Dan Rubinstein at work

Dan Rubinstein

ABOUT the artist

The word symbolism inevitably comes to our mind when discussing the life and work of Dan Rubinstein, a man who was able to transform – to sublimate – his bitter fate into creative power. His landscapes, his flowers, his circus scenes and above all, his sketches of musicians at work have been exhibited in New York, Chicago, France, Sweden, London, Germany, not to mention his yearly exhibitions in Gstaad during the Yehudi Menuhin Music Festival. Yet next to these works which express an exuberant joy in life, Rubinstein likes to delve into the realm of symbolism and mysticism as found in the Bible and Kabbalah. One of his first mentors in  this area was the late Prof. Friedrich Weinreb.

Dan Rubinstein is a man of deep faith, but not in the narrow confessional sense. In his biblical subjects, symbolically binding the earthly with the transcendental, we perceive the thought that this world is an indissoluble unit of spirit and matter, both intertwined and complement each other, just as the individual is the sum of all human qualities.

Glass, so it seemed to Dan, is the materialisation of this spirit and matter symbiosis, since glass is material, and yet transparent, allowing one to “see through”. In the year 1994 he created his stained-glass windows for a maternity hospital in Jerusalem, a 30 sq.mt. Symphony of colour dedicated to the book of Genesis, a work which was documented by the Swiss TV and published by edition eden under the title Genesis. In 2002 he created 15 stained-glass windows for the  St. Verena Catholic Church in Stäfa near Zurich, representing biblical scenes and concepts of mercy and law, also documented in the book Von Gnade und Recht will ich singen , also by edition eden. In 2014 he created twelve stained-glass windows on the Twelve Tribes, for a Synagogue in Israel. 

Happy occasions call for happy memorabilia. In Jewish life this begins with the wedding, which includes a marriage contract (Ketubah); then comes the Bar-Mitzvah for boys, or Bat-Mitzvah for girls which reflects a “coming of age”. These documents have a set text, but may be illustrated, something Dan particularly enjoys doing, illustrating the weekly portions of the occasion.  His lectures on the symbolic intricacies of his work is a memorable experience.

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But things were not always so. Dan Rubinstein was born in Israel  in1940 to holocaust refugee parents from Germany who had to make do with whatever job they could find. At the age of 11 he fell ill. No treatment helped, and he woke up one morning to the shocking realisation that he is no longer master of his limbs. At the age of 17 he happened to come across a book of Maimonides, scholar, philosopher and physician of renown in the 12th century. This moment became the turning point in his life. He understood that he needed to find some place specialising in natural healing – something unknown then in Israel. Thanks to the initiative of a friend things began to roll. Helping hands led the way to Zurich, to the then famous Bircher-Benner Clinic. After a year of intensive treatment began a period of recovery and a goal to aim at. While still bedridden somebody brought him a present: a box of colour pencils and a block of drawing paper. He drew the vase with flowers on his small table, the shoes he could not wear. Eventually he was presented with water-colours. Every spare moment was dedicated to drawing. Thus began his artistic evolution. Thus was born the artist, thinker, seeker and philosopher.

It took a whole year for Dan to feel healthy and strong and able to confront life with a stiff, unable-to bend body. This requires an iron-bending strong will. Yet the day came when he was able to walk, first  with the aid of crutches, later with a walking stick.

On one occasion he needed his passport and could not find it. After a thorough search, he decided to go to the Lost and Found Bureau in town, with no results. He left this Bureau feeling quite despondent  and noticing an Art Gallery across the road decided to go in and take a look. After a few moments he realised he would be late to lunch at the clinic and made to leave. The Gallerist asked why the hurry and Dan explained. Mr Bollag, the Gallerist, offered to drive him there. In answer to Mr Bollag’s question, Dan said he paints in his spare time. “May I take a look?” asked the Gallerist.

After looking through the several paintings, Mr Bollag asked to take three to his gallery. When shortly after he phoned and announced the paintings had been sold, Dan saw the gates opening to a new life. In the meantime, Dan had found his passport on a shelf in his wardrobe, but, in a true case of serendipity, he discovered his artistic future. He decided to dedicate himself seriously to art and attended courses on lithography and etching techniques, at which he became a true master.  Presently he is engaged in a project to illustrate the book of Psalms.

Looking back at the time before his fateful discovery of Maimonides- a time when all his friends were serving in the army while he was fighting his private war with ill-health – he recalls having a job as a bank clerk. From that point of view his future looked grey and dreary: a lowly employee crippled with pain and getting nowhere. Picking up the challenge of a drastic change – the long fast, taking the path of nature-healing and, above all, his inflexible will to overcome all impediments – opened the gates to a life of creation and self empowerment.   Dan Rubinstein is married, has two children and a granddaughter.