Into the Light: The Heal­ing Art of Kalman Aron

  • Review
By – June 19, 2013

The text to this beau­ti­ful­ly pro­duced book is an inter­play between the artist’s per­son­al mem­oir and the author’s inter­pre­tive nar­ra­tive, the lat­ter giv­ing it a par­tic­u­lar cast due to the author’s back­ground and her con­nec­tion to her sub­ject. Kalman Aron, born in Latvia in 1924, was already a stu­dent of art when his coun­try was engulfed in World War II. His har­row­ing expe­ri­ences in labor and con­cen­tra­tion camps are described and accom­pa­nied by some draw­ings. As was not uncom­mon, Aron some­times received an extra piece of bread for draw­ing a pic­ture for a guard. His mem­o­ries are vivid as they are for most Holo­caust sur­vivors, recall­ing chill­ing­ly ter­ri­ble times in the non-emo­tion­al tones of a per­son at a dis­tance from the expe­ri­ence itself. He reit­er­ates the sense of his nev­er hav­ing lost the opti­mistic view that the ter­ri­ble time would end and civ­i­lized life would return. The artist cred­its his sur­vival to that optimism.

After the war, Aron even­tu­al­ly migrat­ed to Los Ange­les and it was there as a young child that the author first came into con­tact with him when he paint­ed her por­trait at the behest of her moth­er, an inte­ri­or design­er who had noticed some of his paint­ings in a win­dow of a gallery. He con­tin­ued to paint por­traits and land­scapes through­out a long career in a style that has been called psy­cho­log­i­cal real­ism.” While Aron was raised in an Ortho­dox Jew­ish home he states that he lost his faith dur­ing the war years and has nev­er iden­ti­fied or affil­i­at­ed with Jew­ish insti­tu­tions. Only the first two of his four wives were Jew­ish. His son David, born to his third wife, is also an artist. In a chap­ter in the book devot­ed to his rec­ol­lec­tions of life with his father, David offers his own analy­ses of his father’s paint­ings, tech­niques and style and cred­its Aron with hav­ing giv­en him the gift of art making.”

See­ing the film The Pianist” trig­gered Aron’s desire to tell his own sto­ry. Susan Beil­by Magee’s analy­ses of Kalman Aron’s life and art are lucid and insight­ful and bring a cre­ative per­spec­tive that is unusu­al in a book about the influ­ence of a Holo­caust back­ground on the life and work of an artist. 120 col­or and b/​w illustrations. 

Esther Nuss­baum, the head librar­i­an of Ramaz Upper School for 30 years, is now edu­ca­tion and spe­cial projects coor­di­na­tor of the Halachic Organ Donor Soci­ety. A past edi­tor of Jew­ish Book World, she con­tin­ues to review for this and oth­er publications.

Discussion Questions