Abraham’s Wagon…The Stable in Cairo

Now in his ninth decade, the artist Irving Petlin was born in Chicago in 1934 to parents from Eastern Europe and raised in the Wicker Park neighborhood.

Irving Petlin

In Petlin’s body of work he returns again and again to certain resonant objects and figures, recalled or imagined, in order to see them again from new perspectives and discover alternate meanings. One such recurring figure is his grandfather, Abraham, for whom the series Abraham’s Wagon is named. In these works Petlin revisits the experience of accompanying his immigrant grandfather in a horse-drawn wagon as he made his rounds to deliver ice and coal to Chicago’s West Side. For the artist, his grandfather was a symbol of a vanishing way of life, and also of the vanished world of European Jewry to which his dozens of murdered relatives belonged.
The second part of the title—The Stable in Cairo—refers to the artist’s travels in Egypt while serving as a visiting artist at Haifa University. His many short trips to Luxor, Cairo, the Sinai, and Jerusalem become the catalyst for an entire series of paintings entitled Israel in Egypt.

  • Battle of the Philippine Sea

    Irving Petlin

    oil on canvas, 1958
    The Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 19–20, 1944) was a decisive naval battle of World War II and the largest carrier-to-carrier battle in history. It took place during the United States' amphibious invasion of the Mariana Islands and was nicknamed “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot" by American pilots on account of the heavy losses inflicted upon the Japanese. Over the course of the battle the Imperial Japanese Navy lost three carriers, more than 433 carrier aircraft, and around 200 land-based aircraft. This artwork can perhaps be best understood through the lens of Petlin’s anti-war activism, a commitment that has spanned his entire career.

  • The Secret Fluid of Dusk

    Irving Petlin

    pastel on paper, 1991
    Petlin is considered a master of the pastel medium. He explains his affinity for pastel as connected to his interest in excavating memory: “Sticks of pastel are the powders of the earth compressed. The colors are the colors of the ancient world delivered into our time.” Technically, the pastel lends itself to both fine line and radiant atmospheric color. It offers a quick and spontaneous way to “scout” out subject matter for large-scale oil paintings and is particularly well suited to his summer visits to Massachusetts. The pastel, he says, “is more beautiful than a painting in many ways.”

Name: Abraham’s Wagon…The Stable in Cairo
Artist: Irving Petlin
Origin: USA, 1989
Medium: Oil on Canvas, Painting
Dimensions: 84 x 95 in.
Credit: Museum Purchase from Herman Spertus Acquisition Fund
Catalog Number: 94.22
Asher LibraryIrving Petlin le monde de Paul Celan : [exposition], Galerie Jan Krugier, Ditesheim & Cie, [Genève, 18 avril-28 juin 2002]

Irving Petlin (Genève : Galerie Jan Krugier, Ditesheim & Cie, cop. 2002)

Asher LibraryIrving Petlin "1999, mémoire du voyage, voyage de la mémoire."

(Paris : Galerie Thessa Herold, 1999)

Asher LibraryIrving Petlin : le monde d’Edmond Jabès.

Irving Petlin ([Genève] : Galerie Jan Krugier, Ditesheim & cie, Krugier-Ditesheim Art Contemporain, [1997?])