Think about Poland. Think about shtetl life, and Jews in Eastern Europe. Are you capable of picturing that without Hitler and endless rows of Nazis superimposed on your mental images of Anatevka? Iâ€™m not, but luckily, Mayer Kirshenblatt can. Born in 1916 in Poland, Kirshenblatt lived in Poland until 1934 when his family emigrated to Canada, so his memories of Poland, now available for your viewing pleasure at the Jewish Museum, are of shtetls in their heydays, when life was colorful and quaint and not overly dangerous. The NY Times reports:
Mr. Kirshenblatt didnâ€™t begin to paint his uncannily accurate pictures of Apt until 1990, when he was 73. He was 14 years into retirement and suffering bouts of depression. His family â€” rightly picking up on a hidden talent â€” had spent the previous decade plying him with art supplies and imploring him to take up painting.
The paintings were, almost from the start, it seems, infused with wonderful colors and an instinctive feel for light. Executed with folk-artist dispatch, they clearly benefit from his career as the owner of a paint and wallpaper store in downtown Toronto, and especially his expertise in mixing colors and faux wood-graining. They have vistas: floorboards that stretch deep into interiors bathed in cones of light cast by ceiling lamps, or expanses of cobblestones that have the softness of marshmallows. A particular strength is an extensive range of pale browns and creams, together or apart, that recur throughout these works, sharpened with jolts of red or green.
His paintings, combined with his text labels, record a lost way of life with encyclopedic thoroughness.
Worth checking out if you happen to be in New York.