Michael Iofin :: Fine Art


Michael 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 Iofin’s 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 century.

Brandeis University Press 2002
ISBN: 1584650494

You can find this book on Amazon.com.

Copyright Š Michael Iofin. All rights reserved.
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