Artist-curator: Larry Abramson
Painting is as old as human culture and as young as a newborn baby. It bears the accumulated knowledge of generations as well as the nameless, formless primary desire of the body to mark its existence in the world.
Centuries of construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction have formed painting as a site of repeated assembling and disassembling, an archaeological mound of sorts whose strata not only pile up one atop the other, but also— mainly—mix up into each other. Multiplicity, contradiction, and simultaneity have become the hallmarks of the new painting. Painters today brush off the melancholic lamentation over the collapse of the utopian modernist order and dive passionately into the pile of history, joyfully burrowing amidst the remains of languages and images cast there in a jumble, choosing those most fitting at this given moment for the creation of an improvised order of their own.
The pile of painting contains countless empty signs, displaced leftovers from the studios of painters and artisans from different periods and cultures, but also from the nonstop contemporary production line of digital advertising, communication, and game images. Of all the findings in the pile, however, the most exciting today seems to be abstraction. Many painters in Israel and all over the world are shaking the dust off the remains of abstract languages discarded into the refuse pile just a few decades ago, discovering in them—and in their combinations— an actual and relevant aesthetic and allegorical potential. Moreover, even those who choose to work today with the remnants of figurative languages find in the abstract composition the most suitable space in which to organize fragments of images into one homogeneous painterly space.
The paintings in “Take Painting” are not romantic representations of ruins observed somewhere out there in the landscape; they are themselves ruins—composite sites of the real and the allegorical, hybrid accumulations of abstract and figurative idioms, tentative stacks composed of remnants of ideologies and fragments of dead languages, an aesthetic experience that also offers a vantage point onto that which the allegory of painting points to—the world outside the site of painting.
Photography and video editing: Gili Meisler – meisler.com
I like the mess of painting: a wild space of diverse occurrences, a jumbled language, blowing in the wind, unraveled. Sunset transforms into a sign which transforms into a screen which transforms into a painting. Meaning is superimposed upon meaning, language upon language. Almost an image.
My painting largely engages with the question of how you perceive and construct reality; how, within open and scrambled systems of knowledge, a link may be created between you and the world, between you and yourself. I am interested in paintings that come together and deconstruct before your very eyes, and you are an active partner in their construction. Painting is also a real attempt to meet, to see the other in the blended space of meanings.
You could say I am addicted to painting, to its infinite possibilities, to the freedom it offers within its predetermined space. I am also addicted to the engagement with matter, to the sensuality of a substance that transforms into an image, yet remains a substance: material blends with material, one image encounters another; the fruitful tension between eye and hand, between consciousness and the body, imaginary and real, virtual and actual. In the space of painting, the boundaries between all these categories blur and dissolve, and you are free to embark on a journey.
In the second half of 2014 I reached an impasse in my painting. I felt that the paintings I had done since graduation from Bezalel in the mid-1990s, which addressed the interrelations between the photographic image and the painterly experience, failed to capture the changes in the experience of photography and the photographed subject in the digital era. The paintings became more and more demanding technically, and the labor involved in their creation gradually took more volume, which exacerbated the body’s freedom and restricted the alertness of the gaze. I felt that the way in which I experience the world is not conveyed properly in my painting.
Like many others, I am overwhelmed by reality. I feel that there is no longer a point in exposing the political, our being subjected to systems of power and control. It is unnecessary to repeat in art that which is evident all around; to reenact real activism in art. Whenever I wander the streets I physically feel that reality is more stimulating and powerful than any critical art that analyzes power mechanisms.
Painting, however, can be political in other ways: it embeds a call to develop dynamic modes for the gaze, and thereby allow the painter, and hence the viewer, to create realms of dialogue. Painting constitutes a parallel, yet concrete, space in which to meet, exchange definitions, argue, and even agree. Painting can reconcile differences, construct orders, and enable us to live in harmony in a chaotic world.
We live on an island, sea on one side, and fences, walls, and barriers on the others. We wish to gaze afar only to bump our nose into the concrete surface of the wall. What point of view can we establish under these conditions? What horizon can we find in a wall that covers the sky?
My recent paintings take the wall as a given, as a support without depth, other than in its own layers. Like a house painter, I work with a spatula and masking-tape, spreading the layers of paint, covering and uncovering them, dreaming in the narrow gap between layers. At times I gather images and “attach” them to the surface, trying to make sense of them and to momentarily break loose of the wall of painting. In the Bauhaus paintings, it was an assembly of fragmented forms and images which once upon a time carried utopian ideas. In Price Tag III (How Beautiful the Nights) I projected Stars-of-David into the layers of paint, hateful racist graffiti sprayed on real walls by anonymous “painters,” creating a frightful, but also consoling, link between the cruel and violent wall of reality and the pleasurable wall of painting. In Composition (after Avraham Naton) I piled, on top of contemporary Arabic graffiti calling to free Gaza, a geometric composition painted by Israeli artist Avraham Naton in 1951, when he dreamt of finding comfort in the universality of abstraction.
Painting is a wall whose layers contain both the political and the aesthetic. The wall is the image of our world.
Early Netherlandish altarpiece paintings were a devotional object, kept closed and opened for display on sacred days. The act of looking was part of a religious ritual. To keep the viewer engaged, some manipulations were employed: e.g., the painted spaces corresponded with the object’s actual frames, oscillating the viewer’s attention between the painting’s inner reality and the one outside. I try to intensify this optical ambiguity by collapsing the original altarpiece image on itself, multiplying its perspectives, disrupting the conclusive visual array of the original painting and replacing it with one that is still unfolding. Today, the altarpiece may be regarded as obsolete, but in my view, its power as a visual apparatus is not lost. Seeing and believing remain interlaced, and contemporary painting is the perfect site to test their affinity.
Today, our eyes are trained to quickly interpret flickering images. Paintings, however, are not flickering light, but congealed matter. This opposition between the medium’s attributes and its current surroundings creates a fertile ground. I do not know if painting today stands “ahead of the camp,” as in avant-garde, but it seems to stand a bit outside the camp, where the most interesting things happen.
Painting is a tricky object, constantly slipping between matter and imagination, here and there. Since it cannot prove that there is something beyond its materiality, painting will always ask of its viewer for a leap of faith
In my works I explore the possibility of bringing cultural relics to the fore of the painting through the material quality of the medium and by metamorphosis of objects into images. I am interested in ancient histories, faded and modeled under the bright Mediterranean sun: ritual objects, religious architecture, mythological figures, crumbling sculptures, lost narratives, and forgotten ceremonies. I am interested in the way in which an archaeological mound grows within the painting: an accumulating landscape of paint layers, ruins of images and fragments of abstract symbols.
The point of departure for my painting is an initial image which gradually transforms into memory. Using improvised stencils, painter’s knives, point scribes, baker’s spatulas, and housepaint brushes I try to think of the painted image as a three-dimensional object. The material nature of the paint renders the form a sculptural element floating in an empty space; abstract fields, comprised of flat geometric forms, which, in turn, generate a new, at times quasi-digital, setting. The painted image is exiled from its original setting, settling in a new time and space, thus revealing painting’s ability to offer a new space for old tales.
Photographs of Francis Bacon’s studio inspire me. Two anecdotes tied to these have informed my work for years: In 1998, about six years after Bacon’s death, his heirs donated his studio to the City Gallery in Dublin, where he was born. A group of archaeologists, headed by a conservator, mapped it out and marked the location of the finds on the surface and in the depth layers, as if the studio were an archaeological site. They packed work instruments, papers, trash, layers of dust, as well as the walls, doors, and ceiling. The relocated studio was opened to the public in 2001, with over 7000 cataloged and conserved items. The encounter between art and archaeology in the studio fascinates me. The link between piles in the studio and piles in the painting, on the material and formal levels, is a major theme in my work.
Although I’m a woman painter, most of the painters to whom I relate are men, whose work offers me a sense of painting’s infinity. Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus is one image through which I refer to femininity. I have drawn Venus countless times as an emblem. When I add her to my pile of materials and images, I introduce us, women, into the painting not as models, but as artists.
A pile of objects in the corner of Bacon’s studio, including a book open to Velázquez’s portrait of the Infanta Margarita, in a 1960 photograph by Douglas Glass, offered an echo of my own struggles. I made a pile in the corner of my studio, with Venus instead of the Infanta. The pile became a subject for drawing and found its way into my paintings.
My painting centers on objects used in the past: flint stones, which were used as weapons or tools; beads and necklaces, used for commercial or ritual purposes; strings of dried fruits used for display of the produce; ropes, braids, and mats. In my painting I try to go thousands of years back, to learn from the artisans who made the objects, and to create them anew. My brush digs in the paint, moving, removing, adding and heaping, attempting to braid and weave the paint, to hew and carve the painterly layers, to unstitch and reconnect.
While painting, I seek those moments in which the objects acquire a life of their own, transforming into a sign, a borderline between hues, a magical rock, a painterly mandala, a giant color wheel; full partners in the mysterious choreography of the dance of painting.
I try to eliminate any physical or concrete locus other than the painting itself. The painting has neither ground nor horizon; the objects are weightless. I try to create a space of consciousness in which every object carries the entire burden of its historical meanings, and at the same time— becomes a part of something else, greater but also smaller than it, at once significant and insignificant: a painting.
My academic training in St. Petersburg was realistic, but emotionally and internally I was drawn to the Russian avant-garde. At the end of 2004, when I returned home, I wanted to avoid the type of realistic painting I was taught at the academy, and I began to explore the possibilities of the abstract. I was inspired by the idea that matter, form, and subject must connect in the painting. I wanted to free myself of all the questions regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict and my identity, and insist on my freedom as a human being, and specifically— as an artist. The yearning for an inner world is an aspiration for truth and justice.
Today, the entire world is immersed in a consumerist-materialistic routine, so much so that anything related to reality becomes tragically tedious. The lethal chaos in which we live negates form and creates a disharmonious state of “non-art.”
As a painter I strive to formulate numerous questions—and answers—as part of the format of painting, rather than cling to artistic or social laws and values intended to dominate me and dictate my fate.
The artist is a rebel within the language of art. To build a different world, he must be a
revolutionary on the outside too.