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

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Making His Mark: Frank Auerbach at the Israel Museum

Jake, etching, first state 180 x 146 mm 1990 by Frank Auerbach (image courtesy of the Israel Museum)

The Israel Museum is currently showcasing works by Frank Auerbach, the British painter, in Frank Auerbach: Portraits on Paper. These eighteen works of drawing and etching will be of particular interest to lovers of drawing media, followers of representational art and fans of contemporary portraiture.

Auerbach is often grouped in “ The School of London,” a loose category meant to denote the British artists who were doggedly pursuing figurative art in a wider artistic milieu enamored with minimalism, conceptual art and other avant-garde pursuits. The sobriquet “School of London” was coined by R.B. Kitaj in a catalogue note for his figurative exhibit in drawing and painting at the Hayward Gallery in 1976, and referred to six artists as the main members working in England at the time:  Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Michael Andrews,  Leon Kossof, Frank Auerbach, and R.B. Kitaj, himself.

Kitaj’s reference to this loose grouping surprisingly stuck, even as its existence or its composition was debated. It was later reinforced by the  British Council which underwrote a traveling exhibit for the group.   The exhibit included a stop at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem in 1992, where the roster was expanded and included many accomplished representational painters, some little known outside of England. British Figurative Painters of the Twentieth Century brought the “London School” to general Israeli audiences and working painters who were introduced to the vibrancy and range of the British works, including, among others, Euan Uglow, Howard Hodgkins, David Hockney, Paula Rego, Gwen John, David Bomberg, William Coldstream, and Walter Sickert. If the art world in England was then enamored with conceptualism, the focus of many in the Israeli art world was still heavily influenced by lyrical abstraction, an -ism from a yet earlier artistic vogue.

Barry Schwabsky, in his 2001 Art Forum article regarding the exhibition of a private collection related to the School of London notes that the original six artists most associated with the School of London, as Kitaj defined it, also had in common “outsider” status:
On the other hand, and perhaps not coincidentally, all but Andrews and Bacon are Jewish painters in London. Just as the School of Paris was, essentially, non-French painters in France, the School of London is essentially a band of outsiders–mostly emigres (from Eastern Europe, Ireland, or the United States), mostly set apart by religious background (even Andrews, the one non-Jewish Englishman, was brought up as a Dissenter rather than in the Church of England).
The brochure published by the Israel Museum to accompany the current exhibit notes in Auerbach’s biography that he was born in Berlin in1931and in1939, “Sent to England to escape the war.” The eight-year old Auerbach was a child refugee from Nazi Germany, having arrived in England, unaccompanied by his parents, as part of the Kindertransport  in1939, a last ditch effort to save some Jewish children from the still murky fate of European Jewry.

Add captiHead of David Landau, Graphite, white crayon, acrylic and India ink on paper, 762 x 575 cm 1996-96 by Frank Auerbach (image courtesy of the Israel Museum)on

Auerbach went on to study at St. Martin’s School of Art in London where he took classes with David Bomberg, and continued his studies at the Royal College of Art in London. Towards the end of his student days, he acquired a studio in Camden Town in northwest London where he has continued to work throughout his career and still paints today.

Fifteen of the works in this exhibit are part of an anonymous gift of around forty works by Auerbach which the Israel Museum received of late, all donated in memory of Lily Sieff. An additional three works on display were gifted to the museum by Auerbach personally. All were completed between 1980 and 1998.

It will take a bit of determination on the visitor’s part to find this exhibition, as one is unlikely to chance upon it while wandering the collections. Starting in the newly designed impressionist art gallery, one may wend oneself through to the Old Master biblical-themed paintings, follow the circular staircase downstairs, continue through the temporary exhibit (now on angels in art), and coming to the last room, glance left. There you will see a small gallery, little more than an alcove, where the Auerbachs are displayed, some on the walls, others in glass-enclosed vitrines. Considering their relatively small scale, this diminutive gallery is actually a fairly good fit to view these works, curated jointly by Nurit Sharon-Debel and Eva Sznaiderman. As a bonus, there is little likelihood to need to careen over the heads of rambunctious school groups.

Many close associates and friends over the years have served as model for Auerbach while working on his paintings and drawings. Some of these sitters became dedicated to the task over years. The drawings on display include many of these familiar personalities from his inner circle, done variously in charcoal, graphite and felt-tip pen works. As is typical of his paintings, his drawings often show many layers of built-up re-workings until there is a dense mangle of lines, each mark thought through, erased and re-considered until he is satisfied. He has said, “I destroy things every day in the act of working and often recall a picture I had considered finished in order to rework it.”
David Landau, Charcoal on paper , 568 x 762 mm, 1984-85 by Frank Auerbach (image courtesy of the Israel Museum)

Auerbach did not commonly work in print-making and this exhibit shows a1980-81 series as his foray into etching. Unlike drawing directly on paper, an etching is created on a metal plate, commonly through a series of steps. Sometimes one plate is scratched, marked and changed through various techniques, with all the work done on a single plate and run through the press when it is finished; sometimes a number of different plates can be used consecutively and then pressed onto a single sheet of paper to complete the etching.

One can observe the artist taking this relatively unfamiliar medium and making it his own. The 1980 etching of Joe Tilson is that of a simple scratching into a single plate to achieve a likeness. His later etching of R.B. Kitaj shows the use of two acids on two different plates. His portrait of Lucien Freud is brought off by the even more complex use of four etching plates. We can also see three graphite drawings of Julia, David and Catherine in their initial state in 1989, and adjacent we see the etchings which followed them. Drawing is done directly as the hand follows the eye. To transfer a drawing into an etching that appears as the drawing that preceded it, one must generally make a mirror image to achieve the same intended results.

Julia, Black felt tip pen, graphite and crayon on paper, 250 cm x 202 cm 1998 by Frank Auerbach (image courtesy of the Israel Museum)

His working process results in portraits that are both an expression of his reaction to the sitter, and his own idiosyncratic way of working, creating, destroying, and creating anew. These works show Auerbach's hand and eye in a stark and distilled reduction of his unique approach to portraits and open a window to his work process in painting as well.


Exhibit continues through August 25.

The article  was originally published on The Times of Israel:

Friday, May 25, 2012

From High on Mount Sinai

"And This Is the Torah which Moshe Brought to the Israelites" mosaic by Yael Wolf Portugheis 2000 (detail). Jerusalem (c. 2012 by  Heddy Abramowitz)

The holiday of Shavuot is now close upon us.  It is celebrated after the careful counting of seven full weeks from the second day of  Passover. These seven weeks mark the passing of the Jewish people from their long period of enslavement in Egypt, where their sense of personal identity was broken and their group identity as a people almost was entirely destroyed. One could call this a case of massively low self-esteem on a cosmic level.

At the base of Mount Sinai, Moshe (Moses), after no small amount of tribulation, brings the gift of the Torah to the Jews. The enumeration the Omer, each of the forty-nine days between the Passover holiday and the Shavuot holiday, is symbolic of the change in national identity that the former slaves undergo as they transform from numb, dependent slave laborers to a mature nation and masters of their own fate.

As religious images go,  there are few biblical images that have more engaged the imaginations of artists over the centuries.

"Moses Receives the Ten Commandments"   Gustave Dore 1865

The noted French engraver, Gustave Dore, published the above version in 1865 in his iconic book "Bible Illustrations." And here is another take by him on this subject.

Rembrandt Van Rijn, "Moses with the Ten Commandments" oil on canvas 167 X 135 cm 1635 Gemaldegalerie der Staatlichen Museen

Rembrandt's painting of Moses shows him at the height of his frustrations, at the point of smashing the tablets when confronted with the Golden Calf at the base of Mount Sinai, as discussed in Exodus 32:19. This artist focuses on the personal  psychological confrontation of the man, Moses, as his faith is tested by his people.

The Jewish painter,  Marc Chagall, also dealt with this subject in this lithograph. His take is that of a lyrical and floating set of figures, in bright colors. Chagall felt himself close to the biblical stories, but had his own unique interpretations.

Marc Chagall (French, b. Belorussia, 1887-1985)
Moses Receives the Ten Commandments, from The Story of the Exodus suite, 1966
    Lithograph on paper
    18 3/8 x 13 1/2 in. (46.6 x 34.3 cm)
    The Jewish Museum, New York

 Ancona Ketuba, 1805, Italy, Library of Congress

Depictions of Moses receiving the ten commandments have also been incorporated in Jewish marriage contracts, as in this example from Ancona, Italy. The wedding date, June 12, 1805, being close to the celebration of Shavuot, may explain the use of the image of Moses receiving the Law as the central image.

Reuben Machsor,- Jewish Holy Day Prayer Book for the Whole Year, (Germany circa 1290 Treasures of Saxon State Library.)

The image of the Giving of the Law has been used in many illuminated manuscripts.  This image  is in a prayer book written by Reuben and is thought to be illustrated by a gentile artisan,  whose name is no longer known to us.  Here we see Moses receiving the tablets from the hand of God in the heavens on the left side of Mount Sinai, and on the right side he is delivering them to a person symbolic of the Jewish People.

Charlton Heston,  as Moses, in "The Ten Commandments"  1956 film  directed by Cecil B. DeMille

To return to more recent times,  there are those of us of a certain age who can never think of the image of Moses  without recalling this Hollywood classic creation.

Enjoy the budding spring and the "milk and honey" of  Shavuot. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hitting the Wall: Silvia Bar-Am at Artspace Gallery

"Entrance, Late in the Day"  oil on linen mounted on wood, 19.5 X 17 cm 2010 by Sylvia Bar-Am (image courtesy of Artspace Gallery)

Walking the tightrope between abstraction and realism,  Sylvia Bar-Am exhibits intimate works in the exhibition “Walls and Voices”  in Jerusalem’s Artspace Gallery.

Bar Am, born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and in Israel since the early 70’s, is a trained classical musician, but followed her muse to art. She developed an early interest in abstract painting and, eventually, she found herself drawn to realism. Studying at the Avni Institute in the early 90’s for a short term with the well-known realist painter, Israel Hershberg, she has continued producing works emphasizing observation from nature through the present, with a strong predilection for still life and landscape.

This, Bar-Am’s third solo exhibit at Artspace Gallery, centers on twenty-six oil paintings of architectural motifs in Jerusalem’s Nachlaot neighborhood. Mostly of small dimension, these works are modest in scale but not ambition. Commonly, landscape artists choose small scale works in order to complete them on site in a single setting. Here, however, the works were meant to be completed in the studio as Aviva Winter, a professor of art history, points out in the accompanying catalogue, “She starts out alla prima, but most of the work  is done in the studio, where the walls, openings and windows move and take shape in a metamorphosis process….”

Hans Hoffman,  the influential artist /teacher said,
"Creation is dominated by three absolutely different factors: First, nature, which works upon us by its laws; second, the artist, who creates a spiritual contact with nature and his materials; third, the medium of expression through which the artist translates his inner world."
(Or hers, as here.) This reduction of the act of painting to these basic elements is useful to organize how these works might be considered, where these key items are precariously combined.

There is much to consider in pulling off a successful work done from nature. One of the challenges of the landscape painter, besides the logistical aspects of requiring a mini-studio brought to the site of the work, also includes the changing light and weather conditions if working outdoors. Constant variations of light, whether due to time of day, moving clouds or wind in the trees, are part of the vibrancy of the outdoor experience that an artist, working en plein air, must react to with immediacy and efficiency on the canvas.

A certain risk exists in re-working paintings started in nature in another removed setting – shifts of color can diminish their impact, the original excitement which the artist found in the motif can be weakened while accommodating to other aesthetic considerations, the fascination with detail can sometimes derail the power of the original big idea of the painting. Of course, in the best scenario, when away from the motif, the artist can consider the painting on its own terms and, if the painting gods cooperate, salvage an awkward start or bring a painting to its potential.

With skills as an abstract painter and as a realist painter both under her belt, Bar-Am has chosen to combine these seemingly disparate approaches in her works. Finding a balance that rings true in this challenge is a difficult feat. Painted over the course of three years in Nachlaot, her varying attempts to find the right equilibrium are on display, with some of her works stressing one end of this spectrum more than the other.

"Entrance, Late in the Day" oil on linen mounted on wood 19.5 X 17 cm 2010 by Sylvia Bar-Am (image courtesy of Artspace Gallery

They range, on one end, from works in which the strong Jerusalem light falling on the sun-bleached, white-washed, crumbling walls and openings is carefully observed, resulting in studies emphasizing simple geometry. The best of these, where the essential structure of the work is preserved despite later added flourishes, achieve a certain humbleness and are the most successful. On the other end are works which are invested with great effort at creating a high level of finish and, in my opinion, an excess of detail. In building up layers of paint, then scraped and reapplied to achieve a mottled effect on a wall, the solidity of the wall may be lost, sometimes to the detriment of the work as a whole. In others, the siren call of the picturesque may capsize a well-launched painting.

Gideon Ofrat, the noted art historian, says in a literary letter to Bar-Am, included in the catalogue:
"What is art if not the attempt to enter the orchard, and who is an artist if not the one who peeked and was hurt, but wishes to peek again."
Overall, Bar-Am has struck out on a good path and should keep peeking over the wall and attempting glimpses into the orchard.

The exhibition continues through mid- June, contact Artspace Gallery for details.

This post originally was published on Times of Israel: