Years ago, I studied with the U.S. artist Dolph Smith. His art was centered around his obsession with weathered barns and cottages. His watercolors were luminous. Over time, the barns started to morph into winged structures; sky meets structure in wonderful unity. Paper airplanes showed up and up. From Dolph Smith, I took the idea of permission to explore my personal imagery. One day, years on, the barns of Dolph’s rural Tennessee landscapes would become, for me, the ancient/modern paradox embedded in the architecture of Jerusalem.
In those many intervening years, I struggled with my medium, watercolor. There is an obsession among artists to produce the elusive watercolor. The perfectionism battled with my need for freedom. I packed up my paints in despair.
Two angels discovered me: Collage and Jerusalem. Collage is exactly suited to my need for freedom, discovery and accidents; and for chaos and resolution. The possibilities are endless: assemblage, ripping, adding, de-collage, paint.
In 1998 an opportunity arose for us to move to Israel. With that medium and this subject combined, I found my obsession, and it was good.
I start a painting: an architectural abstraction of Jerusalem. I work in many layers. the first layer is like a first love: tenuous, vulnerable, full of promise, consuming, breathtaking. I start with areas of pure, saturated color, refreshing and naive. Since it is first love, you know it is about to change.
The second layer involves collage. I tear random images from an old text on electromagnetic fields. I release a portrait of the author into the collage; he had been trapped behind his heavy horn rims on the flyleaf for fifty years. Now pages torn from an outdated Paris Metro schedule turn up with their poetry of columns and rows. I enter the rhythm of tearing and the irony of juxtaposition. The building of a landscape via sense and nonsense.
The art of disparity.
After a break for tea and a little nap, I am ready to get back to it.
But first- I take a call from my daughter who asks me to send her the photos I took last night at my grandson’s engagement party. I offer this as an example of huge disruptions and disparate inclusions; the wild insistence of a new life. And in a month, a new baby is due in the family. Where will the baby appear in the landscape? What will my hand bring to life as it reaches between heart and brain? And death, I am no stranger to it. Working in this open, unobstructed way, on canvas, a new creature will be born, both naïve and knowing, light and dark.
Perhaps I will de-collage the metro schedule…Or the quirky charts of electromagnetism. Perhaps they will turn out to have been scaffolding; necessary for construction, but removed in the final reveal. I’m painting again. I work between collage and paint wresting the painting from the tension between the two.
The canvas is not the kitchen sink or a journal, not a record of raw emotions; rather it is an elegant search for the self within its contexts of love, work, history and emotions. Layers entice me. In particular, I am drawn to layers of Jewish images which I excavate from family and communal history, not out of nostalgia but as a search of a new creation. The timber of Jewish life as I live it is amplified by the texts I discover. Historically, works of Jewish art were often staid landscapes in oils of muted tones. These recorded the patina of pain. These are like monuments, too cold and grey for me. Subjects are often sad, old men. Perhaps the artists are saying a Kaddish, a memorial prayer for the dead and for what they think is a dead way of life. Or, perhaps the artists paint what they see but do not know. They paints as visitors. This distance makes the paintings fossilized.