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David Aronson

 (1923 - 2015)
David Aronson was active/lived in Massachusetts, New York.  David Aronson is known for allegorical expressionist painting, charcoal drawings, sculpture.

David Aronson

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for David Aronson
Following is The New York Times obituary.

"David Aronson, Expressionist Artist, Dies at 91"

By Sam Roberts, July 14, 2015.

David Aronson, an Expressionist artist whose vivid paintings, charcoal drawings and sculptures captured the tension between his Orthodox Jewish upbringing and the biblical injunction against making graven images, died on July 2 in Natick, Mass. He was 91.

The cause was chronic heart failure and pneumonia, his daughter, Judy Webb, said.

Mr. Aronson’s work animated Old and New Testament allegories to convey universal human emotions — defying the deference of his father, a rabbi, to the Second Commandment. A leader, with Hyman Bloom and Jack Levine, of the so-called Boston Expressionist movement, Mr. Aronson was influential as both a painter and a professor.

He founded what became the College of Fine Arts at Boston University in 1955, was appointed a tenured professor in 1962 and taught there until his retirement in 1989. He established the university’s art gallery in 1958.

In 1945, when Mr. Aronson was only 22, a show of his paintings at the Niveau Gallery in Manhattan inspired The New York Times critic Howard Devree to conclude that Mr. Aronson “is still in a highly eclectic and formative period, but his ambition is boundless.” Less than a year later, he was the youngest artist featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition “Fourteen Americans.”

David Aronson was born in Shilova, Lithuania, on Oct. 28, 1923. His family immigrated to the United States in 1929 and settled in the Boston area, where his father, Peisach, supervised the butchering of kosher meat. His mother was the former Gertrude Shapiro.

He attended Hebrew Teachers College (now Hebrew College) in Roxbury, but left after two years.

“Aronson’s interest in art ultimately took precedence over his father’s desire for him to become a rabbi,” Jessica Roscio, curator of the Danforth Art Museum and School in Framingham, which has a number of Mr. Aronson’s works in its permanent collection, said in an interview.

He enrolled in the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where he studied under Karl Zerbe and taught for 12 years before being invited to direct the emerging visual arts program at Boston University.

Among his most prominent works are The Golem, a 1958 painting, and The Door, a large bronze triptych completed in 1969, both owned by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, as well as Spirit of Israel, a 1986 sculpture at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.

In 1963, Time magazine hailed Mr. Aronson as having “succeeded where few contemporaries have even dared to try in marrying today’s religious concerns with the visual arts.” But he was so meticulous that the results sometimes seemed to him like a shotgun wedding.

“The unending search for meaning both motivated and frustrated his journey,” Bernard H. Pucker, Mr. Aronson’s art dealer, recalled at his funeral. “No work was actually completed. Only arbitrary deadlines for catalogs or exhibitions caused him to allow the work to leave his domain and control.”

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Aronson is survived by his wife, the former Georgianna Nyman; another daughter, Abigail Zocher; a son, Ben, also an artist; three grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

Almost from the beginning, Mr. Aronson’s religious imagery and figurative Expressionism provoked controversy. A review of his exhibition at the Downtown Gallery in Manhattan in 1953 described his New Testament iconography as “somewhat sensational,” but added that “it is their evident piety which saves these pictures from being grotesque,” and concluded that “the repetition of a single physical type among the actors, said to be the artist himself, is perhaps a metaphysical statement of total individual engagement in Christ’s sufferings and triumph.”

A 1979 retrospective at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan was described in the catalog as a continuing narrative in “a world distilled from the New and Old Testaments, cabalistic doctrines and Hasidic revelations, densely populated with saints and priests, minstrels and musicians, magicians and teachers.”

However, the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the museum’s parent organization, removed 19 of the works before the opening, saying that he considered their “explicit Christian symbolism” inappropriate. The paintings were instead exhibited at the National Academy of Design, nearby.

At the time, Mr. Aronson recalled that his works in the “Fourteen Americans” exhibition three decades earlier had prompted “attacks not only from the Jewish press and the Jewish establishment, who considered me a convert, but from the Christian community, which regarded the work as sacrilegious because I use certain distortions.

“Now,” he added, “here I am, back at square one.”

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for David Aronson


David Aronson, son of an immigrant Lithuanian rabbi, breaks the Torah's Second Commandment (Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing...") with exquisite verve.  He not only graves golden images, but even takes them from the Bible.  Their pinched faces and twisted bodies are distorted with the febrile passion of Aronson's acknowledged artistic influence, El Greco.

That their youngest son took up art was reason for sackcloth and ashes at the Aronson home.  His first one-man show drew a drubbing from the Jewish Daily Forward's art critic.  The Hasidim saw only apostasy and despair in his work.

Art has always been a rebellion for Aronson. After eight years of Hebrew studies, he turned against the strictures of orthodoxy and started learning to paint with Karl Zerbe.  At first he defiantly depicted only New Testament figures, which were therefore more forbidden.

During the heyday of abstract expressionism, Aronson's figurative works lost their audience.  Meanwhile he delved into the occult Cabalistic thought of the late-medieval Europen Jews, who saw nature as a deceptive cloak thrown over man's divine essence.  Aronson's new subjects included the golem, or automaton, bought to life by magic and capable of either good or evil.  Another was the dybbuk, a wicked spirit that can only be exorcised (usually through the small toe) by a wonder-working rabbi.

For his technique as well as ideas, Aronson turns to the past. He is the United States 'foremost master of the ancient and dangerous medium of encaustic, a blend of wax, resin, varnish and oil fused together by heat.  His paintings always burst into flame.  The result is a warm waxy panel, more durable and more translucent than oils.

Aronson is chairman of Boston University's art department and is a master of many techniques.  His eight-foot-tall drawings of "The Concert" show musicians levitating through clouds of charcoal. Although cast in medieval garb and aglow with the epicurean colors of Rembrandt, the art of David Aronson merely stages modern problems in ancient dress. What Aronson pictures is man's effort to cast aside his graven image, discard his mask of duplicity.  He has succeeded where few contemporaries have even dared to try in marrying today's religious concerns with the visual arts.

Written and compiled by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher of Laguna Woods, California

Time Magazine November 22, 1963

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About  David Aronson

Born:  1923 - Shilova, Lithuania
Died:   2015 - Natick, Massachusetts
Known for:  allegorical expressionist painting, charcoal drawings, sculpture