It was an occasion of witnessing this stirring, deeply moving exhibition, rather than veiwing it. A vast, resonate display, rich and deep with detail, “Sole of a Shoe” spread its meaning over two continents and sounded its urgencies and implications back over what is now almost a century. Sensitively and respectfully curated by Toronto-based writer and critic E C Woodley, “Sole of a Shoe” offered paintings by three generations of the Podeswa family–grandfather Chaim Pinchas Podeszwa, father Julius or Yidel Podeswa and son Howard Podeswa. Seen together, the paintings formed an engrossing progress, painful and triumphant, tinctured with a terror and a grief eventually, leavened with patience, wisdom and a deeply touching transcendent calm–and even, in some of the recent paintings by Howard Podeswa, a sort of wry humour, albeit shot through with the implications and the attendant mysteries of elegy.
Howard Podeswa remarks, in a helpful biographical note he furnished to accompany the exhibition, that it was surely unusual for a Hassidic family that Julius (Yidel), his father, and his father’s brother were all artists. As if to underscore the family’s painting heritage, the exhibition began with the grace note of a painting from 1935 of the Jewish Cemetery at Ivansk (Yahrzeit gift) by Chaim Pinchas Podeszwa. This small oil, rather early-Kandinsky-esque in its jewel-like spots of high colour, marshaled into near-symmetry under a grey, lowering sky, enlivened with the arc of a peripheral rainbow over at the right, makes up for its autodidactic lack of painterly ease with a high degree of pictorial organization. This lends it an unquenchable freshness that seems both defiant in the face of the picture’s somber subject matter and, at the same time, painfully eloquent. It is, as well, a pre-meditation upon the fate of a family that, four years later, would be swept into undreamt-of horror.
To read the full article, pick up issue 121, on newsstands now - or click here to subscribe. Above images: (Left) Chaim Pinchas Podeszwa, *Jewish Cemetary at Ivansk (Yahrzeit gift), 1935, oil on canvas, 18.5 x 25.5”. (Right) The Peasant Girl (Ivansk), 1935, oil on paper, 16 x 19”. All images courtesy Howard Podeswa and Wynick/Tuck Gallery, Toronto.*