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(212) 854-6579 May 17, 1999
Jewish Culture Award Honors Columbia Artist
Rand Recognized As Leading Visual Interpreter of Jewish Tradition
In 1974, when he was just 24, artist Archie Rand accepted a commisssion to paint floor-to-ceiling murals covering 13,000 square feet inside a Brooklyn synagogue. He remembers thinking that the project might be an interesting diversion for a few months and would certainly be a welcome source of income for an artist with a young family to support.
Instead, the murals would become the turning point of Rand‚s career, establishing him as a pioneer of modern Jewish visual narrative. This spring, as the Columbia University Professor of Visual Arts turns 50, he is recognized worldwide as the leading visual interpreter of the Jewish tradition.
On June 7, Rand will join a distinguished group of honorees that includes Elie Wiesel, Itzhak Perlman, Philip Roth, Arthur Miller and Maurce Sendak as a receipient of the Jewish Cultural Achievement Award in the Arts.
Awarded by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, the awards are the American Jewish community‚s equivalent of the Kennedy Center Honors for writers, visual artists, musicians and other performing artists. Along with Rand, this year‚s winners are author Allegra Goodman, filmmaker Sidney Lumet and A Traveling Jewish Theatre repertory company.
The Foundation said Rand, through his work, had „paved the way for a renewed acceptance of and appreciation for contemporary Jewish art.š
Trained as a representational painter, Rand studied with Larry Poons, a leading color-field painter, during the 1960‚s and soon after gained attention on the New York art scene as a stylistic maverick.
By the time he began the B‚nai Yosef Temple murals, he had had two solo exhibitions at a leading Manhattan gallery and produced an important series of mural-size canvases, „The Letter Paintings,š which challenged the tenets of abstract and color-field painting, on the subject of African-American blues and jazz musicians. Rand had played piano professionally with jazz and rock bands since his early teenage years.
He is the first artist in 2,000 years of Jewish history -- since the third-century murals unearthed at Dura Europas in Damascus in 1932 -- to paint thematic murals in a synagogue. Rand‚s wraparound murals combine representational, abstract and symbolic styles and translate scenes from Biblical sources into visual narratives, opening with Creation and ending in messianic times. B‚nai Yosef is the only functioning artist-painted synagogue in the world.
Rand‚s Jewish projects remain the vital thread of his artistic life, even as he is recognized as one of the most accomplished and ambitious painters of his generation on the secular art scene, as well. He has had over 80 solo shows and participated in more than 200 group exhibitions. With an improvisational style, he draws from the megatrends of the last 40 years -- Abstract Expressionism, color-field painting, and Pop art -- and pioneered graffiti as an art style on canvas.
His work, which is in the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, placed him among this spring‚s winners of the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowships. And, he was elected this year as a Director of the National Board of the College Art Association.
Although he considers himself an artistic heir to the Abstract Expressionism of Jackson Pollock, critics resist classifying Rand‚s style. „Rand takes what he needs, remains beholden to none and defines a distinct personal presence of equal parts formal maverick, moral fabulist and street-smart punk savant,š wrote critic Holland Cotter. Innovative, eclectic, and prolific are words that invariably pop up in reviews of Rand‚s work.
His paintings can be as insightful as a 1967 expressionistic portrait of Malcolm X or as whimsical as a 1992 series of 60 canvases on „The Bibleš in which visual scenes from Scripture are overlaid with amusing and provocative comic-strip blurbs, such as Adam announcing, „We‚re naked!š His work has included a suite of 33 mixed media on rag paper, „Nachmanides‚ Letter to His Son,š focusing on a father‚s „ethical willš or moral guide for his son, and „The Eighteen,š a series that explores the meaning of the central prayer of the Jewish daily liturgy, known as the Amidah, or „The Eighteen Bendictions.š Rand has just returned from a trip to the Vatican where he met with officials planning an exhibition of „The Eighteenš for the Jubilee celebration.
The synagogue murals took three years to complete and led Rand to intensive study of Jewish history and theology at a leading yeshiva. Almost immediately after the project was complete, Rand was commissioned to create stained-glass windows for two synagogues in Chicago and an outdoor mural for Jerusalem College for Women in Israel, the world‚s only full-color permanent exterior murals.
The unexpected turn of events that resulted in his becoming the first synagogue muralist in two millennia is a source of wonder to Rand himself, who describes his own Jewish upbringing in Brooklyn as „semi-observant.š But he believes he is fulfilling an important mission. „There‚s Jewish music, writing, song and dance,š he says. „I think there was no identifiable Jewish symbols after the Diaspora because rabbis feared it could be attacked by outsiders or used as a shortcut to faith by congregants.š
„All cultures should have a visual component,š he says. „In Judaism the visual culture has been directed toward the written words of Scripture and liturgy.š
Through his art, Rand has explored the meaning of his own deeper faith. „You can‚t function as an artist and not have a place to put your faith,š he says. „Belief is an essential component of artistic creation.š
In an essay titled „On God,š in the March issue of New Art Examiner, Rand writes, „Faith is the vehicle that transports our interchange of affection and wonder with the universe and its with us.š
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