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By Vivian Forlander

 For the artist, painter and filmmaker Ari Roussimoff, whose artworks have been shown in over eighty international exhibitions, symbols are the language of communication. A visually oriented person and a painter, he was drawn initially to the esoteric symbols of Freemasonry, which he had observed in the architecture of buildings. After years of  noticing, appreciating and researching these symbols in book illustrations, Masonic artifacts, such as aprons, ceramics, swords, and jewels, Roussimoff joined the Masonic fraternity, which embodied the ideals behind those symbols.

Noting that the symbols which inspired him were mostly used as learning tools, such as tracing boards, and in ritual objects, Roussimoff wanted his paintings to integrate Masonic symbolism into a larger world picture, in which these symbols and their ideals embody a vision of humankind.  Because Freemasonry is a way of life and a world vision, Roussimoff’s paintings (while not divulging secrets) take the many Masonic symbols out of orthodox Masonic context and incorporate them into a universal language.

The Livingston Library & Museum played an instrumental role in Roussimoff's joining the Craft. With Director Thomas Savini's gracious support, Roussimoff spent  many  hours researching and studying the artifacts. The library became a sort of home base for Roussimoff, who had many conversations with Br. Savini about the history, culture and arts of Freemasonry. The library also provided him with an opportunity to meet other scholarly Brothers. Roussimoff, who has also created a video short of the many Masonic treasures in the library, believes that an inner force led him toward Freemasonry by way of the library.  

Three Roussimoff paintings, King Solomon’s Vision and Masonic Apron: The Legacy of Hiram Abiff, (both paintings are currently displayed in the Robert R. Livingston Library and Museum in New York City ) and The Masonic Melody (which has also been shown at the library), tell intriguing stories about Freemasonry.

In King’s Solomon’s Vision Roussimoff creates a contemporary interpretation of Masonic history in accordance with the belief that the Craft dates back to Biblical times. Using contrasting light and dark, Roussimoff shows Master Hiram Abiff helping King Solomon fulfill his great vision. In this painting the planning for the Holy Temple of Jerusalem is interpreted as an ongoing search to build civilization and to better oneself through the attainment of light, understanding, love and knowledge. In the upper right is the Lodge, integral to Masonic life. Within the composition are Masonic symbols, the two columns, the brotherly grip, the beehive, the altar with the candles, the Holy Bible, and the square and compass.  The three great lights of Freemasonry show the way to all who seek it,  flickering through eternity. Above the city is the All-Seeing-Eye of the Great Architect. Roussimoff conceived this work as a message of hope for the future. 

In Masonic Apron:The Legacy of Hiram Abiff a bustling metropolis, populated by industry and activity, serves as the background for a monumental Masonic Apron (based upon historic examples). The Apron stands apart from and at the same time melds into the overall scene.  Master Hiram prophetically points to a multitude of Masons, Master Masons, Apprentices, as well as the Worshipful and Past Masters of various Lodges, busily attending to their tasks, erecting pillars and laying foundation for a Temple of the future, with the approving support of their wives and sisters.    

In Masonic Apron:The Legacy of Hiram Abiff  the All-Seeing-Eye is quite life-like in appearance. Because of the Deity's centrality to Masonic belief, Roussimoff chose to paint the All-Seeing-Eye as a realistic living entity, rather than a two-dimensional illustration. The Apron features a Square and Compass alongside the glowing Sun, the pillars Jachin and Boaz, the Checkered Floor, the Beehive, and the Workman's Trowel. Mortality is represented by the Skull and Crossbones. The overall composition is organized into different planes, where cubistic triangles and squares have been discreetly interwoven.

In the very colorful Freemasonry: A Musical Allegory, a fiddling medieval court jester, symbolizing the arts, guides the viewer through a landscape of Masonic philosophies.  Noah's Ark , Jacob's Ladder, and the Acacia twig are among the recognizable images.

Currently, Roussimoff is completing a Masonic themed triptych. The three paintings, designed to be displayed together, similar in concept, but smaller in size than a medieval altar piece, tell one continuous story. Each canvas represents a separate aspect of civilization, according to Roussimoff’s own interpretation of Masonic lessons and history. The left panel deals with the past; the center panel represents the present, and the right panel anticipates the future. Hiram and King Solomon are fundamental presences in each piece.

Known mostly for his colorful depictions of Russian and Ukrainian folk life, references to Freemasonry are sometimes incorporated into the artist’s non-masonic works. Roussimoff recently completed a series of oil paintings, entitled A Russian Views America, devoted to American cities which impress him, and he  included Masonic elements in almost every artwork. Hollywood Eternal is an homage to the legendary film stars of yesteryear. In the foreground stands Harold Lloyd, dressed in his Shriner Potentate Uniform. Among the many actors depicted are several Masons: Oliver Hardy, Harpo Marx, John Wayne and Clark Gable. Prominent in the background is Hollywood ’s historic Masonic Temple , now a television studio.

In another Roussimoff work, The Boardwalk of Atlantic City, many visitors stroll along the walkway. Among the crowd sits a solitary Shriner, reflecting on the past, when the great Shrine conventions and parades were held in this seaside resort.

Ari Roussimoff sums up his painterly vision of Freemasonry when he says, “Freemasonry has had a powerful impact on me. It is a way of life, a tremendous philosophic guide and moral code. For me it has always been highly spiritual. In these particular pictures, rather then using icons of the Craft to illustrate specific Masonic tracts, I wanted to paint scenes which speak to both Mason and non-mason alike, yet show that they were painted by someone who is in fact a Mason.”