Under the category of one thought leads to another….
Randomly, I was reintroduced to the artwork of Chagall after a Facebook friend had her fashion colors selected for her by John Kitchner and learned that her palatte was like a Chagall painting. I would characterize the palette as broody yet hopeful and mostly bright, thoughtful concern mixed with optimism. And this seemed to suit my friend well!
As I was reading about Chagall, I learned that he did a series of paintings illustrating the Bible, which further intrigued me, and I ordered a small book with his artwork from Genesis, Exodus and Song of Solomon along with the Biblical text. In my personal art journaling in the Bible, I’ve been focused on word art centered around particular verses, but as an artist Chagall captures the feelings evoked by the Bible stories. I was moved to tears looking at his portrait of Abraham weeping over Sarah:
In the Bible, Sarah dies after Abraham takes Isaac up to the mountain and only nearly avoids killing him as a sacrifice to God. As Christians, we tend to read the story of the sacrifice of Isaac as a story that prefigures the death of Jesus on the cross and his atoning sacrifice. We take joy and relief that God provided a ram as a substituted for Isaac. The story works out for us as readers, but Sarah’s death after the event reminds us again of the very human element. Was she beside herself when she heard the story? Did this event break her heart? She dies. Seeing Abraham standing over his aged wife in tears recalls their whole journey together, stepping out in faith into new territory, their long wait for a child, visits from angels, the joyful birth, the laughter, the troubles with Hagar and Ishmael, the almost sacrifice of Isaac. You can look at this picture, feel the love and feel the loss in one couple’s extraordinary journey together.
I love Chagall’s painting of Rebecca at the well, too. I love that he paints Rebecca as a strong, capable woman and the look of wonder on Eliezer’s face. He was sent to Abraham’s home town by Abraham to find a wife for Isaac, and the look says “She’s the one!”:
The more I read about Chagall, the more curious he seems to me. He was raised in an orthodox Jewish family in Russia, yet somehow found the passion to be an artist, which took him to Paris where he no longer visibly practiced his faith, yet his art is infused with a sense of identity in his past. In my online wanderings, I learned that Pope Francis’s favorite painting is Chagall’s White Crucifiction:
Images from the holocaust surround Jesus on the cross. I can’t speak to why Pope Francis loves this picture or why Chagall, a Jewish painter, included a picture of Jesus on the cross amidst the unthinkable sufferings of his fellow Jewish people. What I see, is that sometimes life is full of suffering. It’s hard to know why God lets things happen. The cross is a symbol of hope in the midst of the worst, a reminder that suffering is not the end of the story. I suspect, like my friend, who wears the colors of Chagall’s palette so well, that Chagall was fundamentally a person who looked to life for hope and love. Anyone who searches for hope and love earnestly through the worst of life will ultimately find themselves at the foot of the cross. Jesus is with those who suffer, present in the midst of chaos. When the suffering of humanity is united with Christ’s, an opening is created to God’s powerful, healing, resurrection love. At the same time, when we see clearly our common humanity, it also leads us also to be better people, more responsive to the suffering of others.
Some Marc Chagall quotes to ponder…
If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.
Only love interests me, and I am only in contact with things that revolve around love.
In our life there is a single color, as on an artist’s palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of love.
All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.
For about two thousand years a reserve of energy has fed and supported us, and filled our lives, but during the last century a split has opened in this reserve, and its components have begun to disintegrate: God, perspective, colour, the Bible, shape, line, traditions, the so-called humanities, love, devotion, family, school, education, the prophets and Christ himself. Have I too, perhaps, doubted in my time? I painted pictures upside down, decapitated people and dissected them, scattering the pieces in the air, all in the name of another perspective, another kind of picture composition and another formalism.