|A Gift to Biro-Bidjan:
From Despair to New Hope
Alex Topchevsky (1911–1999)
Exodus from Germany
from the portfolio A Gift
to Biro-Bidjan, 1937 Woodcut, 9 15/16 x 7 7/8 in.
|Alex Topchevsky (later known
as Alex Topp) was born in Chicago and studied at Hull House under the instruction
of his brother Morris Topchevsky and Enella Benedict. He earned his M.F.A.
from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and his education degree
from Loyola University in Chicago.
He traveled and painted in
Mexico, Central America and Europe. His works were exhibited at Art Institute
of Chicago and the Brooklyn Museum in New York, and they are included in
the collections of the Smithsonian Institute and the Library of Congress
in Washington, D.C.
Exodus from Germany is the only image in the portfolio that directly portrays a specific political theme. Topchevsky was reacting to the historical events that were occurring in Nazi Germany. From 1933 to 1937, German Jews were gradually stripped of their rights and were under increasing legal and social restrictions. The artist’s image suggests a solution of evacuating from the hostile country and moving to a safe homeland. In the context of the portfolio, one of the optional destinies is the Jewish autonomous region, Biro-Bidjan.
Topchevsky constructed a striking composition in Exodus from Germany. He used an explosive perspective where the escapees, carrying a pitchfork, a violin or a book, move in a procession between two geometric symbols: the Nazi swastika and the illuminated, round shape of a sack carried by one of them.
A circular object like a sack being carried by a human figure symbolizes the poor, the homeless and the refugee, or as used by the expressionist artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944), the wanderer. Aaron Bohrod in West Side, used this symbol in dual meanings – as a victim of the Great Depression in Chicago or as the Jew who lacks a homeland.
Topchevsky employs the woodcut technique of white silhouette to intensify the drama. In the darkness, a flame emerges from the swastika, spreads into the circular element and turns it into a glowing object like the rising sun, symbolizing new hope.
Q, ca. 1930s,
Oil on board, 20 x 24 in., private Collection.
|Alex Topchevsky's printing press, ca. 1930s|