Most of Yitzhak Nir’s life was spent as a pilot in the sky. In his younger days, he was a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force. Then, he became a captain for the commercial El Al airline.
As a painting student of Marcel Yanku, Ernest Fucs, Wolfgang Manner, Ben Tritt and others, he was influenced from the European “Old-schools”, “Impressionism” and the 20th century painting movements in the U.S.
Both forces shaped his style: His perspective was deeply influenced from his 30,000 flying hours, while the colors and compositions form the “old” and “new” painting movements.
In his recent piece, “Atlantic Dawn”, clouds and vapor trail of a jet plane, all seem centered into the rising sun, differing the darkly night from the upcoming dazzling day.
“When Your Enemy falls”(275 x 175 cm), perhaps Nir’s most iconic work, was inspired by an air combat incident in the artist’s life. When he served in the Israeli Air Force, he shot down an enemy plane. He remembers watching the plane go down, while he was shouting in his oxygen mask, begging the pilot to eject out. The pilot never did and his plane crashed in a ball of fire to the desert’s sand.
Years later, Nir channeled the memory into this painting. It brings together several of his trademark features – the tilted, vertigo-inducing horizon, baroque sunbeams penetrating the clouds and the desert below, and in the background two small birds running out while tow vapor-trails are crossing high above, creating a mystical, surrealistic touch.
The clouds seem to take form in the shape of the white bird, caught in the aiming point of the artist’s jet fighter. Is this screaming wounded bird, a hawk of war or a dove of peace? The soul of the fallen pilot or the artist’s own tortured conscience?
The work was has an immediacy which is both striking and unsettling: demanding a response but offering no easy answers.
Nir has experimented with several styles over his long career as a painter. His recent works often integrate them. While some of his paintings are clearly surrealistic in inspiration, his primary vision is impressionist. However, he frequently gestures towards Rembrandt, Brueghel, Vermeer and Monet as well.
In works like “Jaffa Harbor 2015”, light from the “Northern Renaissance” pours down over a view that is otherwise grainy and detailed, marked by an almost nostalgic attention to the structures of everyday life. A white seagull, soaring close to the source of light at the top of the composition, is echoed at the bottom by a tiny figure sitting and reading a newspaper while fishing.
Are the combat helicopters
a dreamlike visitation of the artist’s soul or an Israeli “ambiguous situation” symbol?
Nir’s landscape work in general, shows this dialogue between the expansive and the mundane. Skies dominate the frame, and their vivid colors and sweeping cloud shapes draw the eye up into open space. The land, on the other hand, is depicted in soft, intimate detail. There is something in the shape of the trees, the lighting over the rocks, the signs and other objects lovingly placed in the foreground that speaks of home, calling the viewer to ground themselves in this world.
No-where is this more apparent than in his paintings depicting Israel. His connection to the land and its recent history is clearly heartfelt. His work shares some common ground with contemporaries like Andrew White, but his interest in landscapes is much more in the shape and personality of the every location. (Many landscapes are in fact, vertical and dominated by rising rocks, trees, antennas and so on). People rarely appear, and human structures appear to grow out of the land.
“18:30 and Hazy” stands out amongst these works. A deserted road leads out into the “nowhere” in the desert, untouched by human presence except for a few old poles and a broken fencepost upfront. Nir’s mastery of color is in full bloom here. His palette is unique and difficult to pin down, flickering between cool and warm tones. At the boundary between day and night, the image conveys a pulse of desert heat gradually dissipating into twilight.
With his recent works, Yitzhak Nir invites us on a journey across land and sky, through the expanse of nature and history and into a deeply personal inner realm. It’s an invitation we can happily accept.
By Dan Livni – (Winner of the “Struck price” for life achievements in arts & education).