A chapter from
prizma / my final art project
Men in Motion 1980, New Haven, Connecticut, USA. I was 37. A group of paintings I made after newspaper photographs of American football and basketball players in action. I never exhibited these paintings, and only a few people knew they existed.
During the ’70s, in Tel Aviv, I painted and drew mainly from life. Working from life is a well-known discipline of painting that combines meditative elements of observation with concentration and mastering of eye-hand coordination. Moreover, each act of painting is an emotionally moving event that is always unique and unrepeatable. I mostly painted women models (and was known in Tel Aviv as a woman painter who paints women). It seemed to me that in painting women and especially my favorite models, I could “stop time” and stretch my ability to stay in presence during the act of painting itself. I did not doubt the authenticity of the expression, as I was able to see, feel and act simultaneously. You can read more about those fruitful years here. In 1979 I had an exhibition at a major gallery in collaboration with the photographer Yael Rosen, showing our joint work with one model, an extraordinary women named Anahi, who preferred to be called Blackie. I chose the theme of sexuality deliberately. It was a bold choice in the Tel Aviv of ’79. Anahi was both the subject and the muse. I painted and Yael Rosen photographed. There were reviews in all the newspapers, and most of the reviews were good. Many people visited the exhibition. In the summer, after the exhibition, my life-partner dik received a fellowship to do literary research at Yale University in New Haven, with a grant that could support us modestly for a whole year and we all set off to a new chapter in our lives. I looked forward to this experience, to becoming more acquainted with the American culture, with my heroes Pollock and De Kooning, to be close to New York, the centre of world cultural activity, and to the fresh winds of feminism that were then blowing from the USA. And I was happy to break away from my past routine, and the somewhat complicated relations that had developed between me and “my model” (we had become too dependent on each other).
Photograph by Yael Rosen
After we settled down and our sons were all in American schools, I started looking for woman models in New Haven. But actually I was searching for another way, not only in life sessions, to bring out , what I called then, a direct act of painting. What did I know by then about my approach to painting ? I knew that my subject was people; that I needed to engage my eyes in gazing at a human figure that freezes its movement for a while, so I could paint the impression; that the act of painting excited me; that it created a closeness and an intimacy with the subject of the painting; that the drawing tools and paints could convey my feelings; that I painted both the seen and the unseen, and thus created a new image, one that carried within it the record of my emotions in the event of the encounter, in the act of painting.
Photograph by Yael Rosen
I already knew that my most powerful experiences of painting made use of and were nourished by certain aspects of human sexual experience. The focused attention, the gaze, the stimulation, the arousal, the closeness to the material, the flesh, the smell, the sweat, the beauty, t the excitement and the total dedication, the feeling of forgetting oneself and uniting with another – which is meant, ultimately, to create new life. Here I make a distinction between “art” and the experience of painting. I’m speaking about the latter. It was already clear to me that there’s a difference between painting that is driven by a passion, which has some similarities to sexual passion, and painting driven by the powerful desire to express oneself artistically. I would feel the passion most strongly when I painted a human figure, a model, and especially when I painted a woman model, because through her I could identify and could feel myself.
I knew this well. I had painted from passion and I had painted from the desire to express myself. And I can see these two practices throughout the years since I began painting. To return to that time, to New Haven. The cold Connecticut winter kept me inside the house. Lacking another alternative I decided to change the situation and to become the director of the painting event. At this stage, after my experience of that exhibition, I already understood that I needed to paint from a passion. to convey and release this energy that is in me. I wanted to use this energy for my artistic work. Both to release the energy and to sustain an inner dialogue, with myself, and with the artistic medium. I decided not to be dependent on a live model but to choose a visual stimulus, in a photograph that is forever still, to work in a closeness, quite like a “real” encounter between me and myself, with the help of a subject that would ignite the flame in me. I started looking for the photographic stimulus. Going through the pages of the weekend newspapers, I often found myself looking in the sports section. Not because this was a topic I was interested in, but because of the amazing photos of sportsmen in action. I felt close to the photographers who had captured the amazing beauty of this incredible masculine drive and striving, to arrive first, to overcome, to penetrate, to score, to catch, to win. I felt that “that’s it, I’ve found it!” This was what I needed, a visual source of inspiration, of excitement , that would light a flame in me and keeping it alive during the painting process, and give birth to the painting through me. I chose photos of American footballers and basketball player
The Work Process Looking for the essence of manhood in forceful motion The footballers seemed to me surreal, with their enormous physiques, exaggerated with the padding of the shoulders, and the other protectors, the slim pelvis, the shiny fluorescent colours, the helmet and iron mask, hard to differentiate except by the numbers on the shirts. They looked like the great sculptures by Michelangelo or statues of the Greek gods come alive, in action, in new futuristic outfits. In the first pictures the whole figure bursts out from the page towards the viewer. I left all the marks and drawings I made during the process on the page, thus making the development of the painting visible: the sense of time passing and of prolonged movements
In forward motion( in colours). Mixed media on paper 60/48cm
In forward motion. Mixed media on paper 60/48cm
I used and sometimes combined a number of different painting materials: charcoal, pencils, pastels, oil pastels, water-based liquid paints, and gesso that could cover it all or make a new layer for more work. The mixed-technique use of substances that “don’t mix”, like oil and water, helped me to convey the energy of the player’s physical effort and struggle.
The catch. Mixed media on paper 60/48cm
I concentrated on the screw-like twisting movement that can lift the body up against the force of gravity. The transparent watercolor brushstrokes conveyed the brightness of the body cover.
The twist. Mixed media on paper 65/50cm.
Using the technique of mixed media, lines of pencils, pastels, oil pastels, strokes of water colors, the body became wired up with lines of energy. The movement that came out on the page could be interpreted as going either forward or backward, either rising or falling. It seems that the inner action was more meaningful than the sense of direction. I always loved it when a finished work had a say of it's own.
The charge (1). Mixed media on paper 65x50cm. The charge (2). Mixed media on paper 65x50cm.
The charge(3). Mixed media on paper 65x50cm
This frontal composition led me to the works where the aggressive and intimidating side of the sport was emphasized.
The forward charge (1) Mixed media on paper 48/60cm
The forward charge (2) Mixed media on paper 48/60cm.
The basketball players were more exposed and vulnerable, with their unprotected bodies covered by thin and loose clothes. Again I concentrated on the single player, and again it was the torso and the arms that engaged me.
Reaching out(1). Mixed media on paper 65x50cm.
I ignored the ball, and what was happening on the court. As a result, the expression of the movement could be read as reaching out, as well as crying out from despair, frustration, not being able to hang on, or the moment before the collapse.
Reaching out(2). Mixed media on paper 65x50cm.
I made quite a lot of drawings, in charcoal and mixed media, repeating the same composition again and again, trying to find the essence of the lifting movement. The drawings are all small, 25x17.5cm.
And as it came, so it went away... My â€œlove affairâ€? with the masculinity of the sportsmen came to an end, maybe the same way that intense, passionate and physical love affairs do.
New Haven 1980, End of the winter Photographed by Richard Flantz