Iofin (b. 1959) arrived to San Francisco only in the early
1990's. He is accomplished as both colorist and draftsman.
Dream-visions that followed him from Petersburg to San
Francisco include the 1991-2 "Return
to Jerusalem", with its continuous urban landscape
that shifts between worlds of snow-covered trees and palm
trees, of suitcases and yellow stars, of angels and humans.
By then the artist had left the Old World behind and was
already reshaping himself within the new. Among the more
interesting of Iofins images that, while painted
in Russia, are relevant to this discussion which
began and ends with immigrant artists painting their way
into America is his water color and gouache "Portrait
of My Parents" (1983-4). Its subject circles
us back to the 1932 image by Raphael Soyer. Its style
connects us to one of the significant responses to Soviet
Socialist Realism by those wrestling themselves out of
its constraints: parodying it by carrying it to an extreme,
overwhelming the viewer with myriad carefully-wrought
details, each laden with symbolic significance.
And its content pushes us along that trajectory of uncertainty
as to how the world of which we are part fits together.
Iofin's war-hero father, chest covered with medals, holds
a letter from a Lithuanian writer known for daring
to write on the Holocaust in the early 1960's of Kruschev
who immigrated to Israel. Behind them, the winter
of 1943, and the blockade of Leningrad that killed so
many is balanced by the summer view of the small village
of Rogochev, Byelorus, from which Iofin's father came
and where the Nazis massacred so many Jews. Before
them the yellow star and the cross flank the apple of
Genesis: the combination of Jew and Christian has been
nothing less than continuously tragic in Russian history.
And if the chess piece and figurines and other objects,
and the old family photograph all bespeak the personal
aspect of that history, the large watch on his father's
wrist without hands or numbers reminds us that the issues
and questions without answers are timeless, or at least
as old as Judaism in a Christian world.
The question "whither, now, then?" pours out
of the canvas at the viewer. It is the question that accompanied
the artist to America and still clings to him, as it was
the question that accompanied Jewish immigrants from eastern
Europe a century ago. The question has metamorphosed over
the decades, and begotten other questions but there
are always questions. In looking back through this narrative,
the common denominator has been that of asking questions
about the world and the place of artists, Jews
and Jewish artists within it. Questioning is by no means
an exclusively Jewish art, but it is certainly one that
is repeatedly exhibited by Jews. And certainly it encompasses
the output of Jewish American painters in the twentieth
THE WORLD: JEWISH AMERICAN PAINTERS IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Brandeis University Press 2002
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