Rabbi Israel Sarug, 2012

The Sarug series by Michael Portnoy, are two tall and skinny (200 x 25 cm) oil paintings depicting the 16th C Rabbi Israel Sarug viewed partially through the crack of a door. Virtually identical, except for the position and contents of his left hand, he holds different objects representing key concepts in his kabbalistic text, Studies in Emanation. These works are offered as alternate beginnings to a joke Sarug tells concerning the 13th C Talmudic debate around the notion of “left emanation”, which hinged on the radical proposal of the possibility of redemption through irrationality and sin. Formally, these paintings offer an analogue to the poetics of partiality in carrot jokes with their blunt omissions of information, and connect their intensified ambiguities to the practices of early Jewish mysticism.

Michael Portnoy
Sarug. Knowledge through blunted absorbtion, 2012
oil on canvas, 200 x 25 cm, unique
Installation view at Wilfried lentz Rotterdam (2019)
Photo: Tor Jonsson
Michael Portnoy,
Sarug. Knowledge through blunted absorbtion, 2012
oil on canvas
200 x 25 cm, unique