Monday, November 03, 2014

The Painter’s Gaze

It came to pass (according to legend, surely) that two eminent painters in ancient Greece, Zeuxis and Parrhasius, one day decided to hold a contest to decide which one was the better realist painter. On the day of the contest, they walked to the town square. Zeuxis was the first to unveil his canvas. On it was depicted such a perfect bunch of grapes, that the birds flew toward the painting and tried to nibble them.
Zeuxis turned to Parrhasius. “Now take off the fabric that covers your canvas”, he said. But when he tried to remove it, he found that the cloth was… a painting! Therefore Parrhasius won, because, said Zeuxis, “I fooled the birds, but Parrhasius fooled Zeuxis” - a painter, someone with a superior power of perception.

When we were just beginning to learn painting, we had to do dozens of tedious exercises with the sole purpose of teaching us how to see. See - not paint or draw. See, because seeing is the basis of all painting. The artist sees what no other eye can behold. He looks into the soul of things. He is far-sighted and delirious, he has imagination and dreams, he has the mysterious power to blow life into dead matter.
John Ruskin - the 19-century poet, art critic, artist - wrote a few books on art, among them about the art of drawing (“The Elements of Drawing”). He argued that everyone whould acquire this ability, if they would like to truly understand the world. He claimed that until you have tried to draw a tree, or a bird, or a house - you haven’t truly seen them.
One of my friends would second him on that. My friend was very excited to describe how he, with no previous experience, sat in a garden and toiled about drawing a few branches of a tree. The more he observed and tried to pass them onto the paper, the more he became aware of the structure of the tree and how complex it is - something he has always taken for granted.
Observing nature makes one humble. And being humble is the greatest gift one can give oneself.

Shortly after I began to study realistic painting and drawing, I found myself gazing at trees for long periods, because painting such a huge organism is all but easy. I patiently observed the interwoven branches, the rising canopy, the play of light on the foliage and the transformation of color, the dark shades. A few minutes into this, (no idea how few - you lose your sense of time when trying to draw) I was suddenly seized by a rather mysterious sense. Observation has resulted in something close to trance, where I had an enhanced perception of the beauty of the trees, and that beauty has taken over me. It was a most peculiar discovery, as if for a short while I have been part of the soul of the tree.
It is common to say that the eyes are the mirror of the soul, maybe even more than that: they may be a opening through which the soul can come and go as it pleases, merge with the world, feel the unity and joy and beauty. Perhaps beauty is nothing but a feeling, which resides "in the eye of the beholder”, or better: in the soul of the beholder.

They were the most common cypresses and eucalyptuses, but suddenly they were talking and singing to me, suddenly I could understand them and they could understand me. Ruskin was right in his suggestion that everyone should study drawing. You owe it to yourself, to your family - your larger family, the one which includes all things large and small.
I asked myself a simple question: how come I didn’t see it so far? And more questions followed: Why did it turn up just now? And what else can I see that I couldn’t see before? (And I began to make an effort to try to see more and more, to obtain more of that sweet stuff).
And so painting, having been a goal in itself, reveals its true purpose: to see. Because to see means to know the world, and knowing the world is knowing myself.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Rona in Wonderland or: Bella Italia
So, Venice.
Everything in this city seems to be glowing - probably a result of the presence of so much water; objects radiate light and vibrate color. The  effect is so intense that totally overwhelms the visitor, especially the art-minded, that needs to stop every  second to appreciate a new beauty.

Before Venice I went to Civita Castellana, in the drawing above, a place onsidered "legendary" among plein air painters. Corot and Turner painted here; I was curious and the place took my breath away. It reminded me of dreams I had in the past - what a surprising encounter, to discover a  dreamscape in reality!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Drawing, by the Way

It's been a very dry winter so far in Haifa, and I got used to taking long walks - sometimes longer than the drawing/painting session - and discovering new places nearby. I always need to improve nature a bit; I did it with my "Back Yard" series; I am doing it again with "Khayat Grove", a secret garden that's been neglected for decades but is kept afloat thanks to volunteer work (initiated by Eyal Friedlander and Abed Abdi, two artists from Haifa).
These are a few drawings done recently, all pen on paper. Sizes vary - 25x35 or 35x50.

The Grove is at the foot of the Carmel, right where Wadi Siah - a graceful semi-dry stream (flows in rainy season) that runs through a modest wood - ends. This is what I was drawing a bit higher up. 

Elsewhere in Haifa a miniature rocky slope captured my imagination.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

City Breaks and Forest Dreams

oil on canvas 40x50 cm

Dorit Barak invited me to take part in this year's Open Studios. She has a big studio in South Tel Aviv, in a building shared by many other artists. It allowed me to stay a few days in the big city, and made me feel like I needed more of that, because Haifa is so, well... quiet.
Not that we don't have our own city life. But it's very modest and you always meet the same people. Tel Aviv has this pulse, rush and multiple opportunities. I chose to live in Haifa though, and judging by the creative surge I had in the past few years, my choice seems justified.
But since Dorit invited me to show in Tel Aviv, I just sat at the desk, so to speak, and began to work, producing a whole body of work in just 5 months.
Here are some examples of the stuff I've been producing.

oil on canvas 48x52 cm

 engraving and oil paint on opaque (white) plexiglass, 65x64

oil on canvas 106x44 cm

This last one is an experiment in painting from imagination. I started with my back yard - the first painting in this post - and then inserted the forest in the space stretched between the buildings. 
So the back yard becomes CityForest... and maybe when CityForest project is ready, my back yard will indeed be part of it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Forest Life

170x80 cm, oil on canvas, 2013

It's been a while. I have been busy moving from one rented apartment to another, trying hard to keep up the good work. The first move was to an apartment you wouldn't believe existed within my financial limits. It was a dream home, but as in dreams, it could not stay mine for long.
But the good news is, the Tigers project has given me a nice push to continue working as it was received so nicely. One of the Tigers is now decorating an office of a big company, another has landed in a private home.
Apart from drawing and painting like crazy all that which surrounds me - the view from the balcony is an old and somewhat romantic ruin - I have started working on the next thing. The forest above, a gift for my brother, is part of the new project. I have been dilligently procrastinating, if you can say such a thing. Sketches fill the room till there's no air but still no end, nor beginning (of the actual painting) in sight.
Forest has taken over my life. I seem to be thinking of nothing else, even contemplating moving to Europe for a while just to live in a forest and paint it until I'm satisfied. It could be West Europe (France is my favorite) or East (Georgia) or something in-between, like Slovenia, which I believe is covered up to its nostrils with moss. I just need to avoid bears, and then the forest will just fall into my arms and surrender, I suppose. Or I should just rely on the few sketches (in oil) I made here, in the humble strips of green we mistakenly label "forest" and use my imagination instead, - anything goes.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Opening at P8 Gallery

Well, wasn't that fun?! I didn't realize there was going to be yet another opening for the same project, but Josef said I must go on showing this to the world. Tigers need the exposure. So here I am again following Ora Ruven's generous, fabulous invitation, smack in the middle of Tel Aviv. I mean, Yafo. Same thing from here - Haifa is so far away from everything.
We celebrated till 10:40 PM when we had to chase the last visitors away (a pair just stepped in, so we let them be for a moment). I had some interesting visits, including an old flame of mine (yes! yes!) - we still have to catch up sometime - and people I did not expect to see there at all, chance meetings, potential buyers and more.
The next few days some more interesting stuff. I am thrilled - a strange mixture of anxiety, hopefullness, intoxication and even some unexplained pain. Working in the studio, challenging and frustrating as it is, is still being in your own world, see?... But out there in the real world, the wolves are on the loose and no number of tigers, however magnificent, can save me from their cold grip. I am scared and don't even know why. But I'm happy too. I guess... take a deep breath and go on. (I haven't a clue where I will be living in two months).
Anyway, to end on a cheerful note, I need to be in Tel aviv quite a bit now, and will greet you at the Gallery myself plus free speech(es) about the tigers, if you're not too tired of them by now. And there will be Gallery Talk too, on Friday June 11 at noon. Let me entertain you.

Panthera Tigris Nisnas - at P8 Gallery till June 11

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Song of Herself

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
- William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

The insignificant is as big to me as any
- Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

For more than three years, Hadar Gad has been travelling to Kibbutz Ein Harod Meuhad Cemetery, taking in the view and sketching the trees, stones and light. Back in the studio the sketches are turned into large-scale paintings that carry many layers of meaning. It is a continuous labor of love, its significance and symbolism - both personal and collective - slowly unfolding in the process.
Though her parents left the kibbutz shortly after she was born, Hadar Gad always felt connected to the landscape, to the cradle of the mythology she grew upon. Her grandparents were among the founders of the kibbutz and are buried there. Miraculously, the cemetery - an exquisite garden in its own right - hasn't changed since her childhood, and she was naturally drawn to that peaceful back yard.

Visiting the place stirred in her questions of belonging, roots, identity; alongside the artistic journey, she also found the key to confront these questions and resolve them. A remarkably large body of work emerged from these day trips, and in 2009 she exhibited a selection of works at the Ein Harod Museum. The show was titled "Block, Section, Row" - a system used in Israel to locate an individual grave.
The works are generally associated with the myth of the Kibbutz, the ethos of the pioneers, and the place of graveyards, mourning and remembrance in Israeli society (typified by the ever-present, meticulously depicted towering cypresses, characteristic to the landscape). The choice of a cemetery is not random, as this place is central and sacred in Israeli culture. All that is mixed with her own relationship with Death and Memory, and with a quest for Beauty and Redemption that can be found in Art.

Before stepping out into the open landscape, Hadar Gad's imagery comprised mainly paintings of interiors: bookshelves, wardrobes, the contents of the refrigerator or a trash bin - painted with great honesty, a love for detail, a decent dose of humor and a masterful hand. In taking these notes of the mundane, her vision of trivial moments, she attempted to arrest time in its tracks, like so many people do when touched by great emotion. Now the moment has come to venture into time's last stronghold; the cemetery.

Many of the cemetery paintings are drawings with some color thrown on them. Yet somehow the sparsity in color enhances the impression of rich color subdued. The paintings are built using many transparent layers, applying and scraping off paint. The result is a surface that, while maintaining its seemingly realistic appearance, doesn't disclose all of its secrets at once. The attention is constantly shifting between the objects and the spaces between them; inward and outward movement; looking at the landscape but also through it.

The experience of visiting a graveyard might generate strange sensibilities. It is essentially a non-visit; you cannot converse with the dead. But a burial ground is after all a meeting place of sorts - everybody passes through the gate at one time or another. Funerals and memorials aside, there are other voices there, and other gates to pass; the graveyard is also the threshold, a port for the initiated who seek guidance into the ultimate realm.

After breaking through realism - and thereby letting go of the story, symbolism and all - Hadar Gad's sketches become maps, labyrinths, of that other realm. They form flat patterns resembling some animal's skin. They take a life and meaning of their own, which is not merely decorative: Even in their flatness they remain multidimensional. Their transparency suggests shreds of memory, vague, elusive, but often overflowing with feelings of longing, introspection, silence. It's referring to, hinting at, the possibility of a painting, as if the painting exists in another domain and we can only see its traces. The soft golden light in many of the images emanates from a place that can only exist in memory.

The balance between outside - form, surface, brush strokes - and inside - the invisible in the visible - is perfected more and more with every session. She seems to have found that port and gone through it, moving from presence to essence. Painting that addresses these issues takes knowledge, humility and acceptance of the process we all have to go through - bloom, fruit, decay; we all return to the soil and all that is left is our untold story. We too become slowly transparent, become layers of memory.

Eternity lies in the smallest insignificant detail. But we are all insignificant details in the larger scheme, so there is no such thing as insignificant. The measure of importance is in the artist's hypnotized gaze, reminding us that beauty, despite what the postmodernists want us to believe, is rare and far from cliché. In fact it is sophisticated and subtle and cannot be easily discerned. The beauty in Hadar Gad's paintings is something the artist alone detects and points at, not inherent in the things themselves - they can be totally nondescript at times - but an act of charity, of grace. She brings it forth from her own inner being.

Creation is putting order in chaos. As in Block, Section, Row - or finding patterns in the fallen leaves on the ground - order also symbolizes the struggle to overcome the fear of the unknown, the unexplained, the inevitable. Nature's rhythm is the greatest comfort because she offers us Forever; everything is cyclic, there's disintegration and rebirth. Order helps us see some meaning in what seems to be the cruel whimsical turns of fate. Art too is such comfort.