Letters to Tanks | Shaul Knaz
Curator: Sigal Kehat Krinski
The viewer who enters the exhibition of Shaul Knaz’s paintings, “Letters to Tanks,” feels bombarded by a slew of items in flat compositions, crowded together, creating an abundance that engulfs the individual in his solitude, lost without a path. The graphic joie de vivre and romantic relationship depicted in them do not compensate for the feeling of alienation. In the dialogue between the two mediums that join forces in Knaz’s works, painting and writing, the tank is anthropomorphised and gives the artist an addressee to his reflections on the war, on peace, and on the search for “togetherness” in the digital world, and even gives it a voice: “To write to them… so that they will speak. And then they will not be as heavy… and then they will no longer be tanks,” writes Knaz in one of this letter to the tanks. The letters, which are presented in this exhibition, draw on the artist’s personal experiences as a tank crewman in Israel’s wars.
In the painting Right to Left (2014), which led my eyes to wander from right to left, people upright and upside down, human parts, tanks, and cars roll along. Among them there is also a family: a couple and a boy. The mother holds the small boy, who is standing on the sun, in one hand, while her other hand holds the father’s hand, who has a beret in his epaulet, and perhaps it is a gun on his shoulder. The father’s other hand leads a motor vehicle that looks like a tank with flowers in his gun turret, like it was a baby stroller. And perhaps the father is being led by the tank, along with this family and the entire convoy that rolls along behind him. The painting features a house, also on wheels – an image that turns the notion of home on its head: a world without a permanent home, a transient, unstable, world, one propelled by a machine.
In this painting, like many of his other works, Knaz reflects on the human condition in a digital world, where man is shaped by a machine; a world in which he is overwhelmed by a myriad of options from which he has to choose (television, airplane, car). These lure, seduce, and mesmerize him with their motion, but at the same time, he also finds them intimidating, and wishes to protect himself from them.
How can one keep his footing in a world like this, in which everything is in constant motion, asks Knaz with the image of the acrobat on a tank, on a moving home, on wheels.
Only the flowers in the vase/gun turret, and the fictional, pink and green flying creature, which looks as though it was taken from a children’s painting, hint at a longing for a different world. The little boy, standing on the wheel of the sun, which also moves in orbit, may disappear with the sun’s movement and drag with him his entire family, home, and the others on an infinite journey in space. At the same time, the materials of the motorized world, which are taken from the world of children – the child gripping his mother’s hand, the balloon he holds in his other hand, the house and smiling human flowers that grow beside him, circus acrobats, a sliver of blue sky above, the big sun that stands out in its vibrant colors against the somber, colorless painting – all these evoke a sense of yearning to a bygone world: to innocence, imagination, nature, optimism, and joie de vivre, to a real home.
One cannot help but recall the poem of Yehuda Amichai, “A Child is Something Else”:
“A child is something else again: on a rainy spring day
glimpsing the Garden of Eden through the fence,
kissing him in his sleep,
hearing footsteps in the wet pine needles.
A child delivers you from death.
Child, Garden, Rain, Fate.”