Jonathan Hertzel - Artist

ROOTED CLOUDS

The Sculpture Of Jonathan Hertzel

by

Aline Brandauer

                       

 

 

“Bronze has been used to express human nature throughout time.” - Jonathan Hertzel

 

Jonathan Hertzel is a classically trained sculptor who calls himself a sculptural historian. Educated at the Pennsylvania Academy of The Fine Arts and the University of Rochester, with more than thirty years of experience under his belt, he can hold his own with more traditional artists who work in bronze. But he has a slightly different intention, one for which his history can provide hints. The artist feels that figurative sculpture changes in order to best represent the times in which it is created.

 

My one-of-a-kind bronze sculptures (says the artist) are inspired by an unfurling of elemental forces; earth, air, water, fire, coalescing into the underlying expression of the human form. The sculptures are rooted in motion, transition and passage, and are visually multi-directional. The bronzes are ideally suited for multiple interactions. The far and near views offer differing perspectives. Upon each passage, the changing views culminate into an evolving figurative landscape.1

 

Like many artists before him, his current work combines particular stories, formal considerations, and political undercurrents that bubble to the surface.

                            

 

       

 


While Hertzel is fascinated with other techniques of making and casting bronze, he consistently produces by lost-wax casting. Hertzel models the pieces in wax, manipulating it by hand, then pieces them together. This handwork reinforces the idea of felt sculpture that remains visible in bronze; that the touch remains. While this textural specificity is important to Hertzel’s project, the depiction of motion in sculpture is critical. Among those artists who made the invisible visible around the turn of the twentieth century, Umberto Boccioni showed the three-dimensional human figure as it marched through space. While 1913’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space displays a sense of movement, its solidity belies time passing.

 

 

 

 

                                     Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space

 

Perhaps Hertzel’s greatest sculptural influence is Alberto Giacometti. The twentieth-century Swiss sculptor began to re-examine the human figure in 1935, expecting it to be a quick departure from what he had been doing. Instead, it became the foundation for his work from that point on. Giacometti proceeded to eviscerate the figure, eventually describing his work as sculpting not the figure but rather “the shadow that it cast.”*

              

 

 


 

 In Hertzel’s new work, he continues to make the figure using that classical material, bronze, to depict the energetic traces of movement and presence that have passed. Why, he seems to be asking, should what lingers be ineffable when it can be hand-molded wax turned into bronze, as if peering back into that “shadow.” Hertzel spent 1973 through 1977 studying history at the 

 

 

Hertzel spent 1973 through 1977 studying history at the University of Rochester where he also engaged with both film and modern dance at a critical juncture of post-modernism. Much post-modernist dance of the era addresses everyday movement and the energy with which the body is involved: what emanates from it — what is left in the wake of the movement itself.     

 

“Dance is an art in space and time,” says Merce Cunningham, “The object of the dancer is to obliterate that.”2               

 

Cunningham also focused on chance. Chance can shift a moment, change a system, necessitate different choices in one’s reactions.


As a practitioner of Tai Chi, Hertzel describes the flow of movement originating “deep within the core through the mantle of the earth spiraling up through your soul and soles” into the body, much like bronze itself. Metal is a material that can be transformed from state to state, from solid to liquid and back to solid. In Reversal a figure stands (almost) in contrapposto but the energy of the piece is tracked rather than depicted by the bronze. The torsion and the tension make the figure seem ready to spring but the openness of the composition makes it unclear in which direction it will move. Reversal speaks to that feeling between fight and flight, paralysis and panic, where one doesn’t know which way to turn much less what is really going on around us. The figure of Reversal, like many of us in this shifting America with its stirring up of hatred, feels powerless as he digs deep into his soul for strength and direction.
https://www.jonathanhertzel.com/images/reversal-2



Adam Splitting refers at once to Adam, the first man, splitting like a cell rather than being split through a missing rib, and to violence throughout the Middle East, particularly suicide bombers. According to Hertzel,

Adam Splitting was made during the time of my mother’s death and the loss of the multi-generational family home while simultaneously there was an invasion of Iraq. My garden exploded to the backdrop of the war.

 

 

Adam Splitting: Unique bronze. 2008, 31”x61”x29”

https://www.jonathanhertzel.com/images/adam-splitting-2

 

 Like the paradox of the stillness in motion, war-torn Iraq was a cradle of civilization, whose vast cultural reserves have been destroyed along with its citizens. The family dynamic split in similar ways; the loss of parent and home forced a reckoning. Adam Splitting has more positive space (metal) than many of the artist’s current pieces but retains a fierce centrifugal motion and power. The figure spins away from a center, losing force and parts as it moves. Adam Splitting embodies pain, displacement, and body parts, out of control and in the process of being lost forever.


We’re in motion all the time. Some part of us is constantly moving. It’s rare when our minds are quiet or our bodies still, we are always in movement one way or another: our hearts are pounding, we’re breathing, the earth is rotating, and yet, there is stillness within all this motion, and that contradiction is the underlying structure of my work.

 

 

NEHUSHATAN; 2018, 113”x72”x36” Unique bronze

https://www.jonathanhertzel.com/images/nehushatan



 

 

 

In the Old Testament story of Nehushtan, Yahweh has become annoyed with the Jews complaining about conditions in the desert after their exodus from Egypt and sent down ‘fiery serpents’ that bit and killed many.  Repenting, they asked Moses to intercede. Yahweh ordered Moses to make a bronze serpent mounted on a pole and then decreed that all who looked upon it would be healed. In the sculpture, Nehushtan, the serpent image is held aloft while groups of snakes remain in the background. Snake cults had existed in what we now call the Middle East since the Bronze Age — and this story sounds very much like an attempt to meld older beliefs with a monotheistic religion but for the sculptor, the tale of Nehushtan takes on a different tinge altogether. The story bears out Hertzel’s themes of human confusion and chaos in the face of what seems incomprehensible. Yahweh was rescuing the Jews but then turns on them — only to save them once again in the end. Snakes and idols, spoken of repeatedly in the Bible as evil, are here the symbol, indeed the method, of salvation. Again, the story resonates with our contemporary anxiety and consternation as accepted ethical standards and expectations of ourselves and those to whom we have given power are overturned and demonized.


 


Levi Spiegelberg


Bishop Jean Baptist Lamy

 

In his latest work, all produced in his Santa Fe studio, Hertzel engages his very personal history with New Mexico. His ancestor, the pioneer merchant, Levi Spiegelberg had come from Germany in 1848 at the behest of his older brother, Solomon Spiegelberg.  Solomon was a formidable character who arrived in the United States as a teenager in 1842 and promptly became sutler to Colonel Alexander Doniphan’s expedition to Chihuahua. This would be the first of many such contracts with a variety of armies and expeditions. He was the first Jewish merchant to travel the Santa Fe Trail. Solomon, with Levi at first, followed by his other brothers, made an extraordinary amount of money trading, banking, and mining, first in New Mexico territory and then throughout the Southwest. The Spiegelberg brothers also changed Santa Fe, structurally, by helping to build a money-based economy in place of the age-old barter system and visibly, by building the first Philadelphia-style storefront amid the sea of adobe on the Plaza.

 

 

The House of the Spiegelberg Brothers, built by Levi Spiegelberg in 1858. The steel front beams were and are from Pittsburg, PA. The building still stands but the façade was “adobified” in the 1960’s.



This is a heady narrative indeed. Solomon leaves a Prussia amassing land and power in a bid for a united Germany despite aristocratic resistance. By the time Levi arrived in 1848, the Revolutions of 1848 had spread to Germany with the promise of a more egalitarian future but, after the government quickly acquiesced to liberal demands, the conservatives regrouped and clamped down on reform. Throughout all the upheaval in Europe during the nineteenth century, the avenues open to Jews remained sharply restricted. While a thriving Jewish middle class developed in Germany, occupations and land ownership were still curtailed. When the brothers arrived in western North America during its transition from Mexico to the United States, they were able to do things that were not yet possible in Central Europe such as own land and mines. They had become Anglos in the eyes of their co-inhabitants.

 

The brothers were always on the road, buying or selling. On one such trip in 1852, Levi had gone to Independence, Missouri to lead a wagon train of merchandise back to New Mexico when he fell deathly ill on the Santa Fe Trail.  Thinking that he might have cholera, the teamsters left him to die in a small sod hut by the side of the road.  Fortuitously, he was found and nursed by the future Archbishop, Jean-Baptiste Lamy. Lamy was returning to Santa Fe with a group of nuns from the Sisters of Loretto of Kentucky whose order had answered Lamy’s pleas for help in educating his new flock. By the time the party found Spiegelberg, they had already endured a cholera outbreak themselves, losing the Mother Superior to death and with one nun too ill to go on. Recognizing that Levi did not have cholera, he was loaded into Lamy’s wagon. Levi did not die on that trip but was healed by the clergy and went on to forge the link between, Hertzel, his family and Santa Fe. 

 

 

 




 


The two-part Signs of Life is the sculptor’s response to this story. Falling Man shows Levi is falling from the carriage and falling into the earth. In Through Lamy’s Eyes, Jean-Baptiste Lamy sees the fallen Spiegelberg. The figure of Levi is pulled back from his possible grave in the tiny sod hut by Lamy’s expedition. Levi, Jewish merchant saved by the future Archbishop of Santa Fe. Human beings save other human beings and compassion triumphs over ideology. Like the other pieces in this exhibition, there is a conscious contemporary reference. Falling Man cannot be mentioned in 2018 without the searing image of the same name from 9/11 of another man who wasn’t saved despite the massive, selfless acts of so many first responders.  It is also fate — or chance. It is perhaps only kindness that can save us from cruelty and bloodshed. In the same way that chance can shift a response in a dancer, chance can change the story of a family. Hertzel was drawn back to Santa Fe through stories and family pictures. But perhaps it was just the meeting of Levi and Lamy on the side of the rough Santa Fe Trail; a concrete moment but, like the artist’s sculptures “rooted in motion, transition and passage.”

 

FALLING MAN

https://www.jonathanhertzel.com/images/signs-of-life-1

 


Through Lamy’s Eyes




What I find remarkable is at this crossroad in history Lamy, the Loretto Sisters and Spiegelberg travel on to Santa Fe where they build the Spiritual, Educational and Economic foundations of their new World. I’ve often wondered about their conversations on the months long trek to Santa Fe.

 

  

Cathedral Basilica of St Francis of Assisi built by Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy between 1869 and 1886. It was built over an older adobe church, La Parroquia built 1714 -1717 upon the site of an older church constructed in1626 and destroyed in the 1680 Pueblo Revolt.



  

Loretto Chapel. Commissioned by the Sisters of Loretto for their girls school the Loretto Academy in 1873.

 

 


House of the Spiegelberg Brothers, built by the brothers 1859-1863 on the land Levi purchased from Bishop Lamy in 1856. The land previously was the grounds of La Castrense, the Spanish military church Our Lady Of Light, built 1754. The land Levi purchased contained a cemetery of the Spanish conquistadores.



 

 


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