Parents and descendants make a family

Israel, New York 1971–1981

A childhood in the shadows of destruction of home and family remains an indelible trauma. The loss of the place called home and the loss of closest kin is the emotional loadstone that has, to a great extent, molded the mature artist, Samuel Bak. His arena of confrontation with the past is the canvas – there he can unload what words cannot express. “My childhood paradise was not simply lost, as any Eden must be, but rather destroyed by eager human cruelty and meditated violence, and my art is centered on the memory and meaning of that destruction.”

Touching on the personal and private is a painful process even with the help of the artist’s brush. Bak thus chose at first to deal with his loss in a universal context. “…I felt my painting had to be impersonal, painted in a style that would echo the traditions […] as in the Renaissance, the Baroque, or the nineteenth century.” Bak’s family was persecuted, humiliated and murdered by the descendants of Renaissance culture. To one who had grown up in a home rooted in the surrounding culture, Judaism comprising only one aspect of his upbringing, the question of his belonging to, and ostracism from, European culture is a relentless one. The citation from European art movements bears the mark of “Pop Art” and points to the dichotomy of the artist’s attitude to the heritage of Europe – the place where he was bred and concomitantly the place where his loved ones were murdered.

The terrors of the Holocaust nipped the growth of the Bak family in the bud and yet the artist’s works are inhabited by figures of “relatives”. They are not, however, portraits of biological relatives but personae who are largely the fruit of his imagination. In the absence of a real family, Bak embraced the figures as his own kith and kin.