A chapter from
prizma / my final art project
Euphoria of colors Tel Aviv, I was 50 ,1993, “Euphoria of Colors” is the name I have chosen for the period in the early '90s when I did the colorful flower paintings. I can think of no other way to describe in words the “flood” of colors that came over me at this time. It was as if I was experiencing a peak of saturation and overflow, and I needed to express it.
After about 30 years of painting, the colors now led the way, andI surrendered, like the colors themselves that dissolved in water, and made large paintings, using brushes, creating colored tonal areas, , with almost no drawn lines.
Water-soluble colors on non-woven cloth, 110/140 cm
A brief history: My work with colors before the large flower paintings When I began doing art, it was with drawing in charcoal on paper. What interested me then was imitating a form I was looking at and defining it on paper â€“ this was how I was able to express myself. Color was unimportant to me during those early years.
When I studied art in Melbourne in 1966, John Brack, the director of the academy, a highly regarded artist to this day, saw my enthusiasm for drawing and etching and my lack of interest in brushwork and oil paints. He exempted me from painting classes and told me that I should follow my feelings. I’ll always remember that conversation. My understanding of color developed slowly, and without teachers, over 30 years, until it emerged with such power when I was about 50. Most of the examples I’ve selected to show my development in the use of color are figurative works, mostly with figures of women, because this was the major subject of my work. I did paint some flowers, but in most cases they accompanied a figure and were there to project something of the figure's character. It was only in the early ’90s that I began painting flowers without a woman figure beside them. First Works in Color When I started using colors, I did it the same way that I used charcoal sticks. I used the pointed ends of chalks to draw thin lines, and their flat sides to make thick lines. I spread the powder that came off the chalks with the palms of my hands to create color areas. Sometimes the powders of different colors got mixed together and created new shades that didn’t exist in the original box of pastels. I found that I could determine the strength of the colors by the amount of pressure I applied while drawing and by the density of the marks I drew. I continued drawing in black, the colors were secondary, providing a background to bring out the central figure.
1975, charcoal and pastels on paper, 70/100 cm
If I gave any importance to color in a work, it was because I wanted to draw attention to the symbolic meaning of a particular colored shape. In this work, the figure is drawn in shades of earth brown, which I generally used for depicting the body. The hibiscus flower, however, is bright red, representing passion, the figure's desire.
1975, pastel drawing on paper, 70x50 cm
Even when I started working with brushes, the coloring continued to develop out of the central drawing. I made the color patches by applying oil chalk and then diluting it with thinner.
1976, collage, pastels, oil sticks and thinner on paper, 70/50 cm
In May 1982 I painted “live” flowers as an independent motif .for the first time. The first time I painted “live” flowers as an independent motif was in May 1982, in Kibbutz Shefayim. The kibbutz was holding an Art Festival over the Shavuot weekend, and had invited a group of artists from Tel Aviv to spend a pleasant Saturday there with their families, including meals and use of the pool, and in return to exhibit works in the kibbutz’s conference hall. Most of the artists came with their families and their young children.
Some of the artists who like to paint directly from nature took out their painting gear and painted. The atmosphere was very pleasant and pastoral. I sat on the grass and drew the bright red Canna flowers with their large maroon-colored leaves in a flower-bed before me.. I was surprised to find myself getting so involved in painting flowers from life. I drew these works with pastel chalks. I didnâ€™t know it then but I could have used transparent liquid colors to connect the shapes.
1982, pastels on paper, 100x70 cm
During the next few years I didnâ€™t go on drawing flowers as an independent motif. , I painted women with flowers beside them: I felt that flowers and blossoming womanhood went well together.
Traditional watercolor painting never attracted me. I didn’t like painting in layers, waiting until the paint dried every time, it didn’t suit my temperament. Also, I usually worked on large surfaces, and the little blocks of watercolors didn’t suit the broad arm movements I preferred. I would prepare solutions of tints in small jars. I called these “cooperating tints”: they were soft and not domineering. I applied them with gentle brushstrokes over the drawing that I had done with hard sticks of chalk and oil pastels. The watery colors were transparent and did not cover the drawn lines.
1984, pastels and brushwork on paper, 70/50 cm
1987 I gradually began drawing and painting more and more freely with a brush dipped in liquid color. I found myself creating color areas that were independent of the drawn figure and had an expressive language of their own.
1987,liquid colors and pencils on paper,36/38 cm
1987, liquid colors and pencils on paper, 75/50 cm
1988 I came across a new product in the art stores of Tel Aviv: little bottles of concentrated watercolors in tints I had never seen before in traditional watercolors. I was thrilled to discover that with these I could achieve intensities of color with only a light touch of the brush.
1988, concentrated watercolors and pastels 1988, concentrated watercolors and pastels on paper, 17.5/12.5 cm on paper, 17.5/12.5 cm
I was fascinated by the intensity of these colors, and loved watching how the paper absorbed them. At this stage I would begin the work with a few strong and decisive lines drawn with pastels, and then worked with a soft brush saturated with intensive watery colors.
1989, concentrated watercolors and pastels on paper, 70/100 cm
The main subject was still the woman figure, but the black lines were no longer so dominant and made room for other powerful colors.
1989, concentrated watercolors and pastel son paper, 70/50 cm
1989, concentrated watercolors and pastels on paper, 70/50 cm
1989 The art dealers I worked with kept asking me to try to work on canvas, because works on canvas were â€œworthâ€? more commercially than works on paper. That year I made a few groups of paintings on bare canvas and on treated canvas. My aim was to use the technique I worked with on paper on the canvas, using colored chalks and acrylic paints of different consistencies to create transparent areas beside opaque areas.
Acrylic on canvas, 105/75cm
But I was disappointed with the acrylic paints at this stage, because the outcome lacked the interesting tonalities and transparencies of my watercolors. Canvas, which is woven, is different to paper, which is made by compressing â€“ and the warp-and-weft grid of the canvas influences how the color areas spread and does not convey the natural flow I was looking for.
Acrylic on paper, 75/57c
1990 Painting on non-woven cloth In late 1989, during a stay in Holland, I (completely by chance) came across a fabric that is produced by compressing and not by weaving, and is generally used for parts of linings of garments, and sold in rolls of various widths and thicknesses. I bought my first roll to try to print some especially large linocuts on this fabric, and while doing that I discovered how amazingly absorbent it is (it is also used in the making of disposable diapers). I enjoyed the feeling of freedom and immediacy of painting on this surface. Here are two of my first works on this non-woven cloth. 1991, concentrated watercolors and pastels on non-woven cloth, 70/80 cm
1991, concentrated watercolors and pastels on non-woven cloth, 65/90 cm
1992 It took me a while to find the type and size of non-woven cloth that served me best: almost 1.5 meters wide, so that I could paint larger works and really open my arms as I worked. I learned a lot about creating color areas and how best to appl the paints to the highly absorbent surface, and found I could do without drawing the structure in pastels first. I liked using the rounded Chinese brushes with their soft bristles. I felt that I was beginning to master the technique, and I wanted to paint more freely. I saw that I was freer when painting flowers, and I could allow myself to be tempted by the colors with all their intensities. From then on it was easy for me to drop the motif of the woman figure and to let the flower painting do the tempting, of me and of the viewer. This (in brief) is the story of my journey from drawing with charcoals to my intoxication with the colors of the flowers.
1992, concentrated watercolors on non-woven cloth,110/80 cm
The Work Process in the Studio I came to this period of flower paintings with some knowledge and experience in working with colors. I was looking for a physical and escapist painting experience, I wanted to feel free, to flow and â€œdissolveâ€? like the liquid colors themselves. Yet I was also well prepared,with a clear idea about the subject, the technique, and the compositional structure. It seemed to me that the free-flowing painting I wanted to attempt needed a pre-defined territory, with its own rules and limitations. This would allow me to taste the freedom I sought, which also had a certain hue of abandonment, without giving up the framework that I wanted to keep.
Water-soluble colors on non-woven cloth, 140/110 cm
Flowers as a subject for painting Wanting to get away from my almost compulsive tendency to look for a meaning, which generally brought me lots of thoughts, doubts and loss of flow, I looked for a subject that would itself be full of emotion, beauty and visual richness, to silence my thoughts. Many people are moved by the beauty and the colors of flowers. Perhaps because this beauty and this perfect arrangement of forms were not created by man. I don't understand why flowers are so beautiful, so varied in their forms and combinations of colors, though I sometimes think that perhaps they were given to us humans as a “gift”, to lift our spirit. It didn’t bother me that flowers are a popular or hackneyed subject for painting. I needed a subject that was simple and free of unnecessary complications of why and wherefore.... This time I chose a subject that had to serve both the action of painting and my conscious goal of forgetting existential matters while I worked. This turned out to be a good subject for that. I already knew from experience that I need visual stimuli to keep myself focused on observation and to help my concentration. I collected all kinds of photos of flowers from botany books, plant guides, gardening books, National Geographic and other magazines, and stuck them on boards that I set up in front of me.
Water-soluble colors on non woven cloth, 110/85 cm
I decided to paint the flower in a close-up view, to point up its sensuality, as if the viewer could bend over it, see it, smell it, sense the movement of its petals.
Water-soluble colors on non-woven cloth, 115/90 cm
The technique I used all sorts of colors that dissolve in water: concentrated watercolors, water-soluble pencils, markers, crayons and diluted acrylic paints in bottles. I used rounded Chinese brushes of different thicknesses and even extremely large ones I found in art stores in New York. My work-surfaces were sheets of non-woven cloth that absorbs liquids quickly. I would lay the sheet flat on a large table so that the colors, which I applied gently with a soft brush would be absorbed uniformly, and I let them dry while the sheet still lay flat.
The maestro and the orchestra At the height of this period I already had a lot of knowledge about the different absorption processes of all the types of colors I was using. The way the color spread on the sheet, the time it took to dry, its degree of transparency, was different for each type of color, due to the differences in their components. I knew what to apply on top of what, how far to go and where to stop the brush movement to control the spreading of the stain. I discovered which colors are â€œdomineeringâ€?, and how to guard against this quality or to exploit it.
Details from paintings
I felt I was in control of many factors, more than I had ever been. This was a great feeling, like a maestro conducting an orchestra. This was easy for me with flowers as my subject. I didn't get confused or conflicted, as I often did when painting a human figure, especially a woman. There was a simplicity and a clarity in painting the flower in its momentary and eternal bloom. At the same time I knew I was not in full control and never could be, especially when the paint I was using was so watery. I would leave a work wet, and return to it the next morning after it had dried, and sometimes I couldn’t believe my eyes, and was amazed to see how the water had “pushed” the color stains all by itself and created a new beauty. I was in a state of being constantly surprised by the spectacles of colors unfolding before my eyes, and I kept reminding myself to try new color combinations.
Water-soluble colors on non-woven cloth, 140/110 cm
Water-soluble colors on non-woven cloth, 70/53 cm
One sheet under another Sometimes I placed another sheet of non-woven cloth under the one I was painting on. Then I removed the top sheet and laid it down in another place to dry, and painted the same subject again on the remaining sheet, over the marks and patches of color that had dripped through from the top sheet. The upper sheet
Water-soluble colors on non-woven cloth, 90/115 cm The bottom sheet
Water-soluble colors on non-woven cloth, 90/115 cm
Organizing the compositions I worked mainly on three motifs. A single flower
Water-soluble colors on non-woven cloth100/68 cm
Water-soluble colors on non-woven cloth115/90 cm
Water-soluble colors on non-woven cloth115/85 cm
Flowers in a field
Water-soluble colors on non-woven cloth 115/90 cm
Water-soluble colors on non-woven cloth 115/90 cm
Water-soluble colors on non-woven cloth 115/90 cm
Flowers in a vase I enjoyed painting flowers in vases or clear jars. Any flower arrangement is already an aesthetic organization of forms, it was like painting beauty from beauty from beauty... At times I painted flower arrangements that are â€œconservativeâ€? in their composition, and sometimes I concentrated only on the flowers bursting out of the vase
Water-soluble colors on non-woven cloth 90/1150 cm
Water-soluble colors on non-woven cloth 90/1150 cm
Water-soluble colors on non-woven cloth 90/1150 cm
I didn't get stuck in self-criticism, I was enjoying the work and was enthused by the energy coming out of me, which connected with the colors and came back to me, lifting and exciting me. Part of the exhilaration came from the physical activity of painting on large surfaces, I could feel my chest expanding. Everything was good. These flower paintings were well received by the public and the art dealers, the joy that I felt while making and creating them probably came across to the viewers and made them happy too.
The artistic influences in my flower paintings The subject of artistic influences on a creative life is a broad and complex one. More is hidden than one is concious of. I myself am curious to recall and reflect on the artistic influences that affected me in each stage of my work. I’ve had some strong experiences while looking at original workss in museums or galleries, but I’ve been much influenced by reading and looking at reproductions in art books.
I’ve always admired Georgia O'Keeffe. I still keep a photo of her when she was very old, in which it isn’t clear if the portrait is of a man or woman, sitting ifacing the dry bones that were a subject of her painting, ןn her home in the desert, looking death in the eye. I thought she was brave (and beautiful too). In her mature years she depicted female sexuality in her flower paintings as no-one had ever done before, as a flower full of nectar, ready to be impregnated. After one knows her paintings – even in reproductions -- it is impossible to forget the images. I'm sure they are there in my mind .
Some of Georgia O'Keeffe’s flower paintings
I loved Emil Nolde's work from very early on. I was a “groupie” of the “Bridge” artists and the entire German Expressionism movement of the early 20th century. I was acquainted with Nolde’s famous woodcuts and paintings of masks, which were influenced by Ensor and Munch. It was only in the '80s, after I started getting interested in watercolor paintings, that I found a reproduction of his painting of poppies. This image stuck in my mind because of the sensuality of its red petals and the sense of immediacy in the random spreading of the colored stains. Emil Nolde Until recently I hadn’t seen any of Nolde's other watercolor flower paintings. While writing this chapter, I became curious, and searched online for more of Nolde's watercolor paintings. I read that he painted these works during World War II, when the Nazis forbade him to paint his “decadent” paintings. Secretly, he painted small watercolors of flowers and of landscapes in which the sky was red and threatening. I was quite stunned to see these paintings that were so similar to my own paintings from the period of my “intoxication with colors”. I find it hard to believe that I hadn’t seen these paintings until now.
Some of Emil Nolde's watercolor paintings
I will conclude this part with a quote from Nolde on the subject of colors: "Colours in vibration, peeling like silver bells and clanging like bronze bells proclaiming happiness, passion and love, soul, blood and death." And the 'real life' influences on my work The ’90s were years of transition. I remember the New Year's Eve of 1990, we were in London with friends we had remained in contact with since the times when we had shared the same dreams and the shake-ups of the flower children’s revolution, and we raised our glasses to the good future the next decade would bring. We didn't know what awaited us. Aside from the personal and family changes we all went through in this period, two events happened in Israel in the early '90s that shook my life. The first of these happened in January ’91 -- the first Gulf War, and the missiles falling on Tel Aviv. And the second in November ’95 -- the murder of Prime Minister Rabin, and the death of our dream of peace. These two events finally shattered my feeling that my country in which I’d been born and raised could protect me. I felt that my life was burst open and that there was no guiding hand. I got into a period of anxiety, both physical and mental. And between these two events, I painted and exhibited the colorful flower paintings. There are artists, some of my friends among them, who respond directly in their works to social, political and even historical changes. In my work at that time there was notrace of the existential and political upheaval and my generation experienced during those years. It took me some time. It was only in '96 and '97 that I made a few works that related to the political situation.
And perhaps this “nothing”, this demonstrative silence (except for one story I wrote about my experiences during the first days of the Gulf War, which I might publish one day) is indicative of my physical and mental flight from the intolerable situation. Less then a week after the Gulf War began dik and I fled to London, to recuperate at the home of dear friends who gave us a protective bubble with a pleasant and sometimes ecstatic atmosphere we could stay in until the storm passed. We returned to Israel a few months later to a neglected and empty apartment. Soon after this, the intensive period that I've called “Euphoria of colors” began. Can a euphoria of beauty and colors make one forget one's troubles? Or was it perhaps the ecstasy pills which were then in fashion among “old hippies” like us in the early '90s that helped to blur the distance between our wishes and reality? These were years of much heated emotion that overcame clarity. That's how it was with me, it seems. We wanted to believe that everything would be all right, that we should continue to love and hope, even with the help of a joint. But in 1995, after the assassination of Rabin, there came a painful “sobering up”, accompanied by feelings of guilt and depression. This blow somehow shifted my point of view about my life. Suddenly I saw how “small” my own inner world was, how much I occupied my mind, over and over again, with my own existence, my want to feel good, believing I had a certain degree of control over the reality of my life, creating spaces where I could express and extend my emotions, navigating my life with an apparent equilibrium between desires and responsibilities. Suddenly, all at once, everything seemed chaotic. I didn’t like what I saw, and was filled with totally different feelings. I felt I hadn’t been responsible enough, hadn’t been aware enough of what was going on around me, had hidden my head in the sand and submitted. I thought I’d gone too far in following my heart’s desires, that I’d held on to the euphoric feeling that “it’ll be all right”, I hadn’t
planned for the future, hadn’t been able to stop in time, had been swept away and had loved it, had tried to pretend to myself that I was stronger than the pull, that this madness would not take control of me. Following this inner upheaval I lost my belief that art had a potential for spiritual repair. I had to come to terms with my understanding of how weak I was, how weak we all were, how weak my sons were, how weak my generation was, and to ask a far from simple question: Is it all worth it? This was a breakdown, definitely a breakdown. And so, gradually, my vibrant and succulent flower period came to an end. I look at the paintings, and see how I moved on from them to paintings that I called “Fields of Colors”, to which a separate chapter Is devoted. They’re done in the same technique as the flower paintings, but they’re all almost completely abstract, with almost no touch of “reality”. I would lay several sheets of the absorbent cloth underneath the one I was painting on, and would use a lot of water, as though to “drown my sorrows”. I allowed the forms to dissolve and become absorbed down through the layers. The next day I would separate the sheets and see how the form had lost its definition. I understood that this was what I myself was going through. For in life, as in life, things don’t “work out”. We simply keep going on, and our passage through time leads us to a different place, which we can live and create in, and we’re already different.
In the public eye It was at the height of my intoxication with colors that the flower paintings were presented to the public eye. The euphoria I felt while painting them also influenced my behavior toward my main dealer, whom I h’d worked with for almost 10 consecutive years, in an ambivalent relationship: I was financially dependent on him, and I also felt restricted. I thought I’d be able to manage the commercial marketing of my work by myself, or at least to have some control over it. The feeling I had then was like a “rebellion”, or a divorce. I conducted myself aggressively and demanded exclusivity in the marketing of the flower paintings. I was sick of being dependent and managed by others. I also had paranoid thoughts that I was being robbed and exploited. The last time I was represented by my dealer was at the NY ArtExpo of 1992.t. At my request, he gave me a separate space in his booth for my recent works on non-woven cloth, the flower paintings among them. I named my display “Absorption”.
“Absorption”, 1992, ArtExpo, New York
I wanted the flower paintings to be well received. I saw them as a way of being seen as more than a “painter of women”, and also of freeing myself from the dealer's grip on the marketing of my works. Buyers for international poster publishers wandered from booth to booth looking for new series of posters to print. A buyer from PGM, a German company, expressed interest in the large flower paintings and wanted to publish two of them as posters the same size as the originals. On my insistence, the contract was signed with me, not with my dealer. My struggle for freedom had begun. After this success I decided to display independently at a new international art fair, named Arte, which was held at the same venue in New York six months later. This became a huge and somewhat stressful project because all the expenses were on me. I asked dik to come with me and help me raise the project. This included renting and designing the booth, shipping the works, framing them in New York, producing signs, flyers and all the rest. I named the show “Fields of Flowers”.
Arte/NY Fields of Flowers 1992
I did manage to sell a few works, but the show's biggest success was the interest taken by international poster publishers.
Published flower posters PGM, from Germany, bought the rights to six large posters, each 130/95 cm
The Dutch company Verkerke bought the rights to five medium-sized posters, 70/50 cm.
Opus One, a company that no longer exists , acquired the rights to print four small posters, 40/30 cm. The contract I signed with this company stated that I would receive royalties from sales every year. I still see these posters advertised online by various marketers, But Iâ€™ve received no royalties for them for more than 10 years.
From euphoria to a depressing reality During those years I discovered that the artist has no control over his works once they are in other people's hands. The rules of commerce are full of loopholes, and most of the financial return goes to the various middlemen. I came to the conclusion that I was in a helpless situation. On the one hand, I didn’t want to be controlled by commercial entities; on the other hand, I didn’t have the strength, the means, the time, and especially the commercial skills to manage the marketing of my works. In '94 I completely and almost all at once broke off my relations with art dealers, even though most of them still had many of my works that I hadn’t been paid for. I simply decided to stop fighting them and demanding what was rightfully mine. One could say that I “gave up”, but it didn’t go easily for me. I sometimes felt very angry at how the marketing of my work had been managed. I felt exploited and even humiliated. Since then I haven’t worked for any dealer or gallery. I did participate in several group exhibitions in the late ’90s, and it was only in 2006 that I again had a solo exhibition, “Prayer Shawl”, which I’ve written about in “Bring Peace”. The best thing I can say about the flower paintings is that they helped me become free. What I wanted more than success and money and fame was the feeling of freedom. From here on I continued examining the concept of freedom, but only in the context of my own set of commitments. and that too is another story, of another long journey.