Michael Hafftka is an internationally acclaimed American painter from New York City. He has exhibited in some of the most famous and important museums in the United States, and we at Chapman have a beautiful group of his paintings in our Escalette Collection. In 2011 we received an incredibly generous donation from Mr. Hafftka, which included 22 expressionist paintings based on the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In an artist statement from 2008 he described some of the inspiration behind this powerful series, titled aleph bet :
“In the pictures I have created, derived from the Hebrew letterforms, each letter has led me both emotionally and visually towards imagery that evokes my cultural heritage. As an artist I believe that I create a world from my innate experience and in that way become closer to God.”
The works are colorful, energetic and thought-provoking. They are playful in the manner in which they combine figurative forms and colors to personify these letters, but they are also tinged with both sadness and pride. Hafftka’s parents were both Holocaust survivors, and these letters hold a deep meaning for him, both linguistically and symbolically.
“When I was living in Israel in 1973 my father visited me, and it was the first time he was ever in Israel. I picked him up from the airport and as we were walking down the street he began to cry. I asked him why, and he pointed to a sewer cover on the pavement with Hebrew letters on it from the municipal water and sewer department. He said he never thought as a child and young man in the ghetto of Chenstohova, Poland, that he would ever live to see something so simple as a sewer cover with Hebrew letters on it.” – Michael Hafftka, 2008.
Click here to see all of the aleph bet images and to read the artist’s statement in its entirety.
Featured image: Michael Hafftka, Nun, Watercolor on Paper, 2006