Isaac Witkin

Jacob's Dream

A figurative sculpture in the forest

Isaac Witkin. Jacob's Dream. 1986. Aluminum. 8' 7" x 6' x 32"

Although the sculpture is made out of aluminum, its rounded organic shape and pockmarked surface evoke a bodily presence that in conjunction with the sculpture’s title elicit associations with the dreamscape and fantastical other-worldly creatures. The title also makes reference to the Old Testament story of Jacob, who after a long day of traveling, fell asleep outside on a stone and dreamt of a ladder connecting heaven and earth in the exact location where he slept. According to the biblical story, Jacob recognized the sanctity of the place as a locus for divine communication and as the future site for the foundations of the Holy Temple. The size, surface, and vertical orientation of the sculpture visually invoke a Jacobian ladder set in the landscape, but also invite viewers to imagine the sculpture as an abstracted figure, a dream-creature, and as a cosmic axis aligning natural and spiritual realms.

Witkin, a sculptor who was born and raised in South Africa but trained in London, is best known for his large outdoor sculptures and for experimenting with different materials and methods, including cast bronze, welded steel, stone, and even pouring molten metal into sand molds. Jacob’s Dream reflects the artist’s interest in pushing and exploring the potential of sculptural media like aluminum to take on different characteristics. Instead of engaging with the razor-sharp industrial aesthetic of aluminum, Witkin buffed, shaped and textured the sculpture’s surface to appear more like natural stone, perhaps in reference to Jacob’s stone pillow. Trained by modern masters like Anthony Caro and Henry Moore, Witkin similarly employs the biomorphic and abstract language of 1950s modernism to explore his interest in both physical and psychological landscapes.

Listen to Tamari Witkin Marcus, Isaac Witkin’s daughter, and Brooke Barrie, former director of Grounds for Sculpture, talk about the sculpture and about Witkin’s inspiration and process.