MEMENTOS

 SAM ERENBERG : HISTORY IN WATERCOLORS

by Rosanna Albertini

As a (modern) divinity, History is repressive. History forbids us to be out of time. Of the past we tolerate only the ruin, the monument, kitsch, what is amusing: we reduce this past to no more than its signature. (Roland Barthes)

 

Chicago 1921: Court of Honor and Grand Basin

Chicago 1921: The Chicago World’s Fair. The Columbian Exposition: Court of Honor and Grand Basin (from Wikipedia)

Queen Nzinga in peace negotiations with the Portuguese governor in Luanda, 1657 (from Wikipedia)

Angola. Queen Nzinga in peace negotiations with the Portuguese governor in Luanda, 1657
(from Wikipedia)

Golf of Sidra incident August 1981: A U.S. Navy McDonnell F-4J Phantom II escorting a Libyan Mikoyan-Gurevitch, M i G-23.

Libya. Golf of Sidra incident  in August 1981: A U.S. Navy McDonnell F-4J Phantom II escorting a Libyan Mikoyan-Gurevitch, M i G-23. (from Wikipedia)

1953, Iranian coup d'état. Overthrowing the democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Moraddegh replaced by an absolute monarch, Shah Reza Palhavi.  Tehran men celebrate the coup. (from Wikipedia)

1953, Iranian coup d’état overthrowing the democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Moraddegh, replaced by an absolute monarch, Shah Reza Palhavi. Tehran men celebrate the coup.
(from Wikipedia)

West Virginia 1921: The Mine Wars between coal companies and miners. Photo: Coal miners displaying a bomb that was dropped during the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921. (from Wikipedia)

Egypt 1956: Suez crisis. Israel invades Egypt, followed by Britain and France. Photo: Damaged Egyptian equipment. (from Wikipedia)

Egypt 1956: Suez crisis. Israel invades Egypt, followed by Britain and France.
Photo: Damaged Egyptian equipment. (from Wikipedia)

Snapshots might be History’s appropriate marks, one shot in time from which we pick up the illusion we know what happened that very moment, it has to do with remembering and forgetting, occupying but not interesting, so says Gertrude Stein.

Think of WRITING as neither remembering nor forgetting, neither beginning nor ending, and I would say that PAINTING works the same way.  With photographic documents or photo journalism we are forced to consider, precisely, which side we are on. Wars and violence break our mental shields. Mysterious snapshots need a great many words to describe an event that is not in our memory except maybe for a name, a date, or less. But here I’m interested in Gertrude’s a-synchronous thinking. She places writing out of time. So does Sam Erenberg’s painting. Did Roland Barthes like her writing? Probably not he was not American. But Gertrude and Sam they both grew up as American Jews.

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, Libya 1981, Watercolors on paper, Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, Libya 1981, Watercolor, 16 x 12 inc., 2008
Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, Egypt 1956, Watercolors on paper, Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, Egypt 1956, Watercolor, 16 x 12 inc., 2008
Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, Angola 1976, Watercolors on paper,  Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, Angola 1976, Watercolor, 16 x 12 inc., 2008
Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, Chicago 1892, Watercolor on paper,  Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, Chicago 1892, Watercolor, 16 x 12 inc., 2008
Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, Iran 1953,Watercolor on paper, Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, Iran 1953, Watercolor, 16 x 12 inc., 2008
Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, West Virginia 1920, Watercolors on paper, Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos, West Virginia 1920, Watercolor, 16 x 12 inc., 2008
Courtesy of the artist

Is it by arbitrary choice that artist Sam Erenberg diluted in watercolors all the thoughts in his mind for each historical event he found interesting over the last one hundred years? Destroying the likeness of images and facts, and letting only one word and one date marking the painting like a wound? Is it by accident that The Making of Americans was 925 pages (first paperback edition 1966) of family stories in a tapestry of feelings and behaviors if you go to the bottom of them the same kind in every time, therefore free from dates and memorable events? Unofficial history with her mind fluttering through the sameness of being human it doesn’t matter when, maybe a little more where.

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images, or any likeness of any thing…” (Exodus 20:4)

Sam’s mind has a need of words. They are shadows, calligraphic stills of a landscape, a human land in which we get lost. Call it history, it doesn’t make it more limpid, or readable. If each event were a tree, we could imagine us in it’s shadow, trying to share the same umbrella, engaging the most impersonal connection. Diluted in watercolors, history has entered the artist’s perception. His mind gives back a physical surface. Painted events are just colors in movement, signs that filled for a while an artist’s cave, his mind with no time nor identity, so “when it sees anything has to look flat.” (G.S.) The event was melted in his eyes.