THE BEAUTY OF DEVOTION

Motif of Devotion and Joy in Michael Rogatchi Contemporary Spiritual Art

Motif of Devotion and Joy in Michael Rogatchi Art

By Inna Rogatchi

First published at The Times of Israel

Ushpizin: personal bond

There is a profound paradox  that exists in the narrative of Jewish spiritual heritage when we look at it as the source for artistic inspiration: the league of leading heroes from the Torah and our history is well-known, fixed in its number, and is  largely prescribed in its main features in the annals of our Rabbinic and other literature. Quality art is an innovation always, and to be innovative within so seriously defined territory is a challenge. 

Another challenge for artists who work on spiritual themes is modernity, shortening the distance from the time ancient to us today while portraying the spiritual giants and human models for our behaviour while being responsible in your effort to reflect authentically and respectfully.  

There is no answer or recipe for that. It is highly individual resolution for any artist who dares to step into that territory. Because it all is based on an artist’s feeling.  His or her personal bond towards concrete figures from our Biblical heroes and heroines, an artist’s personal connection to that or another character among them. Without that personal touch, nothing happens. With that personal touch, all the challenges are given a way to process of work, long, uneasy, complicated, but absolutely engaging, educating and rewarding one. 

This personal bond explains the selectiveness of  the  ‘repertoire’ of Biblical heroes portrayed by the artists who worked in that field ( except the cases of commissions, of course). I know it also first-hand, observing my husband’s work on the spiritual theme for several decades. Biblical personalities probably is the most difficult, after the Holocaust, theme to create original artworks, just because of your own, highly subjective, perception of them. And one’s versatility in the subject gets it yet more difficult, paradoxically again. The more you know about our Forefathers, the wider the ocean of their inner world is getting in front of you. You have to navigate there, to be able to create something new, original, authentic, sensible, and not cliched. What is your compass in this navigating process? Your feeling. Your personal feeling  of Moses, and Aaron, and Rachel, and Yochebed. Or not. And then, nothing happens, and just cannot happen. 

In yet another paradoxical twist,  artistically interpreting so well known leading figures of Jewish heritage is, in fact, terra incognita for an artist. And his only real chance to do it is his very personal connection towards some of those shining souls, using the Talmud reference. 

I was writing previously about Michael’s well-known, widely exhibited and reproduced Forefathers series which has started as his artistic tribute to seven Ushpitzin and expanded also to the Matriarchs and other Biblical heroines.

Working on the new book of Michael’s drawings, I came across a rich trove of his artistic dialogues with some of the Biblical personalities especially important for him.

Some of those expressive works tell us not only on the artist’s search which always provides interesting and telling insights, but also get us closer to the resolution of that challenge posed by modern perception. 

In his Study for Sarah and Abraham ( 2010), Michael based his intellectual and artistic search for understanding and expressing  the inner, deep reasoning for Sarah and Abraham’s unique pair-ship, that one-soulness between them that has become – or should become –  the fundament of our all’ relationships between Jewish man and Jewish woman in the family on the Talmudic understanding of meaning of addition of  Hebrew letter Hei to the names of both of them, making Abraham from Abram and Sarah from Sarai. 

Not only Creator has added these two heis to the names of our principal ancestors simultaneously, it is also happened at the moment, as it is recorded in the Torah ( Parasha Lech Lecha , Bereishit 17:4 and Bereishit 17:15)  when they are informed about future birth of their son Isaac, thus sealing with two heis foundation of Jewish family-hood. 

Michael’s thoughts as he related it in his own essays and comments for Forefathers  were led by the multiply meanings of gematria in that process of re-naming of Sarai and Abram by the Creator. There are many worthy comments and explanations on that fundamentally important moment in the Jewish spiritual history. 

The following quote is the facet via which Michael visualised it: “In Genesis, the Creator gave new names to Sarai and Abram. According to the Talmud, to do so He took the Hebrew letter Yod from the end of Sarai’s name. This letter is the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet and has a numerical value ( gematria) of 10. He divided it into two equal parts and added a half each to both names using two Heis which have the numerical values of 5. He therefore made Sarah and Abraham. He thus made them inseparable. In that glorious couple, the archetype of a Jewish family, each individual was a half of the other. And this is the eternal secret of Patriarchs and Matriarchs”.  ( Michael Rogatchi, Forefathers. 2010).

Michael Rogatchi (C). Study for Sarah and Abraham. Pencil on white cotton paper. 50 x 40 cm. 2010.

How many artists rendered Akedah, the Binding of Isaac? It is arguably one of the most visualised Biblical plots in art. How to make that incomprehensible key moment of Jewish and mankind’s history closer to us living today? Michael chose to concentrate on Abraham and Isaac’s, father and son’s closeness at the most dramatic , shocking, actually, moment of their lives. 

He wrote on his version of Akedah – and his approach is also illustrated by his dynamic study for the work: “ Abraham, the Rock from which we are chipped ( Isaiah 51:1), in a moment of unbearable torment during which he was prepared to part with his beloved child forever to satisfy the Creator’s will, resisted tears. It is significant that Isaac, who at the time of the Akedah was a thirty-seven year old man, fully understood both his father’s torment and the Creator’s will. I have tried to convey in this work that rare and amazing unity between father and son born from their limitless belief in the Creator. I did not wish to treat the subject of Akedah in a purely illustrative manner, with both bound legs and hands. Instead,  I wanted to capture this spiritual moment, a moment of the greatest possible spiritual strain that has become the touchstone in the history of Jewish people’ ( Michael Rogatchi, Forefathers. 2010).  

Michael Rogatchi (C). Study for Akedah. Pencil on white cotton paper. 2003. 30 x 30 cm. Authored unique print on cotton paper. 2019. Permanent Art Collection, Municipality of Jerusalem, Israel.

And then, there are sometimes the works which do not need an explanation. In the case of Michael’s study for Jacob, pure love transforms itself into a beauty. It is known that all our Patriarchs ( as well as Matriarchs) were beautiful people in appearance. And it is mentally registered in Michael’s images of them in all his works dedicated to them. But in this special drawing, on which I personally can look non-stop, and am doing it all the time, the finesse of features is the result of the artist’s love, understanding and close feeling towards his subject. When this subject is the Father of Jewish People, the beauty of seeing Jacob-Israel in this lyrical interpretation is a totally new sensation, with long-lasting effect. A rare work, indeed. 

Michael Rogatchi (C). Study for Jacob. Pencil on white cotton paper. 40 x 30 cm. 2009. The Rogatchi Art Collection. 

In Michael’s new and latest rendition of the images of Forefathers, his David with Shofar ( 2020) is young, hopeful, and enlightened. In the artist’s own ‘gallery’ of Biblical heroes, this new King David comes in a sharp contrast with Michael’s very well-known King David from his “Absalom, My Son!..” oil painting (2003) in which Kind David is depicted in the most unusual way, being a tormented father who has just lost his beloved child. The previous tormented King David is a critically acclaimed achievement of the artist who produced that touching, tormented, and making us think  King David with his full compassion. Seventeen years on, the artist who is studying Torah, Talmud and Rabbinic literature deeply and all the time, has produced this young David, playing shofar with elation, David who is an epitome of devotion – and importantly, the kind of devotion which uplifts. Perhaps, one has to live enough to fully understand the beauty, the light and the enlightenment of devotion. 

Michael Rogatchi (C). Kind David’s Shofar. Indian ink, oil pastel, watercolour. 35 x 25 cm. 2020. The Rogatchi Art Collection.  

Shemini Atzeret – at the King’s Banquet

After a week of Sukkoth, relaxing  under semi-permanent roof, enjoying life with family and friends in our decorated dwellings, altered by the covid realities this year drastically, but still, a special time, we are inevitably getting into the period of concentration – basically, on ‘what it is about’? After stress of Rosh HaShanah, climax of Yom Kippur, and joy of Sukkoth, we are led to that truly special day of Shemini Atzeret, known as our each’ personal attendance of the King’s Banquet, to have that rare moment of contemplation of a different character than we are having in preceding Chagim ( High Holidays), more celebrating, less stressed, in that special anticipation of the new year in our life which has recently started and which lays ahead of us. 

This mood is reflected in Michael’s special work which he calls his ‘self-portrait’ and which he does not exhibit often, for this very reason of privacy. In this survey, however, it takes its just place illustrating that  Shemini Atzeret visit of each of us to that King’s Banquet, in its clarity, laconism, harmonious co-existence of warmth and strictness, and importantly, that dynamic of a questing man, with all kinds of  appearing and reappearing questions to the Banquet’s Supreme Authority on so many of our ever popping in and out doubts. It is also always utterly private conversation, and the essence of this ‘self-portrait’ is fine and telling. 

Michael Rogatchi(C). My Shul. Indian ink, oil pastel on dark-blue Italian hand-made cotton paper. 50 x 35 cm. 2013. The Rogatchi Art Collection.  

Privacy is ‘a salt’ of our all’  relationships with the High Sphere of our prayers and thoughts. How to relate it? A sole figure on an empty bank of a river would not do for this delicate balance. Such an attitude can portray solitude, not devotion. Because devotion means connection, and solitude means a loss of it. 

Michael authored several different versions of his canonic by now Zion Waltz work which exist  as an oil painting and as a couple of works on paper in mixed technique, one of which was owned by Leonard Cohen who did thank Michael for it warmly, and which now belongs to Cohen’s estate. There are several revelations in this special work, those dancing & embracing doves, that distinct figure of a Jewish poet who is a musician of his own inner thought, as many devoted Jewish people are, independent of their occupation in life. 

But this very study for Zion Waltz, one of several, expresses the essence of privacy of that devotion between a Jewish person and the King at the special moment of those Banquets.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Study for Zion Waltz. Pencil on white cotton paper. 40 x 50 cm. 2013. 

And then, our trees.  Starting practically from the beginning of our core spiritual narrative, the Trees – of Life, of Knowledge, of Mercy, of Souls – are commanding the landscape of our thoughts. with different meanings. Those various trees arise in our inner perception with different questions related to the different stages of one’s life. There are also trees connected with our Forefathers, Abraham notably. And then, as a quite-essence of all this, there are trees of Israel, of Jerusalem, of Tiberias, of Safed, the subject of love and devotion of all of us, inside and outside Israel.

Precious, meaningful, dear, beloved Jewish trees of Eretz Israel that every Jewish person bears in his and her heart. As the one of the Michael’s Tree of Light ( 2016), his study for a stain-glass window for the Western Marble Arch Synagogue in London known also as the World Jewry’s London address.  

Michael Rogatchi (C). Study for Tree of Light. Pencil on white cotton paper. 50 x 40 cm. 2016.

Beauty of Jewish Devotion

So many times we are saying kiddush during the month of chaggim ( High Holidays), all those kiddushes are different in their inner meanings – and varies our hopes connected to it. One can perhaps create an art series of different kiddushes, from exalted to reflective ones, as there are books with collections of various kiddushes, true enrichment of Jewish tradition.  

But again, when it gets to authentic transferring tradition and heritage into the creative sphere of public domain, it is always personal.  Of all possible kiddushes, Michael chose to portray the moment of that concentrated devotion that makes kiddush so special. He did it in two versions of his thought, on paper and on canvas. 

On paper, the modern symbolism is evident. What is important in this truly special work beyond its aesthetic elegance is the success in creating an artistic archetype. It is not that often when symbolism gets its right with regard to people. It easily succeeds with subjects, and our eyes and minds are used to these memorable manifestations of symbolism as we know it from Picasso, Braque and their circle. But when it gets to people, for a number of well-grounded reasons, symbolism rarely succeeds. The best known samples of such success is Matisse’s Dance, but there are not that many of such works of art creating that successful archetype by the means of symbolism. 

Michael’s man in his Kiddush on paper is a beautiful symbol of observing Jewish man. At the same time, this work is also an elegant symbol of our special Kiddush tradition. It tells it all, and does it in the rare case of artistic success when there is absolutely nothing should be added or left out. 

When Michael handed his work  to its extremely happy recipient in London, in a huge completely full synagogue, there was a wonderful and memorable moment of unified breathless silence of palpable delight , common and shared at the same time. After the ceremony, people were queuing patiently to see the work closer, and everybody smiled , warmly and engagingly, while examining the work from a close distance. 

Michael Rogatchi (C). Kiddush. Indian ink, oil pastel on yellow Italian hand-made cotton paper. 50 x 35 cm. 2016. Private Collection, London, the UK. 

On a big canvas version, Michael decided to portray a slightly different Kiddush. The Jewish man there is  of recognisably Sefardic origin, and the painting’s background represents our desert, both physical one in Negev, and metaphorical one, as well, of our people’s way to ourselves.  This desert is not a homogenous or dull or desperate one, it is the kind of a desert that is an essential element of entire Jewish history. On the canvas, it filled in with the images of our Shabbat candles which are always around us and which are guarding us from one Shabbat to another. 

The two works are united by the men’s devotion at the time of Kiddush, and from that perspective, from the symbolism presenting the archetype of observing Jewish man it gets to the symbolism presenting the archetype of Jewish emotion. In this case, the most personal and guarded of it, devotion. 

Michael Rogatchi (C). Kiddush. Oil on canvas. 120 x 100 cm. 2016. Zion Waltz series. 

Special aspect of devotion: its privacy

When an artist works from inside practicing tradition, his understanding serves as the best guide to his narrative. It is also the genetic memory of Jewish people that appears sometimes in our artists’ works, and this kind of loving loyalty makes this kind of art a sincere and simple song which reaches everyone. 

Michael’s work Journey in Time I ( 2016)  from his Journeys in Time series relates just this kind of the connection to the Jewish spiritual life-rope, our Torah. The life-rope that has saved us from extinction many times during all our over 3 300 years of history from the Exodus onward. 

Devotion has its unmistaken aspect, privacy. The real thing is always quiet. For simple reason: a person does scream when he speaks to himself. How more so it is true in our personal inter-connection with the Creator. The one of the most profound and beautiful descriptions of this core aspect of  Jewish Faith is found in the famous episode in the Writings describing Elijah’s encounter with the Creator ( Kings I, 19: 11-13). It tells Elijah in the process of powerful demonstrations that the Creator is not in the wind, nor in an earthquake, or in a fire. But then comes that ‘still, thin voice’ – and  upon hearing it,  Elijah knows that he has just met the Creator, in person. 

There is mass of commentaries of this central episode in the Scriptures, expectedly. The one of the most beautiful and reasonable ones comes from the great Ralbag, Moshe Ben Gerson, known also as Gersonides, star Talmudist and serious scientist from early medieval France, who notes that the characteristic of ‘still, thin voice’ means a transition between state of silence and state of sound, or in another words, the inner voice, the kind of voice when revelation is perceived by a person for himself. The most convincing moment of truth. 

Importantly, all our commentators agree on the main outcome of that episode: that the Creator is not to be found in a pompous manifestation, but in a quiet devotion. Michael’s modern drawing expresses the view of Gersonides that he had written in his brilliant  commentaries to the Kings seven hundred year ago.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Journey in Time. Pen on cotton paper. 40 x 50 cm. 2016. 

The Joy of the Torah , the Warmth of a Friend’s Shoulder

And then, at the end of our annual High Holiday month, after that contemplating period, after the end of Sukkoth, at the Banquet of the King, comes the exuberance of joy, Simchat Torah. We all have our favourite holidays in our rich circle of them. Michael’s one of the dearest for him is Simchat Torah. It is impossible to explain, it is  – yes – personal. I guess that being raised in an observing Jewish family under the Soviet oppression of religious freedom, the outpouring manifestation of gratitude to the Creator for having the Torah, the guide in life, has its special overtone for Michael. Additionally to that, he simply loves people and his friends, and loves to be in a good company. 

His lyrical Shtetl Song III ( 2013) drawing was created after spending the end of the High Holidays with our dear friends, a warm and family-like congregation of Dnepropetrovsk in Ukraine led for 30 years by now by a brilliant man and outstanding Rabbi of our times, Shmuel Kaminetski.  With regard to this work, Michael says that it is a clear-cut case when the inspiration comes from a concrete address. What is interesting to me in this live connection it is the fact that the revived life of Jewish communities in former Soviet Union after 70 years of its total suppression awoke the live creative energy in the artist who created the image celebrating the Jewish life all over the Eastern and Central Europe yet for centuries before the Bolshevik suffocation of freedom and before the Nazis annihilation of Jews and our Shtetls there. This work , and the history behind it, is a live proof of our Silver Thread that keeps us together from the ancient times until today. What can be more modern than the proof of ancient heritage alive?

Michael Rogatchi (C). Shtetl Song III. Pencil on white cotton paper. 40 x 50 cm. 2013. 

Rose is one of the central symbols in Jewish tradition, and it gets close to Michael’s heart in his work as the artist, as well. He paints and draws roses often, always in a symbolic way, not as a plain illustrative exercise. Among many of his roses, the one giant one on his Simcha.Dance of Joy painting is special. It refers to the famous and bellowed symbol of the Thirteen-Petalled Rose which was first introduced by talented and original thinker and early  Kabbalist Rabbi Avraham Abulafia in mid-13th century before it was brought closer to the wide audience of modern times by the late Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. 

It is also Rabbi Abulafia’s gentle metaphor comparing the Torah for Jewish people with ‘ milk for children’ in its absolute organic necessity and its pre-destined naturality, and also in its abundance and vitality in building one’s body. This famous rose of Jewish wisdom and petal-like multi-facetedness of our educated and family-inherited values’ approach to life, coloured as milk is a background for the Chasidic dance of happiness, Simcha, in this Michael’s painting.  The rose flies in the cobalt-blue skies symbolising the stronghold of our principles and willingness to defend them. Together with the flying rose there, the cobalt-blue skies of strength are forming the universe of Israel and Eretz Israel. The work occupies a prominent place at the hospitable house of our dear friend, great Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetski, as I am happy to note with his kind permission. Rabbi Shmuel always mentioned that his family always gathers together next to this painting.  

Michael Rogatchi (C). Simcha. Oil on canvas. 100 x 80 cm. 2009. Private collection, Ukraine-USA 

This artist loves to place his personages in skies, for a number of reasons. Especially Jewish ones. Jewish musicians, dreamers, singers, dancers. ‘Why is that?’ – Michael was asked numerous times, at many of his exhibitions and encounters with viewers,  – ‘is there a straightforward metaphor of lyrical flying applied in these works, telling on your romantic perception of your people?’ – ‘Not necessarily’,  – Michael replied several times, – ‘in my understanding, the thing is that music, dreams, dances, thoughts, and prayers originated in Jewish heart, conducted in sincerity, simplicity, and devotion  are losing its gravity. Simple.” 

Simple, indeed, when it is felt  – and painted – organically.

Inna Rogatchi (C). October 2020.

MICHAEL ROGATCHI’S JEWISH MELODY SERIES: VIRTUAL NIGGUNS AND EUROPEAN COMMEMORATIONS

COMMEMORATIONS OF THE EUROPEAN DAYS OF JEWISH CULTURE & MICHAEL ROGATCHI’S SPECIAL SERIES

FINE ART ESSAY by INNA ROGATCHI (C)

First Published: The Times of Israel, September 6th, 2020

The essay can be read here

Accelerated Effort

As the European Days of Jewish Culture are commencing the first weekend of September  and expanding it through the beginning of the next week, with events in many countries programmed until September 8-10th, we know that this year, so very difficult and challenging one because of the pandemic and its multiple restrictions, many of our colleagues in different countries are approaching the celebrations with double energy, double efforts, and double aspiration to show more, to open doors of Jewish institutions for longer, to appeal to more people to celebrate our culture with us. 

In Helsinki and in Rome, in Paris and in Italian Barletta, in Krakow and in Sicily, there are new, specially prepared events, exhibitions, concerts, lectures, with open doors events in many Jewish institutions all over Europe. Being in constant touch with many of my colleagues all over these strange times of covid, I know that they have put so much of their energy and will to share into all these events. The trend can be seen in its unifying character: European Jewish organisations are trying really more than ever to carry on the public events on various themes connected with our heritage. Public is a key-word here for all of us, understandably. 

The European Day of Culture is not that long tradition. It was established just 25 years ago in Strasbourg, and from complete novelty it has been progressing in more tangible form into a special event  in the cultural and public calendar of Europe. So far, it is largely Jewish communities’ inner events, still. In my opinion, the more we would be able to engage the public outside our communities, the more successful the very message of these events would become. How to do it? To understand it, we really need to clarify for ourselves: what do we celebrate at our annual Days of Jewish Culture in Europe?  Our history? Our persecutions, dramas, and tragedies? Or our victories, victories of our spirit, resilience, survival and capacity to survive due to an inherited humanity and cherished love for our families and brethren? Our struggle to survive, or our achievements in arts, science, and education? Are we staying with our past by revisiting archive materials, or are we striving into our future by designing and creating new forms of expression? 

Out of our own and our many European Jewish colleagues’ experiences, I know that the answer includes a bit of everything. But in order to get not just our own Jewish circles interested in the annual events of those days in September, but a wide and different public to attend those events, I believe that the working way of doing it should include a paradox in the way of our narrative for the wide not necessarily Jewish audience. When an intelligent paradox is in place, it gets people interested. In our own extensive public work promoting Jewish heritage to large and wide audiences in many European countries, and beyond it, we have many memorable stories to tell. One of them is connected directly to the European Days of Jewish Culture. 

A Melody on the Place of Ghetto Liquidation 

It was September 2013, just after High Holidays that year. In Vilnius, the IV World Litvak Congress gathered, with a vast program for several days, and full-scale participation of the state’s leadership in the event. The European Days of Jewish Culture had been also extended from its regular first weekend of September, for such an important occasion. There was one solo exhibition in the official program, Jewish Melody by Michael who was invited to create it specifically for the Congress and the celebration of Jewish history and culture.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Jewish Melody. Indian ink, oil pastels on dark-blue Italian hand-made cotton paper. 35 x 50 cm. 2013.

The timing for the Congress was chosen with meaningful precision: on September 23d and 24th in 1943, the Vilna Ghetto was liquidated. Seventy years later, the big official event, with following series of various events were commemorating the efficient, cruel, cold, horrendous extermination of the great Lithuanian Jewry with all its history, culture, education, traditions, contributions, and simply life as such. 

It was an uneasy context to participate in. I was curating that project of my husband, and we both, each of us differently, were approaching and experiencing it. Michael was creating his works, and I was waiting for them to be ready, to speak with him, and to work on presenting his works and its message authentically. 

My husband did surprise me, and much more he did surprise those many different people who did gather for his Jewish Melody opening, and who visited actively ever since, long after the end of the Congress, as his exhibition had been prolonged several times and lasted several months in Vilnius before it was relocated the following year to celebrate the Day of Jerusalem and anniversary of the Tallinn great New Synagogue and its wonderful community in a joint event with the Knesset to Estonia. 

* * *

Back to Vilnius, and yet before that, to Michael’s working on his Jewish Melody series. He was working in his studio non-stop, to be in time for the exhibition in Vilnius, Vilna, as we always call the place we love in our both families. Appearing one evening after a long day of work, he was smiling. I thought that he was happy with the results, but there was more, and different.

Do you know what I am actually doing? – Michael asked. – ‘I suppose, I do. You are doing the series for Vilna.’ – Yeah, but what, or how I am doing it? Can you guess? – ‘Nope, and I would love to hear about it, as I have a couple of things to write and to think about hanging, composition, etc.’ – It will be a Melody, – Michael kept smiling. – A Melody, and that’s it. – ‘A Melody? Very nice. A good idea’.  I was thinking that it would be a solemn kaddish-like reflections on the unspeakable tragedy of the Vilna ghetto, and for that matter, all and every of ghetto established and liquidated with that barbarian approach to life by the Nazis and their ever-willing local collaborators in Lithuania and literally everywhere else. As it was once mentioned by my good friend, great Karl von Schwarzenerg, “ Among the European countries’ attitude towards the Jews during the WWII, perhaps only Iceland could pledge its innocence, and yet, one cannot be 100% on that, too”. 

Michael, as  usual, was aware of the line of my thinking.  “It is not that melody that you think, – Michael said. – ‘No? What kind of melody then?’– All sorts of our melodies. Our melodies from our normal lives, ghetto or not. I will be speaking about love and memory, memory and love, not about extermination and sorrow. This is how I decided to approach it”, – Michael said. 

Michael Rogatchi (C). Simcha . Diptych. Indian ink, oil pastel on dark-blue Italian hand-made paper. Each part: 50 x 35 cm. 2013.

I felt enormous wave of warm gratitude to my husband  – whose grandmother’s maiden name is Litowska, and whose family, as well as mine one (with also proper Litvaks surnames of Pinsky and Chigrinsky ) did lost many family members in desperate circumstances of the Holocaust – for creating this sort of commemoration, and for having this philosophical and psychological stand in his way of artistic response and re-addressing the Shoah. 

Of course, an immediate and subconscious reaction of any normal human being, Jewish or not, but twice so Jewish, on the Shoah realities and its consequences, is a horror, sorrow and devastation. But if we would dwell on that only, we would not be able to commemorate our beloved ones, our six – and more, up to eight – million in the way which is closer to how they lived and who they were, and with the strength that our memory requires. 

In our both’ opinion, in ongoing process of re-adressing the Holocaust, there is way of featuring it, and there is way of commemorating the victims of it, and those are two different paths. Featuring Holocaust does not allow, or should not allow its fictionalisation. That’s why Elie Wiesel has been so categorically against creation of any feature film on his books. 

When it happened, as in the utterly cheap case of The Tattooist of Auschwitz book, caramel-like, third-rate, stupid and ignorant exercise, or absolutely repulsive, pervert The Painted Bird film, we all see the result of the games in the territory where normal people are not gaming. Of course, those are extreme cases of tasteless attitude of ignorants, and wrong approach of amateurs. I know that most of those authors who were and are working in fictionalisation of Holocaust do have a noble motives and are trying their very best. But I would always remember the eyes of my good friend Pauline Wrobel from Australia who has told me how her parents, both survivors who lost entire families in the Shoah, were quietly and hopelessly crying for hours after watching the first Hollywood fiction on Holocaust. ‘They were crying and crying after seeing that film, and I did not know what to say to them and how to comfort my parents – Pauline told me with tears in her eyes good half of the century after that episode that stuck in her memory for good. – I just asked them, Ma, Dad, you are crying because it brings you back to that?  – and they’ve told me : ‘No, Paulie, we are crying because they did show that all so awfully wrong. You cannot make a show from that. You just cannot”. And I knew for 101% that Elie was absolutely right about his resistance to any feature film on Holocaust on any of his books, and I knew why. 

But in commemoration of the Shoah, yes, one can make his or her own allusions and use one’s imagination in the reverence of memory.  Actually, the more personal it gets, the more connected we are getting with our families and our brethren, those who perished in the Shoah and because of other calamities. Personal way of remembrance ensures its endurance and authenticity. Our feelings applied in such personified way are not somewhat abstract and short-live cliches, but they are becoming special song straight from the heart. Everybody’s own niggun, according to one’s family tradition and memories of that.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Love-Thread. Indian ink, oil pastel on dark-blue Italian hand-made cotton paper. 50 x 35 cm. 2013.

Visual Nigguns

Michael believes that a melody is a special language in general and especially in arts. He knows how to visualise it artistically, too. He shares our sages’ understanding that singing is so highly and warmly valued in Jewish spiritual tradition. He reasoned it by people’s devotion, but also, importantly, due to the special effort that people singing in a spiritual dimension might make, possibly overcoming one’s shyness, privacy, introverted character. When niggun comes from the heart, it is not that loud one, but it is beautiful in its sincerity. Michael’s own nigguns from his childhood and adolescence are also living on his artworks in its visual form.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Yiddish Tango. Indian ink, oil pastel on dark-blue Italian hand-made cotton paper. 35 x 50 cm. 2013.

What Michael is doing in his art often it is to create a new, visual dimension for the nigguns. He is transferring our tradition with its familiar melodies into the other sphere of art.  In Michael’s creations, it encompasses all possible ways and sides of our Jewish life: our chuppahs and our lullabies, our Shabbeses and our gatherings on the Haggim, our daily routines and our dreams, our memories and our aspirations. 

It is not that often when an artist who works on his national heritage theme, chooses not to go for landscapes or genre scenes, but to express it all via melodies, to bring music, a very strong, emotional, warm, but also quite difficult ‘tool’ due to its fluidity, to portray life in all its phenomena. 

Not surprisingly, in Michael’s Jewish Melody, there are so many Yiddish tunes. His works are portraying Yiddish Tango, Yiddish Lullabies, Yiddish love songs. Our families were immersed in Yiddish culture, and the series is Michael’s ‘postcards’ back to them. But it is not only about the artist’s imaginary dialogue back in time with his family and friends and close people from his past. His idea for creating  Jewish Melody as a special series was to commemorate exterminated Lithuanian and Vilna Jewry in the way of speaking about them, memorising them alive, not annihilated. 

Who they were, those men and women and their kids? How did they live? Which songs they were singing to their children? What music was sounding at their chuppahs?

Michael Rogatchi (C). Soul-Talk. Indian ink, oil pastel on dark-blue Italian hand-made cotton paper. 35 x 50 cm. 2013.

Some of the work from this series were discussed in the essay dedicated to the family theme in Michael Rogatchi’s art.

Michael Rogatchi (C). My Grandmother’s Songs. Fragment. Indian ink, oil pastel on dark-blue Italian hand-made cotton paper. 35 x 50 cm. 2013.  

I wanted to speak about these many thousands of Jewish people, their children and their families alive, not dead. I wanted to memorise them with a smile, not tears. I tried to recreate their world as we know our Yiddish world, not to paint the dreadful ravines in Paneriai ( the forest next to Vilnius where at least 70 000 Jewish people were exterminated during the Shoah) ,- Michael was explaining his thinking behind the series at the opening of his exhibition in overcrowded hall of the Vilnius Jewish Public Library where the initial exhibition took place. 

People who were gathered at the opening in the capital of Lithuania knew the history and realities of our all’s lives there well, with first-hand experience.  Many of them were not Jewish. The more meaningful was their perception which was not only highly appreciative, but very deep too. 

In his opening speech, well-known scientist and educator, professor Algirdas Gaizukas emphasised: “ Michael’s Jewish Melody is lifted up and  is fused with the very essence of human existence. The artist’s metaphors are amalgamated into the deep thoughtfulness of the very meaning of life. His newly created artistic reality is becoming a melody itself. This unparalleled art series  dedicated to the memory of the people destroyed in the Vilna Ghetto 70 years ago, has become the melody which is full of light. 

This is the melody of life itself, the very meaning of it. To remember the people who were exterminated with the most cruelty and absolutely senselessly, in this highly human, fine in expression, and aesthetically simply beautiful way is certainly a very high and special achievement of the artist, and also a thinker, a philosopher. It is the elegant and very distinguished way of remembrance. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Michael for this great alternative to our post-Modernist time. I do feel that this kind of art is much needed today, and should be especially appreciated “ ( September 24th, 2013, Vilnius, Lithuania, opening speech, Michael Rogatchi’s Jewish Melody exhibition at the IV World Litvak Congress). 

Feather-planet of  Jewish music

This commemorative art series includes not only the works which are  re-addressing the past and features concrete ways of Jewish traditions in Central and Eastern Europe, but there also more philosophical etudes on Jewish character in general which in Michael’s opinion is expressed with relation to music in the most interesting and authentic way. 

Why are there so many feathers all around in these works? In Jewish Melody, Melodies of Jewish Violin, No Place for Wagner, Trace of Your Smile, and the other works? Because not only Jewish musician stays on a feather instead of a ground, metaphorically speaking, but also he plays with a feather, and his melodies are fluttering around as  feathers. His violin is a feather, to me, and his bow is a feather. His music, the world that he creates standing on a feather and playing on and by feathers, creates the world of feathers around: fine, light, gentle, so very special and unique world of Jewish, and Yiddish music and musicians. It is a feather-planet, so to say, to me, and that’s why there are so many of them in my Jewish Melody’ – explains the artist.  

We were only happy that one of those feather-planet’ intricate works, Melodies of Jewish Violin, has been selected some years ago for Permanent Art Collection of the Finland’s diplomatic mission’s official residence in Luxembourg.
  

Michael Rogatchi (C). Melodies of Jewish Violin. Indian ink, oil pastel on dark-blue Italian hand-made cotton paper. 50 x 35 cm. 2013. Permanent Art Collection, Residence of the High Representative of Finland to Luxembourg.

Some other works from this special series have become widely known and appreciated, as well: the title work Jewish Melody has been reproduced many times in the leading international media and special issues, both in arts  publications and for the general public. Michael was  requested to do a couple of new editions of that instant classic, and now the one of those works are in the collection of the world-famous theatrical director who keeps it as the closest thing next to him in his study, and the other is the part of notable private collection in Israel. The special enlarged edition of another  expressive work, Zion Waltz, was made by Michael for Leonard Cohen. After receiving the work in 2014, Cohen had written back to Michael: “As you know, Michael, I am in the age when I am in the process of giving many of my things away. But not this one. Not this. Thank you!” After Leonard’s passing in November 2016, the work is in his family estate, and it will take part in our new forthcoming international project in artistic commemoration of Leonard Cohen.

 

Michael Rogatchi (C). Zion Waltz. Indian ink, oil pastel on dark-blue Italian hand-made cotton paper. 50 x 35 cm. 2013. Special version of the work, 65 x 50 cm, 2014, belonged to Leonard Cohen and now belongs to his family estate. 

Yet another work featuring feather-planet of Jewish music, created a bit later, but belonging to the same series,  No Place for Wagner, is with our good friend, great talent of Jewish music himself, Rabbi and Cantor Lionel Roselfeld from the Western Marble Arch Synagogue in London, the same Synagogue where Lord Rabbi Sacks was administering and where he still administrating High Holidays in his eloquent, friendly, warm and deep way. Lionel Rosenfeld has said of the work that belongs to his and his family collection that ‘ not only I love the work greatly, but I am simply ecstatic about its title and would love to write it down on the wall next to the work, if I could, in giant letters’. We love our friends. They do share our attitude often, and shared key principals is truly important ground in one’s life, indeed. 

As many as six more works from this series belongs to notable art collections all over the world, from France to New York, and from London to Jerusalem. 

Michael Rogatchi (C). No Place for Wagner. Indian ink, oil pastel on dark-blue Italian hand-made cotton paper. 50 x 35 cm. 2016. Private collection, London, the UK.

When thinking of his own way of commemoration of Jewish lives brutally taken off by the Nazis and their local barbarian helpers back 1943, Michael was also creating the works in which the very way of such artistic commemoration was analysed and thought of. We are here – and we are not here; we are not here – but we are still here. We are serious but the trace of our smiles are present. We are smiling, or were just smiling, but are thoughtful and serious, full of memories, reminiscences and thoughts. Our thoughts are flying as feathers, the feathers of your, next generations’, memories on us. Our eyes are not angry, as we never ever were meaning ill to anyone. They are just thoughtful, with staying imprint of that unanswered astonishment on our own, our families, and our people’s destiny. Especially that one in Vilna. And so numerous places of that unspeakable tragedy all over Europe.  We are there, in traces of your memories – and we are here, in the colour of our faces. 

Michael Rogatchi (C). Trace of Your Smile. Indian ink, oil pastels on dark-blue Italian hand-made cotton paper. 35 x 50 cm. 2013.  

We are here -and we are there. We, the Jewish people. We, the Jewish artists. We, the  Jewish writers. We, the Jewish guardians of our culture which is a live imprint of our memory. And this is what we are commemorating at the European Days of Jewish Culture every September.  

The entire Jewish Melody series can be watched on this musical video-presentation.

FAMILY THEME IN MICHAEL ROGATCHI’S ART

ART ESSAY ON DETAILED ANALYSIS OF FAMILY THEME IN MICHAEL ROGATCHI’S ART IN ITS HISTORIC CONTEXT

 The Story of Devotion in Pictures: Family Theme in Michael Rogatchi’s Art

 By Inna Rogatchi (C). 

First published: The Times of Israel, 27.07.2020. On the TOI site, the article can be read here

Devotion on Canvas: Long Way for Real Feelings 

The topic of a family theme in art is more intricate than it seems. Before photography, the immediate and primary function of it was clear: to leave those who could afford a family portrait for posterity. People posing were at unease, artists behind their easel most of the time were just earning their living. However masterly in detail Italian and especially Spanish portraits before the XVIII century are, they are largely impassioned, not to say indifferent.  

Before Rembrandt, portrait as a genre had produced a beautiful, memorable, in many cases stunning in their harmony images of people as it was the case with all great masters of the Renaissance, but the inner light and depth of ordinary people’s lived- through faces had been brought to us by that great master who did revolutionised art in general and who meant everything to practically all and every serious artist thereafter. To see the beauty in not beautiful, to be such a philosopher while being a great master of art craft, to bring such depth into the artistic perception and set it up as an artistic criteria, to be that human one had to be a giant. As Rembrandt certainly was and still will be forever. 

The XVIII century and the first half of the XIX centuries brought in engaging French portrait that did show a vivid interaction between a model and an artist , – and we are talking about family portrait here – with artists being an ultimate master in those relationships most of the time. After the appearance of photography, artists have become engaged more in self-analysis even while painting other people, as was the case with many German and French artists for almost another century, 80 years at least, until the end of 1930s. 

Perhaps, it was something inevitable, some special way in psychology of art that helped an artist to open up about him – or herself while painting the other people, in this case, their family members. Tens of portraits by Monet,  Manet, Renoir and many other their colleagues and friends made of their wives, girlfriends and children is proof of it. 

Until the end of the XIX century, classic family portraits were not that much about a family as such , but rather it manifested  about its separate members. 

From Impressionists onward, family portrait has become more about art approach, experiment, style, light, coloristic, all the nuances of applied art that was bursting into an living experiment at the period. 

Myriads of portraits of their family members mastered by the French Impressionists are more about themselves, with rare exceptions of Modigliani who did paint his wife with love and palpable human inter-connectivity, the portraits  of his family members by Giacometti who did not belong to Impressionists, and who did bring that family connection into his works. He did these portraits of his father, mother, brother precisely for keeping that family connection alive. It was like writing a poem about his home, for Giacometti. And it seems to be a surprisingly rare thing in the history of art.  

Probably, the most powerful from those rare works of devotion on canvas is Mother and Son, great work from the early Blue period of Picasso, the outstanding work of art of all times, indeed. 

Speaking on Jewish art, Chagall did immortalise his wife and the love of his life Bella and their daughter Ida in his great works, of course, but his artistic impulse in the case of Bella was to paint the essence of romantic love which is another theme. In the case of Ida, his approach was similar to the French Impressionists who were painting their family members as models quite so very often.

But there is also art that creates, maintains and develops the theme of a family, even today, in contemporary art and in its figurative domain. Because of a number of reasons –  fashion, priorities, changes of mainstreams and trends  – it turned out to not be an easy thing to do. Seemingly, it always was the case. But when succeeded, this kind of art serves in many ways.

I am lucky to know such a contemporary artist who still values the theme of a family very highly and who keeps  and develops the theme as dear for himself throughout his career.  It is Michael Rogatchi  –www. michaelrogatchi.com

Being privileged to observe the work of my husband artist from a close distance, I can see how the family theme has developed during his career. It turned out to be a case-study of the family theme development in the work of a contemporary master.

The Shield of Jewish Family

Among the oeuvre of Michael, there is a substantial amount  of works, mostly oil paintings, dedicated to his own and our extended family. 

It started from Lullaby, the portrait of his mother Maija-Mara Rogatchi-Reiss, created in 1994. Two Little Goats is an eternal Yiddish lullaby, and Michael did bring the goats on the canvas decades after his mother who was an aspiring and able singer used to sing it to him.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Lullaby. Homage to Maija-Mara Reiss-Rogatchi, the Artist’s Mother. Oil on canvas. 90 x 65. 1994. The Rogatchi Art Collection.

Her face of a strong-willed Jewish woman who was caring and protective for her son and who was extremely helpful for tens of people around them who knew that they can always come for help to this special woman and always get it. This woman’s ivory-like face also shows the never left reflections in her bottomless eyes. And there had been so many things that she kept reflecting upon during many years of her not that long life, keeping it all to herself, without bothering anyone around, never frightening or saddening her only son, but always protecting him from harsh realities and cold winds around them while teaching him to be strong and courageous.  

How to protect a baby born inside Gulag, the son of Stalin’s political prisoner and his devoted wife who went after him, lived nearby and was allowed to see him once a month? How to protect a baby born in the absolutely harsh place of Soviet Gulag known as Valley of Death? How to protect this boy in the unspeakably hard exile in Kazakhstan, with that extreme climate of plus 45C in summer and minus 45C in winter, in the reality when a human life cost almost nothing but human dignity was highest possible? How to present to his boy a regular meal of a rye bread with a bit of vegetable oil and an onion as a normal and even good dinner? This woman did manage all this in a marvellous way. She did it by the way of her great lullabies which were still heard in the head of her son decades later, but also by the way of warm family evenings of non-stop music from gramophone, classical and operas, reading the best literature aloud extensively, immersing her boy in etiquette and best manners, not forgetting about teaching him to help to the others, everyone who does need help, elderly, young, sick, poor. To be human. To be brave. To fight for things fair. 

Michael’s father was arrested by the NKVD in 1949 being very young, for his alleged belonging to the bourgeois ‘organisation’ ( there was none, arrested were several co-students from the first year in university) and initially sentenced to death which was later commuted into 10 years of Gulag. Thanks to Stalin’s death in 1953, he was eventually released from the camp, but instead of being free, he and his family , as millions of others Gulag’s prisoners in Soviet Union, were sent to exile to Kazakhstan where they lived surrounded by thousands of people with the same destiny. Henry Rogatchi, talented, good looking, joyful and very kind man, who contracted tuberculosis in the camp, died relatively soon, being just 39. His only son was brought by women mostly, his mother, grandmother and aunt. 

Not surprisingly, Michael’s other important works  on the family are dedicated to his grandmother, Sofia Litowsky-Reiss. That brave woman who used to be a member of Jabotinsky’s organisation in Ukraine and who being a mother of four children of her own has adopted two more orphans in the years of devastated famine in Ukraine,  also has lost her husband to the Stalin’s regime.  Shimon Reiss, brave and smart military engineer from Budapest who was ‘a white’ officer in the Austrian Imperial Army, fell in love with Michael’s grandmother  and settled with his family in Ukraine after WWI.  One morning in 1937, accomplished and widely respected engineer Reiss went to his work, never to return. He was eliminated by the NKVD on the spot, in the first wave of their purges that started from ‘cleansing’ of foreign nationals and ‘bourgeois enemies’ of their bloody Bolsheviks coup. There is just one very small photo of him left in the large family.

His wife Sofia who raised so many children of their own and adopted ones, was a person whose motivation in life was to help the others. Thus she voluntarily went to Kazakhstan to help her daughter to raise Michael. And his grandma was his fortress and his heaven. “When grandma took us under her wings, literally, my cousin Galja and myself, and sang us all Yiddish songs in her melodic and warm voice, the outside world ceased to exist. It could be a terrible freeze and snowstorm outside, but we knew nothing about it. We lived in the world of Yiddishkeit, and it was the most wondrous one in the universe” – Michael recalls. 

Michael’s first tribute to his brave grandmother is My Grandmother’s Songs work from his celebrated Jewish Melody series ( 2013).

Michael Rogatchi (C). My Grandmother’s Songs. Indian ink, oil pastel on hand-made Italian cotton dark-blue paper. 50 x 35 cm. 2013.

He has elaborated it further on as an oil painting for his Zion Waltz series ( 2016). In this work, the lines of Michael grandmother’s  caring face appears from the sky in gentle appearance on canvas.

Michael Rogatchi (C). My Grandmother’s Songs. Oil on canvas. 120 x 100 cm. Zion Waltz series. 2016.

Sofia’s biggest dream in life was to bring her family to Israel. Her entire family, she always emphasised it. Michael was quick to go, naturally. He packed his little suitcase very quickly, put it under his bed, and reported to his grandmother that he is ready to go. He was 12 at the time. It was the first time when in the 1960th the USSR did open the window for its Jews for Israel for a short time. 

Sofia Litowsky-Reiss was not able to fulfil her dream, however, because many members of her family were not allowed to leave the USSR. And she was unable to leave some of her children behind. She was the matriarch of the family and felt all responsibility for all its members. Michael’s packed suitcase however was kept by the boy intact for many months there under his bed. For the long time, he was hoping to reach Israel with his family, despite any hurdles. 

During the long dark cold evenings in Kazakhstan, his family got together quite often. Family dinners and gathering on the Shabbes, it was the time of the week that kept us together and filled us with joy. And our grandparents did keep our Jewish holidays, especially Pesach. 

On these days, in Michael’s family, his uncle Reuven Kotljar would play piano with a great talent, and Michael’s mother would sing with her strong and beautiful  voice, to the entire family’s rejoice. Reuven grew up in an orphanage. His and his twin brother’s parents were killed as ‘enemies of Soviet state’ by the NKVD when the boys were babies. By known tradition of Soviet humanists, children were separated and had no clue on each other’s existence. Reuven also never knew that he was Jewish until he became an adult and left the orphanage. Incredibly, meeting no single Jew in his early life, he spoke with the heaviest Yiddish accent possible. And he was a super-talented pianist, self-taught one. Reuven and his brother did find each other being married adults each. It was another Jewish miracle. 

Michael’s portrait of his uncle Reuven was not conceived as a direct portrait. Michael created the general portrait of a warm, kind and thoughtful Jewish man who saw a lot in his life. Only afterwards did he realise that he gave his Jewish man the face of his brilliant uncle Reuven. This portrait has a special quality: the eyes of this man follows you wherever your movement would be. It is the one of most critically acclaimed Michael’s works on Jewish heritage.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Light of Our Memory. Portrait of Jewish Man. Oil on canvas. 86 x 66 cm. 1998. The Rogatchi Art Collection.

The Way of Unity and Belonging 

Music was much more than music in the life of the Soviet Jewry. It was probably the only universal way for millions of Soviet Jews to feel and express their belonging to each other and to our  people. 

My father Isaac Buyanover, talented engineer, inventor and chess-player, has had congenital heart disease, as he was born in the midst of severe famine in Ukraine. He had to be careful at all time in his movements and everything he did. But he completely abandoned any precaution when hearing the first sounds of Freilach, Hava Nagila and any other Yiddish dance music. My father danced his heart out at family’s and friends’  gatherings. His giant love of Cohen to his people bursted out in his dances. Everybody loved him dancing, because everybody saw that love outpoured, unmistakably. 

Michael’s work Freilach ( 1995) is dedicated to my father and is about him. It is also about the essence of  Jewish belonging. I wish my dad who died so prematurely, would see the work. He would be endlessly grateful for such heart-felt understanding.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Freilach. Tribute to Isaac Buyanover. Oil on canvas. 77 x 94 cm. 1995. The Rogatchi Art Collection.

The work dedicated to the memory of my maternal grandparents, Abram  Elovich and Adel Chigrinsky is called Mirages ( 1995). 

My grandfather, high-ranking engineer,  paid his toll to Stalin’s regime, as well. He was arrested without any guilt at all, in the anti-Semitic purges in early 1950s, and was released a couple of years after Stalin’s death. As he returned home alive, the family regarded it as a great luck. My grandmother belonged to a well-known Jewish family that was closely related to Menachem Ussishkin,  and was a daughter of a legendary man, Meer Chigrinsky who saved a huge Jewish community of Ekaterinoslav/Dnepropetrovsk from that devastating famine in the 1930s, and the niece of another legend, great doctor, Falk Chigrinsky who saved very many sick of tuberculosis children’s lives during the Siege of Leningrad, to die from heart attack on May 9th, 1945.  More about it can be read here.

As practically all Jews in Soviet Ukraine, the family suffered many losses, many of them in the most tragic way and circumstances. My grandmother was unable to overcome it for the rest of her life, and the painting emphasises it.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Mirages. Tribute to Adel Chigrinsky and Abram Elovich. Oil on canvas. 66 x60 cm. 1995. The Rogatchi Art Collection.

As all Jewish European families, our both families, or our one extended family paid a terrible toll in the Shoah. Michael’s strong love to our grandparents and parents who both did suffer a lot being hunted, deprived, and mourning the lost members of the family every single day, materialised in his well-known My Train work ( 1993) from his In the Mirror of the Shoah collection. Being the work reflecting Holocaust in general, it is also profoundly auto-biographical account. Amazingly, every member of our extended family does recognise itself among the faces presented there.

Michael Rogatchi (C). My Train. In the Mirror of the Shoah. Oil on canvas. 70 x 60 cm. 1993.

I know that my Michael’s mother and aunt, and his grandmother who lost her daughter with her entire family in the Shoah, my grandfather and mother, who also lost her aunt with her entire family, and several other members of our family are there, additionally to that boy who will always look on the history of his extended family and the history of his entire people from that track which will not disappear in our hearts and minds ever. 

Embrace of Love and Sound of Caring

Michael always maintains that despite harsh objective circumstances of his life, his childhood was blessed and great one. Analysing the lives and attitude of our parents, we understand that it is because of their talent of heart and their stern will to give their children the best possible care, not to mention love which was immeasurable, our childhood was the most loving, protective, rich and fruitful one. That childhood created by our parents and grandparents naturally and effortlessly towards us, but with great overcoming towards the impossible circumstances of their lives, in the aftermath of Holocaust and WWII, under the Stalin’s siege and surreal Soviet realities, has made us opened to the other people’s needs, rooted in our people’s heritage and belonging to its history. It is the most essential source of one’s life. So there is no surprise, actually, that Michael has devoted so many works in his oeuvre to the theme of a family, both  his own one and in general, too. 

That Jewish family’s origination and caring love is depicted in several of his lyrical works.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Ljuli-Ljuli. Yiddish Lullaby. Indian ink, oil pastel on Italian hand-made dark-blue cotton paper. 35 x 50 cm. 2013.

Ljuli-Ljuli, after the name of yet another beautiful Yiddish lullaby exists in two versions, initially as original drawing from Michael’s Jewish Melody series ( 2013) , and later on in its developed version as an oil painting from his Zion Waltz series ( 2016).

People who were looking for an oil version at special vernissage in 2017, stopped next to the work for a very long time. Then one of the guests, formerly top politician of an international fame, said in an unusual, cracked voice: “Michael, we have just seen a real classic. This work will live a long life, and it will warm people’s hearts all over the world. Ever”. My joy was that it was the reaction of a non-Jewish person.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Ljuli-Ljuli. Yiddish Lullaby. 120 x 100 cm. 2016.

Most of  Jewish children have their hearts formed by their Jewish mother, and that’s why Yiddishe Mama song and the term are so universal in our midst.  Self-demanding  artist is always trying to avoid cliches, and so it took years for Michael to create that image of that love which we all know as Yiddishe Mama. He did it in 2018, and as I understand it, he did put into that work the essence of all Yiddishe Mamas in our extended family, from one generation to another.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Yiddish Mama. Oil on canvas. 66 x 60 cm. 2018. The Rogatchi Art Collection.

Some of his works on family theme are speaking about the very birth of one more Jewish family, including his own, as the two drawings related to our chuppah, Before Chuppah ( 2009) and Chuppah Memories ( 2017).

Michael Rogatchi (C). Before Chuppah. Sepia on pearl paper. 20 x 30 cm. 2009. The Rogatchi Art Collection.

To me, it is like Michael’s own niggun, just the one on canvas. He has many nigguns of his own, with some of them materialising as artworks. Every good niggun is good because it gets universal, with many people associating with it. I think and hope that it is the case with Michael’s nigguns on canvas, too.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Chuppah Memories. Pencil on cotton paper. 20 x 30 cm. 2017. The Rogatchi Art Collection.

He is known to international art critics as the master of rendering music in visual art in original and fine way.  Some of his works on music are actually his works on his  family theme, as Family Concert ( 2015) that was created for Divertimento series on classical music, but is staying apart of it precisely because its main theme is the family theme, actually.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Family Concert. Indian Ink, oil pastel on Italian hand-made yellow cotton paper. 50 x 35 cm. 2015. The Rogatchi Art Collection.

The number of the artworks of Michael dedicated to his extended family is 13 which is a gematria for word ahava in Hebrew, love. 

Silver Thread and Heart Cord

With Michael devoting so much of his effort to creating the consistent collection of the works depicting family theme throughout all his career, it is not coincidental that he also created several important works which are related not just to his own family, but are symbolic in to the theme  generally.   

Michael’s important work on the phenomenon of motherhood is The Next Year in Jerusalem ( 1995). The symbolism of this work is so universal in its message that it had been selected by the artist’s curators to be the part of many of his projects: his famous and unique Forefathers project of contemporary Biblical art, to his In the Mirror of Shoah series, as well as his Daily Miracles collection on Jewish heritage and  his Zion Waltz series on the Jewish universe. In a word, this work speaks on so many themes and ‘clicks’ to so many allusions, addresses so many sides of dramas of past and present , both Jewish and non-Jewish ones, that it is regarded as the one of the most widely reaching works of Michael, with a universal message of powerful humanism. Which is all true, and we are especially glad and grateful that this image of Jewish woman protecting and caring for her Jewish child is perceived as a symbol of motherhood in general.

Michael Rogatchi (C). The Next Year in Jerusalem. Oil on canvas. 66 x 60 cm. 1995.

Michael’s another well-known work, Yiddish Son ( 2011) is highly symbolic work speaking on Jewish childhood and boyhood. The work has a special history and provenance. It has been commissioned to Michael by the leadership of the Vilnius Jewish Public Library with the purpose to be the only oil painting in the premises. Being Litvak  on his maternal grandmother’s side, Michael took the commission close to his heart and has created one of the most lyrical of his works on Jewish heritage. The universally acclaimed work has been dedicated to Elie Wiesel ( who was an aspiring violinist and came to Auschwitz with his violin) after Elie’s passing away in 2016.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Yiddish Son. Dedicated to Memory of Elie Wiesel. Oil on canvas. 80 x 70 cm. 2011. Vilnius Jewish Public Library. Lithuania.

It is not coincidental for Michael’s vision as an artist that he analyses and portrays the biggest calamities and highest joy for our people through the prism of a family, symbolic one. 

It has happened in the one of the most powerful re-addressing Holocaust in contemporarily art, Michael’s Faces of Holocaust triptych ( 1991-1992). It is telling, to me, that it was absolutely important for Michael to address the Shoah since the very beginning of his artistic career. Faces of Holocaust is the one of the early Michael’s works. The symbolism of the incurable tragedy of  the Shoah conveyed here via the thorn images of three generations of a Jewish family. That boy, the artist himself, is a bearer of the pain of the generations of his parents and grandparents and acute remembrance of our people’s tragedy for good.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Faces of Holocaust. Triptych. Oil, Indian ink, burnt paper on a cardboard. 74 x 202 cm. 1991-1992. The Jewish Community of Dnepr, Ukraine.

And of course, it is important for Jewish artist Michael Rogatchi to show that the domain of joy and gladness lives and thrives in the domain of the family, as well. Not only lives but accelerates via its different generations, strengthens and spreads on. This is the message of another symbolic work on family theme by Michael, Kletzmerim ( Klezmer Players), 2016. There are three generations of the same family of Jewish musicians in this shining and engaging work, as Michael believes strongly in the strength of family in everything that a human being, and in this case, a Jewish person, endures.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Klezmerim ( The Kletzmer Players). Oil on canvas. 120 x 100 cm. 2016.

Family as Nucleus of Love 

In Michael’s understanding, “there is no family without love, and there is no Jewish family without devotion’. This is what we both are deeply grateful about to the Creator in the case of our both lovely, loving, living-does-not-matter-what families which created for us the universe of warmth, gentleness, loving care, caring endurance, joy and laughs, talent and depth, music and literature, arts and culture, books and more books, science and more science, and the strong feeling of belonging to our people, its heritage and its history. The silver thread and the heart cord. 

The one of Michael’s works on family theme is called Heart Talk ( 2015). It symbolises that beautiful unity when a man and a woman become the one and set up a family which is our first and  last home of all things good.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Heart Dance. Indian Ink, oil pastel on red hand-made Italian cotton paper. 50 x 35 cm. 2018. The Rogatchi Art Collection.

The number of these works of Michael on the symbolism in family theme is 5 which is a very good, strong and beautiful number corresponding to Joseph in Jewish tradition. Together with previous 13 works dedicated by Michael to his family, it produces 18, the magic and hopeful gemara in our tradition, standing for Chai, alive and living.

It is not without a reason that the new film about Michael, his life and career, to be released in 2021, is named Dream, Memory, Love ( Rogatchi Productions, 2021). 

Without a dream, there is no creativity. 

Without memory, there is no decency. 

Without love, there is no true artist. Especially Jewish one. 

More themes in Michael Rogatchi’s art can be seen at the artist’s site.

 (C) Inna Rogatchi

ART AS A LOVE SONG: MICHAEL ROGATCHI AND HIS FOREFATHERS SERIES

MICHAEL ROGATCHI’s FOREFATHERS SERIES AND THE MIRACLE OF CONNECTION  –  Essay by Inna Rogatchi

MICHAEL ROGATCHI’S FOREFATHERS AND THE MIRACLE OF CONNECTION

The link to the original publication is here

I am thinking sometime on what Marc Chagall was thinking while working on his illustrations for the Bible, both in the 1930s and 1950s? With the first series known as The Bible series ( 1931-1939) it is more clear, as it was clearly inspired and ignited by his visit to then Palestine, and intensified in the later part of the series by the clouds that were gathering into the storm against Jews on the European horizon, being very palpable in Paris and France from 1935 onward.

When the most soulful Jewish master has returned to his big song to the Torah twenty five years later, being 65, after the Holocaust that was a devastation for him, and losing the love and sense of his love with premature and avoidable death of Bella, he was working on it the same eight years as he did on his first series from the 1930s. 105 works of the Drawings for the Bible were created by lost and grieving Chagall from 1952 to 1960. 

Was he thinking on his home, his family, his heder, his synagogue which he stopped to visit immediately after his Bar Mitzva? Was he thinking on the places where they were spending hours and days with Bella, walking and talking, and dreaming and being as one, in that blessed wholesomeness? Was he lamenting the giant loss of Jewish lives because of the Shoah, as he let it go in his heart-wrenching poem on Our Jewish Martyrs that he created in 1955 in Yiddish, at the same time when he was working on the Drawings for the Bible? 

Probably, there was a bit of all of it, longing, suffering, dreaming, and also seeking a consolation for his own tormented by the Catastrophe soul. Each of those works is soothed in melancholy, and it makes them so magnetic. The lithograph of one of the works which we have a huge privilege to see every morning, a special gift of special friend, is one of them, and it is on the most assuring episode narrated in the Torah, on the Angels visiting Abraham to tell him on future birth of Isaac.

Marc Chagall. Abraham and Three Angels. Lithograph of pastel on cardboard. 23 x 33 cm. Drawings for the Bible. 73. Milan. 1994. (C) The Rogatchi Art Collection.

As it is known, there are not many Jewish artists, as modern, as contemporary ones who are continuing Chagall’s line of reflecting on the Torah. I always wondered why, as the Torah is the most powerful source of the pot of creativity: of knowledge, inspiration, plots, characters, symbols, you name it.

Being lucky to live with the artist who have had a serious input in contemporary art on visual perception of the Torah, I can think on such reason as a huge degree of responsibility for an artist who deals with such fundamental material. 

To paint the Torah and its characters is a very demanding task. It requires a lot of knowledge which is a prerequisite for understanding which is a pre-condition of creating new images on the eternal themes and subjects. To reach the harmony between the limitations of strict observance and accepted by the modern Rabbinic authorities possibilities to express the love and understanding of people living today to the Torah and our heritage is not an easy task to accomplish. And as it was the case with Chagall in his reflecting on the Torah in different age and at different periods of his life, Michael also was approaching it twice by now, with a decade gap in between his first Biblical series, known as Forefathers ( 1995-2010), and the second one, Zion Waltz ( 2016-2017) which combines the theme of the Land of Israel with new imaginary regarding our spiritual domain and tradition.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Heeding the Book. Oil on canvas. 52 x 82 cm. 1995. Forefathers series.

Forefathers with its core part of 18 paintings won the hearts and minds of many people in many countries, and from different walks of life, from curators and art historians to many Rabbis, including the luminaries among them, and wide general public all over Europe, in Israel and in the USA. Inspiringly, many young people are attached and interested on the series, asking many questions on it. To our joy, very many non-Jews are keen on it, too. 

The core collection of the Forefathers focuses on the Biblical personalities.  Being prompted by the powerful image of Moses ( 1999) with flying letters from the Tablets getting off the Tablets in the moment just before its crushing, the image that has been seen by Michael in his dream with incredible precision, the series in the beginning was centred on the Uspitzim, the seven key-figures of our nation, the ones who are visiting us every day, one per one, during the week of Sukkoth.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Moses. Oil on canvas. 64 x 60 cm. 1999. Forefathers series.

In that series, Michael’s King David ( 2003) grabbed the attention of many art historians, many of whom have noticed that it is ‘the most unusual image of King David among his depictions’, according to Dr. Elena Bergman, former director of the art collection of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, and many others.  Michael was giving many lectures on his Forefathers, with specific master-class on his King David whom he decided to depict at the moment of his father sorrow, at the instance when King David was heard on his son’s Absalom’s death.  “King David is my favourite personage from the Jewish history. For me, he epitomises Jewishness and Judaism. And I was willing to portray him in a rare for such strong personality moment as when he had heard on the death of his beloved son, and wanted to be alone. I wanted to examine the most dramatic moment of a great man” – said Michael on his truly unusual work ( Forefathers exhibition catalogue, 2010).

Michael Rogatchi(C). King David. ‘Absalom, My Son!..’ Oil on canvas, 120 x100 cm. 2003. Forefathers series.

Being added to the gallery of Ushpitsim, Michael’s Samson ( 1999) has clearly become a winner among the art curators with inviting the work to many exhibitions world-wide. Michael says that ‘the second part of the work’s title is important. It is Samson. The Last Smile. In this work, I wanted to capture the precise moment when the exhausted and blind Samson begs the Creator for the only means that would enable him to crush his and our people’s enemies, even at the price of his own life. As he departs this world, the Samson’s smile shows his gratitude to the Creator for answering his prayer and allowing him the opportunity to return to his people” ( Forefather exhibition catalogue, 2010).

Michael Rogatchi (C). Samson. The Last Smile. Oil on canvas. 95 x 82 cm. 1999. Forefathers series.

On each of those work, there could be written an essay of its own. People are always gleaned at the exhibition to the beautiful portraits of Aaron ( 2009) and Jacob (2004) , and are mesmerised by filled by fine symbolism works depicting Joseph  ( 2009) and the first double-portrait of Abraham and Sarah ( 1999), the reproduction of which is said to be one of the best possible Jewish wedding gifts. But the one work stands out of this mighty series, and it is Akeida (2001). In this masterly work with its beautiful and original image, the Biblical definition of Abraham as the ‘Rock of the Nation” gets its artistic dimension.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Akedah ( The Binding of Isaac). oil on canvas, 84 x 78 cm. 2001. Forefathers series.

It is re-assuring to connect this title work of Michael’s Forefathers with Chagall’s lithograph on our wall which as if gives its special authentic key to our both’ artistic reflections on the Torah in the way in which the art work on one’s wall provides to those who are living with it – sub-consciously. 

In interesting development, ten years after completion of a male part of the Forefathers, Michael was prompted to continue the series, this time with adding the female component to it, the other part of the wholesome picture of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs. And although there are four Matriarchs, he decided to add three more Biblical heroines to the series, Miriam, Deborah and Esther. 

In his portrait of Sarah  (2009) which effectively is the second double-portrait of her with Abraham, as Michael insists that they are the embodiment of a wholesomeness in Jewish tradition, he added also some symbols with extra-meaning that deepens the message of the work. His portrait of Miriam ( 2010) is energetic and symbolises the vital strength of the female part in any Jewish family, all originated from the sister of Moses and Aaron. His Rachel  ( 2009) is as if speaking to us from the place of her burial, which effectively is the place of where her spirit is waiting for her Jewish brethren in generations to embrace them. His Deborah ( 2010) is ultra-modern, and the point of it is to convey the message that her wisdom is travelling in time to add strength to every next generation. 

Three works from that series have a special effect on audiences at every place, Esther, Rebecca and Leah. Esther ( 2009) which symbolises a rose in Jewish tradition  – and rose symbolises Esther and many other things – is portrayed in an intricate and original image which succeeded in showing her determination, her thoughtfulness, her facing a super-challenge, and her vulnerability and beauty at the same time.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Esther.Oil on canvas. 120 x 80 cm. 2009. Forefathers series.

Rebecca ( 2009)  from Forefathers is praised widely. It is an outstanding work, fine, impressive, deep and magical. The kind of image which once had been seen stays with a viewer for good.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Rebecca. Oil on canvas. 120 x 80 cm 2009. Forefathers series.

And then, Leah, probably, the most difficult personage from the Matriarchs to be portrayed – not that beautiful as the Torah says to us, suffering, vulnerable, a very difficult subject for a painter to do justice to her. In Michael’s painting, we see a very enlightening Matriarch, the mother of the six Tribes, the devoted wife of Jacob, a very determined woman who in the artist’s understanding deserves deep respect. What is amazing about this very art work is that it has a very special effect being put on a wall. It illuminates the space around it unmistakably, it produces quite palpable effect of illuminating good and enlightening the space around it, it is as if charges it with goodness. Very rare paintings does have such palpable effect, and this is the one of them.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Leah. Oil on canvas. 86 x 78 cm. 2009. Forefathers series.

Three more paintings from this 18-pieces series are depicting the artist’s very personal connection with the spiritual domain of Jewish tradition, a fragments of very rare for Michael’s self-portrait in Heeding the Book ( 1995)  in which a hand is more important part of the artist’s self-portrait than a face and an eye which are also presented there; and the key for that is a statement: the hand is on the top of the Torah; metaphorical Shema, Israel!.. ( 2004) with its transcendent reality of a prayer;  and The Next Year in Jerusalem ( 1995) which is a very emotional and dynamic portrait of Jewish mother and a child in its all-embracing continuity of our tradition.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Next Year In Jerusalem. Jewish Mother. Oil on canvas, 66 x59 cm. 1995. Forefathers series.

As it had been established by prof. Julia Weiner who co-curated the Forefathers project, “the series is unprecedented in the history of art, as in its comprising images of all Patriarchs and Matriarchs as such had never been done before”. I know that Michael was not thinking on this pioneering element in his work while creating the Forefathers for fifteen years. It is impossible to say anything with certainty on what an artist was thinking about while working on certain works unless we are hearing it from an artist himself, and I am not sure that many of them are eager to uncover that very intimate part of their work and existence. 

Michael can comment on his works, and he does speak on his Forefathers and other works on spiritual theme extremely interestingly and every time anew, but it is about the works, not about his sources for it.  This part of his lab is private. 

For Marc Chagall, the Torah, the Bible in his famous phrase, was ‘the greatest source of poetry of all time”. It also was for him “like an echo of nature, and this secret I have tried to transmit” ( Drawings For the Bible, 1960). 

For Michael, the Torah is a living source of life, and its heroes and heroines are the people, the individuals who defined the moral strength and qualities of our people. He says: “I wish to capture the movements of the soul on canvas” ( Approximation of White essay, 2003). 

Several years after completing Forefathers, Michael has returned to his artistic portraying of Jewish spirituality, heritage  and tradition in his Zion Waltz series. 

Every High Holidays, we are coming back to Forefathers, would it be exhibitions, lectures, master-classes, or private shows of the series which brings us back to our roots  and at the same time connects the corn-stone of our spiritual foundation with our modern-day life today, millennia after the Torah’s personalities portrayed by Michael lived. This very connection feels as a miracle to me. A miracle of our spiritual foundation being living and breathing today, as it was in the beginning of our history, 5780 years ago.

HEART MADE OF SCARS: TISHA B’AV AND ART

ESSAY BY INNA ROGATCHI

Artistic reflections on Tisha b’Av

Art Works: Michael Rogatchi (C), Inna Rogatchi ©.

This year, 5779, or 2019 for the rest of the world, on August 9th, a very special Shabbat is coming, the one that gets straight into Tisha b’Av, 9th Av, ‘a marker’ in our Jewish annual calendar resonating with so many tragedies throughout our long and unique history. 

The tragedies ancient and so very fresh and recent ones, all essentially painful, with the present ones are getting into one’s heart with no anesthesia, with one more scar added to our common Jewish heart. Sometimes, one can think that our common Jewish heart made of scars, that those scars are the very tissue of it. Having survived all those scars and living with them, Jewish nation is unique in its endurance. 

What’s the secret of this endurance? In my view, it is our dialogue with the Creator, very personal one for every single Jew, even not religious one, and often shared and collective one for those who are members of the religious communities. It is our Torah, the source of wisdom, fairness and kindness. It is our heritage, our traditions, our values, our fundamental humanism based on it all, and originated from those sources of life for Jewish people. It is our heart learned in generations. The heart made of scars. And our memory lives it its own landscape, for almost six thousand years by now. 

Inna Rogatchi(C). LANDSCAPE OF JEWISH MEMORY.   2017.  

It is a common place in a Jewish studies to refer to all those numerous and major calamities that did occur on 9th Av throughout the history. And it is registered in our mind, as a part of our general knowledge. But when an artist reflects on this chain of solemnity, it gets into another dimension. Our neutral knowledge being visualised all of the sudden gets the volume. Importantly, it is not a volume of an amplified selfishness of an artist, but it is a volume of shared emotions, shared memory, and shared experience of our people.  This is what a real, non-egoistic, even anti-egoistic art brings to us. 

The art reflections on the theme of the 9th Av in this review gets us to the destroyed for many decades Hurva Synagogue with its standing lonely Arc so vulnerable and so memorable that it has become a part of our love to Jerusalem, even after Hurva has been restored in all its splendor. It is a rare case when a ruin can command all-consuming love, but in Jerusalem, it is natural thing to happen. The work is part of the Permanent Art Collection of the Municipality of Jerusalem.

Michael Rogatchi(C). My Stones: Jerusalem.  1993. Permanent Art Collection, Municipality of Jerusalem, Israel.

It also gets us to the formatting Jewish history – and Jewish character to large extent too – expulsion from Spain, this art study speaks on Toledo, the origin place of my paternal family. The expulsion of Jews from Spain back in 1492 formed not only our history and character substantially. It did affect the history of Europe, the history of the world, the entire route and impulse of mankind’s development in many respects. One can feel the void of Jews, our culture, tradition and our heritage in Spain till this very day. It is palpable there, and still be deeply sad, five centuries on.

Michael Rogatchi(C). TOLEDO. 1492.  2005. 

Gush Katif in 2005  had happened the next day after Tisha b’Av, and the hearts of many people bled then. Not all of them, clearly, and maybe it was even a minority. But the tragedy it was for Jewish people on the Jewish land, and there is the art that reflects on it, as well, on this fresh Tisha B’Av wound. 

Michael Rogatchi (C). SPIRAL OF FATE. GAZA. 2005. 2005.

What’s left of the Beit Hamikdash, both of which had been destroyed on Tish b’Av is the priceless corn-stone of Judaism, the Kotel. The feeling of the Kotel is absolutely individual, and if some editor could come with a special anthology in which the reflections of many talented and special people on the Kotel would be collected, it would be one of the great readings ever, in my opinion. And the memory accumulated in the Kotel’s stones is the guarantee of our survival.

Michael Rogatchi (C). KOTEL MEMORIES.  1999. The Rogatchi Art Collection.

What the Kotel does to us? In my perception and experience, it settles setbacks, all of it, of whatever character, and it as if cleans oneself from inside. Why it is? Because most of the innumerous number of people visiting it day and night are coming there with their best intentions. Human energy does not disappear. Especially from such unique people as the Kotel. This is to speak only on the tangible aspect of the Kotel.

The stones of the Kotel, and the spirit hovering there is always there for us, it always ready to listen to every one of us. 

On the eve of the 9th Av, Tisha b’Av, I am just thinking: are we ready to in-tune ourselves to the Presence of the Kotel in our lives? Hope so.

FEBRUARY WINDS: THE STORY OF ONE PAINTINGS

ESSAY BY INNA ROGATCHI

Michael Rogatchi (C). Year 1953. 1993. Laogai Museum, Washington DC, USA

A tale of Nazis, Solzenitsyn, Gulag, the unspeakable horror of China’s Laogai camp, and the needed redemption of humanity.

Essay by Inna Rogatchi (C). 

The Times of Israel

February 10, 2019. 

The full text of the essay can be read here

Unique Painting for Unique Museum

It was a cold and windy February day in a downtown Washington, DC a few years back. Only we did not feel it that way. On our way to the place of the event, we were stunned to see an impressive image of Michael’s painting on a big banner facing the street. It was too much, we thought, but we knew that the hosts of the event meant well.

Michael Rogatchi before the special ceremony at the Laogai Museum, Washington DC. February 2013. (C) Michael Rogatchi Archive

The event was a special ceremony on unveiling a painting, a single painting that my husband decided to donate to a special museum in the USA’s capital, the unique museum in the world. The painting was unique too, with a story of its conceiving and its life. “An unique painting for an unique painting,” I thought to myself. What wind matters when life brings you to the combination like that?

Those Winds

On the painting, there also was a wind, a lot of it. The wind occupied the most of the art work. It was a very complex wind bearing in itself the whole lives of the people who were also painted on that canvas, in a smaller proportion: their various past, very much of their crushed present, and their future, which was practically none. The wind on my husband’s painting had a face.

The face melted into heavy, stone-like clouds, which one can see on the far east of our planet primarily. Or was the face coming out of those clouds as the best part of it? Probably that was the case. Was the face referring to the Michael’s father Henrich, who had paid with his health, and ultimately with his life, at quite early age, being the one among those people in another corner of the painting? Or was it a general image of a person, the one of the millions, like every one of those millions who had become helpless victims of huge and ruthless machine? Or was it an Angel of Compassion coming out from those low steel-like clouds to bring a bit of that almost white sun over those poor people? The pale frozen sun was on the painting, as well. I have decided for myself that it was the Angel.

Michael and I did not talk about this work. Not many words were needed. The work had been in his studio all the years after he had created it in 1993, hung there in the place just in front of the Michael’s main easel, in the way that his eyes were always coming to the painting first, during his breaks and thinking.

Painting Memory

In the early 1990s, Michael painted this work, his single narrative on the Gulag. He was 40 at the time. The work has very simple title, Year 1953. Michael was very lucky to be born just two months prior to the death of Stalin. Otherwise, nobody knows what might have happened to him and his family, and if they ever would have been able to get out of that “Valley of Death,” bordering Japan from the Soviet side, where my husband was born.

After some time, my husband’s father, who was arrested, being 19, on completely false pretext that he was a member of a “bourgeois conspiracy group” consisting of his few co-students in the first year of university. He was sent to Gulag, was released, and the family exiled to Kazakhstan. Alexander Solzenitsyn was released from his Gulag camp and was also sent to exile at the same time and to the same place. Henrich Rogatchi, Michael’s father, died shortly thereafter from the tuberculosis he had contracted at the Valley of Death. He was just 39. 

The Valley of Death in the country where Gulag constituted its huge mindeset, was not only a geographical term, but metaphorical too. Or rather, it was the existence in which a metaphor was a reality, and visa versa.

The cold winds reached people mercilessly — from the Valley of Death to Kazakhstan, and prevail there still. In mid-1950 ( and yet before) and until end of 1970s, Kazakhstan was a vast Gulag empire. The camps there were endless.

Being released from the Gulag camps in the Far East, millions of people who were exiled to Kazakhstan, my husband’s family included, were still living under extreme and constant pressure: no passports, meaning no possibility to move anywhere; and weekly check-ups at the special penitentiary offices called “Kommendatura.” The clouds of fear and ongoing pressure were real in that life of the millions of people who were guilty of nothing.

Michael waited 40 years to express the quintessence of life under the steel-like clouds.

At the time, in the early 1990s, we were friendly with outstanding people, former Soviet dissidents, like Vladimir Bukovsky, and heroic couple, Arina and late Alexander Ginsbourg, who was a custodian of the Solzenitsyn archive and his closest colleague, and who paid for it dearly, with many years of imprisonment in Gulag. Via them, we got to know Solzenitsyn who was quite appreciative of both our works — my writings and Michael’s art — and published some of it in his almanacs, as well. The author of GULAG Archipelago was thrilled and moved by this very painting of Michael’s, Year 1953, and he was interested in obtaining the work.

It was at the time of Solzenitsyn’s return to Russia in May 1994, a critical event for many people in Russia and all those abroad for whom Gulag mattered. Although Michael did create his only depiction of Gulag’s impact on a human being for himself, he did not mind presenting it to Solzenitsyn, especially as he, who was such a special figure, did like it so much. We tried to arrange the transfer and learned soon enough that it was practically mission impossible, due to the quite stiff regulations of Russian customs, with regard to the import of oil paintings. The situation has hardly changed today.

Everybody felt disappointed, but then we opted for a very close-to-the-original copy of the work to be sent to Solzenitsyn in Moscow, which we managed without problem, and that is how the situation was resolved.

First, Michael was disappointed that the author of GULAG Archipelago had to do with a copy of his work, but then it was just as well, as soon after his return, Solzenitsyn went public with clearly anti-Semitic overtones. It was then that we cut relations with him. I criticised him publicly for that.

For the next 19 years, the painting was in its special place in the Michael’s studio. Until the day in early summer  of 2012 when I had quite a shocking excursion to the small museum in Washington, DC.

“But They Have Killed Me Already”

The excursion was personal. My dear friend Harry Wu, a quiet man with a lion’s heart and a steel will, a tireless fighter against the Chinese GULAG called Laogai, was showing me his museum just before it was to be opened to the public. Harry conducted the detailed tour with pride in being able to achieve it: a building, funding, all kinds of permissions, the rest of the giant effort required to set up, open, and run the museum, not to mention the museum’s location, which did figure in the Harry’s tireless effort to make the suffering of the people in Laogai heard by those at the top of the world’s power. I saw and felt his pride, I knew all the details of the incredible story behind the museum, I was very happy for my friend, the tireless, selfless, real human rights fighter. And I was terrified of what I saw.

I know the Soviet camps; we lived with the knowledge of it in our blood. My grandfather Abram Elovitchan advanced engineer and very brave man, was a prisoner there in the early 1950s. He did not tell us much about it, to put it mildly, but we knew, anyway. My husband’s entire family was in exile in the Gulag-spread Kazakhstan, and he was born inside Gulag in a place designed not for survival, but for the opposite. He lost his father to Gulag and the regime that had been built on it. Many of our close friends had a full portion of Gulag, too, and I had processed this horrific knowledge, inside myself, some of it as recent as the mid-1980s, in all its chilling detail.

I know enough about the Nazi camps, I saw many and films of them too. I study it still, non-stop and without break, feeling it my duty to many, but first of all to my aunt, whose name I had to bear, Mina Chirginsky, who was murdered by the Ukrainian enthusiastic Nazi-collaborators in Ukraine in October 1941. Mina was 18 at the time. She was murdered with the family of my grandma’s aunt, all of them. I know the Nazi camps and the cursed places of all their collaborators activities in Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Czech Republic, Austria, and Germany.

I know the Japanese camps in Singapore. I have examined them in detail too. They are exceedingly awful, both in intention and practice.

I have heard, in first-hand detail, about the totally inhuman prisons and camps in Cuba. With the Latin-American power of imagination and intensity of character, the cruelty there goes beyond bearable.

I know well, and filmed and researched the sadism-at-large applied in the DDR penitentiary  system. Those were faithful pupils, and sometimes colleagues of the Nazis, as well as animalistic in their sadistic Romanian colleagues from Securitate.  

With all this knowledge and personal experience, I might have thought I would be ready for Laogai, the Chinese Gulag. I would have been mistaken. The degree of cruelty in Laogai is absolute. The negation of humanity is mechanically total. The depth of abyss of inhumanity is bottomless.

The point of talking about it today is that it all happened after Gulag, after Holocaust, after all the major tragedies of the 20th century, excepting Cuba and North Korea. Despite the precedent of all these atrocities, and also the precedent of the international legal condemnation of it. It just should not be happening, should not be repeated. But it was happening and it is still going on.

Jewish Connection

Released from Laogai, Wu Hongda, who had to Westernise his name to “Harry Wu,” felt a dire need to understand it: why? What for? How? He was thinking about that non-stop. He spoke about it for long hours with the best of the Soviet dissidents, like the great Vladimir Bukovsky. He read everything he could on the Nazi camps.

And then he read Sunflower, by Simon Wiesenthal, our dear friend and mentor. Harry was a very special man, extremely focused. The next thing he did after reading Sunflower was to buy a ticket to Vienna, to meet Wiesenthal in person. Simon, who with his shrewd eye and his vast experience, saw through people in a second, spoke with Harry for hours, explaining the Nazi system, the psychology of the applied Nazism, and how and for what it all worked.

Another great survival, late Senator Tom Lantos was instrumental in Harry’s establishing himself in the US and telling his first-hand details of the huge and merciless totalitarian system of China, making his voice heard at the highest level of the American power. Harry also spoke for long hours with Michael about my husband’s personal experience and knowledge of Gulag and Kazakhstan. They could never stop. In his effort to document the atrocities of Laogai, Harry went to Kazakhstan a couple of times, and operated from there.

The connection of the great human rights fighter of Chinese origin to the Jewish people is unique. It has provided him with a great knowledge, first-hand experience, special understanding, and experience with that paramount Jewish character and sense of humanity that is our winning force under any circumstances.

That is why Harry Wu decided to have in his small museum on Laogai the special sections dedicated to the Nazi camps and to Gulag. He was examining and showing in detail the very origins of the evil.

Twins in Tragedy

So, back in early June 2012, I was following Harry who was showing me his soon-would-be-open museum in the heart of the world power, with no more than a few, occasional fact-checking questions on some exhibits. As for him, Harry went back in his thoughts to his 19 years of imprisonment there for no crime at all, except for belonging to “the wrong” family of a bourgeois class — he was put in the Chinese GULAG for the same fictional reason as Michael’s father, and was exactly the same age at the time, 19.

He was also telling me, laughing, about his four returns to the area of Laogai. He is the only dissident in the world history who did come back to the place of his tortures when it was still dangerous, to document the reality there, to expose it to the world. He was arrested all four times, and each time, a high-level US intervention and very loud international campaign was needed to release the then-US citizen, that incurable Harry Wu, from yet another arrest and imprisonment in the system of sheer horror that he knew so well and about which he was telling the world in his books, films, and appeals, so bravely and so persistently.

And then” — my friend was laughing again telling about his third arrest by the Chinese security in the proximity of another huge Laogai camp — “they who knew me very well, they were wondering: “Wu, are you out of your mind? Weren’t you afraid?” — ‘”Afraid of what?” I have asked them in turn,” Harry said to me. I noted: “Harry, but they could have easily killed you and cited any accident as the reason.” — “But they have killed me already,” said my dear friend quietly, his smile waning. I could not breathe.

We were walking through the exposition when I had to stop. In front of me, above, was an enlarged photograph of prisoners in Laogai taken in 1991. I held my breath. It was so very similar to the picture of that human column of prisoners that Michael painted on his Year 1953 painting, 20 years back.

Harry dear, sorry to interrupt you” — I had to intervene in the course of the Harry’s calm explanations of the one of the most screaming-out exhibits of the museum, the exact copy of his own cell, of the size intentionally made as suitable for a small animal, not for a human being. “ This photo is so much like the painting of Michael, the one that shows the events there in 1950s, not in 1990s, as here on the photo, and in China. Would you like to have that painting in your museum?” I asked. After a pause, Harry replied: “Would I like? This is the wrong question. Of course, I would love to. But the right question is: would Michael be willing to give it to the museum? Would he be able to part with the work like that?” Harry knew precisely what he was talking about. He and Michael were like brothers. They understood each other without words.

Michael Rogatchi with Harry Wu at the Laogai Museum next to his Yea 1953 painting. Washington DC, 2013. (C) Michael Rogatchi Archive.

Let’s ask him,” I suggested, and called my husband, who was in Finland, on the spot, under the photograph that mesmerised me. “Absolutely.” Michael’s reaction was instantaneous. “Perfect idea. We’ll do it. We’ll donate it to the Laogai Museum.” Harry was shaking his head in disbelief. He took my phone: “Michael,” he said. “Are you sure? Are you absolutely sure? How could you part with something like that?” I do not know what Michael told our friend, but Harry gave me the phone smiling with his child-like, fantastic, broader-than-life smile.

On the Ground

A bit more than half a year later, we were in Washington, DC, heading for the ceremony of unveiling Year 1953, the painting donated to the Laogai Museum and The Laogai Foundation. The weather was nasty, and we wondered whether it might prevent the guests from attending the ceremony. It did not. We were warmed to see so many in the audience, everyone is a legend of its own: one of the special advisers to President Reagan, Professor John Lenczowski; Rear Admiral, former commander of the US Naval Forces Central Command David Rogers; long-time Times bureau chief in Japan and many other countries and the veteran of the top level of the Carter administration, Jerrold Schecter and his wife, writer Leona; a legend of the US Army, its real brave-heart hero Brigadier General and Deputy Chaplain of the US Army James  Hutchens, and his now late wife, artist Pat; the representatives of the Finnish Embassy in Washington; our dear friend and colleague, the member of the International Advisory Board of our Foundation, MEP Sari Essayah, currently the leader of the Finnish Christian-Democratic party, who did come specifically to participate in the ceremony.

We were surrounded by students, media, experts, intellectuals, freedom fighters, and many people who all came to participate in the event. Speeches by each of our friends were acts of devotion, understanding and compassion, not only towards the victims of Laogai, but also towards the victims of Gulag, as was implied by the art work, and also the victims of the Nazis’ camps, following that incredible link that connected the Chinese human rights fighter and the artist who was born in Gulag, as well as both of their friends, mentors, and the families, including the leading Nazi hunter and the former brave Jewish partisan who had become a leading US senator. That incredible human thread demonstrated to all of us the core of our existence, the humanity, without any extra word.

From DC to LA, Six Years On

Six years later to the day, the story re-emerged in my memory — as if of its own accord, although there is nothing in this world that appears of its own — when I was discussing with a good friend and understanding colleague the ways for an artist to depict the horror of methodic dehumanization, and how my husband had covered both Gulag and the Nazi camps.

I promised my colleague that I would write an essay on the subject, and started to write down this story. Then I glanced at the calendar — for another reason — and saw that it was February 7th. Exactly the day of our ceremony of the donating the Michael’s Year 1953 to Harry Wu’s Laogai Museum and The Laogai Foundation, in downtown Washington, DC, six years ago. Six is a lucky number in the Chinese culture. I am glad that this wave of memories rolled over me on the sixth anniversary of our donation to Harry. Perhaps, it means something positive to his soul, for in April, it will be three years since Harry has not been among us. But we both, Michael and I, do feel that he is. Such people just cannot disappear.  

From that day on, February 7th, and in anticipation of the decision of the 61st Grammy Awards this year, which were to be announced on the evening of February 10th, in Los Angeles, Michael and I have been listening the Yiddish Glory records and concerts non-stop. Yiddish Glory is the second case in the entire history of the Grammys when a complete Yiddish-language recording was nominated for an award. This time, it is for the Best World Music Album, one among just five. We are immersed in everything about Yiddish Glory these days, keeping our fingers crossed very tightly for it. And we are listening, listening, and listening — especially and in particular, to both versions of the unique, unbelievable, Kazakhstan song, breathing as if from inside the souls of all the people exiled there during the era of Gulag. Michael said: “It (the song) is exactly how we lived there and then.”

I listen to the Yiddish Glory’s Kazakhstan, I see in my memory the only painting my husband ever painted of Gulag, I remember our dear bravest friend Harry Wu, who was elated to receive this painting as the centrepiece of his so special and so important museum. Six years on. Not a big time for memory. Just a sigh.

RARE & SPECIAL ART WORK: MICHAEL ROGATCHI’S YEAR 1953 PAINTING

COLLECTION OF REFLECTIONS ON MICHAEL ROGATCHI’S YEAR 1953 PAINTING

The work is truly rare and special as it deals with historical phenomena of utter importance, one of the most important in the XX century, and the artist’s input here is his personal experience. This is a rare occurrence in the contemporary arts. The work also evokes the atmosphere of the massive repressions, and both psychological and physical terror that has been executed cruelly on a horrendous scale. Michael has succeeded here to create the art work which is as if ‘breathing’ the terror that had been instrumental in the formation of both the regime, and millions of lives of the people who were living under it. The fact that Michael is one of those people, adds to the special characteristics of the art work, indeed” – leading international art expert Sam Chatterton-Dickson, London, the UK, November 2009.

Year 1953. Oil on canvas. 46 x 110 cm. 1995. Permanent Art Collection, Main Exhibition. Laogai Museum, Washington D.C., USA.

“When a few years back, we flew to Kazakhstan as I was filming a documentary on Michael’s life and work, I noticed that even for the camera men who were locals and for whom existing in the Karaganda landscapes was routine, even for them it was difficult to film what we did. You have a neat small house where Michael’s family lived, and just a hundred meters in front of it, not more, there is a vast concentration camp, abandoned now, but which was functioning at the time. On the left, there is a huge cemetery, so to say, but in fact, it is a giant pitch in which the remnants of thousands of prisoners were just ditched away for years on. In this landscape a human being is raised; Michael spent there about 18 years, after his family had been exiled to that part of the Gulag, known as the Valley of Death, one of the most terrible parts of the Gulag in the Russian Far East where Michael was actually born. Michael does not talk much, if at all, about his and his family’s experience in the Gulag; neither does he paint a lot concerning it. Apart from this painting, there are only two of Michael’s works exists that were inspired by his personal experiences in the Gulag. And one just cannot help but think – how crystallised must be the artistic message coming out of one’s actual experience of such total horror. And how special this kind of work of art is” – Inna Rogatchi, excerpt from presentation at the special ceremony at the Laogai Museum, Washington D.C., February 2013.

Look at Michael – he well could say after leaving those terrible realities of the Gulag behind him, ‘OK, I am out of it, and don’t want to have anymore to do with that life with human skulls on the way to a kids’ walks. Enough. Forget it.’ But instead, he has been and is devoted to creating a testimony; and done by the means of art, this testimony is speaking just straight to our minds and hearts.

Michael is a phenomenal artist. His works which I have seen are those of an extremely powerful, fantastic imagination. The power of his imagination is overwhelming, it is simply tremendous, unbelievable. And the fact that the artist as himself, if turning to such matters as the reality of the Gulag, is doubly remarkable as he has thrown his immense talent to support his human, civic stand.

Talented artists with a strong moral stand and convictions are talking not to minds only, but to the hearts of people, very importantly. Anyone who could have a look at this painting of Michael’s, would see that a creative image can express things much more powerfully than many words would do” prof. John Lenczowski, founder and president, The Institute of the World’s Policies, Washington D.C., former long-term senior foreign policy adviser to the President Reagan and President Bush.

“Look at this painting – even without knowing Michael’s biography and his life, one can feel and understand that this painting is first-hand testimony. Michael’s father was a prisoner of the Gulag; Michael was born in the Gulag, just shortly before Stalin’s death. Otherwise, we don’t know how Michael’s and his family’s life would have developed, and what could come out of it. And then, his family was sent to many years of exile in Kazakhstan, another big place of the Gulag. There is certainly a big sum that this painting has been valuated at. I have to say to you: I do not care how much this painting costs in figures, I am not interested in sums. This painting is valuable; it is very, very valuable – because this is a real person’s memories, his testimony, in which there is the story of his family, but also of very many people and their families, millions of those, both of the Gulag and Laogai. Thank you, Michael” – late Harry Wu, famous public figure, nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. 

IN THE MIRROR OF SHOAH: ART REFLECTIONS TO HOLOCAUST

The ART WORKS OF PAINED MEMORY – Essay by Inna Rogatchi

IN THE MIRROR OF SHOAH: ART REFLECTIONS TO HOLOCAUST

By INNA ROGATCHI (C)

January 28, 2019

The  Times of Israel 

The full text of the essay published in The Times of Israel can be read here

Michael Rogatchi (C). Ghetto Song V. 2017.

For many decades, there was an artistic silence on the abyss of the Shoah, understandably. The shock of the generation that had to witness the Shoah did paralyse the creativity, expectedly.

Of course, there were people who were drawing in the camps, and in some of the camps which were in France, for example, there were even art exhibitions organised of the doomed people who were so incredibly brave to try to be above their and their brethren’ sentence. Not to speak on all sort of culture activities in the ghettos.

My dear friend great Simon Wiesenthal did show me his drawings which he made in Mauthausen, on the spot. Some of them were collected and published just after the end of the WWII, as a small booklet in 1945, and then, fifty years later, in 1995 the more posh version of the album has been reprinted in Austria in commemoration of the 50th anniversary ending of the WWII. That is all. Wiesenthal’s on-spot made drawings expressing his feelings at the time are virtually unknown. I am working on filling the gap at the moment.

I saw many things about the Holocaust, camp huts, ‘Dusche’ rooms, ovens for people. I saw shoes, rings, books, spectacles, human hair. I saw everything that is preserved as a material culture of the Holocaust for us to see and to learn. To try to understand, and to get it into our psycho in order to build a barrier against non-humanity. I saw it all, and I had mandate myself to get it without scream, and mostly without cry. I believe that our cries are an extra-joy to the barbarians who conceived, planned  and executed the Shoah, to all and every of their collaborators. And to all of the multitude of their faithful successors today. So I do not cry on these matters. 

But there is one thing that I cannot force myself to see. Nothing has changed in my perception of it since I saw it for the first time in 1993, over a quarter of a century ago by now. It is the children’s drawings made during the Shoah, would it be in Theresienstadt, or anywhere else, from the similar collections at Yad Vashem or at the other great institutions of memory. We all have our limits, and to see the children’s drawings made by the most vulnerable victims of the Shoah is beyond my capacity.  I does not know more powerful anti-Nazi statement than those hapless pictures, but it truly is very hard to be able to see it for many.

 The Works of Pained Memory

There are some great contemporary masters who grew up as the children Holocaust survivors, and who were still living inside the capsule of it for many decades after, in their art, as well.

Samuel Bak is painting the Holocaust all the time producing a vast amount of artistic evidence and statement on it. His works are comparable with Goya’s art depicting war, in its message of screaming protest. And naturally, his work is perceived largely as a personal statement of the artist who is survivor himself.

Alfred Skondovich, the other artist whose art on the Holocaust I am bringing out in my writings and  presentations, demonstrates the other tendency, which is the opposite one to the Samuel Bak’s attitude: Skondovich was so affected by what he was seeing as a youth in Bergen-Belsen that he kept everything that he ever painted on Holocaust secret. His wife has founded it by chance just a few years before the artist’s passing in 2011, and his Holocaust collection of over 70 important works is still virtually unknown even to the specialists.

David Labkovsky who also was a survivor did paint his beloved Vilna in ruins with such force of tormented soul, immediately after the end of the WWII, that his works as if brings the time and its atmosphere back to us intact. The same can be said about the works of Raphael Chwoles, also  survivor. In every work of Chwoles one can see the drama caused by the tragedy of Shoah even if there no Holocaust or war depicted in his great works.

But largely, the art was numbed after the Holocaust. And it was natural reaction. Elie Wiesel did not utter a word about anything Holocaust or war-connected during full ten years after the war’s end. I understand every minute of his silence. I feel the necessity of it. Although the Wiesel’s Night is the one of the most cinematographical prose ever written on any subject, Elie  was categorically against any of many efforts of making a film on his greatest book. He was sure that ‘the Holocaust is impossible to picture’.

In the Mirror of Shoah

We know that up until mid-1980s, there was no such thing, such phenomenon, such tendency, school, direction in the contemporary art as the art on Holocaust. The artists whom I have mentioned and any others were rather exception from the rule.

The logic and the essence of the process of creativity would explain it. Additionally to captivating the moment, documenting something, registering one’s emotions and thoughts, art is essentially about creation. Creation – in a normal world – is a positive activity. It brings joy to those who are busy with it. What joy could Shoah bring? What impulse for creation the abyss can produce?

But as we know, there are the artists today who are painting their reflections on the Shoah. What make them to do it? I can speak with some degree of authority of the artist whom I know well as a person, too. He is my husband, Michael Rogatchi. Michael’s many family members perished in the Shoah. He knew the other camps and its system personally as well, as he was born in the Gulag, and the family lived in exile many years after. He went to school via the emptied camp, he saw there strained animals, and met strained people who had nowhere to go. His family apartment was just 200 metres from the camp. I saw it in person, and even decades later, it chills one inside profoundly.

Michael’s first big international exhibition was organised in Poland, he wanted it this way. It was in Krakow, Oswienciem and Warsaw, in all places where the Shoah has left its deepest scars. It was important for Michael to bring his art there, and to start his big international tour from those very places. Why? Because it is where our memory still pulsates, all the years after the Shoah. Because the small bones which he did find on the ground in Auschwitz were similar to the small bones which he and his friends did find in the step in Kazakhstan in the 1950s and 1960s. But in the case of Auschwitz, it were the part of the bones of our Jewish brethren who were exterminated day and night, methodically, systematically, with a clear purpose, barbarically. 

I was impressed to see that my husband who is always self-controlled and has experienced many terrible things in his life, found it difficult to speak on camera while in Auschwitz. Nothing in one’s life, in no one’s life can prepare one to what a human being is seeing at any of the Nazi concentration camps.

By the time we were filming him in Auschwitz, Michael did create his series on Holocaust. He did it throughout the 1990s, and it was almost completed  by the beginning of 2000s. He did only a couple of more works on Holocaust in mid 2000s, and some recently, but they also were based on his sketches and thoughts back to mid-1990s. The name of the series is In the Mirror of Shoah. Thus, it is a self-examination, too. And one should not be surprised on the pattern, I think – if anything, the essential lesson of Shoah is self-examination of every person who ever thought about it. 

I would always remember my conversation with the Holocaust survivor, Polish Jewish woman living in New York, at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem, my favourite place of prayer, except the Kotel. She came just for Yitzkor, and was very nervous not to miss it. We spoke afterwards. When we came to speak about the Michael’s art works and that ones on the Shoah, I mentioned quietly: “one does not produce many of those’. It was a long, long pause. And then the elderly lady with a number on her hand told me like not from this world: “No, one certainly does not”. I knew where she was at the moment. And I felt weird to be next to her but without that experience.

***

In Michael’s works on the Shoah, the main thing for him is to content the emotions. His works are marked by special, elaborated laconism. He believes that it is the most appropriate way to deal with pain which does not leave – because this pain would never diminish for a bit, neither would it leave. Many special stories can be told about practically each of those works. On the people who were staying a night long in front of the Final Solution work in Krakow, on the scores of people who had become as if frozen in front of the Faces of Holocaust in museum in Ukraine, on the perception of Shoah by the non-Jewish people who believe that it tells not only on the past, but on the present, too, on the Simon Wiesenthal’s reaction when Michael has presented his The Way to him, on how The Train, The Western Wall and the other paintings has become the tissue and ‘the characters’ of the film in The Lessons of Survival, and on the special and rare sensation of entire enlightening around him that Michael have had in Krakow when walking through completely empty and extremely sad former Jewish Ghetto area, and extraordinary Echo of Kazimierz painting that had been created  out of that rare happening.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Echo of Kazimierz. 2003.

From the experience of first-hand witness, I can say that an artist paints the Shoah only when he or she cannot do otherwise. And just because of this principal fact, it is a very special direction of art that includes a great deal of philosophy and psychology, as well.

A Time-Call for Contemporary Arts on Holocaust Forum

The Holocaust museums are largely following the tradition of Yad Vashem that focuses on the Holocaust-period everything, art including. It is fair in many cases, certainly it is fair with regard to Yad Vashem as it goes with its principal concept. But it is also sets the condition of the serious gap in public perception of the contemporary art that reflects Holocaust. Many of my distinguished colleagues, both art historians, psychologists, and historians are looking and speaking about it more and more loudly nowadays. We all feel that we has come to the stage when public and society would only benefit from more detailed exposure and more serious discussion about such special theme as art and the Shoah. And that art categories should certainly include additionally to paintings and drawings, sculpture, music, literature, cinematography, photography, videography, and everything else. We feel that it is a time call for that, if you wish.

For the Time and The Place

In the video present, there are also fine art photography and fine art photography collage works. They are mine. They are referring to the places of the utmost atrocities during the Holocaust, Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania. Later on, the collection was added with the works from Hungary. I have a strong feeling that the less Holocaust survivors we are having around us, the more motivated I am to do more and more art works which would help us to remember. It is as if my eyes are seeing the places and their scars from Shoah more tangibly every next year.

Inna Rogatchi (C). This Kind of Forest. 2014-2016.

We have created this video as our artistic dialogue.  Working in different techniques and genres on the same theme is mutually supportive. When the genres are as close, as the paths of visual art, paintings and drawing, from one side, and fine art photography and collage from the other, the dimension of paintings provides depth for art photography, while art photography sets the context for paintings.As the result, the volume is synthesised and  the effort and the theme gets a deeper prospect.  

In our family, we do not need a certain, designated one day in a year to remember the Shoah. We both were brought with our both families’ sleepless crying nights over loved ones whom our families did not manage to save from the Nazis and their so very willing collaborators in Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Austria and France. We remember everyone  of the Six Millions every minute of our lives. But on this day, the world is set to bring the conversation about it out. And it is certainly sobering and much needed practice which we support by every mean we can.

Inna Rogatchi (C). Danube Step. Budapest. 2016.

For the Name and The Place short art film, musical video-essay, had been created in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Yad Vashem.  Would it be 70, 80 or more years since the Shoah have had place, we always will be looking in its Mirror.

ART & PHILANTHROPY: A PERSONAL PROFILE

PROFILE OF ARTISTIC COUPLE BY LEADING FINANCIAL SERVICE COMPANY

Full text of the profile can be read here

Art and philanthropy

A personal profile: Michael and Inna Rogatchi.

By Nicholas Toubkin (C)

Michael Rogatchi (C). Duetto in Red.   2017. The Rogatchi Art Collection.

At Strabens Hall we frequently come across individuals who have a firm commitment to using their talents, influence and resources to make a real difference to others.

Philanthropy is a topic that we often discuss with our clients – and more specifically, how best to make a meaningful impact with charitable initiatives. A prime example of such people are Inna and Michael Rogatchi who have an unwavering dedication to using their remarkable artistic talents for the greater good.

If you looked in a pictorial dictionary for a definition of ‘polymath’, you might see a photograph of the Rogatchis.  Inna is a writer, scholar, lecturer, film maker and art photographer.  Michael is an artist, but with an MSC in Neuroscience.

In 2013 they received an award for ‘Outstanding contribution to the Arts and Culture’ – the first time that this award had been received by a couple of artists rather than an individual, and 2016 they exhibited their works together for the first time.  The exhibition was fittingly called ‘At the Same time’.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Bolero. Original art composition. Triptych. Part II.  2000-2002.

Whilst Inna and Michael are both renowned artists, their works manifest themselves in very different forms. Michael’s work follows a rare genre of ‘metaphorical expressionism’, and is the only living artist who has had a personal retrospective at the Tampere Hall, Scandinavia’s largest art museum. Inna’s art is an original form of photography, and has resulted in her being the first individual to win the Volo di Pegaso Italian National Art, Literature and Music award twice.

Michael and Inna’s work can be found in the premises of the European Union and European Parliament, fitting indeed for this couple who are truly European, as they split their time between Finland and Italy.

Inna Rogatchi (C).  Venetian Evening I.  2018.

Whilst their artistic achievements are so notable, what really sets the Rogatchis apart is their commitment to charity. They were co-founders of ‘Arts Against Cancer’ where the Honorable Chairman was Rostropovich and subsequently established the Rogatchi Foundation to take a more targeted approach to their charitable activities.

They promote art and culture, support moral heritage, help young talents, and provide for the elderly and needy, specifically focussing on orphans. They passionately believe that art and culture can play an exceptionally powerful role in philanthropy and in making a difference to those in need. The Rogatchi’s life is a whirlwind of activity and as the couples’ artistic endeavours become more widely known, their schedule becomes busier. It is clear that as much as their artistic passion drives them to do more and more, it is the knowledge that much of what they do is ultimately for the greater good that gives them their drive to succeed and is the true inspiration behind their passion. Their latest initiative is to support children’s art education and to this end they are producing 65 limited edition prints of ‘Duetto in Rain’ which will support this ‘For the Artists of Tomorrow’ project.

As a private client adviser, there is little more fascinating than understanding what motivates clients. In the Rogatchi’s case, it is clear that their desire to leave a legacy and to demonstrably improve the lives of those less fortunate than themselves is the fuel of their many artistic achievements.

Michael and Inna Rogatchi. Florence, Italy, winter 2018. Photo: Marusca Pagliuca (C). The Rogatchi Archive.

Nicholas Toubkin, Senior Client Director.

MAGIC OF MICHAEL ROGATCHI’S ART

EXCERPTS FROM REVIEW BY CHARLOTTE GAIT, LONDON, the UK

It is Michael Rogatchi’s magically coloured oil paintings through which he feels he can truly express himself. His ability with the medium is overwhelming.

Abduction of Europa. Oil on canvas. 90 x 70 cm. 1998.

The other magical aspect of Rogatchi’s art is his ability to express the innermost of the protagonists on his canvases. People’s souls come alive in the Kafka-esque stunning surrealist works by the artist”. 

Charlotte Gait, art critic, London, the UK.