Pastel on paper
40″ × 30″
This painting depicts the bond between a man named Tony Wilson and a boy named Harrison Gilbert. The inspiration came from witnessing a scene that took place at the synagogue Beth Emunah: Tony was helping with the Torah service, and was carrying the Torah scroll in the procession. As he passed through the aisle, little Harrison reached his arms out to Tony. Tony scooped him up without hesitation and carried him on one side, with the Torah on the other side. I was struck by their appearance together, and asked Tony and Harrison to come pose at my studio. When they arrived, we tried many variations of poses, trying to duplicate what I had seen before. As Harrison began to tire, he relaxed more into Tony’s arms, and began to suck his thumb.
I was amused, because I thought he had outgrown that habit. Still a baby, I thought. And here is Tony, a large black man from the streets of L.A., gently cradling him. Tough, but tender, Tony shows the real strength that a man can have. He is a shepherd; he is a protector of lost sheep. Harrison, in turn, has not known prejudice, and responds to the support given to him. I took the photograph at that moment and knew it would be the basis for the painting.
As I was bringing the painting to completion, I walked in the studio one day and felt they were staring at me. They seemed to be challenging me to something. They seemed to be asking me if I could do what they had done: demonstrate unconditional love. That is how the painting came to be named “The Challenge.”
Over time, through my comparative studies of Judaism and Christianity, this painting came to symbolize more. Tony, with his tallit and kippah, represents Judaism. Harrison represents the Church. Historically, Christianity is still in its infancy, compared to the ancient religion of Judaism. Like Harrison, it is supported by Judaism. Judaism is the very foundation. Like Tony, the Jews are the ones who uphold the Torah; they are the ones who have preserved the integrity of the Hebrew scriptures. It is my understanding that the entire Bible is a Jewish book, including the New Testament. It is all a Torah commentary.