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FIXING THE WORLD - Jewish American Painters in the Twentieth Century
By Professor Ori Z. Soltes. Published by Brandeis University Press 2003


Geoff Laurence (h. 1949) carries it in a singular direction. "Nearly all my relatives on both sides perished in the mountains of ash of the concentrations camps of Europe," he wrote in late 1999. Like Fiskus and Elyse Klaidman, he turns us back toward the Holocaust as a highly personalized event that, although "second-hand," cannot be avoided. But unlike these artists, in his childhood he "was told that I was not Jewish. My father ... was vehemently anti-Semitic and refused to answer the obvious questions that occurred to me about his background .... I was told not to emulate 'Jewish' traits… [through my painting] I have embarked on a journey to find out exactly whats being 'Jewish' means for me. Perhaps the Holocaust informs everything that I paint. How could it not?" The artist grew up with contradiction and identity confusion as part of his essence. Laurence's triptych Tifflin encompasses both the inside and the outside of interwoven issues (fig. 77).

The relationship between a Jewish artist and the triptych form has already received comment several times; Laurence turns the traditional horizontal configuration into an uneven vertical one. His hyper-realist style-there is no doubt as to what the eye sees-offers three views of the disconnected body of a luminous naked female. The leather thongs of the phylacteries are wrapped variously around belly, arm, and breast. The woman as object, from Giorgione to Hugh Heffner; the place of women (who are not traditionally permitted to wear phylacteries in Jewish ritual); the place of "Jewish" art within Western and Christian art; and the place of Jews within the Christian world (an evolving but continuous bondage, whether in ghettos of the body or the mind) there are all bound together by those thongs, enhanced by the astonishing and very contemporary visual pun on the relationship between leather and sexual objectification.



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