The Art Of Itshak Jack Holtz
Itshak Holtz, born in Israel in 1927, is an artist totally immersed in the Jewish genre. He was born in Poland, grew up in Israel, mainly in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Geula, and for the last thirty-five years he has maintained homes in both New York and Jerusalem.
Just Last Week, his beautiful painting was sold in an auction for $46,000 before buyer’s premium.
“Holtz‘s art conveys a strange sentimental message of nostalgia not to the past, but rather to the present, he paints atmospheres, moods, moments, he shows us how times have changed and the world as we know it changes and passes by”, whether its a snow scene, an old abandoned building, a primitive market, an elderly Jewish tailor or an autumn landscape, they all share that same message.
American author, art historian and critic Alfred Werner wrote about Holtz:
Itshak Holtz draws and paints what he loves, the fascinating Old World types in Jerusalem or New York; the few small old houses and narrow streets still left in modern countries such as the United States and the new Israel; and the landscape of the Holy Land (to which he came from Poland as a boy in 1935 and where he spent fifteen years).
This familiar world of experience he conjures up with the technique that he acquired at the Bezalel Art School of Jerusalem, and subsequently at New York’s Art Students’ League and National Academy, and that he has been refining through unrelenting application. With disarming honesty, he draws and paints the subject matter he cherishes. He tries to create convincing illusions of existing form and texture, of the faces of real people, of the moods of the city, of places we tend to overlook. But his swift pencil, his brisk, easy brush are not confined to simple narration.
Close examination of his offerings reveals that his works are based on a thoughtful Organization of all pictorial Clements.
One finds a subtle planometric composition, a careful orchestration of pigments, demonstrating that, far from being a counterfeiter of reality, Holtz always endeavors to work out, beforehand, the genuine aesthetic Problems that intrigue him.
At his best, Holtz is also trying to bring into focus important details, while omitting others that might detract from the solidity of composition. What he is after, in short, is a poetic intensification of reality, by availing himself fully of the spirit lacking even in the most complicated machine – the mind and the soul of man. He seeks to give us authentic people, and, if there are many of them, he groups them with an artful plausibility, with careful consideration for space, depth and the play of light, in order to satisfy his own creative yearnings no less than the customer’s taste for the unpretentiously charming and quaint. What pleases me most are his physically small renderings of old buildings in Brooklyn or the Lower Eastside.
Simple, unpretentious edifices, with a haunting quality, like these are still to be found in certain sections of American cities. Yet few men have the eyes he has to perceive the strange beauty in those combinations of horizontals and verticals, in those red, brown and black rectangles enlivened, now and then, by tiny figures of humans or by patches of snow. Intrigued as he is with unglamorous everyday sights rather than with exceptional splendor, he presents the moody world he knows with the means at his disposal, especially an unmatched directness of Observation. Hence, these small oils have both vitality and weight. They suggest a sensitive man of intelligence, capable of viewing our world with tender love – and that is no mean achievement today.
Holtz – The Jewish Nostalgia
By Jim Lane
Some cultures, some nations, some nationalities are rife with art. The Dutch, the French, the Italians, and of course, Americans have a long, rich, illustrious tradition in the fine arts. The Hebrew culture is not one of these, especially in the area of painting. That’s not to say there is no art associated with Israel, the Jewish faith, or the Hebrew culture, it’s just that it’s not at all what you’d call “front and center.” The arts, insofar as Hebrew culture is concerned, tend to center around literature and music rather than visual images, architecture, or sculpture (which, for religious reasons, is virtually non-existent). Other Semitic cultures in the Middle-East are quite similar to Judaism in this respect, their art being more decorative than illustrative in a narrative sense. Moreover this is most notably true as it applies to the conservative Orthodox sects, such as the Hasidic Jews.
With that in mind, take a look at the work of Itshak Holtz, a member of the American Orthodox Jewish religion. He was born in 1925 in Poland, near Warsaw, one of four children, the son of a hat maker. In 1935,
prior to WW II, the family left Poland and moved to Jerusalem. As a young boy in Israel (before there even was an Israel in the modern sense) young Itshak loved to draw. His enthusiasm for art apparently having come from his Polish ancestry. In 1945, he began his formal study of art at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, mostly commercial art. Once on his own, his true interest in painting caused him to move to New York where he studied at the Art Students League and later to the National Academy of Design. It was not an easy life. Not only did he struggle financially, but at the time, he spoke only Polish, Yiddish, and Hebrew.
One of his instructors at the National Academy, Robert Philipp, helped Holtz make friends, learn English, and obtain portrait commissions. Though such work helped pay the bills, Itshak Holtz was Jewish through and through. His painting style might be thoroughly American leaning toward genre, but it was Jewish genre and more and more, Jewish Orthodox genre painting that formed the broad basis of his work. He married, started a family, and took up residence in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan. He painted local color, with the emphasis very much on the “color” part of that area and that type of art. His street scenes are a vital and seldom seen glimpse into the Jewish Orthodox street life and lifestyle. He works in oils as well as watercolor and several different drawing media. His work routinely sells in the five-figure range.
Holtz and his wife also maintain
a home in Jerusalem where he often returns to his Jewish roots to paint vibrant street scenes far removed from those of New York City. In more recent years, many of his faces and figures have not been portraits but simple figural studies as seen in his Keeping up with the News (above, right), or of aging Jewish religious figures such as
his Deep in Thought (right). Most of these works and his Jerusalem street scenes are in watercolor, though his Jerusalem Wedding (bottom) from 2010 sparkles with the rich vibrancy only oils can evoke in his work. Still painting as he approaches ninety years of age, Itshak Holtz can easily be deemed the preeminent Jewish Orthodox painter today, if for no other reason than the fact there are so few of them.
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