Serving the Creator with a Brush and a Palate
Can a thousand words of Torah be expressed in a painting? Can studying a picture be like receiving a Torah shiur? Talented artist, Yehoshua Wiseman, answers in the affirmative, saying he has devoted his career to fulfil this mission.
“I want the viewer to be aroused and inspired in a way that the written word usually can’t,” he says. “I want to touch the viewer’s imagination and cause him or her to become closer to Hashem through the elements of the painting.”
If one wanders the cobbled alleyways of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, one can find Reb Wiseman’s outstanding pieces of art displayed in the many shops and galleries. A close look at his paintings will confirm that Reb Wiseman is being successful in his mission to express his connection with Hashem through art. Quite an achievement for a man who only began to paint seriously in his thirties.
Pasabena,Pasadena a quiet residential suburb ofarea in Los Angeles, California, was the venue of Reb Wiseman’s childhood home. One of three boys, Reb Wiseman enjoyed the privilege of fancy, private schools and a typically suburbia lifestyle. He grew up with a sense of Jewish identity although he wasn’t raised with formal religion. “I was always a thinking person,” Reb Wiseman relates. “I come from a family of professionals. My father is an oncologist, my mother a psychotherapist and I myself, was always a high achiever yet I always had a questioning approach to things.”
Interestingly enough, even though Reb Wiseman had yet to show his creative leanings, his brothers both chose professions involving art. “One brother is a famous state of the Art, designer and the other is the deputy director of the Guggenheim Art museum in Manhattan.” Reb Wiseman laughs, “Art was obviously in our genes.”
An affinity for Israel.
By the time Reb Wiseman finished High School he had developed an affinity for Israel. While a student at The University of California in Berkley, he took a year off to undertake voluntary work in Israel, organized by the Jewish Agency. “During that period I was able to see Israel through my own eyes and not just from the books I had read,” Reb Wiseman explains. “It was clear to me that secular Zionism was a thing of the past and that the only people holding the torch to living Judaism were those who kept the Torah. I had never met religious people before and I had the opportunity to meet many that year. By the time the year was over I decided to become religious.”
A spiritual quest.
Initially, Reb Wiseman attended Bar Ilan University in order to continue his college studies but left in order to learn in yeshiva in Efrat. “I joined the Machal Hesder program because it was important for me to do army service,” Reb Wiseman continues. “That way I could learn Torah and go to the army.”
Until now Reb Wiseman had not expressed interest in anything artistic but that was soon to change. “At one point I wanted to take a break from yeshiva,” Reb Wiseman relates. “My Rosh Yeshiva gave me permission to take a week off so I hitch hiked to the Golan Heights to do cherry picking. It was extremely hard work and I became very tired. One day, completely exhausted, I just stayed in my room and took out a book about drawing that my mother had given me. I read it and began drawing, just sketches at the beginning. Even though I enjoyed it, I only did it periodically.”
The search continues.
At age twenty-four Reb Wiseman married his wife, Yaffa, and became an avreich in the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva. During his many years of kollel learning they spent a year in Tzefas where surprisingly, Reb Wiseman still didn’t develop his artistic talent. Afterwards they returned to Gush Etzion and then later moved with their four children to Yerushalyim. “I was still on a spiritual search though,” Reb Wiseman recalls. “I always felt there was something missing in my yiddishkeit and was searching for a Rabbi who could teach me Avodat Hashem. That was very important to me. When I discovered Rabbi Arush and the Breslev teachings, I knew I had finally found what I was looking for. My wife and I gradually connected ourselves with the Breslev community. Fortunately, Yaffa was very accepting of the path I chose because she’d always had an inclination for Chassidus.”
“You have to paint.”
It was while Reb Wiseman was discovering the beauty of Chassidus that he also unearthed his latent artistic talent. “I was drawing but only sporadically,” Reb Wiseman relates. “But one day a well- known Breslever Rav saw my drawings and immediately said I must draw every day for two hours, then four and so on. He encouraged me to make a living out of painting.” Reb Wiseman never took art lessons. “I bought books, and materials and taught myself,” he says. He does consult with other artists for critique of his work though, in particular, a gentile artist from Pennsylvania. “I found a book of his that I studied, and liked his style. I learn technical and visual technique and the use of colors and contrast through his critique. I have other artists I do this with as well. My goal is to achieve a high level of professionalism.”
“My first paintings were water colors and then I progressed to oil and acrylics. Several months after the Rav told me to develop my art I had already sold some paintings.” Reb Wiseman recalls. “I was immensely grateful to Hashem for this encouraging sign of success.” He sells his work through galleries and stores in the Old City and online. There are six or seven stores that he deals with. He also sells Judaica items. “I’ll paint shofars and tambourines for tourists. In addition, I do commissioned pieces. Sometimes a client wants a picture of the Kotel or Yerushalyim. These conventional paintings are descriptive and representative as opposed to surrealistic or imaginative. I do them in order to cater to the tourists’ wishes but that’s not where my heart is. I am now painting full time to support my family. I love what I do but I admit that my preference would be learning most of the day.”
A mission as an artist.
Reb Wiseman views his art as an expression of himself, his avodas Hashem and emunah. “I try, through my painting, to inspire and arouse the viewer to his or her own avodas Hashem, yearning for Geulah and love of Yerushalyim and Eretz Yisrael.” He considers himself an independent thinker who never followed the crowd. “Art is my unique way of expressing my connection to Judaism and bringing others to Torah. It is also a means of expressing my rich imagination and creativity in a visual form.”
“I devote my heart and soul to art,” Reb Wiseman continues. “I see myself as having a mission, using art for the sake of tikkun (WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THIS?) I mean: bringing people closer to Hashem, fortifying the viewers emunah , and cultivating his or her spiritual desire and longing/yearning- or in other phrasing – arousing the viewer imagination and soul to ponder difffenerent aspest of spiritualitytaking the viewer out and establishing emunah, as opposed to the secular art culture which so frequently uses art as an anti-establishment craft which has contributed to the general decay of morality in western culture. My goal is to use art to re-establish and re-enthrone the eternal values of Judaism; prayer, faith, spiritual ambition and love of Hashem. On the other hand I use the secular artists’ techniques and styles in order to express myself. You could say it’s like: ‘the hands of Esav and the voice and vision of Yaakov.’”
Reb Wiseman sees himself as a representational artist, not an abstractionist. Messages are manifest in his work and there are usually deeper nuances and ideas incorporated in his paintings. He explains. “I paint ideas and concepts of avodas Hashem in a fresh, bold way using a lot of color and almost always incorporate some chidush that arouses thought and engages the spectator’s imagination.”
Not infrequently, Reb Wiseman goes out to the forest for the day with his paints and easel. However he doesn’t paint the landscape while he’s there. “I just go to be alone with Hashem, to feel the serenity and peacefulness and to be inspired,” he says. “Whatever comes out on the canvas is a result of that.” Besides being a quiet, pleasant, painting workshop, the tranquility of the forest inspires fresh ideas for new paintings.
As accepted in Brelev Chassidus, personal, self-isolated prayer is part of Reb Wiseman’s life and in itself, one of his favorite subjects to paint. Many of his paintings have a servant of Hashem pouring his heart out in prayer in some wilderness backdrop. “Each area of nature arouses a different sentiment of prayer. For instance, the seashore scene may allude to a search for the Source of spiritual waters. The same with a desert scene, but with a more severe thirst.”
His favorite paintings are usually the ones that come from this self- isolation and personal prayer. “I enjoy all my pieces but these are the ones I identify with the most. They are the climax of spiritual excitement and closeness to Hashem for me.”
Representation in Reb Wiseman’s art.
Everything Reb Wiseman puts into his paintings has a meaning, like doves for example which can represent the angels and prayer elevation.
“The tallis, which I frequently use in my pieces, is, for me, the epitome of Jewish beauty. I see so much aesthetic beauty in the lights shadow and curvature of the folds of the tallis . The white folds of the shawl(CAN DELETE) The Tallis symbolizes prayer as well as purity. (WHY DO THE WHITE FOLDS SPECIFICALLY SYMBOLIZE PRAYER? IS IT THE FOLDS OR THE OVERAL WHITE GARMENT WHCH WE KNOW IS FOR PRAYER?)(the latter) There may be some allusion to a wedding bride as well. The tallis is the most typifying Judaic garment, conveying that the Jew’s essential function is to serve his Creator. It also symbolizes Tzadik Yesod Olam or Mossiach, although this is only used as a secondary meaning.” (ARE ALL THE SYMBOLS YOU”VE MENTIONED ABOVE, DERIVED FROM KABALLAH?) Nope, just plain simple Judaism from (Tanach and Gemara and midrash and chasidut) and heartful reading of the scriptures.
The sky is also used as another symbol of spirituality in Reb Wiseman’s work. He places a big emphasis on the sky and enjoys working with exciting cloud formations. He elaborates on how he uses objects and elements in his pictures. “I choose my trees very carefully,” he explains. “Each tree represents something significant in creation.” The olive tree, for example, stands for stability, continuity and tradition. The pine tree is an expression of wilderness, an un-tampered and pure nature. The oak tree symbolizes grandeur, royalty.
“I am blessed to have a gift where I can convey my thoughts, beliefs and individuality,” Reb Wiseman says. “I’m immensely grateful that Hashem gave me the talent in my hand… an artist with a brush…but I’m even happier that He gave me my imagination.”