Facing Survival | David Kassan

by Matthew Innis |


The USC Fisher Museum of Art and USC Shoah Foundation proudly present “Facing Survival | David Kassan,” an exhibition featuring paintings and drawings of more than two dozen Holocaust survivors, opening September 18, 2019, at the Fisher Museum of Art supported by the Kenneth T. & Eileen L. Norris Foundation. The collaboration advances USC Shoah Foundation’s Stronger Than Hate initiative to build a proactive, effective, actionable response to the growth and proliferation of antisemitism, racism and other forms of identity-based hatred worldwide.



In preparation for painting their portraits, artist David Kassan filmed his subjects’ testimonies, getting to know them deeply. His intimate understanding of his subjects and of their unique histories enables him to convey a sense of their experiences during the Holocaust as much as it does their individual appearances now: The visceral, lifelike imagery captures each person’s spirit, pain and dignity. Kassan’s paintings become a form of testimony in their own right, revealing the luminous visage of resilience, the complex nature of survival and a contemporaneous reflection of their lives in the aftermath of genocidal violence.



To extend the exploration of testimony and its multiple forms, the exhibition will also feature USC ShoahFoundation’s interactive biography “Dimensions in Testimony.” Through this cutting-edge interactive display, visitors to the exhibition will be able to ask questions of some of the subjects in the paintings and hear their pre-recorded responses, giving firsthand accounts of their experiences. The exhibition will further illuminate Kassan’s process by featuring the sketches he made as he progressed to the final paintings. An in-depth catalogue will also accompany the exhibition.



“ ‘Facing Survival | David Kassan’ joins distinct but related forms of testimony together,” said Selma Holo, Director of USC Fisher Museum. “Through the art of David Kassan, we are bringing to the forefront a body of testimony that extends beyond the verbal, the written, to communicate in a purely visual language. This testimony, crafted from Kassan’s remarkable representational art, will leave an indelible mark on all who view it. Facing Survival is, above all, an attempt to defy generalization about the horror of the Holocaust, to venture beyond the incomprehensible and ungraspable number of murdered—six million—and to powerfully feel, through individual portraiture, the reality of each single soul and the miracle of his or her continued existence.”



Bradley K. Norris, a trustee of the Kenneth T. And Eileen L. Norris Foundation, said he was honored to help bring the project to fruition.“This is an important work that showcases not only David’s artistic commitment to his subjects, but the survivors’ commitment to ensuring their stories are never forgotten,” he said.



Born in 1977 in Little Rock, Arkansas, David Jon Kassan is an internationally recognized contemporaryAmerican painter, best known for his life-size representational paintings, which combine figurative subjects with symbolic textured abstract backgrounds. A form of social documentary, David’s paintings are often described as raw, poignant and profoundly honest, capturing humanity in its true form. As an artist, Kassan acts as an empathetic intermediary between the subject he portrays and the viewer. More than simply replicating his subjects Kassan seeks to understand them. He seeks to capture the essence of those he paints, imbuing them with their own voice.



David is a lauded realist painter who brings “Facing Survival” to USC Fisher Museum of Art following hisresidency with the museum and USC Shoah Foundation in 2018. Kassan’s works can be seen in many public and private collections worldwide. He is represented by Gallery Henoch (Chelsea), New York, NY and The Maxwell Alexander Gallery, Los Angeles. Kassan lives and works in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Brooklyn, NYC. His art has been exhibited at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, The National Portrait Gallery in London, The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, among others.



    Excellent article. Outstanding artwork!

    Mary Jane Q

    David, I see paintings with deep,sustaining breath. Some figures, when their air has a particular oxygen richness, make me simply not want to exhale. Well done.

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