Jan Menses

Conceptual Art

Visitors walking through the Artists Quarter of Tzfat sometimes encounter an elderly gentleman sitting in the quarter's main public square, the Ma'ayan HaRadum. The man strolls around the area leisurely, and is always ready to chat with neighbors and passer-byers about the weather, his cat, world politics, or any of a dozen topics as though he has all the time in the world.

Few would guess that this man is Jan Menses, one of the Artist Quarter's most well-known and prolific artists. Jan's personal story is as interesting as his art. Born in Rotterdam in 1933, he lived through the bombing of his city and the subsequent Nazi occupation. After serving in the Dutch army and traveling extensively, Jan ended up in Morocco and decided to convert to Judaism. He married the daughter of a Kabbalistic scholar, and his Orthodox Jewish faith is reflected in his art.

Menses's artistic style is a somber monochromatic one. His drawings, which sometimes evolve into paintings, are organized around concepts - one concept can produce dozens of drawings. The concepts are conceived around Jewish and Kabbalistic themes, and although there are only a half-dozen or so such themes, Menses works on the drawings and paintings for each theme for years, sometimes decades. Three of Menses's best known groupings are "Kaddish" (the Mourner's prayer), "Klippot" (the outer "peel" that Kabbalistics teach needs to be discarded by people who want to let their inner goodness shine), and "Tikkun" (self-correction). However each of these series also connects to a deeper meaning which become evident as the series develop. Kaddish connects to the lost souls of the Holocaust, Klippot is tied to the capacity for evil in man and the passions which can arouse this evil, and Tikkun associates with the theme of Redemption.

Kabbalistic Series

For each series, Menses's changes elements of his style in order to fit the temperament of the subject at hand. For his Kaddish series, Menses's strokes were grand and billowing, yet soft and sweeping, in keeping with the idea of the innocent souls which were lost in the Holocaust. His Klippot series' strokes utilize sharp edges and hard lines, as he explores the idea that each of us struggles with outer layers of unnecessary "baggage" as we try to break through to our inner selves.

Menses's latest series, and the one that he continues to develop till today, is Tikkun, which he translates as "Redemption." Here, he examines the idea of the coming of the Messiah and the ingathering of the Jewish people, which, Jewish tradition teaches, is hastened by charity and good works (each person doing his "tikkun") and symbolized by the rebuilding of the Third Temple. Menses starts his series by developing the concept of the Temple, a conceptualization which expands one drawing after another. The later paintings show the emerging presence of a figure....painting by painting, the figure becomes clearer as the concept of a messiah is envisioned.

Menses continues to work in Tzfat on a part-time basis, and his gallery is open during the summer months - it sits above the Ma'ayan HaRadum square, with Jan Menses sitting outside, pleased to show and explain his exceptional work to all. He can be contacted at [email protected]

Jan Menses: Dutch Kabbalistic Artist


Zefat Zimmers