When millions of people pass by the United Nations Building in New York City, do you know what they see through a gargantuan glass window? Or what about when they pass the fresco better known as “Four Seasons,” which can be found in First Bank in Chicago? What they see are masterpieces created by painter Marc Chagall. On Jan. 12, FIU hosted the Dora Teitelboim Center for Yiddish Culture’s retrospective of Chagall’s work.
Walking into WUC-100 on the Biscayne Bay Campus, spectators were first greeted by several of Chagall’s works hanging on the walls. Although it wasn’t a large exhibition, the Center’s presentation of Chagall was professional and displayed in good taste. Approximately 60 viewers were present to see the exhibit and the hour-long documentary, “Homage to Chagall.” The documentary was informative and educational, integrating narration and an interview with Chagall and his wife, Valerie.
Born in 1887 in a Russian village, Chagall was a soft-spoken, poetic, yet humorous man who was raised by Jewish parents and who felt a strong connection to their culture. Influenced greatly by his mother’s love, support and traditions, Chagall was motivated to become successful in order to make her proud of his accomplishments.
Chagall began to paint Biblical themes at a young age because he saw the Bible as the greatest source of inspiration. As a result, he linked the cosmic idea: man and universe unified. He saw Judaism and its culture as a compilation of color and he looked nowhere else when it came time to set the paintbrush to the canvas.
At just 20 years old, Chagall painted his first self-portrait. Ever since, he has been referred to as the “greatest image-maker of the 20th century.”
In the featured documentary, the narrator leads us through Chagall’s life and it becomes apparent that his experiences and emotions were expressed through his paintbrush. In his marriage to his first wife Bella, his fairy tale existence with her is reflected on the canvas. Chagall and Bella lived in France for most of their marriage.
During Chagall and Bella’s marriage, he used many bright colors in his paintings, an obvious symbol that love shines from his eyes and heart straight into the eyes and heart of his viewers. It is said that he never finished a painting without asking for Bella’s input. When she died in 1944, devastation struck him as it did his paintings, which at once became dark and gloomy.
In 1952, Chagall re-married a woman named Valerie who attempts to translate his French dialogue during his interview. Once again, with the Bible as his guide, his paintings become vibrant and robust with a variety of hues.
In the documentary, he explains that the Bible is the highest form of poetry. Even during a phase when he painted acrobats and clowns he did not stray from utilizing a biblical undertone on the canvas.
Whether he was painting two stained glass windows of the Twelve Tribes in an Orthodox Synagogue in Jerusalem or tapestries entitled “Isaiah in Parliament,” Chagall remained close to the beliefs of his Hasidic ancestry: anything natural can be made holy. When asked to describe his image of God, he replies, “God is love.”
But it isn’t only through his words that Chagall exudes love, it is also through his demeanor. He comes across as a pleasant man who is completely down to earth.
While watching the documentary, however, something disturbed me. One unidentified painting struck me as strange. It was an image of Moses with horns. It is disconcerting to me that as a Jew himself, Chagall would feed into the tradition of depicting Jews as horned creatures in old paintings according to ancient myths.
Nonetheless, it is my responsibility as a spectator of Marc Chagall’s work to spread his wish for mankind: “Look for love. Only love interests me.”