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"Inside The Ark"

INSIDE THE ARK: In 1990, Ora Lerman received a New York City Percent for Art commission to create a work for Gruzan Samtonís newly designed Public School 176 in Manhattan. Ora painted a monumental, sixty-foot long mural to be installed as a band around the four walls of the cathedral ceiling in the Library. Prior to its installation in 1996, the mural was exhibited at the Joseph Gallery of Hebrew Union College in New York. Ora wrote the following article to be included in the catalogue created for the exhibition.
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THE BRUSH   By Ora Lerman

The brush paints the story, but inside the ark, the brush is part of the story. The animals are engaged in recreating the elements destroyed by the flood: the sun, the full and quarter moon, and the rainbow. Once this is done, and the creative process is complete, the animals return these forces to the sky, and the ark can land. The animals have used the brush to recreate the world.

The ark, isolated from worldly concerns, is a haven which allows reflection and nurtures the imagination. Inside the ark we see a rabbit sweep a brush across the face of the moon. Its motion creates the arc of the quarter moon, and the shape of the moon continues the gesture. The brush becomes the source of transformation.

To see the brush as an object, separate from its use, I needed to take a fresh look at it, to observe its typical gesture, as it pressed along the surface. The brush is like an extension of my hand. I use very soft sable brushes which I carefully maintain and know very well. Yet for all this familiarity, I realize that I don't actually look at the brush. Generally, I don't observe it's motion or analyze its gesture. I experience it as part of the flow of the form I make and not as the focus of my painting.

I was startled, therefore, when I took a new look at the brush as a subject. I saw freshly how it moved, how the hair caught the light as it twisted and turned. How strange to make the process my subject and to cast the brush as an actor rather than stage hand. The brush personifies the act of painting, of creating, and finally of empowering.

The brush as subject first emerges in my Tree Goddess series where she wears one in her headdress as she brings color to New York. It continues in the installation in Giverny where the Tree Goddess holds a brush as she paints blue dots on the Impressionist flowers.

The rabbit in the ark grasps a giant brush. This image recalls the impassioned Japanese calligrapher who, in a masterful public performance, grabs an oversized brush in both hands and hurls his body through space, stopping to press the brush against the surface of the mural-sized rice paper before sweeping on. The twisting motion of the stroke, formed with his whole body, is meant to express the spirit, "the chi", of the artist, The torsion of the twist springs the spirit free. In fact, the "release of his spirit" becomes the real subject of the calligraphic painting,. We are reminded of the Baroque idea that the twist is a loaded form. The brush, which can embody the twist, is as powerful and flexible as the hand that grasps it or the mind that conceives it. Like the figure, the brush as subject, contains a potential for movement, even when at rest.

After I painted the grand, white rainstorm just outside the ark, the mural felt almost complete but in need of one final image. Without a plan, I spontaneously introduced another brush, one reclining on the edge of the frame, partly in and partly out of the picture, as well as partly in and partly out of the ark. Afterwards, I realized I had positioned this last element, the brush, in a pose of rest. In so doing, I unwittingly created the illusion of having laid the brush down at the end of a day's work. One could say that the image of the brush at rest states that the storm is over, the sun has been returned to the sky and the work is done.

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