Painter Jules Olitski Enjoys a Second Life

After Death, Ukrainian-Born Artist Wins Popularity

Darkness Visible: Olitski’s ‘Shekinah Light’ references the light of God’s presence.
William Atkins
Darkness Visible: Olitski’s ‘Shekinah Light’ references the light of God’s presence.

By Menachem Wecker

Published October 29, 2012, issue of November 09, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

It’s hard to explain the feeling one experiences when standing in front of, and contemplating the dynamic movement in, Jules Olitski’s paintings. Picture a beautiful yet quickly fleeting vision of creamer diffusing throughout a cup of coffee. If one freezes the frame when the cloudiness is at its height — just before the dairy explosion mixes fully with the coffee and becomes dull and monochromatic — you might begin to imagine the forms in some of Olitski’s paintings from the 1980s and ’90s.

Olitski was born Jevel Demikovsky in present-day Ukraine in 1922, grew up in New York City and later lived and worked on Bear Island in New Hampshire. He died in February 2007.

A selection of small works, “Jules Olitski on an Intimate Scale,” is being exhibited at George Washington University’s Luther W. Brady Art Gallery, and “Revelation: Major Paintings by Jules Olitski” opened on September 15 at American University’s Katzen Arts Center, in Washington, D.C., after stints in Kansas City, Mo. (where it premiered); Houston; and Toledo. It will travel to the Naples Museum of Art in Florida in early 2013.

It’s impossible to talk for long with those who knew the artist well — such as his wife of 30 years, Kristina Olitski, and his daughter, Lauren Olitski Poster, a painter — without hearing about how much Olitski read both secular and religious texts. During a panel event at The Phillips Collection in D.C., E.A. Carmean Jr., one of the curators (along with Alison de Lima Greene and Karen Wilkin) of “Revelation” spoke of Olitski’s “vast reading and comprehension.” Particularly when it came to titling his works, the artist wore his Jewish identity on the sleeve of his smock.

“Shekinah Light” (1990), which is on view at G.W., was one of the works that inspired the curatorial staff at the Brady Gallery to take to the social network Pinterest to create a glossary of some of the artist’s more obscure references. The Hebrew word shekinah is a feminine term for God’s transcendent presence, which doesn’t “actually descend down from heaven, but rather is described as the light that occupies everywhere,” according to the Pinterest page.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.