A chapter from
prizma / my final art project
My two “ladies” Two Armchairs/Sculptures Tel Aviv, the ’80s. I was 40, then 45
I believe that this is how I always wanted it to be, to have these two armchairs/sculptures near me physically, in my home. They've been with me for almost 30 years, apart from the five years when one of them, the second, stayed in the home of friends in Manhattan. My two “ladies” were shown in exhibitions, were photographed in newspapers and magazines, and were written about and appreciated. At times I think I unconsciously sabotaged the possibility of someone else owning them. The first armchair/sculpture On our roof in Tel Aviv in the mid-’80s, and 30 years later in my home near Mullumbimby, in Australia.
The second armchair/sculpture In Tel Aviv in the late ’80s, and with my granddaughter in Australia, 2010.
These armchairs/sculptures have welcomed many visitors, friends, family members and grandchildren. Many people remember me and my home because of them. They still look great after all those years of wandering. Time seems not to have left its mark on them as it has on my body. I think they’ll go on living after my death.
My sculptural works before I made the first “lady” During the ’80s I made around 20 sculptures, most of them humansize or larger; only my bronze cast sculptures were smaller. I formed all of them out of wire mesh, which I then covered with different materials such as papier maché, fiberglass, plaster, or plaster mixed with concrete for the outdoor works. My first “lady” was the fourth sculpture I ever made. Before 1981, I had never made a sculpture. I never hada sculpture teacher and have never felt a desire to carve or to work with clay.
After watching artist friends building big carnival puppets for a traditional Purim parade, I suddenly felt a strong urge to make sculptures. I somehow “slid” into it, as naturally as I’d “slid” into drawing from life when I was 20. It came easily to me to design the metal armature for the form, and to shape the body’s volume with wire mesh, which has considerable elasticity when pulled diagonally. Perhaps I inherited my father’s “skilful hands”. Towards the end of 1981, about a year after my mother's death, I made my first sculpture, a woman with her baby. Two separated figures, both without arms. I called the work Alienation. The armatures and bases were welded for me by a likeable young metalworker, whom I continued to work with during this period. I coated the wire mesh forms I had shaped with papier maché and strips of pink transparent plastic.
In a review in Haaretz, the art critic Nissim Mevorakh wrote: “… The second of the only attentionrousing works among the sculptures in this exhibition is Woman with a Baby, made from papier maché, and charged with much power of content, form as well as color.” To this day I remember how stirred and gratified I felt that my work had been picked out for praise. It added to my confidence and encouraged me to go on sculpting.
Photographed by Avraham Hay
I want to thank two women who helped my first sculpture to be shown in public: Hili Guvrin, Director of the Visual Arts Department of Art for the People, who always generously supported the artists who worked with her, and Lea Orgad who curated the country-wide exhibition “Images of Woman in Israeli Art”, and included this sculpture, the first I had ever made at the age of 38, in that exhibition.
Less then a year later, in April 1982 I participated in “Artists in Nature”, an outdoor project organised by Hana Shir in the Harel forest, halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. This environmental sculpture consisted of four pairs of women's legs, bent, spread open, of different heights, “sprouting” from the earth. I had prepared the parts in advance, and “planted” them in the earth at the event itself.
I built this work using the same technique I had used in my first sculpture: iron armatures, wire mesh, papier maché, coated with strips of pink plastic. I quickly discovered that the plastic and papier maché coating could not keep these sculptures durable. I was inexperienced, but I learned from my mistakes. I started looking for durable materials to coat the iron mesh with. My quest led me to fiberglass, and I learned the material and the method of wrapping with fibre bandages and a fluid that is used to make surfboards.
I made my first experiment with fiberglass casting in my third sculpture. The material suited the sculptures I made, I mastered the technique, and the sculptures became strong and relatively light. I used fiberglass casting for almost all the sculptures I made during that decade. I did the fiberglass work at night, by lamplight, after the children had gone to sleep. The work involved a lot of mess, stickiness, fibers floating in the air, and an unbearable smell. At that time I didn’t have a studio, I worked on the veranda that connected with the living room. I waited until the kids went to sleep. I wasn’t aware then that it was a health hazard, and worked without a mask.
The work was not easy, but the reward was great: to wake up in the morning and to find the part I had coated during the night as hard as rock and as light as cardboard really lifted my mood. I did my best to clean up the mess at the end of my night’s work, but there were times when we all found ourselves walking barefoot on the sticky fibers on the floor.
The third sculpture reminds me of one of the figureheads there used to be on ships in olden times. I painted the figure with acrylic paints and gave it a glossy plastic coating. I wanted it to give it a grotesque appearance that recalls the mannequins on merry-go-rounds at fairs.
In September ’82 I exhibited this sculpture at a group exhibition called “Artist Invites Artist”, held by the Radius group of artists in Tel Aviv Shuki Griffit, a friend and a member of the group, invited me.
By this time all of us, dik and I and our sons, needed a bigger living space. In early ’83 we moved into two apartments that we combined into one, on the third (and top) floor of an old apartment building in central Tel Aviv. Quite a few artists moved to this area because it was neglected and apartments were not expensive. Now dik and I both had proper work rooms, connected with corridors to a main living area, and to our son's rooms, and we also had direct access to the flat roof, from where we could see the sea. And. for the first time in my life, I had a real studio, and it was there that I made My First ‘Lady’. I will tell more about the sculptures I made in the ’80s, but it was important for me to describe my process of sculpting before the “birth” of the first woman-armchair. In the next part of this chapter I will write the stories of my two “ladies”, my armchairs/sculptures with woman forms.
The story of the first armchair/sculpture Tel Aviv, 1983, I was 40. I don't need to dig into my memories to tell the story of how I made my first â€œladyâ€?. I have it well documented in writings and sketches from that time.
For my 40th birthday I asked for a large sketchbook that I could use as a personal journal. Until then I’d written all my thoughts about my art and my life were on scraps of paper, many of which got lost. I wrote in my new journal for the first time on the evening of that birthday, about my desire to write and record, and about childhood memories related to painting. An entry from 19 November 83, a week after the first writing, contains thoughts and sketches relating to the making of the first armchair/sculpture. While typing the handwritings and scanning the pages, I felt quite moved and even surprised to see how clearly I had seen things then, and how determined I’d been to record both the process of creating the material form and also the steps of my thinking about it. I’ve edited the original text in a few places to make it more readable. Sculpture – armchair – woman 19/11/83 A series of chairs A subject I started thinking about almost a year ago. The idea was to make several woman-like chairs, and to give each sculpture characteristics of a woman and of a way of sitting... To make a usable sculpture, that one can touch, lean on, sit on. To breathe some life into the chairs, to give them human qualities...to look for the connection between an object (furniture), human qualities, and ways (forms) of sitting. The first sculpture will be a “director's chair”, as well as a big warm mama, sitting with her legs spread apart, welcoming whoever sits into the warmth of her thighs, a place of rest. The same comforting feeling a child has when sitting in his mother's lap. A womanly quality, to be exaggerated in its new form, in the triple connection between a comfortable armchair, a woman, and a “director’s chair”.
This figure, motherly in its form, will have negative as well as positive characteristics, since motherhood also involves control and power. The form of the chair will be both comfortable and uncomfortable to sit in, and will perhaps stir the person sitting in it to ask questions and think... The problems: firstly, I don't know if the iron armature the metalworker made to my instructions will keep the armchair balanced, without it tipping in one direction or another. Secondly, although the armchair’s shape is clear to me, , what isn’t clear is the color treatment and how to dress the figure, so that it doesn't look naked.
Two days later 21/ 11/ 83 From my experience so far in sculpting with wire mesh I understand that I have to “condense” the form, . to make it more abstract and less realistic. Not to repeat or imitate something real, even with a turn to the grotesque as I did with the figurehead sculpture, but to concentrate on the essence of the body movement. Some decisions about the form: 1. relatively low and closer to the floor 2 A ''cavity'' in the chest and the tummy, where a person can sit. 3 Despite the heaviness of the lower part, the upper part (the head and the neck) should stretch upward.
4 The centre of gravity, which is in the pelvis and the womb, is directly connected to the chair, and from there to the floor. I think I also have a solution for the texture. On the whole I wasn’t satisfied with the results of using paint in the figurehead sculpture, where there was exaggeration in the direction of merry-go-round mannequins. I want to try and coat the chair by putting pieces of fabric into the last fibreglass casting. It can be a fabric with a floral pattern. A “vision” before going to sleep A sculpted group of womanshaped chairs, “advancing“ from a corner of a room. A really minimalistic treatment. I have Henry Moore in mind...
Almost a month later 10/12/83 Saturday morning 11.30 … Now the sculpture’s finished. The armchair’s in the living room, and people who come in admire it, but I myself have lots of criticisms, and lots to think about for the works ahead. It was a very hard week physically, I worked on the sculpture more than 10 hours every day, and when I wasn’t working on it I was constantly thinking about it. I had doubts and difficulties making decisions, I changed the shape of the sculpture several times, and each time also had to recoat certain parts . My original plan had been to put a floral pink cloth underneath the
fiberglass. This didn’t work.. I changed the plan and covered the entire form with a dark fabric with a tiny floral pattern and coated it only with the plastic liquid, without the fibers. I was satisfied with the outcome, and thought it had been a good idea. My criticism: In the places where I had “gone along” with the elasticity of the wire mesh, as in the upper torso, the form had a flow and a “power from within”. But in the legs and the head, where I had a “clear” idea of what I wanted and had struggled stubbornly with the mesh to achieve my preconceived form – there I “flunked it”... I see the signs of the struggle there, and they weaken the form. Where am I heading? Either to another figure completely different from this one, or to the group I saw in that “vision”. In the meantime I’ll take a break, reorganize the studio, it’s in an unbelievable mess. It’ll take me at least three days to clean it thoroughly.
The armchair took its place in the living room, among the rest of the seats around the television, and became part of the family. I was glad it had wheels, it was easy to move from place to place, and to clean the floor. Very practical. In 1986 the first sculpture/armchair/woman briefly left our home for her first and only exhibition. What I want to tell about, though, is not the exhibition but the photos that were taken for the catalogue. At that time I was dependent on professional photographers for pictures of my works, and this was no small expense. I took me quite a few years before I started photographing them myself.
In those years, my three sons were teenagers and lots of boys and girls visited our home. One of them, Yariv Alter, was â€“ among his other talents â€“ also a gifted photographer. He took pictures on his own initiative and sometimes by request. He carried the armchair to the flat whitewashed roof which had tar marks all over the stairwell wall, and made the most interesting photos. One of them was used in the catalogue.
Yariv's photographs actually showed me things in the figure that I hadn’t seen before. Ever since I first saw them I haven’t been able to look at it without Yariv's perceptions. Yariv Alter became a visual artist in Europe. I am sad that he is no longer among the living. I made this woman/armchair/sculpture for myself, for my life, for my home. Perhaps, living in a home with only males – a man and three sons – I needed another big woman to live with me.
The story of the second armchair/sculpture Tel Aviv, 1988, I was 45. My second â€œladyâ€? armchair/sculpture was perfect in its form. It was designed and made for international success, nothing less.
When I look at my life during the five years between the time when I made the first armchair and this one, I can see that I was working on two planes that I viewed as opposed to one another in terms of value: “pure” art and commercial art. I was in a situation of constant conflict and caused myself a lot of mental anguish and unrest – a situation that both strengthened and weakened my work. I’d had some success and had become popular with my paintings of women, especially the paintings that conveyed feelings of passion, and the sentimental-nostalgic prints. I loved the small success, which brought me income that financed the experimental and expressive plane of my work, where I felt I was doing “pure” art, not repeating myself in one style, innovating.
This photo from 1989, taken while setting up my booth at the ArtExpo in New York, clearly shows the situation I have just described. I was able to finance a complicated and expensive project like the second sculpture/armchair thanks to the success of my paintings of women.
I will write more about this duality in my life and work. I touch on this topic here, because in creating this armchair, I tried to combine pure art and functional commercial art.
The story: In 1988, a young woman named Nili Dvir, who worked with me in art workshops, came to my home for a work meeting. Like other visitors, she too was impressed by my first armchair, and asked if next time she could bring along her husband Menachem Dvir, a designer. Of course, I said, I'm very open to ideas. For that meeting I prepared a few small sculptures as ideas for items of furniture with woman forms. I made them with a finer wire mesh, and covered them with different fabrics. When I look at the photos I took of them (by then I had begun using the camera myself) I still think theyâ€™re interesting, and wish they could be made as items of sculptured furniture by means of today's technology.
Menachem Dvir took it upon himself to make these sculptural figures into useable pieces of furniture by adding designed bases. He brought a few samples to our next meeting.
I loved his idea for a base for an armchair sculpture I had designed, and we decided to start from there. Although this was also a business partnership, we didnâ€™t go into details, and we signed an agreement to be equal partners in this project. We had great ambitions, and a great hunger to get to work. Our work plan We decided to create a prototype from which we could make a series of casts in different colors and fabrics. We also decided to make the chair in two parts: a conch shape connected to the lower leg, and an upper leg. It would be easily disassembled and reassembled using only a screwdriver. Neither of us had ever grappled with a project of this size, and this was long before there were 3D design programs for personal computers. We were a good team. We worked in a large workshop in Jaffa that belonged to Menachemâ€™s friend Itamar, who built stage sets. This was an unforgettable period, in which we shared a joy of making, collaboration, support and friendship. Perhaps this is why this was the most perfect work I ever made, and I could not have done it alone. First we built the prototype on top of an old chair. We made the wire mesh structure as a free enlargement of the original maquette. For the first coating we used plaster bandages. After checking if the form was comfortable to sit in,we coated it with the fiberglass. We then sanded and smoothed the work to its finished form.
Photos taken in the workshop in Jaffa
Next we started to think about the color and texture. We visited some luxury textile shops that imported their goods from abroad, and bought a few lengths of fabric. Then we divided the work. We moved the seat parts to my studio for me to continue working on the final coating, and Dvir continued to work in the workshop on methods of connecting the base to the sculpture. For the final coating I thought I’ d use the same technique that I had used for the first chair, coating the fabric with liquid fiberglass. I initially thought I’d use two types of fabrics for the two parts of the chair – the conch shape and the upper leg. I thought about this for days. I liked the silvery fabric with the pattern of drawn lines on it, it reminded me of organic forms. I found that the pattern strengthened the form of the conch shape and made it more interesting, but I couldn’t find a suitable fabric for the upper leg form.
One night, in my frustration, I decided to paint directly on the upper leg. I used cool colors – greens and turquoise blues – and created a pattern-like composition with free drawing of child-like scribbles, which contrasted with the industrial pattern on the the conch. The result surprised me: I thought it looked really good. And I still think this was an interesting and innovative solution, combining an industrial pattern with a painterly pattern. Itamar recommended a laborer who would do the final fiberglass coating. He came to my studio and worked almost all night. I supervised and accompanied his work, wearing a mask against toxic gases, but he, by his own choice, worked without any protection, barehanded, and did a professional job and gave the sculpture its smooth and perfect finish. I paid him handsomely, but I didn’t feel completely comfortable with the fact that a stranger’s hands had done the work for me. Nonetheless, I understood that this was the only way I could get the perfection I wanted.
Displaying the work I planned to take the finished work with me to show it in my display of paintings at the ArtExpo in Manhattan, a popular art trade fair, where I had already been represented for several years. We prepared beautiful brochures, and we chose a name for our whole project of furniture in feminine forms: femiform. We took the finished sculpture to Jonah Schlein's professional photography studio. My whole family helped me with the campaign: dik translated and edited the texts; my son Ohav, with his good friend Assaf Ziv (who is now a famous designer and artist) convinced Ora (who later became my daughter-in-law) to be the model for the photographs, and styled the “right look”. Sophie, our now elderly family dressmaker made me some
extravagant costumes, designed by Assaf. We packed the parts of the armchair in a big wooden crate and sent it by sea to New York.
Sophie, our now elderly family dressmaker made me some extravagant costumes, designed by Assaf. We packed the parts of the armchair in a big wooden crate and sent it by sea to New York. The armchair/sculpture received a lot of admiration and appreciation. Many people stopped by and expressed interest, asked the price (which was extremely high), and promised to be in touch. Perhaps this was all that I wanted, and it was hard for me to accept that. I knew in my heart that a trade fair was not the right place to launch this art work. What had I expected? It’s hard to say. These were expectations that fill you from within, not expectations that are defined in your mind. Perhaps they were also a projection of something deep inside me that I wanted to happen to me: expectations that range between the possible and the impossible – between the thought that someone like Donald Trump, for example, would buy it and place it on permanent show in the foyer of his building in Manhattan, and the thought that from somewhere a handsome prince would appear, kiss my second “lady” and she would awaken to life... I hoped that the right person would see the armchair and fall in love with her completely and would do anything for her. I wanted to let fate happen before my eyes. Can an artist really be the marketer of his own art work? I did try to market it. I had a few more meetings in New York, and another one in Amsterdam on my way back to Tel Aviv, but I’d actually given up, because I realized that I really had no idea what I wanted. I didn’t want it to be owned by someone else, nor did I know if I wanted to start a production line. I left it, “orphaned”, in the home of friends in New York who were very happy to take care of it, and I continued to secretly believe that the “right person” would see it.
Back in Tel Aviv I met Menachem, and explained the situation to him as well as I could. It was a bit sad to give up the dream of success.
Mordechai Omer, then the director of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and of the Tel Aviv University Art Gallery, occasionally came to our home to work with dik on translations of his writings into English. During one of his visits in ’89 he saw photographs of the armchair. In the early ’90s he asked me if he could show it at a group exhibition he was curating at the Tel Aviv University Art Gallery titled “The Empty Chair”. The work was still in New York. I avoided replying and made some excuses. It was not very clear to me why I did that. Today it seems to me that I wanted to punish myself for something, and felt I didn’t deserve the honor. Perhaps in some mysterious way he could have been the “savior”, the one who would have exhibited this work, and I wasn’t able to see it?
The armchair/sculpture stayed in my friends’ home for five years until they moved elsewhere, and I organized its passage back to my home in Tel Aviv, to the place where it was created. Since then “she” has been with me, with her “sister”, my first “lady”. They both moved to Australia with me. They are so different and so very much alike. and each of them has its own private history.
Interim Conclusion When I’m alone in the house, which doesn’t happen often because it’s a family home, I sometimes quietly contemplate my two sculpted armchairs. For years now I’ve secretly called them “my ladies”, and in this way I’ve made myself their devoted subject. I look at them as
forms in a space and ignore the fact that over the years they’ve become like parts of the family. It isn’t easy to isolate the forms of the sculptures from the background filled with furniture,books, our grandchildren’s playthings, cushions and the occasional garment or bag put down by a visitor. Nor is it easy to isolate them from the weight of their history. Because they’ve lived most of their lives in the midst of our family, they no longer stand out and no longer foreground their distinctive characteristics. Everyone has long become accustomed to them and sees them as “part of our life”. Today I understand that from the moment I decided to make these sculptures as armchairs, I determined their fate – to forever become assimilated into everyday life, into a home, among the bodies of the people who come into contact with them. I deliberately blurred their expressions and emphasized the good intentions of their characters as armchairs that invite one to sit in them. And the moment I called them “my ladies” it was as though I said that they are my monarchs and I have chosen to be ruled by them, which is like saying I have no choice. Perhaps I wanted to avoid alarming the people close to me. Perhaps I wanted to tell them – Hey, don’t worry, I’m not going too far, after all it’s only an armchair. Most probably I really wanted to bring my emotional world, which like everyone else’s is an absolute chaos, closer to everyday life, to domesticate it and bring it into the family. Today I can say that these two works are first of all sculptures, and only after this armchairs and women. They are sculptures with forms of women, and in this sense can be called women. Their body forms are enlarged, expressive, and are not consistently realistic. They are sculptures that stemmed from a drive, expressions of emotional content. It’s difficult for me to describe this emotional content, because it isn’t verbal, and only after one sees the form can one contemplate it and find words for it that are emotional as well as descriptive.
The two sculptures – I’ll now call them the two women, to emphasize their emotional content – are both well grounded. Their center of gravity is at the pelvis, which will forever pull them to the earth, to which they are connected with their legs. There is much tension in the form of the sculpted body, between its center of gravity, which can’t be controlled and is fixed and stable, and a straining for a kind of space in which imagination serves as a counterweight to the heaviness and stability of the earthward pull, a yearning for a kind of creativity and inner freedom that can overturn worlds and change things through the power of will and desire. The perceived reality versus a reality that exists in the regions of the imagination. From the center of gravity at the pelvis, which is also the sitting space in both of the sculptures, the form of the upper body suggests an upward flight. In the first sculpture this appears in the way the head stretches upward as far as it can, its gaze directed forward and upward like a prisoner bound in a solitary cell, armless, gazing fixedly on a narrow crack of light that bursts into the cell. In the second sculpture, which is more abstract, the form of the dynamic conch-shape for sitting in also curves around with an upward thrust. The legs of both sculptures project outwards, and can become obstacles to anyone nearing them. These legs connect me with the real world, which I have an ancient quarrel with. Here, in my home, my “ladies” are both art and items of furniture. They are life. They constantly remind me of my passion to create, and of my dreams of success. And when I’m alone in the house, without my family around, I know that that they, larger than life, are images that will forever recount the continuing dialogue, full of tensions and polar opposites, between my inner reality and the reality of my life, in which I am a grounded and containing female documenting her life on earth as a woman.