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|
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|
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)