I wanted to introduce you to the work of Miriam Beerman who was my close friend and mentor for twenty years. Miriam’s painting descends from yours. Like the environments of Stella Waitzkin, Beerman’s works are containers of memory–historic, monumental and personal. She is a painter whose works throughout her long life have addressed issues of Jewish persecution while also evoking the unconscious in visceral and moving ways. I believe that her painting indicates that she is a soul mate of yours, Soutine, as well as Goya, Van Gogh and Francis Bacon. She is in her mid-nineties.
I still remember receiving a package of her slides in the mail one day when I worked at Rutgers. The slides looked accomplished though they were of works on paper and she was interested in a small solo show in what Stuart White and I called gallery II, a small gallery off the Paul Robeson Gallery’s (formerly called Robeson Center Gallery) large and beautiful main space. I called her up and made an appointment to visit her studio in her home. I was immediately confronted with large oil paintings haphazardly propped against the walls with small works hung throughout the living room. Why, I thought, did she send me works on paper? The paintings were visceral and expressionistic. I knew immediately that I had met an artist as important as Stella Waitzkin was to me. Mr. Soutine, if you see the spirit of Hans Hofmann please ask him about his former student, the late Stella Waitzkin who has joined you both in your ethereal yet powerful states. I absorb all of you ghosts; I embrace the spirits of masters past as well as of artists today. I believe your souls are imbued into passages of paint and color. You are still speaking. I listen and respond to you all. You have not died as long as someone is receiving your vision now. No artist dies completely. Actually, no one dies completely. Culture is not the sole memory of humanity. Yet it is significant.
Yet Beerman was less abstract in her approach than Stella. But like Stella, she had forged a signature image. Miriam’s paintings are bold, thick textured objects. It was clear from my very first viewing that she painted with love and conviction. She paints with smaller brushes than I do and the surface is organic and reminiscent of clods of earth, in spite of her bold and dissonant color, rooted in Van Gogh. Beerman paints cadaverous and tortured people and beasts. Her work is a relentless soliloquy to anguish and anxiety. We both believe in the visual object as a symbol for complexity. We both think color and surface talked about the relevant without illustrating it. I loved the visual world much like others loved their religion, their families, their personal passions. I worshiped the visual. I, like Miriam, wanted to change the tenor of the art world. I believed that the abstract expressionist painters were still important in 1985, thirty odd years after their dominance. It was evident that we both believed in the power of tough painting.
That first visit she also showed me large portraits of artists, her soul mates and muses: you, Soutine, as well as Giacometti, Renoir, Cezanne, Joseph Beuys, and Van Gogh were the subjects of large canvases stamped with her longstanding interest in metamorphosis, life and death. It was immediately evident, Mr. Soutine, that on a daily basis she addressed harsh reality and thought about the reduction of humanity to ash and bones. How painful to be inspired by humanity’s history of intolerance, hatred, and aggression. Yet Miriam has also been inspired by poetry since she began as a young painter. Her sister gave her large volumes of poetry that she memorized as a girl of twelve. She is a poet of the profoundly grotesque. She works and reworks the painting until the work is an embodiment of her unique consciousness itself, as well as an embodiment impersonal and global in its meaning.
Your show at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan was very inspiring. After you visit Miriam’s home/studio in I predict that you will enjoy knowing her. I hope that I didn’t send you too much material. I know how busy you are with your own life and career but as an elder statesman please understand my excitement about Miriam Beerman’s painting. Mr. Soutine, when you visit I’m sure you’ll think that your descendant has surpassed your expectations of the future of painting. Though of course Miriam’s seriousness and anxiety-ridden surfaces are now being questioned by the dominance of illustrative imagery.