I will be participating in the Salon ha Cubia exhibit opening October 28, 2017, at 8 pm in Nayot in Jerusalem, as part of the city-wide Manofim project. Closing January 25, 2018. Hope to see you there. Invitation

Pleased to be participating in the exhibition HOME(less) at HUC-JIR Museum NY. Running through the end of June 2018. For details see post

Friday, October 21, 2011

Margalit and Atlas Ben-David at Artists’ House

"Jerusalem, New York" oil on canvas 152.5 cm x 125 cm 2006 Debbie Margalit

The current exhibits at The Artists’ House will be satisfying to painters of differing stripes. Debbie Margalit is an observational painter exhibiting the fruits of six years of work confined to the four walls of her studio and what can be seen from within it. Hedva Atlas Ben-David shows the results of an internal journey as her self-image transforms from a mainstream school teacher to the life of an artist on the less-accepted edges of society.  

The Jerusalem Artists’ House in the city center of Jerusalem is itself well worth a visit. Built during Ottoman rule, it once housed the original Bezalel School of Art, founded by Bezalel Schatz in 1906. The lobby contains an example of the typical metalwork once created during those early years. In the meantime,  The Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design has evolved to a leading contemporary art school now located at Mount Scopus. This building showcases several concurrent exhibits which change monthly, and the pluralistic approach keeps the roster lively. A restaurant in the courtyard for warm weather, inside for the colder season, and a gallery for sales by Jerusalem artists complete this spot frequented by art lovers and savvy locals.

Margalit, American born and raised in Israel, took up painting in her thirties, studying privately with Rory Allweis and Jordan Wolfson. She completed an MFA at Graham Nickson’s New York Studio School and   these works are the result of long and hard looking at her immediate environment augmented by  two models and the props at hand’s reach in this small world to which these paintings are restricted.

"Lison and Chairs" 152.5 x 122 oil on canvas 2011 Debbie Margalit
Curator Emily Bilski draws comparisons to influences by Masolino in the handsome catalogue, but I find that the strongest influence apparent in Margalit’s exhibit is that of her former teacher, Jordan Wolfson, who often focuses on backlit furnishings of interiors in his own work. Margalit shows a range of subject matter and interests; windowsill still lifes evidencing varying times of day or year, the model in seated, prone and standing poses, views of patio chairs, and self-portraits. The surfaces are often rich with impasto paint, but never distracting. Though occasionally some of her figures feel a bit stiff, she compensates for this lack by her deft sense of colour and light.

"Summary" 244 cm x 162 cm oil on canvas 2011 Debbie Margalit

In “Summary” Margalit goes at the canvas in a composition incorporating a model and mirrored reflections of both model and artist as well as interior and exterior reflections and the art paraphernalia in the room.  Unlike many examples of artist self-portraits in the act of painting, from Velasquez’s Las Meninas, through Alice Neel’s "Self Portrait",  Margolit does not portray herself with the tools of her trade, such as brush in hand or applying paint. We are denied seeing a bit of the painting in progress, like Vermeer’s "The Art of Painting" (c. 1666-73; Oil on canvas, 130 x 110 cm; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, detail) which might provide a window into her process. Here, Margalit bears down,  gazing in deep concentration at the motif - as if  she is emphasizing “looking as the central act in the making of her art," according to Bilski.

"Last Supper I" 155 cm x 240 cm oil on canvas 2005 Hedva Atlas Ben-David
Rather than her immediate external world, Atlas Ben-David explores her internal world in ink drawings, mixed media paintings and ceramic sculptures as she makes the transition from staid school teacher to the more, seemingly provocative (if not exotic) world of exhibiting artist. Born in Haifa, educated first to be a teacher, she underwent a transformation in her thirties when, as Tali Tamir, curator, states in the catalogue “painting overtook her.” 

Painted in a cross between naïve art and caricature, Atlas Ben-David reveals to the viewer her observations of the odd in the everyday world of the classroom, sometimes bordering on the grotesque. She finds the quirky, not just in the students and their individuality, but also in herself.

"Accordion" ink drawing, acrylics and prints on paper 120 cm x 152 cm 2011 Hedva Atlas Ben-David

A number of works focus on the expected rituals of public school, the marking of holidays and special events throughout the year, but with the twist of Atlas Ben-David’s observations of the out-of-synch students, and, ultimately, the out-of -synch teacher. In several appropriations from Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” she appears in lieu of Jesus as an inappropriate role model while smoking amongst her charges, or naked.

She portrays herself totally exposed amongst the fully clothed in “Yearbook Photo and a Donkey” and other works, like “Lesson” - where she is teaching her otherwise normal book-lined classroom fully undressed.  Unlike Manet’s “Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe,” the sole woman unclothed amongst the lounging picnickers, Atlas Ben-David is naked, not nude - her own subjective view of herself,  not imposed from the outside by a separate artist in the control of a dependant model.

Tamir points to an examination of the rigid expectations of the education system as an under-lying theme.  Though there is much to question in the restrictions of the school system, I sensed that activism and critique did not seem paramount in these paintings; a personal catharsis was more apparent.

Margalit’s exhibit juxtaposed with Ben-David’s exhibit makes for a rich viewing experience – both careful and sensitive observers of their immediate worlds resulting in widely differing ways to note their responses.

catalogues available (images from the Artists' House web site)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tying Up Loose Ends

"Above the Davidka" oil on Jerusalem stone on board 2000, Heddy Abramowitz

As a child raised outside of Washington, D.C. during the Cold War, one of the rituals we endured was practicing “nuclear attack drills” consisting of clambering under our little desks and putting our hands over our heads, or, in a riff on John Prine’s words, we were in a position “to kiss our ass goodbye.”   (One really has to take a pause and contemplate this move on the part of the Civil Defense Administration of the leader of the free world).  We were raised to be fearful and suspicious of the Soviet Union and, judging from the articles we later read in Pravda, the favor was returned as Russian citizens were raised to be fearful and suspicious of all things American, rock and roll and blue jeans included.

In addition, Jewish kids spent many a weekend painting protest signs for rallies in support of freeing Soviet Jewry. While we were protesting in the open, the Soviet Jews were operating an underground struggle to regain their Jewish heritage -denied to them by their government;  to the extent that prayer books, kosher food, and learning basic Hebrew  were valiantly sought after and sometimes heavily paid for with arrests, mock trials and imprisonment.  The success of this campaign (with significant support from the U.S. Congress in the Jackson-Vanik Amendment) brought about the release of many hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews, the vast bulk of whom now live in Israel.

As one of 16 participating artists in the Skizze Gallery exhibition at the Jerusalem House of Quality this week, I cannot avoid reflecting on the great social-political (and perhaps cosmic?) forces which brought the artists, audience and curators together.  The curators, Marina Genkina and Marina Schelest, both Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union to Israel, initiated the “Skizze Gallery” as a forum for cross-cultural exchanges within the milieu of Jerusalem.  Starting around 2007, when a community center multi-purpose room served as their exhibition space, they persevered, have enlarged their audience and support to include partners such as the Jerusalem Municipality, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and, in this case, the Public Affairs Office of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.

The participating artists in the exhibit are all American immigrants to Israel.  In an ironic turn, the Jewish immigrants to Israel from both of the two former Cold War adversarial countries have many shared experiences in acclimating to their mutual new home.  All needed to become proficient in Hebrew, learn a new system of life, and adjust to being minority cultures within a larger culture. While perhaps our respective up-bringings overlapped little, artists, curators and guests have in common the shared experience of the long process of making a new home in Israel.  Many of the artists have the additional challenges of being trained in foreign art schools, needing to find their “land legs”  in terms of their own artistic practice, having to become familiar with and adjust to local tastes and in finding venues to exhibit in an unfamiliar art world.
This clip was filmed at the opening.  While most of you are not Russian speakers, art is a universal language.  This cross-cultural assembly would have been unimaginable to me as a young child.

The three paintings I am exhibiting are all cityscapes painted from my previous studio at the Davidka Square,  renewed and crossed with frequency by the Light Rail line now running along Jaffa Road.  Painted over a seven year span, these paintings each reflect different moods which I sensed from the location.  In the first, above, “Above the Davidka” a person stares out at the viewer from a balcony.  Is the look reflective; are there storm clouds, does the location’s name play into the feel of the work?

Pedestrian Crossing oil on linen 2004 Heddy Abramowitz

In the second piece, two pedestrians pass each other on an intersection crosswalk with deep afternoon shadows cast by ordinary city buildings.  The figures seem unconnected.   Perhaps despite our obliviousness to our fellows in the city streets, we are more connected than we acknowledge.

Intersection (from the "Crossings" series) oil on linen 2007 Heddy Abramowitz

In the last, the larger view of the same intersection show many passers-by, some in a group, some as individuals.  Anyone familiar with Jerusalem demography could safely assume that randomly there would be a range of types of people; Jewish, Arab, Christian, religious, secular, rich, poor, immigrants from varying ethnic origins as well as tourists, all of whom mingle on the streets and for those brief seconds, their normally separate lives are connected.  From the distance of observing this scene from my second floor studio, the distinctions between the individuals disappeared and were rendered unimportant- the shared humanity was what remained.


Nir Barkat, Jerusalem’s young and dynamic mayor, made introductory remarks at the exhibit opening.  Noting that the art world is a familiar one to him, being both the son-in-law and husband of artists, he compared the creativity he noted within the world of computer start-ups, where he made his personal fortune, to the creative minds that artists have (by the way, he waived the mayor's full salary  – what used to be called “a dollar a year man”). Fully aware of the value of promoting creativity and culture, he claims to be open and receptive to cultural initiatives as part of building Jerusalem’s unique “brand” in his efforts to increase tourism.  (Personally, I am hoping that his dream of 40 million tourists a year  will materialize, and that as many will visit his neighborhood as will visit my own in the Old City).

Which brings me to my next loose thread:  the death today of Steve Jobs, the creative genius behind so many of the Apple products that have changed the way the world works and plays.  There will be many official tributes to Jobs the world over. My blog, as one tiny example, is in debt to his creativity. While few artists will ever achieve the financial independence he achieved, all artists can identify with the personal philosophy he expressed at Stanford’s 2005 graduation ceremony, where he was the speaker. This clip, which I saw last night with a mere million and a half hits, is now over 6 million views.  Stressing following your own inner curiosity, belief in self, valuing and making good use of your short time on this earth, following your heart and your intuition and, with a nod to the “Whole Earth Catalogue’s” last page of its closing issue, he ended with his wish to the new grads - advocating “staying a little bit hungry and a little bit foolish.”  I think that wish is hard-wired into  the hard  drive ( or is it in  the motherboard?) of all creative souls  (I’m more than a little bit out of my element with techy talk).

And now for the last thread.  This weekend is Yom Kippur, a day in Judaism when we explore collectively our deeds through the year, making a public confession of our sins  and we pray to be sealed in the Book of Life.

As Jobs said,  “No one wants to die, not even people who want to go to heaven want to die.” And, indeed, as he further said, it is the way of the  world to clear out the old and make room for the new. Even a man with such great personal wealth and success as Jobs was not exempt from nature's course, reaching his own death at 56.  But, boy, did he live.

To life.

"Life's Doorway (Chai=Life=18)"   Heddy Abramowitz

(Jerusalem House of Quality, till October 6, catalogue available)