Hugo Muñoz Portrait of James, ink on paper


James’s artistic life and the itinerant way he lives day to day have been acutely shaped by his Old Testament/Pentecostal upbringing. Indifferent to his place in the material world, he feels most at home living outdoors pursuing his spiritual concerns.

His works of art are the "props" of a performance artist. Many of his canvases become part of an outdoor show and are sold to passersby for cash, often before the paint is even dry. On other occasions, as with this project, James becomes profoundly engrossed in his creative process.

Tapping into James’s religiosity, filmmaker Jacobsohn commissioned him to create a series of paintings of New York synagogues as a tribute to the vibrant history of the city’s Jewish houses of worship. The painter enthusiastically took on the assignment and created an inspiring collection of canvases. Three examples follow:

The Rabbi is portrayed in front of a former tenement building converted into a Satmar synagogue. This sect of Hassidic Jews have established an enclave in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They are Yiddish speakers who still wear 19th-century Hungarian garb. They once again are flourishing in Williamsburg, having barely survived the Holocaust.

Temple Emanu-El was the first Reform Jewish congregation in New York City. Reform Judaism, also known a Liberal Judaism, is a major denomination. The landmark Romanesque Revival building on Fifth Avenue is one of the largest in the world. Emanu-El means "God is with you."

Eldridge Street Synagogue opened in 1887 and is a marvel of Moorish Revival architecture. For 50 years it flourished; then membership declined as congregants moved away from the Lower East Side. Over time, with few participants remaining, the structure fell into disrepair. In 2007, through an expenditure of 20 million dollars, the synagogue was returned to its former grandeur.

Garland The Rabbi, oil on canvas
Garland Temple Emanu-El, oil
Garland Eldrige St. Synagouge , oil

In 2015 Garland was the subject of Imaginary Distance, Jacobsohn’s documentary, which explores the artist's struggle and triumph. Find out more:

Contact Michael Jacobsohn