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Tableaux of Jubilation

Barbara Bensoussan

As a child, Rosa Katzenelson watched Argentinean police slash the picture of a rabbi which graced the walls of her parents’ home. Today, she “puts the picture back together again” with vibrant paintings of Jewish life — and the vibrant Jewish life she lives.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

paintingWhile not every painting “speaks” to every viewer, it’s hard to imagine anyone not responding warmly to the work of Rosa Katzenelson: Her canvases are suffused with color and light and tremendous spiritual exuberance. The thick layers of paint, piled one upon the other like tiny jewel-like embers, come together to produce a kaleidoscope of images within images. “Jews are a people in movement, and Yiddishkeit is alive and dynamic,”Rosasays. “I try to capture that energy and flow in my paintings and digital artwork.”

Rosaarrives well prepared, with binders full of clippings and photos. She has a kind, fine-featured face, and her hazel eyes convey sensitivity and intelligence. With her slight build and flowing red-brown wig, this mother of teens has a girlish look herself, but her conversation is mature and cultured. “I seek to convey a contemporary view of Yiddishkeit,” she says, flipping through an album to display her pictures. “Nonreligious people think that the Jewish experience is only about the shtetl, but there are many ways to experience Judaism and express it in a modern idiom. Young people especially need to see a more updated connection, to be inspired in the right way, since there are so many external influences affecting them.”

Rosa’s works capture scenes from Jewish life: portraits of rebbes, still lifes with menorahs or Kiddush cups, vibrant street festivities that bring to mind Brueghel’s busy scenes of market day. Some of the paintings include dream-like imagery reminiscent of Chagall, and her choice of colors — typically deep royal and midnight blues offset with bright sparks of other colors — give her paintings the glowing tones of stained glass. Her brushwork is in the style of the Impressionists, points of color fusing into larger images.


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