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 Menahem Lewin  (1918 - 2012)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: abstact, modernist figure, genre, and narrative painting

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Ad Code: 4
Menahem  Lewin
from Auction House Records.
Isaiah - The return to the promised land, 1982-3
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following biography, was provided February 2005, courtesy of Noah Lewin, son of the artist:

My father is Menahem Lewin.  He was born in 1918 in Palestine, and immigrated to the United States in 1924.

He grew up in Brooklyn, New York, where he attended Erasmus Hall High School.  He attended the following art schools:

Cooper Union School of Art, 1939-1942. Ozenfant School of Art (NYC) 1945 - 1947 (studies with Amedée Ozenfant) Brooklyn Museum School of Art 1947 - 1948); (studies with Rufino Tamayo and John Ferrin).

My father met my mother, Shirley Levine, at Cooper Union. They fell out of touch during the war years, when my dad was overseas.  My mom had seen a picture of him in Europe in the Brooklyn Forward.  At the end of the war, he called my mom and they started dating.

I have memories of my father at his easel from early childhood, which goes back to the early 1960s. Painting has been his life.  I always considered him fortunate that he had time to paint. His career gave him many hours that most jobs wouldn't allow.

We lived in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn. His studio was on the top
floor of our house.  He was up there for what seemed to my young self as hours on end, painting.  I would sometimes go up there to watch.  I liked the smell of the turpentine and the oil paints.

One-Person shows:
1946 - 44th Street Gallery, NYC (Mark Perper, Director)
1953 - Creative Gallery, 57th Street, NYC
1955 - Panoras Gallery, 56th Street, NYC
1957 - Gallery New York, 68th Street, NYC
1963 - Caravan Gallery (Bahai gallery), 65th Street, NYC
1966 - Jason Gallery, 57th  Street, NYC  (John Brown, Director)
1966 - Grace Gallery, (NYC Community College, Brooklyn, NY)
1971 - Kretchmer Gallery, 74th  Street, NYC (K. Kretchmer, owner)
1972 - Fairlawn Public Library, Fairlawn, NJ

I was at the opening of the shows at the Caravan, the Jason, the Grace, and the Kretchemer galleries. A gallery opening was always a thrill to me.  Also part of the fun was addressing and sending out the announcements of the exhibitions.

My father was a professor of art at the New York City Community College (now
New York City Technical College) from 1948 until 1977. During his last years there, he began to be disillusioned with New York City as a place to live, raise me and my brother (although we were fairly grown up by then) and create his art.  He and my mother moved to East Jewett, New York in 1977, while I was in college.

More One Person Shows:
1978 - Bond Street Gallery, Bond Street, NYC
1979 - Pellicone Gallery, Bond Street, NYC
1980 - Athens Gallery, Athens, NY  (G.C.C.A.)
1984 - North Gallery, Columbia-Greene Comm. College, Hudson, NY (The     Human Condition.)
1986 - Greene County Council of Arts, Catskill, NY (The Word and the Image)
1988 - Mt. Top Gallery, Windham, NY  (Escape Into Landscape)
1989 - North Gallery,  Columbia-Greene Comm. College, Hudson, NY (Biblical
2000 - Gallery at Anshei Synagogue, Hudson, NY

My father continues to paint to this very day in January, 2006 with the same
passion he has had his entire life.  I have always loved his paintings because they show something about the "human condition" that most art, and most people, are afraid to look at.

Group Shows:
July 2000 - Art Awareness Gallery, Lexington, NY.  Final Exhibit, one of 15
July 1999 - GCCA Mtn. Top Gallery, Windham, NY  Husbands and Wives The

Juried Exhibitions:
1945 - Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C.
1966 - St. Louis, Kansas (2 shows)
1986 - Artas Gallery, Jerusalem, Israel

Edward Alden Jewell, New York Times
John Canaday, New York Times
C. Bennett, Woodstock Times
Raymond J. Steiner, Art Times

Barry Schwartz, The New Humanism, Art in a Time of Change.  Praeger, 1972.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following writing is from Art Times, August 2004, "Menhem Lewin at Roshkowska Galleries", by Raymond J. Steiner.

A POET AS well as a painter, Menahem Lewin uses one of his poems to describe himself as "an outsider always looking in"– and this perhaps serves as a key to his paintings. It is always a danger to interpret a painter's work through biographical details, but Lewin's paintings – large-scale, expressionistic, dramatically negative – certainly let us in on a world where few would wish to tread.

A figurative artist whose work is reminiscent of the so-called "social realists" of the 1930s, Lewin draws heavily from Biblical sources in an effort to make visual commentary on a world that few youngsters might recognize today. When not overtly Biblical (Twenty Pieces of Silver: Joseph and his Brothers; Ruth and Boaz; St. Sebastian; Yehoshua ben Yusef – the latter, a crucifixion that can only be interpreted as just one more indignity suffered by a Jew), his paintings are of street or everyday scenes that evokes America's Depression era. Street signs (Newstand), clothing (Law and Justice, automobiles (Journey's End), are all from an earlier period in American history, all indicative of the unhappy days of poverty, social injustice, betrayal.

Not that any of Lewin's imagery is straightforward depiction – neither Old or New Testament subject nor "modern-day" theme is treated in "realistic" manner. Though recognizable as humans, Lewin's figures live in hellish atmospheres (e.g. the overall blood red of Ruth and Boaz, the surreal townscape of Journey's End, the moonscape dearth of Paradise Regained) and most often in dire circumstances. In none do we find any hope of joy, redemption or escape.

Titles are most often ironic: the subject of Journey's End seems to be a young boy on a donkey, but in the background we see a rifleman aiming at a carload of people milling around and, further in the distance, an airplane on a precipitous dive. Whose journey is ending? In Paradise Regained, we see a man in uniform, cripples, and heavily-laden émigrés – what kind of Paradise is this? Law and Justice seems to be about anything but – we see a blindfolded man playing a game of cards, a manacled woman with a set of scales and a group of onlookers who are unconcernedly drinking alcohol and playing the piano. Even when the subject appears to be light-hearted – Pierrot and the Flute, Boy in Nature, Girl with Balloons – Lewin's style of ignoring local color and using large, semi-abstract brushstrokes to limn his figures and objects leave us with little doubt that there is something evil in this world, something that, at bottom, distorts and disfigures.

The men in Twenty Pieces of Silver: Joseph and his Brothers are nearly Neanderthal in their features; the balloons with their dove-like peace signs in the hands of the girl are negated by what seems a stifling atmosphere; the mood in Boy in Nature, because of its garish coloring that jars the senses, seems anything but bucolic; Pierrot and Flute sit in a dismal landscape under a threatening sun (or moon?). In such a world, who would not choose to be an "outsider"? Lewin's power lies is in his consistency of bringing gloom to the viewer – he allows for no ray of hope to penetrate his universe of pain, injustice, false hope, and alienation.

One painting, Everyman's Dream in which a naked and curvaceous odalisque hovers over a group of men, though ostensibly an answer is, in fact, a twist on the old theme of Lilith – the lure of women's flesh that inevitably brings man to his downfall.

Lewin's, then, is an inhospitable world, a world where people are of little account (most of his faces are nondescript, sketchily drawn, sometimes merely blobs of paint that suggest a head and nothing else, a world that in almost all respects is a "fallen" one wherein they are doomed to suffering and death. One wonders if, though obviously a man skilled with his tools, Menahem Lewin might not be termed a modern-day prophet rather than a modern-day painter.

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