"During his prolific and magisterial career, the Jewish artist Samuel Bak has drawn profoundly on his experience as a Holocaust survivor to assess the damage done by that catastrophe and to weigh how best to live in what Gary A. Phillips aptly calls 'the atrocity universe.' Brilliantly interpreted by Phillips, the paintings cataloged in Just Is are emblematic of Bak’s challenging struggle with that dilemma."—John K. Roth, author and Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Claremont McKenna College
"Samuel Bak’s Just Is paintings offer dramatic visual insight into one of the essential dilemmas of our time: how to reconcile mankind’s hope for a better future with the spectacle of a ruined culture and its people that continues to cast its shadow over us from the past. The images in these works measure the cries for justice against a damaged reality that just was, Just Is, and just will be, challenging our efforts to restore moral and spiritual equilibrium to a physically shattered world."—Lawrence L. Langer, Holocaust literature scholar and Professor of English Emeritus, Simmons College
"Like the inexorable visions of Dante and Milton, Samuel Bak’s uncontainable cascades of unparalleled images plumb the deeps of the moral imagination. A deluge of genius, they are more than merely rending; they are silencing. They catch at the throat and strangle, they burn with history’s meaning, they strike hard against metaphysical ease. To gaze at Bak’s art is to learn to see and to feel and to know."—Cynthia Ozick, critic and author of Critics, Monsters, Fanatics, and Other Literary Essays
In this series of paintings and drawings, Lady Just Is appears in varying conditions, poses, and garbs juxtaposed with familiar biblical and secular symbols of covenant in states of ruination: faded and cobbled rainbows, disintegrating Mosaic tablets of law, unblinking and stony eyes, sagging and unkempt blindfolds, defunct and imbalanced scales. Presiding over a landscape of devastation, these images are a graphic reminder of the precariousness of justice, and how justice loses its agency when it turns a blind eye to, or even becomes actively complicit in, the worst injustices. But they are also a hopeful contravention against the emotional and
physical wreckage, a reminder that the restoration of the world, tikkun olam, is possible through the gathering and reassembly of the shards. Lady Just Is, shown to us through the hand of the artist, seeks to engage
the viewer in a new moral law that stands squarely amid, not above or removed from, the destruction.
Samuel Bak has had numerous exhibitions in major museums, galleries, and universities throughout Europe, Israel, and the United States. Since 1993, he has resided with his wife, Josée, in the Boston area. Bak has been the subject of numerous articles, scholarly works, and books, including Between Worlds. He was
the recipient of the 2002 German Herkomer Cultural Prize.
Gary A. Phillips is the Edgar H. Evans Professor of Religion and Dean of the College Emeritus at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He has published numerous edited and coedited volumes, including Icon of Loss: The Haunting Child of Samuel Bak with Danna Nolan Fewell.
Distributed for Pucker Art Publications
8.5 x 11, 136 pages