At age 102, Harry Lieberman is still pursuing an active career as an artist, which began latently when a young attendant at a Senior Citizen's Center suggested he join an art class. He was then 80; he had retired from business five years before.
"I wouldn't even know how to hold a brush," he told her.
"Try it, you might like it," she urged.
His first encounter with paints and canvas filled Lieberman with enthusiasm such as he had not experienced for some time. Uninformed about art, untrained, he drew his subjects from what he knew best: a background of traditional Judaic religion and folk legends recalled from childhood. The fact that he had never drawn the human form proved an asset. The work retained an almost childlike freshness which caused one reviewer to speak of him as a "Chagall with a primitive eye."
Lieberman's only training was a 10 week course with Larry Rivers at an Adult Program at the Great Neck Public Schools. The instructor seemed to be ignoring the older painter. When the puzzled Lieberman asked him why, Rivers answered that he could not do what Lieberman was doing. "How can I correct you?" he asked. He was one of the first to buy a Lieberman canvas.
Within five years the novice had blossomed into a full-fledged artist, with a successful first one-man exhibit behind him. Several museums now house his paintings in their permanent collections. Since his modest beginning he has survived more than twenty-two solo showings.
In "Open The Gates of Heaven," he depicts Jews celebrating their New Year, Rosh Hashanah. Soldiers are shown on the rooftops, prepared to attack those underneath. The Rabbi closes the temple doors and tells the congregation to pray for "The Gates of Heaven" to open for them.
Reproduced here in black and white one is aware of the artist's natural feeling for design. But it can give no inkling of the brilliance of his palette.Clear cerulean skies, bright green and yellow trees, accents of gold and pink and bold strokes of red on the consistently white uniforms of the soldiers, are united with strong details of black. The jewel tones of his color accents vibrate against the many small areas of white.
"Go, do!"m has been Lieberman's credo. "You have to believe in yourself.If I wouldn't believe in myself, I wouldn't be an artists.Not, anyway, starting at 80 , knowing nothing."
At a 1978 exhibit of his work, Lieberman told opening night viewers: "I don't call myself 101 years old. I call myself 101 years mature."