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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Still, Not Silent: Edward Levin at Artists' House


"Sabras" 2011 oil on canvas 40 X 60 cm by Edward Levin (image courtesy of Artists' House)


Still Life is often a great divider between one artist and another. To some it is the province of paintings to match the couch, for others it is a source of renewed discovery, a place to make unexpected connections, to invest the mundane with thought, even with emotion.

Edward Levin is exhibiting approximately forty works spread across three rooms in the Jerusalem Artists’ House in his exhibit “Still Life,” curated by leading contemporary artist, Jan Rauchwerger. They are predominately oil paintings, with a few done in encaustic, a technically difficult medium involving mixing pigment and warm beeswax.

Septuagenarian Levin, born in Minsk in the former Soviet Union, after many years as a refusenik, immigrated to Jerusalem in 1976.  Following solo shows in London, Paris and at this same Jerusalem venue in the eighties, his resume is quiet for twenty years, with nary a solo exhibit. His entry into the Israeli art world is referred to in a conversation from 2011 with Professor Wolf Moskokovich, which accompanies this current exhibit. Levin, ever feisty and opinionated, looks back on this time, acting as a mildly amused bystander in the Israeli milieu, observing “from the shadows,” as he rails against “the ruling (and militant) trends in art of our days.” Levin chose to remain true to his standards and goals rather than join what he calls “the triumphal procession in the Naked King’s retinue.” He continues,

“But even if I knew beforehand that I am predestined to be the only spectator of my paintings, I’d prefer to remain in private with my principles and purposes in fine arts. And there is no price that can impel me to give up independence and freedom… Actually, in the history of art it was quite rare for an artist to feel in harmony with society.”
What then, is so controversial in these works that would cause the artist to stay clear of the prevailing art world?  Or the art world of them? Levin himself points to the answer: he is a man out-of-synch with the surrounding society.

A quick scan of the current exhibits in the Artists House confirms this. U.S.-born Margot Gran shows a spare, visually slight installation called “Project Runway 2:  Pack and  Go” examining preparation for travel including a floor mock-up of an airport runway and  with hanging ceramic pieces showing, for instance, a line drawing of an open Chinese food take-away box flattened. Also from the U.S., Miriam Smaller, in “Living Seeds,” shows  work  from her subjective take on the experience of pregnancy in various media,  and  Ethiopian-born Or Tesima  in “Stain,” her first solo exhibit, shows a sensitive and fully- realized exhibit about coming of age combining photography of her nieces and an effective video showing her squeezing her own breast which extracts liquid continuously. They all speak to an engagement with contemporary concerns, sometimes heavier on the concept than on the visual.

Levin’s works, the result of a life time at the easel, are part of an entirely different conversation. He is not interested in the current fashions, the tweet of the minute. It is too easy to dismiss Levin’s paintings as being Old School, which they certainly are. Despite light subjects, like vases of colorful spring flowers, the dark brooding of the artist creeps into some of the works. His fluid brush strokes are confident - second nature.  These works, while not reflective of today's times and concerns, in another sense, are timeless. They are more correctly seen in the context of a chain of artists’ examination of the world around them with an openness to observing form and the relationships between objects.

Confronting  inanimate objects is a seemingly easy task. Unlike portraits or figures, the subjects stay put, and refrain from distracting chit-chat. Unlike landscape, the lighting and other variables remain in the artist’s sole control. The apparent ease is deceptive, because the difficulty lies in treating everyday objects in an unanticipated way. Levin’s works are indebted to his predecessors, from Chardin through Soutine and Morandi.


"Still Life with Fish Heads" 2007 oil on canvas 40 X 60 cm by Edward Levin (image courtesy of Artists' House)

A series of fish heads are shown which reveal Levin’s love of irony. Chardin’s stingray and Soutine’s response to it are recalled in these works, where two heads of fish each point an eye staring back at the viewer. The fish heads, in their varying positions seem to be posing a quizzical or accusatory look as to their state - indeed, fish out of water, perhaps Levin's take on the immigrant experience. Similarly,  in  the lovely “Sabras,” above, one wonders if Levin is investing the work with a statement about “the Sabra” as a personification of elusive Israeliness.

"Architectual Composition III" oil on canvas by Edward Levin (image courtesy of Artists' House)

In the series “Architectural Composition” Levin’s works show an affinity to works by Morandi,  where he groups objects in varying heights and paints them reduced to their basic geometric forms. Unexpected connections are made by the curator's grouping three paintings of round pomegranates with a small portrait, suggesting that one round object and another can and should  be considered together.

"Still Life with Palette and Self-Portrait" 2011 oil on canvas by Edward Levin (image courtesy of Artists' House)

In the more complex grouping  “Still Life with Palette and Self-Portrait”  Levin places against the crossbars of his easel an odd combination of garlic hanging from a nail, his palette, a hanging white cloth and, resting at the bottom edge of the work, is a painting of the artist holding brush in hand. Though the dominating cross-shape, shroud-like cloth and nail, are perhaps a statement of victim-hood or martyrdom; it is likelier that it is an idiosyncratic combination that simply appealed to Levin at the moment. With or without analysis, it is a painting well brought off.

Besides still life, the exhibit is rounded out with a number of items lifted from his pack-rat style cluttered studio that are a source of inspiration for Levin, all icons in Western art history. Additionally,  a number of early landscape paintings are shown, including this one, seen through the grate of a window – bars of protection or bars of containment?  We do not know.
"Window" 2009 oil on board 18 X 21 cm by Edward Levin (photo by Heddy Abramowitz)

Exhibit continues through March 3.

This post originally appeared on the Times of Israelhttp://blogs.timesofisrael.com/still-not-silent-edward-levin-at-artists-house/

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tunes and Tones Pulse in Meir Appelfeld's Art




I am very pleased to announce that my blog will be published by The Times of Israel,  a new on-line newspaper launched today by David Horowitz, former editor of the Jerusalem Post.   You can continue to access all my posts from this blog,  and selected posts will be available directly through their web site.  
 


"View from Cabri" monoprint 45 X 41.5 cm by Meir Applefeld (image courtesy of Artspace Gallery)

Culture vultures may be forgiven for thinking Tel Aviv is the sole destination for the arts in Israel.  Dwarfed by her bigger sister at the end of Highway One, there is, nonetheless, a vibrant arts community in the capital city. I tend to think of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as siblings, one a little flashier and extroverted; the other a little harder to get to know and introverted, but worth the effort to discover her less obvious charms.

Art lovers in both locales now gain by overlapping exhibitions of Meir Appelfeld’s works. The Artspace Gallery  in Jerusalem’s German Quarter is exhibiting monoprints created by Appelfeld at Kibbutz Cabri and the Rothschild Fine Art Gallery  in Tel Aviv is showing oil paintings of landscape and still life.

It is only a few steps off Jerusalem’s bustling Emek Refaim Street to the Artspace Gallery, where nothing would indicate that the street’s name means The Valley of the Ghosts. A lively mélange of boutiques and eateries of every sort, it attracts an eclectic mix of locals and visitors. Those in the know take the short turn to poet Linda Zisquit’s gallery where her sunny, high-ceilinged home shares space with works by her roster of artists.

The monoprints now on exhibit were created at the Gottesman Etching Center at Cabri, a center for high quality printmaking in the Western Galilee. Typically, a monoprint is created by applying ink with brushes or other application tools, such as cotton swabs, brayers, sponges, fingers, needles and so on, to create a surface that a sheet of paper will be pressed against and pulled away to create the  final image. It is a printing technique which, perhaps, is the most painterly of printing methods; it combines the spontaneity of direct application of the wet ink with the element of the unknown that comes from the pull of the pressed sheet. As with most prints, a mirror reversal of the original image appears as the final result. Though the same plate may be used a second time to get a weaker “ghost” image, this method creates one-of-a-kind works, unlike other printing methods that may be printed in multiple sets.

"View from Cabri" monoprint 99 X 32.5 cm by Meir Appelfeld (image courtesy of Artspace Gallery)
Born in 1967 and raised in Jerusalem, Appelfeld showed early talents both in art and music. A violinist, he had, at one point, considered a musical career and decided instead to devote himself to art studies. He studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art, and continued on to receive an MFA from the Royal Academy of Arts School, both in London. If the name rings a bell, it may be because he is the son of well-known Israeli author Aharon Appelfeld, who faithfully joins the admirers at his son’s openings.

Appelfeld’s strong suit is tonality and these subtle prints show his skill off to great advantage. Ranging from high contrast black and white through delicate grays, his interpretations of the Cabri landscape emphasize the strong verticals and rhythmic horizontals of nature. Some are a mere suggestion of the subject, with simplified results approaching abstraction.

"Still Life with Two Violins and Cupid" oil on canvas 71 X 86 cm by Meir Appelfeld (image courtesy of RFA Gallery)
Situated at the end of a wide tree-lined boulevard, the Rothschild Gallery exhibition also evidences a  musical sense, where Appelfeld presents a new series dealing with musical instruments as still life. These works involve large color masses dividing the canvas in table-top arrangements set against velvety blacks – a signature element in his work. The black helps maximize the brightness of the few colors of his limited palette – and combines with a lively surface.

The paintings are comprised of layers, starting with a veil of under-painting of strong color, then a layer ranging from thinly applied paint to more thickly applied opaque paint, and then peppered with markings scraped through to the color below made by the brush end or palette knife tip. These tics and nervous little squiggles help us peek below the surface. Whether these markings are a purposeful part of his measurement process, as in the late  Euan Uglow’s work, or a musician’s improvised search for staccato effect to enliven the surface is unclear, but, together with linear strokes, they underscore a feel for pattern and rhythm.

In another of the music series, Applefeld seems to be engaging in a conversation across time. French artist, Paul Cezanne, used a Baroque plaster statuette of Cupid in a number of his still lifes as a way to connect with his artistic antecedents. Visitors to Cezanne’s last studio in Aix en Provence can still see the same statue and other still life elements used in his work. In “Still Life with Cupid, French Horn and Flute," and other works, as above,  Applefeld, seems to be nodding to Cezanne through the placement of a Cupid statue in his own work.

"Grove" oil on canvas 46 X 33 cm by Meir Apperlfeld (image courtesy of RFA Gallery)
Pulsations are felt in the landscapes done in Jerusalem’s “Moon Grove” park near his home, as well as in other still lifes. One of the few surviving urban nature spots not yet fallen prey to the grasp of developers, it is a beloved site for plein air painters, scout groups, dog walkers and nature lovers. Applefeld’s landscapes combine a calligraphic line, love of rhythm, a fuller color palette and a surface enriched by the various dashes that are an integral part of his repertoire. In other still lifes, the pattern of the repeated shapes of muted green  and golden apples appear to be bending and nodding as silent dancers across the canvas.

"Apples" oil on canvas 47 X 52 cm by Meir Appelfeld (image courtesy of RFA Gallery)
It is not exactitude that Appelfeld seeks from whatever motif he chooses. He combines observation and memory to distill his summation of his subjects. Seemingly, after years of practice and training, some of his works appear caught in a spotlight, gleaming after a good performance and taking a bow.

Exhibit at Artspace Gallery, closes February 23, 2012

Exhibit at Rothschild Fine Arts Gallery, closes March 7, 2012

This post originally appeared on the Times Of Israel http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/tunes-and-tones-pulse-in-meir-appelfelds-art/

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hands and Heart

"Heart and Hands"  wall grafitti,,   c. 2012 by  Heddy Abramowitz


Love, it is said, keeps the world spinning. Valentine's Day is not celebrated in the Jewish calendar, being a holiday with origins in the Christian religion. Nonetheless, in recent years, the secular majority of Israel has embraced this holiday, much as it does New Year's Eve, another holiday which does not originate in Jewish sources.

With the attitude that it is a "siba le mesiba" (an excuse to party), restaurant ads offer romantic deals, hotels offer get-aways, gift shops, bakeries and chocolatiers all join in to make sure that the commercial world will be ready and able to provide the goods when Cupid strikes.

At the height of the  warm summer, Jewish tradition's celebration of  love and romance is marked. Tu B'Av (the fifteenth day of the month of Av), was originally a way to even the playing field for the poor girls. It was customary for all  girls to wear similar white dresses and dance together while the boys picked their heart's desire, unable to differentiate between the orphans and the elite. Today, the traditionally-minded  find it a preferred day for romance, proposals and weddings.

It is always a good time for romance. Above is a youth group's efforts at embellishing a city wall, with their wet palm prints and a huge heart. And below, a moonlit stroll along the Old City walls for a young couple.


"Full Moon Stroll"  c. 2012 by Heddy Abramowitz
 To romance.