The first time I met Ephraim Rubenstein, some eight years ago, and looked at his early paintings I immediately sensed a powerful poetic quality coming out of his paintbrush. This ambitious exhibition not only confirms my initial feeling, but surpasses anything I could have thought of at that time. It is rare these days to find an artist inspired, not by pop culture or the mass media, but by a classic of literature. I find it interesting and refreshing to see such good work deriving out of one of this century’s greatest European poets, Rainer Maria Rilke.
One of my favorite analogies in describing a great artist is to compare him or her to a priest, a nun or a rabbi. God speaks through these religious leaders to nourish us, the parishioners, with his spirit. I have seen a few moments like that take place during my forty-three years of running a contemporary art gallery. The story as to how Rilke started the Duino Elegies is legendary. As Rilke walked along the Duino Castle in Trieste, a strong wind whipped by and whispered the first lines to him. Truly a case of God speaking through an artist. This collection of paintings and drawings makes me think of Ephraim Rubenstein in a similar manner.
The works are beautiful visual complements to the words of Rilke’s poetry. Each of these two have concerned themselves with two important themes: truth and harmony. And though these goals are shared, their specific results may be different. Rubenstein’s landscapes are of the area he now knows best: Richmond, Virginia. Rubenstein’s figures do not wear turn of the century outfits, but contemporary clothing. His work also has a quiet contemplative mood, perhaps best personified by The Sap is Mounting Back or the rose still lifes which were painted in a quiet corner of his city home.
As the animals gathered around Orpheus to listen to him play and sing, now let us gather around Ephraim Rubenstein’s paintings and drawings.
Tibor de Nagy 1994