There is a classic expression that asserts “when cannons roar the muses fall silent.” In times of distress and upheaval, creativity and art may falter.
However, there are always those artists who quietly and stubbornly continue their work no matter what the circumstances.
The recent exhibition “Jewish Art in Ukraine: The Torah in the Paintings of Yevhen Roytman” offers an example. The show was held at the Museum of the History of Kiev, sponsored by the Kyiv city government and with the support of the Jewish community of the city.
The Museum presented the Torah project as a series of paintings that illustrate renowned Biblical subjects. The artist and poet Roytman believes that humanity, and in particular Ukraine, is living through a complex historical period. There is a fundamental epochal change happening.
Sharp conflicts of opinion erupt. The old ways of life are being challenged, ruined, and discarded. This powerful process affects the consciousness of people and fundamentally alters viewpoints. In order to take advantage of and sustain such changes, society needs to believe in truth, justice, and morality.
For the Jewish people, the Torah is a source of these understandings.
The sacred texts guide the Jewish people through the trials they have experienced over millennia. These texts offer them strength and wisdom through their entire lives. And offer a guide forward for development.
It is this time-tested wisdom and experience that Roytman offers his co-citizens. These are citizens who have found themselves in difficult circumstances. They are citizens who fervently seek a foothold, a point of view that will enable them to move forward.
Regarding his work in light of the present situation in Ukraine, Roytman has remarked: “This is now a difficult time. There is a war. All is shameless and deceitful. But when you come to the Torah, you realize that there you will find the Truth.
Roytman has been a socially and politically aware artist deeply affected by current events in Ukraine. He has stated that those pro-Russian forces engaged in war in eastern Ukraine are simply slaves who do not want to be free.
And in response to the tumult, Roytman has said it is simply necessary to sit and work. And create and paint.
Roytman’s father, although an artist, did not encourage his son to pursue an artistic career. Roytman found his way to art only much later in adulthood. He did not have formal academic training. He was taken under the wing of the Ukrainian artists and sculptors Ada Rybachuk and Volodymyr Melnychenko
Roytman’s creative path in his latest work was challenging. “It was difficult for me,” he has admitted because, as he said, “the entire world emerges from the Torah.” Preliminary explorations of his bold compositions were done on a computer on the second floor of the Halytsky Synagogue in Kyiv. “I sat down at the computer and started to draw, and it started to happen,” Roytman said.
The initial designs were then executed in oil paintings. Roytman has revealed that he had to undergo surgery and that his painting carried him through a difficult period. “It inspired me so much that I became healthier,” he said.
Roytman was strongly drawn to the human figure, especially faces, and his work reflects this interest. In past interviews he pointed out that “through the line, through composition,” you can relay in a painting the psychology of a character.
While Roytman’s creative spirit and force carried him through difficult periods in the past, he could not avoid the inevitable. He passed away on March 11th.
Roytman was never one to play the self-promotion game on the gallery circuit. Studio time spent working was more important. And through his patient years of creation he leaves behind a cherished legacy in both image and word.
This has been Ukrainian Jewish Heritage on Nash Holos Ukrainian Roots Radio. From San Francisco, I’m Peter Bejger. Until next time, shalom!