Entering “Rend” at Michael Weil’s Foothill Galleries. PHOTO | Michael Weil

Grieving father creates exhibit at Cleveland Heights gallery as eulogy for son, best friend

By Carlo Wolff

Photos of Masada, left, and the Grand Canyon bracket Michael Weil at his Foothill Galleries. PHOTO | Carlo Wolff

Photos of Masada, left, and the Grand Canyon bracket Michael Weil at his Foothill Galleries. PHOTO | Carlo Wolff

There is damage. There is numbness, shock. There are wounds that tell you you’re alive, that even keep you alive. And there are wounds that cannot heal, grief so deep it becomes a thirst that cannot be slaked.

Then, too, there is tranquility, in an image so beautiful it hurts, like “Beyond All Hymns, Praises and Consolations,” a photograph Michael Weil took of his son, Josh, on a lake in the Adirondacks. It’s almost gauzy, its core an impression of Josh in his canoe fading into the dawn mist. Josh is actually on his way into the deepest recesses of his family’s heart.

“Beyond All Hymns, Praises and Consolations” PHOTO | Michael Weil

“Beyond All Hymns, Praises and Consolations” PHOTO | Michael Weil

Josh Weil and his friend, Alexander Doody, were killed in an automobile crash May 14, 2015. They were seniors at Hawken School in Chester Township. A benefit in their memory is planned for May 28 at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica in Cleveland. All proceeds from the event, set for 4 to 11 p.m., will go to the Catch Meaning Fund at the Cleveland Foundation.

Michael Weil, his wife, Meredith, and Sam, their other son, came up with the notion of “catch meaning” to emphasize the importance of squeezing all the juice out of every living moment, as Josh did.

“The meaning of (my) life is to help others find the meaning of theirs,” Weil said, citing Viktor Frankl, author of “Man’s Search for Meaning,” a book in which Josh was interested.

For now, there’s “Rend,” Weil’s memorial to his youngest boy.

An adjunct professor at the Cleveland Institute of Art, Weil has been taking photographs for years. His tools are a Canon with Leica lenses. His pictures in “Rend” have heft — literally. Because they’re printed on cloth, they’re three-dimensional.

Little did Weil know his public debut would be a eulogy for Josh and Alex, his best friend.

“Beyond” is one of 18 images Weil assembled for his moving debut at his own space, Foothill Galleries. That picture, the very distillation of loss, may be the most personal in this gorgeous and resonant display.

“Rend” is a photographic cache of varying tonalities that is both profoundly inviting and profoundly sad. See where the family went, from Iceland to Israel, from Canada to California. There are images of the Grand Canyon, Masada, the Colosseum, Joshua Tree, the Mojave Desert. The photographs, each uniquely torn, speak of emblematic places. They also carry on the unfinished business of the heart.

Weil effectively prepared for “Rend” by reading Leon Wieseltier’s book, “Kaddish,” a meditation on how Wieseltier grieved his father’s death. “I’ve been trying to say kaddish daily for the past nine months,” Weil said in a March 1 interview, “and it became a very powerful concept, the idea of rending as an expression of grief.”

“A rend is a physical expression of grief, like a tear meant both ways,” reads part of Weil’s opening statement on the entrance wall at Foothill. “Jacob rent his clothes, so too did Job. These 18 images are torn because our memory and hope of being here with Josh is torn. Eighteen for his life and his holiness and his steps beside us among these hills, rocks, spires, dunes, trees, walls, and waters.”

“I don’t know if the notion of healing is realistic in this regard,” Weil said at his gallery, which opened Feb. 11. He spoke of the myth of Prometheus, a figure in Greek mythology who comes to view the eagle that gnaws at his liver daily as his only companion. Since Josh died, there’s been a lot of gallows humor in Weil’s life, and he doesn’t know whether he wants to be healed.

Losing a child is the “worst imaginable thing anybody ever has to get through,” said Weil, an art historian who has turned sorrow indelible. CV

On View

WHAT: “Rend”

WHERE: Foothill Galleries of the Photo-Succession, 2460 Fairmount Blvd., Cleveland Heights

WHEN: Through May

INFO: Call 216-287-3064 or visit foothillgalleries.com


Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on March 17, 2016.

Lead image: Entering “Rend” at Michael Weil’s Foothill Galleries. PHOTO | Michael Weil