A Slice of Life

by Esther Altmann

Thirty years ago a young Israeli couple booked third class passage on a Greek freighter and traveled to New York City. The purpose of their voyage was to have an audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Although not yet a chasid, the young artist regarded the Rebbe as his spiritual master, and sought advice about the path his art should take. That visit, in fact, proved to be the seminal event which led Nachshon to develop his unique style of painting which may be described as a visual representation of the spirit, a mystical Chasidic art.

Looking into Nachshon’s canvases one sees an internal dreamscape of the artists’s (and perhaps the viewer’s own) spiritual visions. Jerusalem is pictured often, a sprawling city, verdant and alive, dotted with gold. The Holy Temple shines prominently and proudly under the wide, blue sky. And the skies of Nachshon’s work are especially expressive–sometimes swept with shreds of white fluff, at other times darkly suggestive, and often filled with thousands of shining lights. Shofars spout foliage, fires lick the skirts of high structures and rabbis fly through the skies announcing the Redemption of the world. It is as if Chasidut has come alive and the words and thoughts have assumed a corporeal visage.

It is this genesis of expression that Nachshon tries to express in his diary entry describing the act of creation:

“To stand silently, covered by a tallit and crowned with tefilin…near the Cave of the Patriachs…and to be inside the letters of the prayer, to see them shining and to begin to see the meaning of the scenery developing from verse to verse…at this special time, I could see the words I was saying…the vision developing from word to word…a scenery of infinite light which was in a state of constant flux, and to see the waters of G-d’s wisdom, the Infinite Influence that comes from above, and to have the will to see more and more…”

Baruch Nachshon’s relationship with the Lubavitcher Rebbe is a very special one, in that the artist has developed his craft in accordance with the Rebbe’s guidance and spiritual goals. “When I met the Rebbe about thirty years ago, he pushed me to bring my natural powers and sense of creating art into completion, to a higher level.” Nachshon’s art would likely have developed in an entirely different mode, had he not sought and followed the Rebbe’s advice to pursue his artistic muse “in a manner of kashrut.”

At that time Nachshon had received several offers of scholarships to study art and was in the process of deciding which to accept. One of those offers was to study sculpting with the famous artist, Chaim Gross. From the Rebbe’s answer Nachshon understood that none of these courses would not be acceptable. Finally, he enrolled in the School of Visual Arts in New York where he was afforded the opportunity to pursue his work in an appropriate fashion. Years later when he met Chaim Gross, the sculptor remarked: “You were right to follow the advice of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, because you have developed your own unique style. If you had listened to me you would have become another one in the crowd of New York artists.”

Nachshon related an incident which occurred to him while exhibiting his art in Melbourne, Australia. “I was visiting Australia on the invitation of the local Chabad community, and was giving a slide show in the synagogue there when I spotted a man in the audience who looked out of place. He had a large mustache and reminded me of an early Israeli pioneer. We began talking and to my surprise, he took out of his pocket a photo of him and me taken thirty years ago in the Northern Galilee when he was a young army officer and I a teen-aged soldier. He recalled that we had hiked together through the countryside and I had spoken to him about Torah and mitzvot and different people in Kfar Chabad whom we could learn from.

“‘You see, you planted the seeds of holiness in me 30 years ago, and today my children are learning in Lubavitch yeshiva in Melbourne.’ When we met, the young officer was not at all observant. One must spread the seeds of holiness even though you don’t know what will come of it. This I see as a duty.”

On the final day of his stay in Melbourne he was approached by a man who was interested in buying a certain painting. It was a representation of the face of the Lubavitcher Rebbe superimposed upon the face of the moon. Nachshon was surprised that this man wanted this particular work. After all, he wasn’t a chasid or a follower of the Rebbe, or even of a religious bent. On the contrary, he was an assimilated Jew , married to a gentile woman. When asked why he chose this work, the man replied: “This face reminds me that I am a Jew.” This is the effect of Nachshon’s Chasidic art–to awaken the slumberer, to arose the Jewish soul and help it connect with its Source.

When asked about his vision of the art of the future Messianic age, Nachshon replied: “I don’t describe the events of the past or the present, but the future. And these are visions which I saw many years ago.” In Nachshon’s art the Redemption of the Jewish People and with them, the world, is a constant event. The wonder and joy of the coming of the Moshiach is alive, for he is indeed in the world, and existence sparkles and burns with intensity. Looking at his paintings, we the viewers have an emotional preview of the wonders which await us.

If you are interested in making an exhibition in your community or elsewhere, you are welcome to contact us at isaacnachshon@gmail.com . We’ll be more than happy to bring some of the light of the holy city of Hebron into your life.