“For, All flesh is like grass, And all its glory thereof like the flower of grass. The grass withereth and the flower falleth; But the word of our Lord remains eternally” (XL, 6-7)

“Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down; he fleeth also like a shadow, and continueth not.” Book of Isaiah

“The man in his cave, deadly alone, inspired by the millenarianism of the stone, creates, day by day and with diligence, some objects, carriers of signs. His destiny seems oppressive to him, indigestible and incomprehensible. He is haunted by the specters of the history. A destiny so difficult to carry, that his breathing is calcified, petrified. From his stolen childhood, the man has been entrusted with a meaningful mission: to reveal the human horror. This duty, knot after knot, is his daily and obsessional fight but has, above all, with perseverance, become the victory of his life.

When he writes his plastic messages, Jacques Braunstein presents a creation set by a multitude of symbols. Nothing from him is shortened because horror is intrinsically complicated. He has to scrub, rip apart, slash his signs from beyond the grave, sometimes until tears of blood flow. It’s the only way to discover the real world of the artist. You cannot settle for watching his work, you have to sip at it because it is a nectar reaching the most sensitive and the truest aspects of the human condition.

Jacques Braunstein gives us so much to see of this often hidden reality that he sends us back to a forgotten condition: humility.

His reflection led him to reinvente the Vanity, this pictorial type illustrating, in a symbolic way, the philosophical theme of the inevitabilty of death, of the fragility of earthly goods and of the futility of pleasures. Using still-life and allegories, even though linked to the christian dogma of the state of grace, this genre has been enlarged by Jacques Braunstein to a religious universalism. The death, seen by the artist is transcended by a heady aesthetic inspired by the invisible and the terror of the Shoah.

Yet, beyond the Shoah, his creation reveals an ancestral subject, appearing ever since the antiquity. The theme of death, the passage of time and the end of all things have admittedly always questionned the man. But above all, this theme has defined the life of Jacques Braunstein who, in his illusions and his imaginary, was part of the dances of death dragging along the whole humanity in their round dances. His spirituality led him to understand what few men know and accept: he had the strength, from a very young age, to contemplate his cadaver in the mirror.

THE CHILD WITH THE BALL, buried in his shroud and the SELFPORTRAIT of the artist with this skull connected to the divine, offer without a doubt, an iconographic repertoire symbolizing indisputably death but also its ally, life and its earthy riches. Wilted flowers, stones crystallizing the destiny of fossils, skeletons and brambles are associated by the artist with jewels of bright colors, with silk fabric and crosses to remind the individual, facing his condition. Situating perfectly the man in the universe, he insists, despite his artist status, on the insignificance of human works, facing the ones of God. He gathers, by the by, modestly, the materials constituting his work even if he wraps them with the symbols of knowledge. The emblems of sciences, arts and mostly religions with a kabbalistic approach are for him those of the human ambition and the books, hebrew and the parchment are transforming to TALISMAN. So Jacques Braunstein asks a question: To know, isn’t it to begin to perish?

The work of the artist does not want yet to give lectures because in accordance with the verses of the Ecclesiaste – VANITAS VANITATUM, ET OMNIA VANITAS – VANITY OF VANITIES, EVERYTHING IS VANITY – and of the book of Job – he assures the remorse making millions of knots which come, from years, to punctuate in a recurrent way his coded work. Looking at his work, between the visible and the palpable, certainly toward heavens of the moral, not the one defined by a XIXth conventionaled and compartmentalized century, but the one, relating to an ethical humanist full of life. His knots are symbol of humility and of the power of God to remind that the artist remains nevertheless a man. With Jacques Braunstein, the genre of the Vanity despite the preciosity of his material is thus not an excuse to the expert representation of lust.
The artist puts himself permanently in the surpassing and the excellence and, to that end, uses of the labor to its extreme until reaching, in his aesthetic, the mystic ecstasy. His knots, day by day, are here to forget and to fit in.

Such as the philosopher and the hermit, making knots per million, he reminds that only studying and meditation enable attaining wisdom. Like the ancients and the hermits, he brings back the man to his condition, who can get knowledge and salvation only with the help of God.

The art historian would like to classify his creation among one of these currents, one of these movements, but the artist is beyond this. He is neither locatable in time nor in space. His CHILD WITH THE BALL can be everyones, without ethnic affiliation. His VIRGINS are at the same time muslim, jewish and christian… Regarding his reflection, it does not belong to a group, it belongs to the universe. A thought that does not embarrass itself with details, but stick to it to become global.

The work of the artist is rare, so much so that he plays subtly with the intellect and the perception, an alliance so difficult to hold and to which Jacques Braunstein found the equality. He shows the real power of death not to frighten but to appreciate every breath, every scream, and all the enjoyments of those given moments. Under first aspects of sadness, the sculptures, paintings and installations of the artist are an explosion of joy.

The Vanity is the pictorial genre to which Jacques Braunstein connects, exhorting the spectator to the rise of his soul. Neglected in the XVIIIth century, this genre comes across a renewed interest from the end of the XIXth century and the beginning of the XXth century with Paul Cézanne, Max Ernst, Paul Klee and Andy Warhol. More than ever necessary to the man, the Vanities of Jacques Braunstein take part in a necessary acceptance to happiness, the one that makes us admit that we are only dust, no more than dirt”.

Art historian
Officer for conservation
May 2005