Friday, November 25, 2011

In Memoriam Oscar Wolfman, 1956-2011

We lost one of our best queer artists this week, a man whose vision was as idiosyncratic and unsettling as it was fresh and luminous, whose photography is, as he often said, “too Jewish for most queers, and too queer for most Jews.”


More often than not, Oscar Wolfman’s sexiest nudes are shot through with allusions to the Torah, the Psalms, the Prophets. An aging, muscular man dances naked in a tallis. A young woman in a blue turban and white stole out of Caravaggio prepares to drive a spike through the ear of a man sleeping with his head in her lap, in a scene that tropes the story of Yael and Sisera from the Book of Judges. Human flesh never appears apart from the charge of desire; nor apart from its mutability and mortality. Still lifes gleam with rich, saturated colour, fruit and fabric vibrating against impossibly pure blacks.


Oscar was early on a dancer, a choreographer, later a high-school English teacher, then a university teacher of sociology. He came to photography late in a life that should have gone on for decades more. He was charming, irreverent; unabashedly forward, unselfconscious, and casual in speaking about his own sexual experience and pleasure; shy, introspective, perceptive; a brilliant and generous commentator on the creative work of others; the child of Holocaust survivors; a man who hungered and thirsted after righteousness.

He lived long enough to see the High Holidays this fall; to curate a last solo exhibition of his work at Queen Gallery in Toronto last month; to prepare for his death with the same care, dignity, and grace with which he lived. Those of us who knew him feel the impoverishment of our lives for his absence. Those of us who know his work bless his memory and the Source of his life for what he brought into the world.

Oscar’s photography remains at present on view at his website: www.wolfmanstudio.ca. His biography and further images are at http://queengallery.ca/2010/07/oscar-wolfman/. Photographer Bill Pusztai shares his memories and his own splendid, joyous pictures of Oscar, at http://bitterlawngnome.livejournal.com/820258.html.

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