Biblical Inspirations Opens at JGallery
Melanie Lewis, artist
By Susan Sternberg
“Biblical Inspirations,” featured at JGallery Sept. 4 through Oct. 22, 2018, will showcase artwork by three Austin artists: Melanie Lewis, Richard Rutner and Harold Liebowitz.
The exhibition includes Melanie Lewis’ acrylic and pastel paintings portraying the stories and attributes of the biblical matriarchs; Richard Rutner’s abstracted pen and ink drawings inspired by the ancient Aleppo Codex; and Harold Liebowitz’s paintings depicting narratives from the Book of Genesis and Exodus.
The Visual Arts League will host an opening reception Wednesday, Sept. 5, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., with light refreshments and remarks by each of the artists.
Lewis’s work, “The Faces of the Matriarchs,” comprises 12 acrylic and pastel paintings. The pictures portray attributes of the biblical matriarchs Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah from a woman’s viewpoint. The matriarchs carry out their roles and duties while playing out God’s plan for their families. These dimensions include the faces of beauty, power, joy, vision, brokenness, kindness, favoritism, resolve, love, envy, motherhood and sisterhood.
Lewis introduces the matriarchs through their stories in the Book of Genesis. As women, their roles were limited: spouse, homemaker, child bearer and caregiver. Very little is known about their physical characteristics. However, they are known through their interactions with others and by what others say about them.
Judaism provides countless interpretive commentary and additional stories (midrashim) which embellish and expand on the biblical text. Selected stories, as well as biblical scriptures and the feminine perspective, formed the basis for the ideas presented by these paintings. One could say these paintings are the artist’s own commentaries on the matriarchs. Concurrently, Lewis is releasing a coffee table book with the same name, which includes the artist and author’s images and commentary.
Lewis’ art career represents a return to a childhood love. After earning degrees in biology, geology, and science education and working for 30 years as a science educator, Lewis began serious art studies in 1998. She enjoys the freedom of working with a variety of media, including acrylic and oil paints, pastels and inks and combines realism with imaginative and abstract elements often using a colorful and expressive palette.
Lewis currently works and exhibits at Austin Art Space Gallery.
Rutner is a painter and printmaker living and working in Austin. He has exhibited in the United States and internationally for more than 40 years. He was a painting instructor, a freelance curator and a visual arts consultant in New York City and also worked for the town of Hempstead, New York, as an arts administrator for 30 years before coming to Austin. Rutner received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Tyler School of Art, Temple University, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
Rutner’s series of pen and ink drawings in “Biblical Inspirations” was inspired by the Aleppo Codex, the earliest known text of the Bible, handwritten by scribes over one thousand years ago.
Influenced by Chagall’s artistic inspiration from his Jewish heritage, Rutner began to research ancient Hebraic lettering as a connection to his own Jewish background. The ancient writing of the Codex was drawn on different animal hides, creating a varied background of color tones.
When Rutner began to enlarge the Hebrew letters taken from the Codex, their graphic quality had strong organic and sculptural elements, as if mimicking shapes from nature. When the letters were placed together, they pushed the positive and negative space on the page, creating tension in the composition. The larger letters are often layered over smaller ones with the overlapping of black forms with sepia forms. Rutner’s intent is to avoid giving meaning to the letters or words so that the viewer is drawn to the forms and the elements of color, depth and shape that play off one another.
Liebowitz’s artistic training began with a drawing class in the Educational Alliance on the Lower East Side; a life drawing course at the New School for Social Research in New York; a painting class at City College; and a year of study with the artist Philip Pearlstein.
Liebowitz’s painting career falls into three periods: abstract expressionism, with some figurative elements; cityscapes with architectural elements and close ups of parts of freighters; and painting the Bible, in which he is now engaged.
His objective is to provide an artistic, poetic rendering of episodes in the books of Genesis and Exodus. In his expressionistic exploration of these narratives he draws upon the story, rabbinic commentaries about the narrative and his personal interpretation of the narrative and its meaning. His brushstrokes are bold and heavy with a freedom of movement punctuating the figurative component of his works.
Liebowitz has participated in group shows at Tanager Gallery, New York and City Center Gallery, New York and a solo show in Philadelphia.
Liebowitz received his rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University, a master’s in art history from New York University, and his doctorate in Near Eastern art and archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Liebowitz taught Biblical history and archaeology at the University of Texas at Austin and was a visiting professor at Bar Ilan University in Israel. ■