a journey. This one happened to be exceptional in a spiritual sense for reasons that may sound bizarre and totally unbelievable but as I take you through each part of the panels individually you will see what I mean (I hope). I call it fate.

After Robert came to see where I was heading with this piece, even though it was by no means finished, I became ill. I get quite nervous and have so much pent up emotion that until the client see's the piece - don't forget, I get no direction - and verifies that it is favourable - it seems to take a toll on me. I am sure most of you can empathise. This particular piece was just so emotional for me. Robert had commented, just after, that he knew why I got sick. We sooooo understand each other - part of that heavy legacy, I was referring to.
Meet Esther.

Isn't she stunning.

This is the photo I was presented of her. As with all the photo's this one needed fixing.

Some people take the meaning of the name Esther as Star but this is the Persian translation, in Hebrew it means myrtle leaf. More on that later.

In Jewish tradition Esther was a beautiful Jewish woman, the wife of the Persian king Achashverosh. Esther was a heroine and the entral figure in the Book of Esther. She and her cousin Mordechai persuaded the king to cancel an order for the extermination of Jews in his realm, plotted by the king's chief minister, Haman. Instead, Haman was hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai, and the Jews were given permission to destroy their enemies. The Jewish festival of Purim commemorates this event. The Book of Esther was probably written in the 2nd century BC.

In our tradition, when you are named at birth one usually sees a correlation to a namesake eventually during ones’ life.

Well how true is that for this Esther?

She is certainly a heroine for me.

She is so beautiful now and from all accounts she was an absolute stunner in her younger days.

She was set to be exterminated in Auschwitz but like The Esther in the Biblical times, she used her brains to convince the Nazi standing in front of her that she was 15 and not 12 – she was sent to the left, meaning survival for the time being. Can you imagine being 12 years old and terrified for your very survival but having the presence of mind to lie about your age?

This is the only photo of Esther from that time. Not many people who survived the Camps had photos – all your possessions were taken off you when you arrived. Somehow, the couple who looked after Esther and nursed her back to health after she was liberated from Aushwitz, got this one photo.

Just so you understand I am not at liberty to go into her survival story for the reasons I stated in the previous post on her. As there is only this one photo, Robert and I decided to make the main focus here on Sam’s life. The next panel will be more focused on her as will the book I do for her and her story.

Esther was born in Poland and as you can see by the name plate attached to her photo. Within this piece I have tried to name places and people as much as possible. If there are no names it means their names have been forgotton or they are a repitition of names elsewhere recorded.

Whilst this was commissioned as an art piece I still felt the importance of adding the names dates and places of the photo’s. It was not asked of me. But this piece will be a family heirloom and whenever I do my books or art pieces, I name everyone I can, in order that future generations will know who was who in their respective families.
Meet Sam.

Sam is no longer alive but what a wonderful and honourable man he was.

So determined - just look at his eyes.

Anyone who survived the Holocaust had to be determined, had to have had an iron will. That's not to suggest that other's didn't.

This is Sam pictured in his Russian Army uniform. He won the highest of all medals, the Medal of Honour.

Born in Poland, Sam, as you may have read in the previous post, was part of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. I won't repeat it all here. He was one of 22 or so to escape through the sewers into the forest where alot of people lived in hiding from the Nazi's. In order to survive he enlisted in the Russian Army, hence the AKA Stanislav Ribistiki, the name he took on. He was blonde haired, blue eyed and having been educated in a Jesuit School his spoken Polish was not like that of an Eastern European Jew. He also spoke Latin fluently. Consequently, he was able to convince the Russians that he was not Jewish.

That was until he had to relieve himself in the forest.

Another soldier saw that he was circumsized. Well, were it not for one of his neighbours Krystyne who got a message to him that he had better escape he would have been killed.

The image above is two fold but I cannot show you what is written in the second part.

These two parts are examples of the bizarre I was referring to before.


The first part is written in Russian. I called a Russian friend of mine and asked her if she had any book in Russian. She only had this one. I told her I needed to find something in there pertinent to Sam and went on to describe him. She came around the next day.

What were the chances of finding something???
But I would rather have put nothing in, than to have some meaningless text just because it's the same languague as the image evokes in the piece - I just can't do it. For me, it has to be symbolic or mean something.

I just have to explain that when I am doing a piece like this I go into a meditative state. The music I listened to was from the Holocaust. As you will see shortly and further down the track, I truly believe that Sam was with me - assisting me to get this right. Sounds weird but that's my story and I am sticking to it!

So my friend opens this 740 page book which was related to the 3 Musketeers, sort of, and after flipping a couple of pages, nothing. So I called on Sam's assistance and BINGO!!!!!!! The section I took out speaks about "this unbelievable man who has left this world". It says... "You can't imagine a death more simple, more relaxing and more honourable. He was an example for people who are weak"... and so it goes on. Sam became a leader not only during the war but after the war and then once again in Australia.

Interesting Huh???

I had done this next section before the one just spoken of.
The story is far too personal for me to divulge. All I can say is that I needed to find someone's name. I looked in a couple of my books quickly but thought... what was the use. I kept hearing Sam's voice talking to me throughout the piece. That particular day, I felt his energies very very strongly. I was so frustrated thinking about how was I going to find something, anything from all my vintage books.
But I could not seem to move on until I had something, the right thing.

I called out, in my mind, to Sam - please help me, take me to the right book or whatever!

Rather frustrated, I went out of my studio and into the next room. Looking at about 50 something books, I said please help!
You must all think I am crazy by now.
I went over to the pile of book and put my hand on a RED book and took it out. It was right near the bottom of a stack of about 20 books. All those on the top of the pile fell over but I was drawn to this one.
The colour of the book is significant later. I opened the book and there it was... the name I was looking for. Not only that - the book was a war story and spoke of Germans, escape, hiding in forests etc.

Now do you believe me???

But more incredible was that...

the chapters corresponded to the story that I was trying to impart. So I ripped the chapter headers and kept the pertinent bits of text below or within the pages and that's how I was able to keep the story alive.

I ripped, stuck and then resined the papers (thanks for the instructions Ruth)!

But because of it's sensitive nature, the text had to be hidden somewhere. I have put it behind the photo and Robert knows its there. Even if it is framed, being there is all that mattered to him. By the way Robert was loving all of this stuff as he had told me that he knew Sam would come through, it has happened before.

To the RED book - well, Sam's family were aligned to the Communist's. We all know that Red is a communist colour so how pertinent was that book again. I chose the red fabric behind the text, spoken of before, for this very reason.

I chose the old material tape measure because of the numbers.

Throughout his life numbers were important to Sam as they were to Esther. All this will become
apparent soon enough. But I purposefully cut the tape measure in order that the number 18 was directly above Sam's photo. As I have explained before the number 18 is very significant in Judaism. 18 means/numerically adds up to the word LIFE. Had Sam not enlisted into the Russian army at that stage he may have been killed in the forest, as so many were.

Gosh are you still reading this because I am exhausted writing this and trying to keep it interesting.

Sam, the baby.

Here is Sam as a baby. This photo was completely covered in cracks and marks but I photoshopped most of them out, just leaving some because Robert and I both like the aged look.

The two other kids are unnamed but they were friends of Sam's family. The little girl (who looks like a dolly to me) did eventually come to Australia as an immigrant too.

As soon as Robert saw how I had done this particular photo he said "I get this".
What that comment meant was that this is how many Jews carried their precious photo's and papers during the war - all bundled up with some string to ensure that the priceless items within would stay together. That's when he cried.

Whilst I was putting this together I noticed I had an old piece of paper with a stamped image already on it - the stripes reminded me of the uniforms worn in concentration camps - I wanted it to be subtlely symbollic.

Secondly the tape measure down the side reminded of being a child, being measured for height and weight so it all fitted quite well.

The word DREAM was unknowngly to me at the time, highlighted, by the image's pants - left white. I was happy it was like that because in many people minds the whole experience that they went through seems almost like a dream - a very bad dream.

Get ready for more;

As I bundled the papers together and stuck them down I then noticed that the word SAVED appeared. This was my first rather bizarre moment.


Because this baby was SAVED.

Read on... read the words under SAVED... AMAZING I TELL YOU!!!

" The paths which led through the forest".

As I told you the paths that led to Sam's escaping the final moments of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, were the sewer paths... which led him out to the forest.

"But to avoid these villains we had to plunge... over hills and walk for many a weary mile"

To avoid the Nazi's, they had to plunge everything they had and run.

They did walk for many a weary mile to the forests to hopefully hide from the villains.

I have to tell you when I read this - only after sticking it down - I was shocked.

Aren't you too.

That was the first moment that I knew Sam was directing this piece in some way.

Why I chose the shape of Esther and Sam's pieces here.

I chose the arch as it reminded me that these two beautiful souls were the heads of Robert's family. As there was only this one photo of Esther I needed to use a photo of Sam from a similar age group, no younger, no older. The arches being the very top, the pinnacle.

Despite the fact that I had very limited photo's to work with I hoped that I could achieve the top of the family tree, using placement and symbolism. Baby Sam had to then go in the middle to balance out the arches and as you will see soon I tried to do the rest somewhat chronologically - which was impossible in this top row as I needed Esther to at the top.
WEll I am thoroughly exhausted now.
Thanks for reading this if you actually made it this far. I really appreciate it.
To be continued...


Karen Cole said...

What an incredible story of your own you are creating. To chronical such a creation as you are doing is just wonderful. The images and what you are doing with them are just amazing in every way.
The photos you are taking are beautiful...color, texture......how wonderful it must be to actually see it in person.

Shalom and ciao, my friend.

deMeng said...

The day I met you I knew you were no ordinary woman...the truth is that you are extraordinary. The depth of your artistic vision as well as the heart and soul behind it, never ceases to amaze me.


Cindy Dean said...

Your art is truely spectacular! I am always engrossed by the stories that go along with it. When I get to the end of your posts of this subject matter, I always, always say to myself, never forget. What an incredible story you are telling...

R2artstudio said...

This is such an incredible story, but your process and sharing how your how your artwork is created is amazing. It is, as if you are being led and very perceptive to all the little meanings of each and every detail. What an amazing artist and person you are. And thank you for sharing it with us.

Karen Owen said...

Judy, Of course I kept reading. I was mesmerized! What an amazing story! Thanks for sharing it and sharing the process of your insightful and sensitive art.


Q said...

When I read I am always crying!
These are mixed tears of joy and sadness. I love the way you honor.
Never forget.
Thank you for telling the story of Sam and Ester and how they helped you tell their story.

nina said...

my GOD, judy. and you say this took you only four hours to write?!!!! how on earth are you able to get this all down, the emotions, the detail, the EMOTIONS, the detail?! your work is absolutely blowing me away. every time i look, you've grown another mile. michael is not the only one falling in love with you - so is the rest of the world, and i along with it. you are incredible, amazing, all the things these folks have already said. i want to hear more, i'm so very ignorant of these things in my stupid shallow sheltered life. i'm proud to call you a dear friend, beloved one. xoxoxo

Steph said...

You are an amazing gifted artist !

Sue Berry said...

There's so much thought and meaning to your work and you put so much of your heart into it, it's no wonder you feel wiped out. You give a whole new meaning to blood, sweat and tears! One day I hope you find the time to write a book about your art process, I'm sure it would be a best seller like Michael's. What a perfect couple you make ... Sue

kelsey said...

Hear, hear, to all that have commented on this particular post, oh so true - you are a talented storyteller, both visually and verbally. My one regret is that we can't see these wonderful pieces in person ourselves...and we all know that the flat computer screens don't do any justice to magnificent artworks like these! Keep going....we're enthralled!

Judy Wise said...

I cannot overstate what a gift you've given to all of us "strangers" by recounting this extraordinary experience you are having. I gasped at Esther's beauty and hung on to every word as coincidence overlaid coincidence in your story. And the work you are creating. It is breathtakingly beautiful. It makes me want to cry. It is powerful and rich.

Jen Crossley said...

WOW Judy you are such an amazing lady your work and insite is totally inspiring.
Im gob smacked to say the least.I only wish I could see this master piece in person.
Your wonderful

craftyhala said...

wow...it's beautiful and you care so much for what you do and put that into your work. You are a gem.

Lissy said...

I am stunned Judy....I love reading what you have been doing as it is trully amazing and so unique...can't wait to see more :)

And I love your tradition of "in good time" perfect I think while waiting for a baby!

Julie H said...

Judy your heart is in every sentence you write and each fine detail within your art work. Simply awesome.

Ro Bruhn said...

Wow Judy these assignments you take on are so incredible, it must be exhausting mentally and physically, you put so much into them. I hope you realize now why I nominated you as a thinking blogger, you certainly give the rest of us something to think about. You've motivated me to do considerable research for your book in our ABRR, the depth in your work is just fabulous, I keep looking at your book in awe, I have started and I hope I can do it the justice it deserves.

Angie in AZ said...

Oh Judy, I am speechless. Every time I check your blog and read these amazing stories, I sit at my computer and weep. Your heart shows through every single detail. Thank you for creating a piece of art with such depth, expression, love, and emotion that no one will ever forget. You capture the spirit of legacy in a profound way. I am so moved by this piece. Thank you for taking so much time sharing the stories that go with it.

Tricia Scott said...

judy, thank you , thank you, thank you. thank you for taking the time to share this all with us...the depth-your vision-the process-the synchronicities-it is all so very powerful. it just leaves me in awe. goodness,what a special gift you have. i so totally believe sam was with you--guiding you--it is no wonder you feel drained after putting so much of yourself into your work.
blessings to you, judy!

Lorri Scott said...

I can not believe the enormity of the task you have taken on but from the amazing work you've posted you are the one person who was meant to do this. I am engrossed in the story and will be visiting to see what transpires next. Tryly amazing work!


Megan Pickwell said...

There is a reason you are charged with the task of retelling these stories visually - you put yourself there in such a way that can only give these survivors such comfort that their stories shall be told and kept sacred. What physical strength and emotional strentgh these pieces and posts require Judy, you are an incredible artist.

azirca said...

Everyone who has commented here has pretty much said what I was thinking already, however I would just like to say that you are one amazing woman. The amount of compassion, heart and soul that you are putting into this piece is truly precious. You have such a wonderful gift to be able to story-tell through your art and take the viewer on an unforgettable journey that really reaches to the core of their heart.
Did I say that I think you are amazing? :)

p.s: The photo that you posted of Esther reminds me so much of the stunning young Grace Kelly.

Emmcee said...

So much emotion and memories so beautifully preserved.... tfs

gilfling said...

Judy - I am incredibly over whelmed by both the stories that you tell and the generous way in which you describe the process. The way in which you were and are being guided in this piece is awe inpiring and your dedication to being true to the individuals your work represents is clear. I am so glad that I was brought to your blog and cannot wait to see the next chapter in this story.

Sharon said...

It does not surprise me that you come face to face with moments of kismet in you art. It is because you go to such a special place while do it. You become the art. Please thank Robert for sharing through your words. Beautiful

lindaharre said...

OMG Judy......I don't even know what to say! You are such a fabulous and deep artist.....you give me goose bumps........

Suzan-- said...

Hello. I stumbled onto your blog, and couldn't leave once I got there. I have been reading for 2 hours, and will continue reading until I am at the beginning. This blog disturbed me. It hurt me. It made me think. It touched not only my heart, but a part of my soul. I learned new things, and read things I didn't want to read. I saw pictures that I didn't want to see. Yet, I wanted more, and more.

This is the epitomy of ART. Something that reaches out and grabs you, and will not let you go. Something that makes you stop breathing, and at the same time makes your heart race. This blog,your art, and your way of writing are beyond anything that I have words for. Thank you for making something that evoked thought and emotion, through beauty and ugliness. This is absolutely the best blog that I have ever read. I appreciate the experience!

Kristen Robinson said...

Judy my friend these pieces are absolutely breath taking and totally encompassing. I am awe struck by the depth of your work and words you are truly amazing!!!
my soul has been touched deeply by your posts.


Cre8Tiva said...

judy...what a remarkable journey with this creation...i believe that this is a book to be shared and read by the world...i believe that this will find it's way into print...the story is one that opens the heart to many, many emotions...being so involved with your art that you bacame part of the story is amazing...once in a lifetime creation...you were born to tell this story...blessings, rebecca

Susan Tuttle said...

Thank you Judy for sharing this incredible process with us--I cannot find the right words to describe the feelings I have when I read about your journey with this family and view your artwork for them. It brings me to tears.


wendy said...

great ideas it has been said, come into the world as gently as doves.
Perhaps then, if we listen attentively we shall hear amid the uproar of empires and nations a faint fluttering of wings, the gentle stirring of life and hope

vivian said...

you are such an amazing soul.. like others, i always feel such strong emotions when reading the journeys you take creating your projects. stunning. thank you!

Rochambeau said...

Since you have put your soul into this work of art, It is becoming a masterpiece!

Mary S Hunt said...

This project is THE most incredibly well thought out, engineered visual and breathtaking ...I can't even think of the best terms to give for the talent...AWESOME!!!

Debby Harriettha said...

WOW!!!No words to describe your amazing talent. Judy not only can you create the most incredible art, but your story telling and direction is topped by none. You are a true artist in every way. Thanks for sharing this incredible journey with us.

Lelainia N. Lloyd said...

This is an amazing body of work. When I was in high school, we were invited to a symposium with survivours of the Holocaust. It was the opportunity of a lifetime to hear their stories.

The funny thing was, growing up, I had made my way through my library's collection of books on the Holocaust. Not the thing an average 10 year old reads and I had to get special permission to have the books out, since they were in the adult section. I just really wanted to know what happened and how people survivied, so I read and read and read.

It has always interested me to hear the stories through the eyes of those who lived it. I am glad you have found such a beautiful way to tell these stories and I look forward to reading more.

I think what's important here is not only in honouring the memories of these people, but also this is a small measure of healing for the person who will receive this work. Through your art, you've made these people come alive again.

Anonymous said...

Your work and your vision leave me in awe. Thank you, thank you...for your art and for sharing. You have touched my life.
Jan Adams
Durham, NC, USA

christy grant said...

There is no one who, because of your heritage and relationships, could have done this piece justice. It is done with respect and reverance for the survivors and victims alike and is heavy with symbolism. Thank you for the education, for making us remember again. Keep on reminding us.

gaby said...

Your work inspire me every day. There is so much poetic in this! And the best of all is that you have no problem to share all the story and the growing up from every work. Thank you for this!

Lynn said...

Judy...oh Judy...what you have created, yes, with Sam's help.
When I first saw the arcs I thought Holy Ark for the Torah. To me you have given Sam and Ester Holy resting places. Beautiful houses within to rest their weary bones, their tired feet from running through the forests, for enduring whatever horrors they had to endure.

Wonderful finds and how they were found by you...your exhaustion from this work is not surprising...stress adds up my friend, and I cannot image this not being stressful...you sound like you fully immerse yourself ...the music...the photos...searching for just the right embellishment, words, language, history, correcting aged photos...you reach into your very soul to do this work...yes it must take it's toll.

Do be careful, pace yourself...you have much to give the world...I admire you and what you are doing. Shalom. Peace be with YOU.

Anonymous said...

Judy you are amazing! What a beautiful story. Thank you for keeping history alive in such a beautiful way. Coming from Holland I can remember the stories that were told by my family during these most horrific times. Very heart felt. Timona

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