How does the story of Job fit into the 21st century?
Elkins Park artist Linda Nesvisky went to find out.
Over the course of a few years, she created a 40-piece exhibit titled “Job in our Time,” which opened at the Leona P. Kramer Gallery at Gratz College in early June and will be on display through Aug. 31.
“Her interpretation of the book of Job was just really interesting,” said Dodi Klimoff, administrative assistant at Gratz. “Her work … almost looks like very simple drawings, but when you look really at what she’s trying to say in each piece, it’s really very deep.”
At an artist’s reception and gallery talk on July 8 at 1 p.m., a group of professors of Jewish thought — including Nesvisky’s son-in-law, who teaches at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion — will lead a discussion of the artwork and how Job’s story fits into contemporary society.
“I’m not a scholar,” Klimoff laughed, “but the book of Job is about one man’s struggle in life. And we all struggle, and so we all look back at Job and see how he handled what kept coming to him and how his relationship to God changed as he developed as a human being, as he went through all his struggles and came out the other side knowing God in a different way.”
For Nesvisky, the questions posed in Job’s story can be linked to today’s particular emphasis on the notions of success, wealth and fame, as Job’s journey included going from extremely wealthy to penniless.
“Why do so many people achieve success, wealth, fame, and then wind up miserable?” she asked, referencing the prevalence of suicide among celebrities, recently including Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade.
The idea for the illustrations on the pieces, which include 20 monoprints and 20 etchings, was influenced by her admiration of poet William Blake, who was also a painter and printmaker.
She got a chance to see some of Blake’s etchings and drawings in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, and even got to touch them — with white gloves, of course, she noted.
An interest in existentialism in high school introduced her to the words and ideas of such writers as Blake, Camus, Arthur Miller and more. That interest influenced this exhibit particularly.
“The illustrations I chose were very much inspired by William Blake,” she said. “I like a story. Existentialism spoke to our time; that’s why I called it ‘Job in our Time.’”
With characters such as God and Satan, Nesvisky used the pieces to represent questions scholars and philosophers commonly asked about Job’s story — such as, is it real?
One piece, “Soreboils,” shows an image of Satan. “Is he real, or a figment of Job’s imagination?” Nesvisky questioned.
She enjoyed the symbolism of the story and used it to create abstract expressions. In some pieces, God is represented looking through binoculars or as an owl.
The pieces also contain Hebrew and English text in a “jumble of fonts” stylized akin to graffiti “street” art, which can be difficult in printmaking as the letters had to be reversed. Whereas Hebrew is usually read right to left, the prints had to be made from left to right, she explained.
With printmaking, she most enjoys the immediacy of the project and the graphic lines she works with.
She received her BFA from the University of Pittsburgh, where she later completed post-graduate studies in art history. She also studied studio arts at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Bezalel Art Academy in Jerusalem, the city where she lived and worked as a tour guide.
Nesvisky lived in Israel for 20 years, where she took groups to see sites such as the First and Second Temples and taught art in regional colleges and high schools.
Her enthusiasm for history followed her to Philadelphia, where she not only wrote a book in 2010, Jewish Philadelphia: A Guide to Its Sights & Stories, but also started her own tour company, ShalomPhillyTours, and took visitors to historical sites around the city.
The show at Gratz is her first solo show there, Klimoff said.
For associate professor of Jewish studies Joseph M. Davis, the symbolism of the facelessness of the figures in Nesvisky’s pieces is most striking.
“In most of her pictures, Job has no face. And that makes sense, because Job is Everyman, Job is all of us,” he wrote in a statement. “But then in one illustration, close to the end, Job suddenly does have a face. He seems to be looking in a sort of mirror, and he has a face. He is not Everyman. He is Job.”
“I would like to hope [viewers] would think about the topic, and think about what it means in this day and age,” Nesvisky added.
I wrote a commentary on the Book of Job. Job is a mirror of civilization; it was written by different persons over a period of time. It started as a story from the Arabian Nights, extrapolating into the unknown (God, Satan, etc.). The dialogue reminds us the Greek Sophists and Job represents the hero in a Greek tragedy. It is apparent that a major part was written during the Hellenistic period. The prophet Yehezkel mentions Job in his book (600 BC) and the Rambam follows by using the Aristotelian thoughts.