The Art of the Question  

"The Nature of Roots"

The spiritually complex and perilous journey from ruin to restoration is embodied in the difficulty of the transit, a process vividly dramatized by a painting like "The Nature of Roots," where Bak’s fondness for fusing disparate materials results in a ladder with tree roots for a base.

Here many roles have been transformed. Once it was the nature of roots to plunge deeper into the earth in quest of life-giving moisture. The Jewish equivalent of that pursuit has been brutally severed by Nazi expulsions – a favorite German euphemism for extermination was ausrotten, to uproot.

But since the putting down of physical roots in a Jewish homeland always implied a spiritual yearning for a heavenly connection, Bak’s torn up roots become a ladder raised toward the sky.

The damage done below, however, has its parallel in the rent above, a far more portentous injury, since roots are portable, if salvaged in time, in a way that spirit is not.

An anonymous angel gestures with the ever-present hand, but who can read accurately its enigmatic signal – if signal it is, and not a hopeless wave of frustration?

—Lawrence Langer, In a Different Light: The Book of Genesis in the Art of Samuel Bak

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