views updated


MARYAN (pseudonym of Pinchas Burstein ; 1927–1977), U.S. painter. Born in Nowy-Sacz, Galicia, Poland, the artist was deported at the age of 12 to concentration camps, including Auschwitz. All of his family perished in the camps. Maryan survived but with one leg amputated. He spent three years in German displaced persons camps, working as a stage designer for detainee-organized Jewish drama groups. In 1948 he immigrated to Israel, studying art for a short period at the New Bezalel School of Art, Jerusalem. In 1950, he traveled to Paris and attended the École des Beaux-Arts, where he studied lithography. In Paris, he was briefly affiliated with the CoBra group, as well as the artists of the École de Paris. Paris also exposed Maryan to the influence of such artists as Pierre Soulages, Victor Brauner, and Jean Dubuffet. Maryan relocated to New York in 1962, where he became a successful artist and illustrator. He attained American citizenship in 1969, further changing his name from Maryan to Maryan S. Maryan. The artist's unsettling compositions, what he termed "truth-paintings," depict traumatized, ravaged, and distorted figures posed frontally in a shallow space, references in part to Maryan's recollections of the Holocaust. In the 1950s, Maryan composed Jewish figures with prayer shawls and phylacteries. Later, these religious adornments are abstracted, contributing to the striped bloated appendages characteristic of so much of Maryan's mature compositions; they also recall the striped garb of concentration camp prisoners. Many of Maryan's figures are bound, twisted, and penetrated, with mouths agape, genitals sometimes visible in a show of both exhibitionism and terrible vulnerability. His figures exude all manner of bodily fluids from every orifice, often in large, stylized drops. Beginning in the 1960s, Maryan titled his biomorphic figures "Personages" in reference to their theatrical aspects. Many of these compositions reference the Holocaust directly: for example, his 1962 painting Personage depicts a mocking Nazi stormtrooper tinted a garish yellow. This figure mockingly challenges the viewer at some ominous game, suggested by the blood-red chess pieces positioned at the end of a tilting table. The artist continued the motif of the Nazi soldier in many works in 1962–63, repeating an iconography of hat, armband, and repugnant facial features. Maryan's "Personages" often bear some sort of insignia or suggestions of military authority. However, the artist unmoors these singular, isolated figures from any narrative content, mocking their authority, and depicting them as impotent and ridiculous. Maryan subverts the distinction between torturer and sufferer, master and servant, self and other, often combining these players into a single figure. Maryan made a film in 1975 entitled Ecce Homo. In addition to stock images of famous persons ranging from Pope Pius xii to Moshe Dayan and Jesus, the film featured a series of Maryan's drawings, and the artist himself in various costumes relating his memories of the concentration camps. He illustrated Kafka's The Trial in a 1953 edition, Golem (1959), and La Ménagerie Humaine (1961). In 1956, the French government commissioned him to design a tapestry for the Monument to the Unknown Jewish Martyr in Paris. His work influenced Philip Guston and Peter Saul. From 1949, Maryan had numerous solo shows in such cities as Jerusalem, Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, New York, and Chicago. His art is represented in museums around the world, including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Musée national d'Art Moderne, Paris; Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Vien, Vienna; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the National Museum of Modern Art, Washington, d.c.; the Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin; and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.


Z. Amishai-Maisels, Depiction and Interpretation: The Influence of the Holocaust on the Visual Arts (1993); Maryan (19271977): Personnages, from the Napoleon Series, Nov. 14–Dec. 22, 1990, Claude Bernard Gallery (1990); J.M. Wasilik, Maryan: Beholda Man and His Work (1996).

[Nancy Buchwald (2nd ed.)]

About this article


Updated About content Print Article