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Hope after catastrophe: The Art of Dante Elsner

14 June 2021 8:00 pm

Online Event

Artist potter and painter, Dante Elsner (1920-1997), escaped the rounding up of Jews in Poland during the war years, and survived by hiding in the forest after his family were murdered in two different death camps. After the war, on the point of suicide in Paris, he came across Rembrandt’s portrait of Hendrickje Stoffels in the Louvre. He later said that this painting saved his life: he saw the love with which Rembrandt had painted this woman, and it convinced him that there was a reason to fight to live.

He devoted the rest of his life to painting and to studio pottery, in Paris (1948-58) and in London (1958-1997). Inspired by the teachings of George Gurdjieff, aspects of Sufism, Jewish mysticism and Zen Buddhism, Dante developed an art practice involving a series of daily meditations and spiritual exercises, and a life philosophy that offered an alternative to despair. Always mistrustful of authorities and institutions – as he learned in the forest that to trust anyone was to end up dead – he did not exhibit his work. It has remained, despite recent efforts by the Elsner family, largely unknown, kept in two sheds near their family home in Oxford.

The talk will be given by Dante’s granddaughter, Maia Elsner, whose debut poetry collection, overrun by wild boars (forthcoming with flipped eye in July 2021) explores the nature of intergenerational memory in the context of trauma, and gestures towards healing through the possibilities of hope.

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