Michael Rogatchi’s well-known Paganini Dream artwork is a part of a special concert at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland
On November 3, 2020, violinist class of well-known soloist and teacher, prof. Päivyt Meller of Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland gave a special concert with all ten students performing all 24 Caprices by Niccolo Paganini. In this class, there are students from many countries, with several of them have been already winning several top international prizes and awards. Michael Rogatchi’s well-known Paganini Dream artwork has become a visit card of that special concert. It has been chosen as the concert’s poster, its invitation, and was present during the very special recital in Helsinki, to the joy of all present there, both the soloists, their teacher, and the audience.
Young but very promising violinist talent Adrian Ibanez-Resjan who owns Michael’s work ( he was presented it by the artist at the Rogatchi Foundation Humanist of the Year Award 2019 event in Turku, Finland in February 2020) recently won the right to play on the rare Stradivarius instrument from the collection of the Sibelius Academy. On the photo, Adrian is with his Stradivarius and Michael’s work:
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Homage to Leonard Cohen, International Project, from 2019 onward
Fingerprints is special international project in memory of Leonard Cohen. Michael Rogatchi participates in this project together with his wife Inna Rogatchi who is the author of the project and its curator.
Michael’s participation in the project is creating special art works dedicated to Leonard Cohen, as a part of forthcoming commemorating international exhibition.
For Michael Rogatchi, the project commemorating Leonard Cohen is personal endeavour. Inna and Michael knew Leonard well, and maintained contact with him for years. Leonard did like and supported Michael’s art very much and his attention, understanding and friendship were fundamentally important for the artist.
One of Michael’s works, Zion Waltz, belonged to Leonard Cohen, and now is with Leonard’s family.
During the years, Michael has created several artistic homages to the person whom he loved dearly, and whom he calls ‘the real Cohen’. For this project, the artist creates some new works in commemoration of unique man, Leonard Cohen.
The project that combines efforts of many people and several institutions from different countries, includes exhibition, film, lectures and special events in several countries.
Motif of joy and devotion in the essay on Michael Rogatchi’s contemporary spiritual art
In her new essay The Beauty of Emotion, Inna Rogatchi analyses the motif of devotion and joy in Michael Rogatchi contemporary spiritual art. The essay spanning from Michael’s drawings to his works in oil, and it focuses on his fine and innovative view in rendering most delicate and introvert of human emotions. The essay in full can bread here.
Soul Talk is the project that combines art and spirituality in its frame. Michael Rogatchi works on this project together with his wife Inna Rogatchi. The artistic couple is examining via creating their each own original images, different pattern of Jewish heritage.
Within the frame of Soul Talk project, while Inna Rogatchi’s artwork concentrate on Jewish thought and mind, Michael Rogatchi focused on artistic examination of Jewish soul and heart. Combined, the both directions of artistic efforts created a comprehensive picture of spirituality and its perception by people.
Also combined in the project are both traditional and modern approach and perspectives, creating the expanded view and vitality of tradition.
Michael’s works in this project are continuation of his previous Jewish Melody and Daily Miracles series on artistic interpretation of Jewish heritage.
Soul Talk project includes curated exhibitions, publications, lectures, special events, Artist Talks, Q&A.
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.
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.
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 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.
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?
Some of the work from this series were discussed in the essay dedicated to the family theme in Michael Rogatchi’s art.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Art, Memory and Humanity. Returning the Forgotten Artist, 2019. Outreach to Humanity series of projects
Ecole the Vitebsk and Its Ongoing Echo can be called the second Act of the previous Michael Rogatchi and The Rogatchi Foundation projects on Art as an Act of Memory. It has to do with support of the special research on the forgotten artists from the Ecole de Paris, many if not most of them murdered or perished in Holocaust, and developing Michael’s own concept and research on the subject.
The project was conducted initially at the International School of the Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa ( 2017-2018), and then continued as independent research supported by the family of very significant collector Dr Oscar Ghetz, namely his son, prof. Claude Getz from New York ( Columbia University, 2018). Dr Oscar Ghetz saved tens if not hundreds of unique art works by perished artists thus preventing them from total oblivion.
Unfortunately, not very much had been done with that incredible material until recent years when the interest towards the murdered artists from the Ecole de Paris was rekindled. That re-born interest provided an opportunity to do something real in the matter of return a very good forgotten artist to the wide public, and also to remain widely on the rest of the exceptionally talented and utterly mistreated artists from Ecole de Paris, the cause which is close to Michael’s heart.
Within the framework of The Rogatchi Foundation Art, Memory and Humanism , the one of its Outreach to Humanity projects, Michael has addressed the project and contributed to that in multiplies ways: he did coin the name Ecole de Vitebsk ( instead of Ecole de Paris which was used with a derogatory meaning towards the artists from the group in 1930s and 1940s in France) making the connection of the artists from the famous group to the place of their origin, Vitebsk is the city in Belorussia where Marc Chagall was born and which he always kept in his heart. Michael also created a special image, Ecole de Vitebsk, as the symbol for the group, with their romantic love for Paris and France and the stimulus for their incredible creativity, and with their inner belonging to the world of shtetls in Eastern and Central Europe, at the same time. The symbolic image has later become the theme for The Rogatchi Foundation special Art Award for the conductors of the project for returning the forgotten artists back to life.
Michael also has made a special research as an art historian on the theme which he presented as Ecole de Vitebsk and its Ongong Echo paper at the Art and Humanism international symposium at the Tel-Aviv University in summer 2019. In this paper, Michael was examining the sources of the inspiration and creativity for Marc Chagall and some other ket artists from Ecole de Paris from the angle of their never interrupted inner connection with the world of their origin, Jewish shtetls of Eastern and Central Europe, and culture they were brought in and which they opted to preserve as their grateful memory, their connection with their families which had been interrupted and severed in reality, and the tissue of their inner world which was the source of their art works many years and decades after they have left their shtetls.
In his paper, Michael also analysed how the devotion and belonging to their people among the great artists from the Ecole de Paris did effect many artists in following generations, himself including. He did demonstrate it in a comparative study of the works by the artists from the Ecole de Vitebsk and the artists who were and are working in the similar style until today.
The purpose of this ongoing project is to tell about interest inner details of life and creative process of the big masters, and also to ensure the humanistic side of their heritage for the wide public.
The project includes publications, lectures, Q&A, Artist’ Talks, panels, and other possible forms.
FINE ARTS ESSAY TELLING THE BACKGROUND AND ANALYSING THE APPROACH OF MICHAEL ROGATCHI’s JEWISH MELODY SERIES
New fine arts essay by Inna Rogatchi telling on the background and analysing the details and context of Michael Rogatchi’s Jewish Melody series has been published by The Times of Israel. The essay examines the well-known series of the artist in the context of the European commemorations of the Days of Jewish Culture, and addresses also the meaning, purpose and practices of this developing European cultural tradition. The essay can be read here.
Artistic & Intellectual Interpretation of the Old Testament, from 2017 onward
BEAUTY IN THE TORAH ( C), (R) is a ongoing project of collaboration between Michael Rogatchi and his wife Inna in their join artistic and intellectual interpretation of the Torah ( the Old Testament). According to the curators and consultants of the project, it is the very first time when such concept is applied to the elaborative intellectual study with following artistic exploration and interpretation.
Artistic couple of Inna and Michael Rogatchi has started to work on this big project in 2017.The project includes methodic detailed research of the Torah, and creating artistic interpretation of the most important book and moral code in history.
The project includes meticulous scientific analyses of the text of the Torah and creation of numerous illustrations by both Inna and Michael Rogatchi to all five books of the Torah made from that point of this new and innovative concept. The special university course The Beauty in the Torah (C), (R), is based on this research and wealth of original art material.
It also include special publications, exhibitions, lectures, Artists’sTalks, panels, master-classes and art documentary.
Silver Cord , an artistic interpretation of Ecclesiastes finds a new great home
Michael Rogatchi’s artistic interpretation of the one of the most essential King Solomon’s Quests , his work Silver Cord ( Indian ink on white cotton paper, 1991) is acquired by very notable European private collection, by the great family with the one of the most illustrious and long noble history. The work is a rare addressing Ecclesiastes by Michael. There are only three of his works exists from that mini-series. The work is very expressive and with an exceptional clarity and modernity at the same time. As it was noted by the new owner of the work, ‘it does speak on the eternal issues in a strong modern voice’.