“Eight Approaches,” a series of paintings by Cambridge artist Joshua Meyer, will debut at the MFA community Hanukkah celebration. COURTESY OF JOSHUA MEYER

‘Eight Approaches’ weaves light, time and Jewish identity

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‘Eight Approaches’ weaves light, time and Jewish identity

“Eight Approaches,” a series of paintings by Cambridge artist Joshua Meyer, will debut at the MFA community Hanukkah celebration. COURTESY OF JOSHUA MEYER

For more than 25 years, Cambridge artist Joshua Meyer has explored the interplay between light and time. A well-versed student of art and art history, the award-winning painter is drawn to a wide array of artists spanning centuries and styles, from the Dutch master Rembrandt to 20th century Jewish artist Philip Guston, in whose works he sees these themes.

Throughout Meyer’s career, his artistic life has been inseparable from his deep engagement in Jewish learning. His canvases have been inspired by biblical verses, Jewish philosophers and contemporary Jewish and Israeli artists. At times, the Jewish themes are explicit; in other, secular pieces, his Jewish identity informs his creative approach.

A graduate of Yale University and Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, Meyer has exhibited widely, with shows at Hebrew College, Rice/Polak Gallery in Provincetown, and galleries and Jewish institutions across the country.

His vibrant, richly colored abstract landscapes and deeply evocative, contemplative portraits nearly come off the canvas, with masterful short brush strokes of thick dabs of oil paints.

In his newest work, “Eight Approaches,” Meyer continues his creative exploration through the lens of Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish holiday that dates back to ancient Israel more than 2,000 years ago and celebrates the miracle and triumph of light over darkness.

The stunning, eight-panel series -– thickly layered oil paintings on wood that are nearly life size – will be on view at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston’s Shapiro Family Courtyard for its Hanukkah community celebration on December Dec. 15 (5-10 p.m.), in partnership with the Jewish Arts Collaborative, and the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, and supported by the Consulate General of Israel to New England.

The all-ages program is free with a discounted $5 museum entrance fee payable at the door.

Meyer’s painting is different from works of art in previous JArts/MFA Hanukkah celebrations, when the installations were artists’ interpretations of an actual Hanukkiah lamp, according to Simona Di Nepi, the MFA’s curator of Judaica.

“It is very compelling. I love it,” she told the Journal. Di Nepi noted the texture Meyer achieves through his brushwork and strong painterly technique.

Joshua Meyer

“Hanukkah is the holiday where we mark the passage of time with light. As a painter, it is really this intersection of all of the things that I care deeply about,” Meyer told the Jewish Journal.

“Judaism undergirds my life. It affects the way I think and the way I frame the world,” he said, even for art that is secular.

In the run-up to the event, Meyer was excited and humbled at having his painting at the MFA, in close proximity to one of his favorite Rembrandt self-portraits and by the paintings of Jewish artists including Hyman Bloom, Chaim Soutine, and Guston, one of the most influential artists of the last century, whose abstract and figurative work looms large in Meyer’s life.

In his studio, as Meyer dips his brushes and even a painter’s knife, into his palette, he finds himself in imagined dialogue with Guston and other admired artists.

For the Jewish artists, he wonders how their heritage may influence their work. “I like to think that by engaging with other Jewish artists, I can help build a communal voice,” he said. It’s especially important now, when antisemitism is unfortunately on the rise, he noted. “It makes me more acutely aware of how important it is for a community to define its own voice, its own culture and art.”

In a nod to Guston, the third panel of “Eight Approaches” has the pink, gray and black that are prominent in Guston’s work.

Unlike the menorah-lighting ritual, when a candle is added for each night of Hanukkah, “Eight Approaches” is not a literal progression of dark to light, Meyer pointed out. He actually painted them in a different order than the final arrangement.

When the panels were done, Meyer had fun swapping them around, creating different juxtapositions and narratives, he recalled.

Those familiar with the Hanukkah menorah will realize that it is missing the ninth candle, the shamash, or the helper candle used to light the others.

This is the space for viewers to place themselves in the art, he said.

“Paintings have to be alive. These are about relationships, about transitions and about change,” he said.“ The viewer will add their own light.” They can also reimagine the order, a way to change the art and for the art to change them, he said.

Meyer emphasized he is less concerned with what people take away from the art, and more interested in their interaction with the work.

“I want them to give something, to find something new in the dialogue with the paintings.” Θ

For more on Joshua Meyer visit joshuameyer.com. For more on the J Arts/MFA Hanukkah, visit mfa.org/event/special-event/hanukkah or jartsboston.org

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