In writing about the reasoning behind my making the ongoing series of paintings that form under the heading “holocaust”, please understand that my explanation for my need to paint in relation to my personal history and the history of my mostly murdered ancestry is complex and many layered. I have spent most of my life so far in contemplation of my infamous inheritance. My need to paint about it is driven by unseen forces, the demands of dead relatives to be heard or at the very least put to rest, for no one came to bid them farewell on their lonely departure nor gave them the simple courtesy of a burial. The reality of my childhood, the confusing responses and legacy of fear that my parents, who were both survivors, handed to me demands the conscience searching and self-examination today that I was incapable of making as a child. To imagine such cruelty and hatred that my own parents experienced firsthand is still to this very day difficult for me to comprehend. Perhaps every painting that comes out of me is in some way rooted in the holocaust. It is impossible for me to separate out those components of my psyche that are unaffected by it.
The ideological terror perpetrated by the Nazi regime and its subsequent historical discoveries has been and is still being analyzed in great and varied depth. The Holocaust Museum in Washington is currently the most visited public museum in the USA. It should be remembered that pre-1936, 15% of the population of Poland was Jewish whilst in Germany it was barely 2%. However, there was no mention of the events of World War II, nor Germany’s involvement in it, taught in German schools until the late 1960’s. There was no public discussion of the holocaust in Poland at all until 1989. The Jews of northern Europe had reached a cultural pinnacle in the late 19th and early days of the 20th century, a sort of Jewish renaissance. The destruction of their cultural achievements and the consequent break in the continuity of their artistic evolution has had a profound effect on the arts in Europe that I believe continues today.
My effort to find imagery that does not exploit or trivialize the experiences of those that suffered but that does in a deep way connect with the pain and suffering that was inflicted, has been my main concern. I seek to connect emotionally so that I can best interpret the reality of the events that took place and communicate them in the hopes that they will not be repeated. The holocaust has been portrayed in film and on TV to such an extent and often with such insensitivity that most of the common themes of those times have been reduced to cliché, a betrayal in itself. To find a lexicon that for me has truth and, above all meaning, in relation to this historical tragedy continues to be my utmost desire. It is a journey through a dark landscape that I am still traveling.
Artist Geoffrey Laurence