9 a.m. sunlight floods into the empty Rabinowitz Gallery in the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life where surreal paintings by Max Missner Budovitch (CC ’13) hang. The exhibit is called “Time is a Place.” In it, Budovitch explores how time freezes in a place one leaves behind and how one can recreate a city in one’s own mind. Based in Tel Aviv but originally from Chicago, Budovitch bridges distance — in both time and space — throughout his paintings.
The colors of all his paintings are saturated and bright, a signature of acrylic paints. But acrylics are not known for creating smooth textures. They dry quickly and require several layers of application to create a gradient. Despite this, Budovitch is able to evoke an unearthly feeling of smoothness and flatness in his oceans, beaches and skies. His landscapes are vivid but also dreamlike and calm.
In almost every piece, there is an allusion to cities in both Israel and Illinois, often painted on opposite corners of the canvas. The source of light seems to come from the same sun in each piece, implying that although an enormous distance separates each pair of cities, they remain close together, both basking in the same light.
In “Jaffa Port,” Budovitch depicts the famous Jaffa Clock Tower, built by the Ottomans in Tel Aviv over a century ago. It sits at the center of the piece, dividing ancient Jaffa (where the biblical Jonah set sail) and the modern-day capital of Israel. The tower, marking the intersection between present and past, is built on triangles and sharp, diagonal lines. There is almost a sense of nostalgia in seeing the divide between the two cities. One is only able to get from Jaffa to Tel Aviv (and back) through one’s imagination — or through bending time.
One piece stands out from the rest due to its uncharacteristic use of black and red. It is titled “Snow in Jerusalem,” depicting the winter storm that hit the Middle East in December 2013. A gargantuan, dark purple fish lies in center of the canvas, submerged in the Mediterranean Sea. Its eyes are open, and a clock is embedded in its stomach. The fish is an allusion to the apocalyptic monsters of the Hebrew Bible, which were inspired by violent storms. In the upper right corner of the canvas, a grayish white snowstorm shrouds Jerusalem. As one’s eye travels down the canvas from this city, it encounters a shocking band of red, then the giant, ominous fish and then the city of Chicago, depicted in blue upon a black hill in the lower left. The distance between snow-covered Israel and Chicago is unconquerable. A cat sits in the lower right corner, draped in red with numbers etched onto its back, like a guardian of the two worlds.
A poster board titled “My Time and Place…” hangs on the wall of the exhibit. On it, visitors can write a personal statement. Messages include “Home—always,” “Here&Now,” and “On the wings of the soul—wind.” There are less serious messages like “The church mouse was here,” graced by a sketch of a mouse. Another person wrote a formula reminiscent of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, in which position in space and momentum cannot be measured simultaneously. For some visitors, “My Time and Place” is where they feel happiest; for others, where they presently stand or where they yearn to be.
I remember the distance between Yale and my home in central New Jersey. In comparison to California’s endless sunshine or Thailand’s humidity — which some of my friends return to — New Jersey’s climate is more similar to New Haven’s. The train ride home is only two hours, but the two worlds are separated by something more profound than simply the miles between them. Budovitch’s paintings remind me of the first waves of homesickness I experienced my fall semester of freshman year. Before then, I had never been away from home for more than three weeks. Going home for fall break, I realized how I had become so used to the rhythms of college life, even as they felt distant back at home. Every time I hop on the train at Union Station, it’s almost like passing by the Jaffa Clock Tower and monstrous fish, traveling through a metaphoric ocean to get to a different realm, with more familiar faces, trees and sleep.