Tobi Kahn

Seeing & ceremony.

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And that is very Jewish. As a people, Jews are not at all homogeneous. I really treasure that. I want you to look at my work as it changes, and changes you. Two summers ago, for a solo exhibition at the Neuberger Museum of Art, I made a wall installation of 80 sky-and-water images, each one distinct.

MORRIS: You're saying art is Jewish because it's nuanced and because it defies simple categorization or compartmentalization. But is all the work we do Jewish art?

KAHN: I don't believe in labels: feminist art, white art, Jewish art, gay art. I would never want to be called a Jewish artist, although I am very proud to be an artist who's Jewish. I'm very proud to be a father and husband artist, a child of survivors artist. An artist brings all of his or her experiences into the studio. The biggest single influence on me by far is not that I'm Jewish or that I'm male, or that I'm married or that I'm a father; it is that as Tobi Aaron Kahn I am named for my uncle Arthur, Aaron in Hebrew, who was one of the first three Jews murdered by the Nazis in 1933. My uncle died so tragically young. An excellent draftsman and a medical student, he would have been an artist and a doctor. At the end of my life I want to leave a body of work that comforts people. I believe art can be healing and redemptive.

Sacred Space

ORAH, Aron Kodesh (Torah Ark, 1987), Acrylic on wood, 80 x 27 x 23 inches

MORRIS: Talk to me a little bit about space. You were just mentioning that space plays an important role in your life as an artist--sacred space. Judaism is primarily about time, but for you space is essential.

KAHN: I think Judaism is as much about space as about time. We have the concept of a makom kavua [a set place]. We get married under a symbolic space, a huppah [canopy]. After a cemetery visit, we place a stone as a remembrance on the space where the body was buried. My new paintings are of sky and water--space that's amorphous. I'm working now on a Jewish hospice, as well as a meditative interfaith building. In the hospice I'm creating a room that will look much like a sukkah with 12 panels. The benches are low, so that for the visitor nothing obscures the space or light. Artists are supposed to change the way we think. And someone who can make us change the way we think about space and light--like James Turrell--is a genius.

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