On the wall of the Slifka Center for Jewish Life there is painting of a man and his computer. The man’s hand is carefully drawn, draped around his neck, while the rest of his body is suggested by broad strokes, a rough but human form. Next to the man is the precisely detailed keyboard of a suggested computer.
The humanity, abstraction and refusal to adhere to strict form of “Man and Computer” can define both the art and the life of its painter, David Gelernter ’76.
Gelernter’s paintings are on display at Slifka in an exhibition called “Recent Works” until March 23. Gelernter, a professor of computer science, professes devotion to both art and science.
“I’m a painter first and a computer scientist second,” Gelernter said. “I went into computing thinking that if I never had to sell a painting I would be free to paint whatever I want.”
The painter has gained national fame for both his work in the field of computer science and his devotion to aesthetics. He has developed a coordinating language for parallel programming and has published several successful books, including “Mirror Worlds” and “The Muse and the Machine,” which delineates his theory on how thinking works.
His work on “Mirror Worlds” is named as one of the reasons that Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, sent him an explosive package in 1993. Gelernter was the 23rd of the Unabomber’s targets. He sustained serious damage to his face, chest and hands.
But Gelernter says that the incident has not affected his painting.
“Painting is always a struggle, from when you are born until when you die,” Gelernter said. “Whatever happens, you could get blown up 30 times. If you’re still alive you will still attempt to put on canvas pictures that you find yourself affected by.”
The work on display at Slifka communicates a lot of aspects of art that Gelernter finds important. Human forms, butterflies, leaves and Hebrew figure largely in his work.
“My work is part of a trend of post-realistic art, a movement since the beginning of the century to figure out what happens after Degas,” Gelernter said. “Artists are getting back to basics – fundamentally people need to see other people.”
The human forms in Gelernter’s work are both rough and evocative, with perfect human curves and posture but without definition and flaws. The Hebrew that appears in the “David” tryptich is from the Bible, and tells the tale of hysterical David as he runs to confront Goliath. Gelernter suggest that his butterflies may reflect upon his respect for Vladimir Nabokov, who flouted tradition by being both a novelist and a scientist in the study of butterflies.
Gelernter also counts Jasper Johns as one of his inspirations, but he ventures far beyond the simple flat subject matter of the famed flag painter. Gelernter’s media include everything from acrylic, pencil, and pastel to gold leaf and window screening.
Slifka Center for Jewish Life
through March 23rd
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