Friday, October 7, 2011

Self Affliction

"Self Affliction"; 30" x 36"(approx.); ink, Sharpie, & acrylic on synthetic paper. (c) 2011 by Howard Salmon
This is the season of Yom Kippur: the day of Atonement for Jews. This is where Jews ask each other (and God) for forgiveness, if they've offended anyone, or each other during the past year. It's a time of critical self-reflection, where you evaluate who you are as a person. Did you live your past year in an ethical manner?

But as an artist, this has given me a slight challenge: if my artwork doesn't offend anybody, does that mean that I don't really count (as an artist)? How is art and culture going to advance, if some artist doesn't stick their neck out?  (little voice in my head: "define 'advance'!") Basically, I feel that any artist worth his salt should do the best to express his vision without self-censorship.  But, this carefree attitude may result in some offensive imagery.

Should I care?

Well, my intention isn't to's to be honest with myself. So here it is, Yom Kippur is just around the corner, and I'm wondering, should I be apologizing for any of my paintings? The answer! To do so would to be to commit self-censorship; The ethical paradoxes of being an artist wrestling with Jewish tradition.

About the imagery in the painting: the text in the word balloon says "If my artwork has NOT offended you this past year, please forgive me!". There are ten rabbis (a minyan), each blowing a shofar. The shofar is blown as an alarm, as if to say, "WAKE UP! Snap out of your daydreams and illusions!"

Out of each shofar comes a whiffle-ball of spirituality, which is supposed to be a "sephirot" in the kabbalistic diagram that represents the "Mind of God" (if you're interested in this subject, check out the Zohar, which is a masterpiece of erotic Jewish surrealistic writing) The nodes all link up, forming a conceptual structure of invisible intuited Reality--the Reality being the Mind of God, which I've suggested with that lattice-like structure all around the painting (which reminds me of a sukkah). (As an aside, this is an interesting philosophical issue: since concept precede creation, it's plausible to suggest that the Universe had to exist in the "mind of God" as an IDEA before it actually became a reality. Heavy.....)

The bowl of fire is an allusion to the "unholy fire" that the son's of Aaron brought into the Temple. The figure in the center represents the artist (me, and in a suit, no less!), wearing tefillin (which is Orthodox prayer paraphernalia), with a pallette and paintbrush in one hand. In the upper right of the picture are two of my "muse" characters, (and dressed respectfully in their Danskins).  Those three floating heads hovering over my left shoulder are from my "Scholar, Prophet, Bum" painting.  The entire background is painting with gold acrylic, to mimic the "illuminated paintings" of the Medieval era, where the backgrounds of religious paintings were inlaid with gold leaf.


  1. You're really operating from a sweet spot lately, Howard. Keep it up. Every time you post something, it just keeps getting better and better. A change in your life? Sudden inspiration? Years of work paying off? Whatever it is, I hope you are enjoying it as much as I am. I like the Danskins.

  2. I don't know what it is! The more work I do, the more ideas I get. Years of doing this stuff has got me to a very comfortable place where I can quickly turn out good stuff. It's been incubating for decades. I seem to be creating a cast of characters, my own personal symbols, which I explain in the commentary I write for this blog. Usually whatever's going through my mind that day ends up in a painting. It's a discipline...