Ben-Zion | In Search of Oneself

A light sound / like the thinnest of threads / accompanies me in the darkness of the abyss. / Heaven forbid / if this thread should break / I am like one lost in the endlessness. / This sound from the beginning of my childhood / like a voice in the endlessness of life / accompanies me wherever I am.
-- Songs of Ben-Zion III, 1980

An extraordinary sense of fate and vision characterized Ben-Zion from childhood, a vision and fate he courageously celebrated in his life and art. Born in 1897 in the Ukraine, Ben-Zion and his family moved to Galicia in 1909 where his father, Hirsch Weinman, served as cantor in the largest synagogue there. Ben-Zion was educated in the yeshiva and with private tutors in the hope that he would become a rabbi.

Ben-Zion's intimacy with the spiritual source of the Hebrew language, synchronizing with the reanimation of Hebrew as a spoken and literary language, his delving into philosophical texts along with his intrinsic relationship to art -- all contributed to the forging of his own path. He began to write Hebrew poetry, gather objects of aesthetic appeal and draw. Ben-Zion's only formal art training took place at the Art Academy in Vienna, when his family lived as refugees during WWI. The family returned home in 1918 and remained there until the death of Ben-Zion’s father in 1920. The family emigrated to America that same year and it was here that Ben-Zion found his life work in art.

This series of images portray Ben-Zion from his youth in Europe through his years in the West Village and Chelsea, New York. From the 1930's until the mid-1960's Ben-Zion taught art through FDR's Works Progress Administration (WPA) at various settlement houses as well as Cooper Union and other universities. While actively engaged in a vibrant community of artists and writers (Mark Rothko, Aaron Siskind, Bernard Malamud, Jacques Lipschitz and others), Ben-Zion remained a solitary and fiercely independent thinker.

The video in this portfolio - "Ben-Zion / In Search of Oneself" - provides richer detail and context on his roots and his flowering as an artist of many forms.

image The Weinman Family c. 1900
image Ben-Zion as a young man in Ukraine c. 1915
image Ben-Zion in his studio on East 19th Street c. 1930s
image Ben-Zion teaching at the Greenwich House c. 1936
image Ben-Zion by Aaron Siskind c. 1940s
image Ben-Zion at his table c. 1980s
embed In Search of Oneself (video) 2005