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Lika Tov: Psalm 139

ArtWay Visual Meditation August 4, 2019

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Lika Tov: Psalm 139

Losing our Colours

by José Verheule

A psalm is poetry and a poem is a painting in words. What I see in Lika Tov’s image of Psalm 139 is what I hear in the words of a familiar Dutch song by Jaap Zijlstra:

Dear God, you come close to me so humbly,
in days of loss and trouble you find me.

In few psalms does God come as close as in Psalm 139. He is like a loving mother, who surrounds me with her care from my very beginning, who takes me by the hand on unknown ways and is so intimately familiar with me that I am an open book for her. And if in spite of that I still wander away or disappear from view, I don’t get grabbed roughly, but receive a gentle, inviting tap on the shoulder, as Lika Tov shows.

‘With God you are never lost to sight, no matter how high you climb or how deep you fall,’ Psalm 139 sings. For no-one is as familiar with me as the one who formed me, who has woven me in the dark safe place of the womb with colourful threads. ‘Woven in many colours,’ it says in the Hebrew, because it is a wonderful aspect of our human existence that each one of us is colourful, in a unique pattern!

However, in the dark you don’t see colour. When everything grows dark, in days of loss and trouble, life loses its colour, everything looks grey and drab. And not only life, but we ourselves also. The darkness seizes us; it gets us in its grip and swallows us, as can be seen in the black silhouette of the figure to the right in the painting. It is the ‘I’-figure from the psalm, who has been overcome by the darkness of trouble and loss: a degenerative disease, a great sadness that darkened his life and took all the colour and cheerfulness out of him.

We can see how the psalmist has become a black shadow of himself, his arms raised helplessly to heaven, groping like a blind man. At the same time, he also seems to flee into the dark. That is the treacherous character of sorrow and pain: it sends your thoughts and emotions to the dark side, which causes you continue to walk even further into the darkness and get lost. But then there is also that gentle, friendly hand on your shoulder from that translucent figure behind you, who allows the light to come through from above: ‘Here, look around, you are looking in the wrong direction: here is the light of God that shines in the darkness, into the deepest night!’

Lika Tov, the artist, shows us how everything gains in colour when God’s light breaks into the darkness. And in that light is a gentle, friendly hand that does not grab the ‘I’ of the psalm but points in an inviting way to this light from above, which the dark figure is running away from. Psalm 139 sings about God as a mother who takes pity on her child without judging it. This is a closeness without judgment that brings that healing.

And yet, it cannot stop the psalmist from making a harsh judgment, even though it is about people who make sure that a large portion of the world lives in darkness, people with blood on their hands, who even do this in God’s name. ‘Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?’ Then, when he asks God to search his heart (verse 23), it dawns on him that this judgment could come on his own head one day. Even though it is a holy indignation, it still pulls him into dark thoughts of resentment and hatred, unto a wicked way (verse 24).

‘Search me, O God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts.’ From where does my resentment come? Is it because I can’t stand that the light does not heal all wounds? After his resurrection, Jesus also still had his wounds. The devil aims for perfection, God does not. He eases our wounds and helps us get up, also when we experience trouble and loss, so that our life and we ourselves regain colour.

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Lika Tov: Psalm 139, 2008, water colour on paper.

In 2008 Lika Tov’s book Ken mijn hart (in Dutch) on Psalm 139 was published. For each of the 24 verses the renowned Jewish artist Lika Tov made colourful illustrations.

Lika Tov was born and raised in Amsterdam, NL. She studied graphic art at the Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. After obtaining her diploma, she emigrated to Israel. She settled in Jerusalem. During the last 50 years she has exhibited in the Netherlands, Israel, Sweden, Japan, Germany, England and North America. She has made paintings to accompany various books of the Bible and biblical themes. More information about these can be found at: http://www.likatov.info/gallerybooks.html.

José Verheule is a theologian. She took early retirement after having worked as a minister in the PKN (Protestantse Kerk Nederland) in Zaanstad. She leads church services in a care facility and teaches Dutch to refugees.

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2. ART FOR CHANGE INDIA - Art for Change International Artist Residency 2020 - Theme: What to do with Difference? | Art and Artist as Bridge
Dates: February 23rd-March 8th, 2020, 
Place: New Delhi, INDIA
About the Residency:
The Art for Change International Artist Residency is an intense 2-week 
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seven Indian artists in a collective exploration of a particular theme.
The residency ends with a gallery exhibition of works produced.  
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DEADLINE: AUGUST 31st, 2019
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3. AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS – 9 August, 19 h, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam: Summer School Lecture: Humor in Sixteenth-century Painting. What was considered funny in the sixteenth century, and what techniques did painters use at the time to elicit laughter? In this lecture, Friso Lammertse shows what a ‘sense of humor’ meant in the sixteenth century and especially how this was expressed in painting. This lecture is part of the Rijksmuseum and RKD Summer School. This biennial Summer School started in 1992 and is a co-production of the Rijksmuseum and RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History. The goal is to offer young art historians the opportunity to enrich and deepen their knowledge of Dutch art, and to foster the exchange of knowledge. The Public Lecture is the one moment where everyone – including non-participants of the Summer School – is welcome to come and listen to an inspiring talk about Dutch art. Following the lecture (in English) there will be a reception in the Rijksmuseum Café. https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/lectures/humour-in-sixteenth-century-painting

4. AUSTRALIA – 12 September, 19.30 h, St Cuthbert's Anglican Church, Cnr Darlington and Hillsden Roads, Darlington, WA: Jesus in Australian Art, lecture by Rod Pattenden. This richly-illustrated lecture will explore the ways in which the figure of Jesus Christ has appeared in the history of Australian Art. Some of these images will appear familiar and confirm the roles of Jesus as teacher and healer. Some of the images can be found in Churches while others appear in the private studios of artists who have been drawn to the figure of Christ as a source of inspiration. Other images will be surprising as they arise in unexpected place with artists outside the Christian faith who nevertheless bring insights about the search for spirituality in Australia. Some of these images arrive with a sense of shock as they break open expectations about who Jesus is in the complexity of our contemporary culture. This fascinating overview will explore how the image of Jesus has found a home within Australian culture while also turning to challenge its comfortable illusions. Rev Dr Rod Pattenden is an art historian and theologian interested in the power of images. He considers that looking at art helps us see more clearly the culture we inhabit and what shapes our faith, hopes, and desires in this complex postmodern era. Rod has written and lectured widely on art and spirituality in Australia and for many years was the Chair of the Blake Prize for Religious Art. He is currently minister of the Adamstown Uniting Church where he leads a vibrant arts and community development ministry. https://www.trybooking.com/book/event?eid=534899

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