SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
”As clear as the day” Samuel Bak
Samuel Bak (born Vilnius, Lithuania August 12, 1933)
Mr. Bak is a painter and a holocaust survivor.
”As I write these words (March 13,2003) in response to the most recent paintings by Samuel Bak on the apparent theme of Chess, they need to be understood in the glaring light of political realities. As the international and national pressure mounts against Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction, the world led by the United States finds itself on the very brink of war.
Bak’s paintings of battlefields of chess pieces and chessboards seem to describe our world today. The terminology of battle – sacrifice, foot soldiers, construct lines of defense, destroy the enemies, command centers and leaders is represented in these works.
Bak begins by working out of his own experiences and memories of World War II and permits his artist genius to fashion extraordinary works of art. Each painting is an invention filled with recognizable elements. For example, Knowledgeable portrays a limited number of chess pieces – two knights, the queen, the king, numerous pawns. The surface resembles the chessboard, albeit incomplete, and it is placed on top of an assembly of books with selected dice. Are these books histories of wars past? Or battles to come? The dice represent a game of chance and refer to life and survival in the midst of war as a game of odds. The chess pieces are not in proper position for a game of chess but do reflect the disarray that comes with real war.
The traumatic aspects of memory are the energy which produces Bak’s work. He replicates the feelings torn asunder by his experiences as a child survivor. His Memoir, Painted in Words, and the recently published Monograph, Between Worlds (1946-2001), document his journey in words and works of art. He works out of his specific personal experience and in doing so has found a rich, universal pictorial language.
Above and Below
Above and Below presents pawns with wings on a landscape divided by a fragment of a chessboard. The metal wings would encumber the pawn’s flight yet the blue pawn hovers above; the white winged pawn is earth bound. Life and Death; Tikkun and Destruction and Evil; Hope and Despair. These contrasting interpretations come to mind.
How do we negotiate through these memories of a past and pretend to know how to respond when confronted by a most uncertain future. If the past is to be our teacher, we must ask what have we as humankind learned? Can we live on earth together in peace? Can we dream together of a universe where our actions will produce reconciliation and respect, or will we be cursed to repeat – on an even grander scale – the travesties of our predecessors?
Bak’s newest works continue his 60 year oeuvre. The questions remain! The fears abound! And yet his art becomes even more beautiful. A strange descriptive word in the midst of the horrors described or anticipated.
As the clouds darken, Bak’s palette brightens, nature is more inviting, the art strangely uplifting.
We are captured by their questions and their visual power. We realize that each work of art is a contribution to our universe and we are grateful for it.
We are privileged to share these works in celebration of Bak’s 70th year. May his art continue to reflect our life experiences and stimulate us to work toward a better future.
— Bernard H. Puck (http://www.puckergallery.com/samuel_bak.html)
SPRAGGETT ON CHESS