Meichel Pressman

 

Pressman began painting in watercolor late in his long life, drawing upon themes from the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition and lore, and recording memories of his early years.He was born in Galicia, then a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and spent his early years as a farm laborer. Early in the twentieth century, Pressmanimmigrated to America during a period of mass emigration from the Jewish shtetlach (villages) of Eastern Europe. He found employment in New York as a pants presser.Pressman began painting almost by accident. After he retired, he found a box of crayons at home and began to draw. He was then eighty-four years of age. Within ayear or two, his paintings were being shown at a New York gallery. As is frequently the case among artists who come to their creative expression late in life,Pressman’s paintings are narrative in character. He relates successive elements of the story he is telling in separate but undivided vignettes, often placing one above theother. His figures, rendered stiffly, generally share the same space at the front of the picture plane.Among the subjects of Pressman’s colorful and well-composed paintings are memories of a seder (the ritual Passover meal) in the town of his boyhood; the biblicalaccount of the binding of Isaac; and the Holocaust. Pressman painted for only five years, from 1948 until his death in New York at the age of eighty-nine. Nevertheless,he left a vibrant record of a lost world and of traditions that continue to animate Jewish life to this day.