Today’s post comes from Simone Levine, class of 2013 and Art Center Student Docent.
Currently on view at Hofstra University Museum is a retrospective exhibition featuring artist, poet, and professor emeritus Yonia Fain. The exhibition includes Fain’s works from 1959 to the present, as well as works by artists who influenced Fain, such as Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo. Among these are two works from the Art Center’s permanent collection: Rivera’s Roberto Rosales and Tamayo’s Figure (of a woman). Although Tamayo and Rivera are best known for their murals, these more intimate portraits provide insight into the greater arc of Tamayo and Rivera’s styles as well as an opportunity for the viewer to draw comparisons with the smaller-scale works of Fain featured in this exhibition.
Despite their different heritages, all three artists’ works reflect the greater historical contexts of their lives. Drawing upon the first few chapters of his life spent in Russia and Poland, Fain uses his paintings to reflect on the suffering and atrocities of the Holocaust he witnessed during his time in Europe. His emotionally evocative, expressionist style conveys a sense of hope in the face of his scenes of existential anguish. As a young adult, Rivera fought in the Mexican Revolution; much of his work celebrates Mexican culture while promoting his Marxist and Socialist politics. Tamayo’s work registers more conservative politics and his focus on the more traditional aspects of Mexican culture that Tamayo identifies with by virtue of his being born into a tribe of Zapotec peoples in southern Mexico. Yet, in reading Fain’s biography on Hofstra University’s website, I discovered Fain’s connection to Rivera and Tamayo runs deeper than the parallels among their styles of painting. Indeed, both Rivera and Tamayo served as mentors to Fain when Fain fled to the Americas in the aftermath of World War II.
Through a friend Fain’s work was sent from the Polish Ghetto in Shanghai (where he lived during World War II, via Japan and Siberia) across the Pacific Ocean to Diego Rivera. Rivera was extremely impressed with Fain’s work and sponsored a visa for Fain and his family to join him in Mexico in 1946. Taking Fain under his wing, Rivera taught Fain his art of mural painting and promoted exhibitions of Fain’s work across Mexico. Fain also crossed paths with Rufino Tamayo during these years, and when Fain contemplated leaving Mexico in 1953, Tamayo urged Fain to go to New York City and even recommended Fain for a position as an instructor at the Brooklyn Museum. Fain stayed with the Brooklyn Museum for several years, and went on to join the faculty of New York University before teaching at Hofstra University. He retired from Hofstra in 1983.
Yonia Fain: Remembrance runs through August 3rd at Hofstra University’s Emily Lowe Gallery in Hempstead, New York. For more information, please visit http://www.hofstra.edu/community/museum/museum_exhibition_yfain.html