Harold Rubin

Names: Rubin, Harold

Born: 13 May 1932, Johannesburg, South Africa

In summary: South African artist, teacher, jazz musician and architect

Harold Rubin was born in Johannesburg on 13 May 1932. He was educated at Jeppe High School in Johannesburg and studied drawing and painting privately with Roza van Gelderen, Douglas Portway and Herman Wald. At the age of 16, he started studying clarinet with Louis Nicholaeff, who was a pupil of composition and theory with Rimsky Korsakoff, at the Leningrad Conservatory.

After school he studied Architecture at the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg. He furthered his studies in architecture at the Architectural Association (A.A.) London.

Rubin began writing his own music in the 1950s, and formed his own quartet. The quartet snuck into the black township, Sophiatown, and made music with saxophonist Kippy Moeketsi and trombonist Jonas Gwangwa at the Odin Cinema on Sundays. Kippy and Harold became friends and learned from each other, as they listened to music and played instruments together.

Figure 2: 1962, epilogue, communion. Source: art-archives-southafrica.ch

In 1957, Rubin married Riva Wainer and they had two sons, Adam and Ezra. By this time Rubin was already an established artist, and had held five solo shows between 1956 and 1962. In his artwork he addressed socio-political issues. In 1961 he published a series of drawings titles ‘Sharpeville’, as a comment on the Sharpeville incident of the previous year.

His last solo exhibition in South Africa showcased his series of drawing titled ‘The Beast and the Burden’ (figure 1 and 2). Unfortunately the importance of the exhibition was obscured by a court case. In 1962, Rubin participated in a closed competition on religious art in which he submitted the artwork ‘My Jesus’. This led to a charge of blasphemy by the authorities. He was acquitted following a five-week trial after which he immigrated to Israel in 1963.

In Israel, Rubin stopped playing music and began work as an artist and architect. He worked as a designer at Arieh and Eldar Sharon’s architecture firm, and was in charge of a project in Nigeria, at the Ife University, and travelled very often.

Figure 3: From Isreali War series. Source: art-archives-southafrica.ch

It was during his travels to Nigeria in 1973 that he met Miriam Kainy. They fell in love and moved in together with Miriam's 2 daughters, Yasmine and Shunit, the following year. They married in 1976 following both of their divorces in 1975. They had a daughter, Abigail, in 1980.

Harold taught life-drawing at the Bezalel Art Academy from 1979 until 1982. It was also in 1979 when he resumed playing the clarinet.

In 1986, he resigned from architecture to devote all his time to art, and successfully accomplished his goal to exhibit his work in Europe, England and the USA. While in Isreal, he produced a series called the ‘Isreali War’ (figure 3). These artworks offer highly stylized modernistic figures in contorted poses, presumably symbolic of the anguish and pain of war.

Figure 4: More recent artwork. Mona Lisa, 2001. Source: artnews.org.

Since 1979, Rubin has exhibited a few times at South Africa’s Goodman Gallery. The latest exhibition in 2007, entitled Diary Pages, was accompanied by a one-hour documentary that was partially filmed on the exhibition. The film, entitled “A Magnificent Failure”, tells the story of Harold Rubin's life and work.

The quote below, from the Goodman Gallery, describes this documentary:

‘After more than 4 decades of artistic creation in Israel, the film follows Harold Rubin back to Johannesburg, the wellspring of his art. This is where he grew up as a man and artist; where sneaked into Sophiatown to play Jazz with the best, printed the Sharpeville drawings, and was finally put on trial for an anti-establishment work called My Jesus. In a strange twist of events, this trial pushed Rubin out of South Africa and into Israel. The film’s director is Rubin's step-daughter, Yasmine Kainy, an Israeli film-maker who grew up on his stories of Johannesburg of the early 1960's’.

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