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