Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My Thoughts on Croatian Art Painting and the Torah Portion of Noach

Flood by the great Croatian painter Ivan Generalic

Despite its splendid colours of changing leaves, there is an underlying somber note to autumn. The falling leaves always seem to convey the dual message of the impermanance of life and our dependence on a greater world.

It is for this reason that my thoughts often turn in this season to Croatian naive art. Some of the finest paintings of this genre are of course landscapes. I am always awed by the details of tree branches. Denuded of leaves, there is a distinctiveness to the different types of trees that is well captured in some Croatian naive painting.

The father of Croatian naive painting is Ivan Generalic. He was born in the town of Hlebine and died in 1992. His first public art exhibition was in 1931.

The arrival of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan brings with it the reading of parshas Noach, which details the destruction of the world in the Great Flood. The entire sequence of events of the flood is a stark reminder of the role humanity has of channeling all of creation to the service of G-d. In this Torah portion, the rainbow is established as a reminder that G-d promised never again to destroy the world by flood. When it appears it is a sign of both anger and restraint, that the world is being spared despite G-d's wrath.

It is for this reason that I chose a painting by Ivan Generalic called "Flood". Although it is usually the spring thaw that brings flooding in the countryside, the horizon shares with late autumn and winter the feature of bare branches raised to heaven like arms in mute supplication.

I have also included two recordings of YU Grupa, a froup that was wildly popular before the breakup of Jugoslavia. Although my family connection is to Croatia, I have on more than one occasion discussed with people from other republics of the former Jugoslavia the music scene in that region before the breakup. Some of the groups actually outlived Jugoslavia, continuing to enjoy a unity among fans that transcends national boundaries, if only for the duration of a song.

This is an odd time of year in which my own cultural frame of reference reinforces the message and theme of the weekly Torah portion. I hope you, my readers enjoy both the music and the paintings with this posting.

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