Between Worlds: Paintings and Drawings 1946-2001
Alicia Faxon, Lawrence L. Langer, Irene Tayler, Saul Touster
This book's frontispiece is entitled Parable, and the situation it depicts is profoundly unsettling. Is the disheveled man before us being born from the shapely loins of this enormous split pear or is he being interred in them? Are we witness to a new beginning or a near ending? As the fleshy pear (for Bak, the fruit of Eden) presses its ripening sides against the stones of a battered city, will the ungiving surfaces bruise and eventually crush it, or will the pear burgeon and reproduce, jungle like, reclaiming these artifacts for Nature, obliterating even the man himself? And this man, does he eat as he is eaten — pear into pear, as it were — or do we see him in the performance of some gesture of circumcision, a comic, pathetic displacement of obedience to God's command? And finally, do the wing-like shapes of the inflated pear halves (however weighted by their organic earthiness) hint at some hope for human flight and freedom? This picture offers at minimum a parable of the indeterminacy of meaning. But in being split so decisively at its center, the image equally suggests a divided world with man caught in the middle; hence its appropriateness for a retrospective catalogue entitled Between Worlds. Samuel Bak is in several senses between worlds. As artist he employs the traditional tools of Renaissance representational art, recalling the technique and imagery of a Dürer, a Michelangelo. Yet the argument of his work is absolutely of today. Bak the man is also between worlds: Born in Vilna, Lithuania in 1933, he passed through the world-splitting experience of the Holocaust, on the early side a cosseted child prodigy, on the later a rootless, disenchanted wanderer searching for meaning in a blasted world. This feeling of having been torn from some earlier state of grace is apparently not only the modern condition but the human condition: Almost all our great stories of the origin tell of some Golden Age devolved into Iron, some pre-lapsarian world catastrophically fallen. But universal themes achieve meaning through individual application, through being given a local habitation and name. And this is Bak's genius. He locates our spiritual and moral dilemmas and gives them highly distinctive habitations - but he leaves the naming to us. The texts that follow may offer suggestions. Yet finally, of course, it is Bak's pictures that have the last word, and they speak only through us.
Irene Tayler, Foreword to Between Worlds
2002, Pucker Art Publications
Slip cased hardcover measuring 12 x 9 ½”
357 pages with full color images