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

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

"Hurva Synagogure Framed in Snow" c. 2013 by Heddy Abramowitz
Israelis traveling abroad often marvel at what counts as headlines in some of the quieter corners of the planet:  cricket matches in New Zealand, bar brawls in Scotland, garden club winners, well, anywhere.   What a luxury, we mutter to ourselves, considering the kinds of headlines that grab attention all too often in Israel.

"The Open Cardo" c.2013 by Heddy Abramowitz

For a rare change,  we can now bask in the the luxury of headlines involving The Weather - as safe a subject as there is,  and one of two advised to Eliza Doolittle to stick to for safety's sake as she was trotted out to meet high society at the Ascot races.The other, health,  got her into trouble. A delight to be pre-occupied with what is normally trivial, Jerusalem is in knots over what would count as a dusting in areas more familiar with the white stuff.

"Lions of Jerusalem" c. 2013 by Heddy Abramowitz

We normally do not have a lot of variety in Jerusalem weather.  We have two seasons,  the dry and hot summer and the cooler and somewhat wetter winter.   Spring takes about a minute.   Fall doesn't exist, at least not to anyone expecting to see fall foliage or wear thick sweaters while feeling a tingle in their cheeks. It is really comical to follow the weather report which stays unchanged for six months:  hot, hotter and even hotter.

"Byzantine Church" c. 2013 by Heddy Abramowitz

If Eskimos are said to have an endless variety of ways to describe snow, and the English are known for their fine-tuning of names for rain, Israelis are stuck describing the infinitesimal gradations of kinds of summer heat. Endless blue skies are something we take for granted.  The appearance of a whisp of clouds at the end of August gives us an inkling that the season is about to change from "sof ha kayitz (summer's end)" to  winter  when, not so coincidentally, the first rain falls like clockwork on Sukkot (the Festival of Booths).

"El Aksa Mosque in Snowfall" c. 2013 by Heddy Abramowitz

We are never in the news for Extreme Weather.  This week, after high winds and huge amounts of rainfall for a desert climate, we achieved weather nirvana when the temperatures dove below zero and gave us a blanket of white.   Rare doesn't really describe this.   Jerusalem, a hilly city, entirely shuts down for snow, or even the rumor of snow.  We are woefully unprepared, no one has car chains or snow tires or  the vaguest idea of how to drive in snow (you turn into the curve???)  - not to mention ill-equipped to deal with it personally;  lacking real cold weather gear,  it is common to see people out and about wearing plastic bags over their shoes as a stop gap against the cold and wet.   School was closed yesterday when nary a flake  fell.   What fun is that?

"Going to the Western Wall" c. 2013 by Heddy Abramowitz

Today, it happened. The closed roads to Jerusalem left the city in a white seige.   The trains ran to bring the snow- curious to see the white stuff for themselves, and leave their cars behind in the warmer climes. We got the real deal: snowball fights, snow people, hot cocoa to warm up with.   From long experience with the elusiveness of a Jerusalem snow fall, we were up and out at the crack of dawn to photograph Jerusalem donning  the white lace gown she seldom wears.  By noon, most commonly, the snow has already become slush,  and only at dawn can one put one's own footprint into fresh powder.   

So, from my neighborhood to yours,   a walk through the Jewish Quarter.

"Two Menorahs in the Snow" c.2013 by  Heddy Abramowitz

"Past and Present" c.2013 by Heddy Abramowitz
"Southern Wall and Mount of  Olives" c. 2013 by Heddy Abramowitz
"The Hurva Synagogue and Snow People"  c.  2013 by Heddy Abramowitz
"The Western Wall and Dome of the Rock in Snow" c.2013 by Heddy Abramowitz

Photographs and Memories: Gil Haller at Artspace Gallery

"Sharon by the Pool" 2012 50 cm X 40 cm oil on wood by Gil Haller

Much like encountering an insect caught in amber, certain moments have been frozen in the ooze of what feels like memory:  the wending of wind through olive trees, the breaking up as light meets water, the arc of his wife’s back. New paintings by Gil Haller on display at poet Linda Zisquit’s Artspace Gallery in Jerusalem’s German Colony neighborhood focus on a specific time and place.
The choice of subject includes landscapes from Israel, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Italy, self-portraits, family and a still life, but more than the pleasant locations or situations that inspired these works there is  something else mixed in between what Haller transposes  from the perceived into what he conveys. Strong compositional divisions of the formats are evident and his search for color includes the range from intensely warm oranges and ochres to quieter lavender and peachy pastels, sometimes bordering on the sweet and delicate.

Haller, Jerusalem born in 1979, studied painting at the Jerusalem Studio School for three years, and subsequently spent time on student cultural exchanges in Italy.  This is Haller’s third solo exhibit, his second at this venue. Fans of the television program "The Portrait (Ha Diokan)" may recall his appearance on that popular reality show where he painted Knesset member Ahmad Tibi’s likeness.

Old photographs often serve as a source of inspiration for Haller, and, in other work outside this exhibit, he has transposed black and white photos into close duplications of the originals, parlaying vintage sporting events or obscure family memorabilia into a second life for those long-forgotten moments.  The verisimilitude is so close that they can cause confusion as to whether they are formed mechanically or by the human hand, and beg a philosophical question regarding the significance of “reality”.
"Landscape 7" 30 cm X 50 cm oil on wood by Gil Haller

The 25 paintings completed over a three year period in the current exhibit, titled “You had to be there,” are not efforts at painstaking duplication of musty photographs or of nature. While photographs are Haller’s starting point in these works, as well, something else besides marveling at his copying abilities is at play here.

There is certainly nothing new in the use of photographs as an aide memoire for a painter.   Practically since the invention of photography painters quickly caught on to the camera's faster eye and ability to order space as an asset to their work.  Delacroix, Degas, Eakins,  and thousands of painters in their wake adopted photography as one more tool to achieve their goals, though it might remain in the realm of a trade secret.

A handy shortcut to translating the three-dimensional world into two dimensions,  photography organizes much of the visual information with which real life assaults one and saves the artist many decisions. But stream-lining creates other issues for the painter: how can one keep the painting vital in a time when the photograph is ubiquitous, when a phone camera and Instagrams are a click away for every lay person?

The photograph, whether from magazines, the internet or family albums, is the start, but not the end of Haller's paintings. The instantaneous click is slowed to a much different pace when transformed into paint,  a kind of technical  throwback as if applying a buggy whip to jet travel.

"Olive Trees" 2010 48 cm X 55 cm oil on wood by Gil Haller
The works have a contemporary feel,  but the execution is not accomplished through the latest technical processes. The shapes of color that Haller interconnects sometimes give a sense of color separation in modern printing processes, resulting in the simplification of the larger masses of the paintings and the intertwining of smaller details with jagged geometric borders delineating them one from the other.  His brushwork is nearly flat, a good thing here, so that the viewer can appreciate the unadorned, directly- painted color transitions without distracting flourishes. Inside the shapes, some masses are a single hue, while others have their own nuances of variety within the borders. The paintings are not formulaic in their creation, thus saving them from being deadened by an automatic procedure. Here perception, memory and imagination co-mingle.

"Self-Portrait 2" 50 cm X 40 cm oil on wood by Gil Haller

Of the two self-portraits on display, one profile, one full-faced, it is the latter that drew me in. Haller’s steady gaze takes us into his own frozen moment, we see his neutral expression that fails to belie a hint of weariness. To my taste, Haller is at his best in his carefully-considered figure paintings, where his feel for emotional nuance is just under the surface. Confidence is paired with restraint.

Simplified, yet not simple.  Like being there.

Artspace Gallery,  ends January 17, Tuesday 5-7, Thursday 5-7 or by appointment 02-5662423. (All images courtesy of Artspace Gallery).


This post was originally published on the Times of Israel:

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Up Close and Personal: Shir Shvadron at Tel Aviv's Artists' House

"Cup" 2000 watercolor on paper 34.5cm X 32.2cm by Shir Shvadron (image courtesy of the artist)
Shir Shvadron’s recent exhibition at the Tel Aviv Artists’ House was a reminder that an artist who loves to paint will convey that - without lofty goals, highfalutin agendas or intents to elevate the works beyond what they purport to be: an observation of the physical world of the artist.

Curator, Yuval Caspi, chose four groupings of paintings to concentrate on in this large exhibit of a hundred and thirty works which were completed over a four-decade period, which he describes as "small and intimate" in his essay.  Though the exhibit could have been a bit pared down,  overall it showed the artist's main strengths, focusing on works, mostly of modest size, which  concentrate on traditional areas of interest to the painter: self-portrait, landscape, the figure and still life.  A range of media were included, such as watercolors, gouaches, acrylics and oils.

Getting to know Shvadron through his self-portraits is a lesson in observation.  One wall of these twenty or so paintings in watercolors were completed within a short range of time, days apart, some hours apart, and each showed a fresh engagement with his own face, resulting in related, but different facets of self-observation.  The set-up changed little - frontal views of his face in a table-top painting – but lighting, mood and emphasis change from work to work.  The series seems as if it were accumulated  pieces of an overall puzzle of self-discovery.

Other elements in the exhibit include studies of his aging parents, of his wife, the artist Lea Kochav Shvadron, landscapes of scruffy and dry clumps of trees showing sensitivity to the qualities of the local light, a building in Old Jaffa near his home,  and watercolor studies of boats in the Greek Isles, resulting from a combination of observation and memory which ran to illustration of blue reveries along the water’s edge.

cup 2000 blue and beige
"Cup" 2000 watercolor on paper 34.5 cm X 32.2 cm by Shir Shvadron (image courtesy of the artist)

So what is the allure of watercolor, as a medium, to a seasoned artist?   The luminosity of the colors is attractive, but it is a challenge even to an accomplished painter to achieve results, which are never guaranteed. Every movement of the brush becomes part of the painting, every runaway drip of liquid creates an immediate need to adapt, accidental splashes are common, there are no erasures, no error-hiding subsequent layers and little room for second thoughts.  Every mark remains on the page for the viewer to take in. It is a most unforgiving medium.

The use of the white of the page is critical to convey light and before one even puts brush to paper, the artist must already know where the white of the paper will be left unpainted to convey the brightest of the light. Shvadron’s thoughtful usage of the white of the page is worth consideration.

In the still lifes shown, Shvadron has reduced the quiet world of objects to a spartan engagement with only two elements, a cup and a tablecloth which envelops the cup from all directions. His delicately painted watercolors ranged from those that attempted to present them in full color with developed tonality and space, to those which reduced the elements to more and more simplified examinations. The floral arabesque–like swirls became an integral part of the bowl-like cup, and finally, the cup itself is absent; its presence is felt in the vacant white space remaining amidst the swirls.
cup 2010
"Cup" 2010 watercolor on paper 70.4 cm X 49.5 cm by Shir Shvadron (image courtesy of the artist)

Shvadron does not break new ground in this exhibit, but his exuberance for painting is, in itself, something of an achievement.  Looking hard and repeatedly confronting the subject is a slow, perhaps tedious,  process that allows the paintings to develop over what may feel like glacial stretches of time, something that cannot be hurried by short-cuts or software.

The accompanying catalogue includes Dor Levy's essay “An Analog Painter in a Digital World.”  Levy refers to Shvadron’s extensive social media presence, especially on Facebook, where he has reached the 5,000 Friend limit and has hundreds more subscribers from all over the globe.   Levy feels this is an extension of Shvadron’s natural gregariousness, generosity of personality and love of sharing art, his own and others. Personality aside, the use of social media has opened the world to artists from all over the globe who can now partially by-pass traditional gallery structures or help to compensate for working in far-flung locations distant from art centers and reach their own cyber-community of artists and admirers.

Born in Hadera, Israel in 1950, Shvadron attended the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem from 1973-76. The grounding of his art in the “analog” world is due to his admiration for art traditions, and Shvadron acknowledges amongst his influences artists as diverse as  Piero della Francesca, Picasso, Matisse, Vuillard, Rothko, Alex KatzEuan Uglow, and a selection of Israeli painters ranging from Streichman and Zaritsky to Lea Nikel, Ori Reisman and others.

Jan Rauchwerger and Galit Rauchwerger, 70th Birthday in Studio © 2013 by Heddy Abramowitz

Amongst Shvadron’s teachers was the veteran Russian-Israeli painter, Jan Rauchwerger , now celebrating his seventieth birthday.  At a recent reunion of former students in honor of their teacher, another former student, Michael Kovner, recalled that he took Rauchwerger to see his exhibit and Rauchwerger, a man who could say a lot with few words,  said the problem with the exhibit boiled down to one thing:   the exhibit didn’t sing.

One would expect that would not be a problem for an artist whose first name means song.   Sing it did.

This post was originally published on the Times of Israel: