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THE TWELVE PLAGUES / Gerald Shapiro WHEN THE PHONE RANG, Rosenthal was kicking a canvas to shreds Ui the middle of his studio. He'd already thrown a can of wet brushes against the far wall and had kicked a tray of paint across the room, leaving an attractive boat-shaped smear ofburnt sienna sailing along the whitewashed floorboards. The place should have been condemned, and so should Rosenthal: trapped inside another night of failure Ui a season of failure, locked Ui a listless, drifting orbit around a failing sun. "Kenneth Rosenthal?" the woman's voice asked him. "That's me," he panted into the receiver, still frenzied from his exertions . He wiped a damp hand across his brow. "Kenneth Rosenthal, the painter?" "The one and only," he muttered. "Who's this?" "Naomi Glick is my name. I hope this isn't an awkward moment. Tm calling on behalf of the Rivka Hirschorn Kissner Foundation in New York City. Perhaps you'veheard ofus? We're devoted to supporting the work of unknown visual artists who are of interest and significance to the AmericanJew," the woman said. Her voice was portentous, as if she were reciting something etched on tablets of stone. "I am very pleased to inform you, Mr. Rosenthal, that you are this year's winner of the Rivka Hirschorn Kissner Prize. My heartfelt congratulations." The Who? The What? But she'd said the word "prize." He stood with the phone pressed to his head, chilling his ear like an ice pack. "I'm one of several judges," Naomi Glick continued. "We comb the length and breadth of this country, Mr. Rosenthal—the Judaic highways and byways, artistically speaking. We receive sUdes from scores of exhibitions at reputable galleries around the United States. We're tireless in our pursuit of new Jewish visual artists. We take this work seriously. Some years no one is deemed worthy, and in those years we decline to award the Kissner Prize to anyone. Our standards are high. Your series of paintings, The Twelve Plagues, recently came to my attention , and it took my breath away." "The Twelve Plagues'. How'd you hear about them?" "The slides arrived in the mail last month. We received them from— let's see, I have it right here—the Umpqua Valley Arts and Crafts Festival, Roseburg, Oregon. Roseburg—is that by any chance a Jewish name?" The Missouri Review · 23 "I don't think so, Mrs. Glick." "Call me Naomi, Kenneth—please. Such insufferable paintings, these Twelve Plagues of yours," she purred. "Obnoxious in the very deepest sense of the word, like a set of precocious eight-year-old boys yammering away. I should know. My son Max is eight years old, and someday soon I may kill him." "Oh. Well." He hesitated. "Does that mean you Uked them?" "Positively haunted. AU that slashing, the paint knifed onto the canvas as though it were trying to burrow through to the other side! AU those reds and oranges and blacks saying to themselves, what in the name of God are we doing Ui these paintings? How can we get out of here? AU that energy flaming up toward heaven, like it couldn't wait to get out of the frame! I adored them, Kenneth. They're what Jewish art is all about." Rosenthal remembered the exhilarating, frightening experience of painting them, how they'd come to him like a bundle of gifts—no, like a string of anonymous letter-bombs in the mail—all twelve of them done in a week and a half of hysteria, a series of seizures a year ago, his last sustained and successful creative burst before something vital inside him dried up and blew away. Since then he'd wandered around his studio in a daze, an orphan Ui the wilderness. "You don't know—you can't possibly know—what this means to me," he said into the receiver, and then he paused. He had no idea of what to say next; he'd never won anything before, in twenty years of labor at the easel. He'd entered one competition after another, submitted slides to foundations, shown his work in art festivals...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 23-39
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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