Disparities between what makes a person good or bad may be easily identifiable on the outside, but that’s not always the case on the inside — just peek at some of Jim Kendall’s artworks, and the complexities are visible.
Kendall returns to his native Philadelphia from France to premiere his art exhibition. But it is a more significant homecoming as his work will be shown at Beth David Reform Congregation — where Kendall grew up.
His “Beinoni Series” opens Sept. 8, which includes a preview reception, and will remain on display until Oct. 7.
The exhibit will feature six 7-foot-tall inkwork paintings and drawings in the chapel, which he created specifically for the space.
“The idea is that you can see it from across the room,” he said. On a closer look, positive and negative spaces — good versus bad — are like puzzle pieces. Negative sections float about elsewhere on the canvas, though their sizes don’t completely fit the positive space.
Other selections of his work from his 30-year career, ranging from sculptures to textured paintings to stained glass — of which Kendall was awarded a commission by the city of Chartres, known for its stained glass art — will be on display in the social hall.
Kendall become a Bar Mitzvah and confirmed at Beth David, back when the building was located in Wynnefield as opposed to its current Gladwyne location.
Returning home to Beth David is another opportunity for Kendall, as he only gets a couple times a year to visit the area since moving just outside Paris more than 20 years ago.
“I don’t make it in for the High Holidays,” he laughed. But the showcase in his childhood synagogue gives meaning to his roots.
The large drawings all relate on the theme of the beinoni, which Kendall explained refers to “someone who is neither classified as good or bad, but does the good thing because they know it’s the right thing.”
The theme of righteousness flows throughout his pieces, which appeals to Kendall on a human level.
The love of study in Judaism, paired with the concept of constantly questioning, intrigued Kendall, as did beinoni.
“Externally, the actions of a righteous person and a beinoni are exactly the same,” he noted, because the differences come from within. “You never know what someone’s inner world is like.”
For the showcase, his ambitions are simple: “It’s about communicating humanity.”
Though humanity is integral, he’s still unsure where his inspiration directly comes from — as long as it has some personal effect on him, he’s happy.
“I certainly try not to go down this hole of guilt and inner turmoil,” he explained. “The idea that I express is to confront these issues and still enjoy life and have a good time. It doesn’t need to be dark and depressing when you’re confronting these complex and very important issues; this idea of it’s not frivolous to have fun.”
His wife, Emmanuelle, is also an artist, who originally prompted the move to France.
“I didn’t know much about France or the language much, but I met her in New York. She was an art student. Things started really well with us and continued really well with us,” he smiled. His two adult children have dual nationalities.
Kendall acknowledged Henry Cohen, the Beth David rabbi during his youth, who taught him the importance of Jewish study, which continues to impact his creativity.
He remembered Cohen told a story at his 1976 Bar Mitzvah — of a moment in the classroom when Kendall was being a bit of a smart aleck.
“He said, ‘What is the definition of childhood?’ And Jimmy — I was called Jimmy — said, ‘Oh, that’s when you run around the house yelling mommy, mommy, mommy,’” he quipped in a high-pitched tone.
The rabbi humored him: “So what’s the definition of adulthood?”
“I said, ‘That’s when you run around the house saying mommy, mommy, mommy,’” he bellowed in a deep voice.
Pre-teen jokes aside, the takeaway still holds true.
“Human needs are constant and we need each other,” he said. “You need your mom or we need each other, we need the community. I didn’t realize [at the time] I was walking into some real content.”
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