By Dovid Zaklikowski – HasidicArchives.com and COLlive staff
R’ Baruch Nachshon, a visionary artist known for his surreal and whimsical depictions influenced by Chassidus and the only artist to be exhibited at 770 and visited by the Rebbe, passed away on Monday, 7 Tishrei, 5782.
He was 82.
Nachshon was born in Mandatory Palestine in 1939, in the city of Haifa to Menachem and Leah Nachshon who were Holocaust survivors.
He began to paint in early childhood and developed his relationship to art and to artists throughout his youth. He studied art with Shlomo Nernai, the sole student of French artist and Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne.
Initially, Nachshon learned in Yeshivas Kerem in Yavneh, but upon learning about Chabad, he enrolled in the Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitch in Lod where he was exposed to Kabbalah and Chassidic thought.
“I was not the ideal candidate for yeshiva systematic Talmudic study,” he told the Jerusalem Post. “It frustrated me. I had a rebellious spirit. But everything changed after I was invited to a Yud-Tes-Kislev celebration at Kfar Chabad, commemorating the liberation of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Hassidism, from imprisonment in Russia.
He said, “The niggun, the sweet melodies, were like nothing I’d heard before. This led to me writing to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who lived in Brooklyn, in hopes that he could answer my questions about art. I wanted to give life to different verses from the Torah and prophets, to themes of galut and geula. But I was also feeling frustration, lacking technique and craft to accomplish my goals. The Rebbe wrote back a lengthy reply. In his letter, he answered my questions.”
During his military service, Nachshon herded flocks for the IDF, an experience that imbued in him a love and appreciation for nature that figures prominently in his work in later years.
He married his wife Sarah in 1964 and in addition to Chabad Chassidus, he studied the work of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, and the writings of the Zohar of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai.
He then sailed with his wife to New York and merited to have a 3-hour Yechidus private audience with the Rebbe. It was clear that the Rebbe, who recognized his artistic gift and his passion for spirituality.
The Rebbe went on to pay for a 2-year scholarship for Nachshon to learn at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. “Many generations passed and the ability to paint kosherly wasn’t corrected – you will correct it,” the Rebbe told him. The Rebbe also paid for the young couple’s monthly rent and other expenses.
Mr. Nachshon went on to create a unique genre, depicting mystical concepts and fantastical scenery. “I don’t copy the styles of the world,” the artist says. “For me, all the inspiration comes from the point of inspiration—heaven.”
Upon returning to Israel, Nachshon taught in an elementary school until 1967. After the Six-Day War, he decided to move with his family to the holy city of Hebron, which was previously held by Jordan. He founders of the Jewish residence in Hebron and later lived in the nearby Jewish town of Kiryat Arba.
Mr. Nachshon led a secluded life, rarely venturing out of his studio and study. His financial situation began to deteriorate. After a 1977 exhibit in London, the artist traveled to New York and met with the Rebbe again. He asked if the Rebbe would like to see some of his art. Wanting to encourage people to purchase the art, the Rebbe offered to make an exhibit in one of the wings at Lubavitch World Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights.
The Rebbe was the first to visit the exhibit. Studying each piece, the Rebbe offered a suggestion: “You depict the soul of Judaism well. However, Judaism is also about the body. The body is central to Jewish observance. In the future, try to express the actions of our forefathers—Jewish observance—so that the general public will have an understanding and feel a connection to the art.”
After the exhibit, the Rebbe called Mr. Nachshon into his private study and asked if there had been any sales. Very few, the artist said. “When the people heard the price of the art, they fainted.”
The Rebbe smiled at this and told Mr. Nachshon to sell to healthy people. In addition, he advised him to make an effort to print lithographs, so that his art would be affordable for every family. Over the years, the Rebbe advised the editors of various magazines to employ Mr. Nachshon to create their cover art.
Nachshon opened an art gallery very close to Mearas Hamachpela (the Tomb of the Patriarchs). Nachshon, who also spoke Arabic, was able to make good relationships with his Arab neighbors and was one of the most notable Jewish residents of the area.
Nachshon’s position as one of Israel’s foremost artists was recognized when he received the Distinguished Artist’s Award from Bar Ilan University in 1989. His paintings, ablaze with a visionary sensibility, have been exhibited around the globe, in the U.S., Canada, Brazil and Argentina, Australia, England and Hong Kong.
Nachshon’s canvases express a yearning for fulfillment and redemption in the spirit of Judaism’s ancient traditions. “The Jewish past has been well-represented in art,” says Nachshon. “so has the present. But no one has represented the future—the Messianic Age.” This is the task he has undertaken. His images, colors and shapes communicate a spiritual dimension: they are permeated with light and celebration.
Nachshon has since exhibited his work in U.S., Canada, Brazil and Argentina, Australia, England and Hong Kong. He was recognized by Bar Ilan University in 1989 as an Outstanding Israeli Artist and Koren Publishing released a book of psalms illustrated by Nachshon and annotated by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel (Steinsaltz) OBM.
He painted hundreds of pieces of art, which adorn many homes, art galleries and books. He thanked G-d for giving him his talent and the possibility to express his soul.
“Give me inspiration to reveal your presence,” he once wrote, “even in the darkest places, because everything is from you. … There is nothing else, no words in our mouths sufficient to thank you for having created us.”
He is survived by his wife, 5 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Baruch Dayan Ha’emes.