I would like to arrange my stories on this page in the form of a diary or a logbook. They will be mostly about events, big or little, that influence my practice. If I could refer to the Manifesto offered in Bruce’s post once – sometimes it could be just a little thing – something from your “untidy desk” that can inspire you or show you the way to further develop your practice.
Working on Qumran
This painting started as homage to Edward Burtinsky’s photography. His images of aerial views of quarries and landscapes made me remember the view of the Dead Sea off the cliff of Judean Mountains. Metaphorically speaking I look at those landscapes as if from above, from air – contemplating the ‘big picture’; seeing things I did not notice back then. That’s when I conceive the idea of a new painting. They start as image-oriented but the moment I begin working on them all the feelings and sensations my body experienced come back and wash over me. My skin remembers the chill of a cave in Ein Gedi – a tourist Christian and Jewish historical site overlooking the Dead Sea. I remember the merciless heat of the April sun on the left shoulder when you climb along a very narrow path up to Shulamith’s cave and the dryness of the strong wind that comes late afternoon and dies off an hour after sunset. I remember the sour smell of mouldy caves and their welcome coolness; the icy cold water of the natural ‘baths’ – winter rainwater reservoirs in the soft limestone of the mountain. Bitter smell of the scarce vegetation baking in the desert sun along those streams.
If you travel along the Dead Sea from the North to the resorts area you take the route along Bekaa Valley – ‘shtahim’ – ‘territories’ as Israelis call them. A feeling of possible danger is always there. Roads are a bit more neglected, fewer road signs are in Hebrew along the way and the dwellings do not have red ceramic roofs fancied by Israelis – they are flat and white instead (smarter in that area – blocks off the heat).
Once I was travelling back from the Dead Sea resorts area trough the territories to Haifa after sunset. The night was pitch-black and I could not control panic. When the endless sea finally dropped back behind me the road made a strange turn – there were some route-alterations after Palestinian Jericho was closed off for Israelis – I thought I was driving straight into what I believed was a brightly lit Yasser Arafat’s palace (turned out to be the new Jericho’s casino). I was sure I was lost and my life was in danger.
When I was painting Qumran I saw and deliberately reinforced that subtle feeling of possible danger that is always there; borders that your feet feel crossing – annoying because they are not physically there – no lines in the rocks or on the surface of the sea. But it is something you can never neglect.
The parchment-looking uneven coloration of the canvas before anything else was painted on it – half of the Qumran scrolls were written on parchment, half on the papyrus – took a couple of days to complete. I splashed pigment then repeatedly washed it off or dried it off to achieve that look. Next came in ‘the print’ – I cannot overestimate the importance of that stage for me: achieved through a direct print on canvas – decalcomania, it somehow gives organic-looking images associated by me with the rock-formation of Israeli landscape and of the vegetation of my native North-European tundra, and also with the Rockies. It unites all my journeys and places that I lived in. In Qumran the print was right upon the ‘parchment’ which in some place made it look like dry vegetation on rocks and sometimes as cave drawings – smoky and a bit playful images above the image of the sea. The brick-red thick mixture of oil paint with bee wax and saw dust imitated that saturated in salts, smells and dust brutal wind that swipes over the area at sundown. It is also the color of danger always imminent, latent but not negligible. The sea water could not be the exact color of beautiful turquoise you see in photos – I know it as oily, heavy, and extremely salty substance that can’t even warm up in the midst of the desert. It is very itchy and the depth of this water is impenetrable: you can’t be submerged, you always flow as a cork in it – half exposed. It is unwelcoming but at the same time that’s the place where you feel strangely elated, relaxed, maybe even delirious (probably because there is a lot of iodine in the air and because you are 400 m below the sea level). That’s the thing about many of Israeli places: they are very attractive, always unforgettable, but not friendly, not inviting.
I also incorporated a few pieces of paper with oil relief marks on it. It was saturated in oil paint excess I literally blotted off my Sheltered painting in December. There is some symbolic meaning here for me – as Sheltered was an artistic rendering of Red Deer map scratched in orange oil field. By sticking those pieces in the painting of Dead Sea landscape I put my changed in ten years self back into that landscape.
I worked the landscape of Qumran happily – making it mine, making it with traces of memories that felt so fresh. Physically moving along the ‘shores’ of that sea while painting it, revived memories of smells, sounds, feelings, and fears.
Ravens & Lions.
What are we thinking about when we are not ‘actively’ thinking? A couple of weeks ago I just had an epiphany: I was driving back home from Calgary and got caught in a serious traffic jam at Calgary’s picturesque Shaganappi Trail. There was a very posh neighbourhood on a hill to my right overlooking the first row of the Rockies in the West, and dry almost bold hills on my left, where neighbourhood people would take their pets for a walk or just climb on a nice day. The traffic did not move and my mind wandered… Suddenly some still shapes on the left stirred. “Lions!” my first thought was so ridiculous that I laughed and peered into the dry bushes through the car window. Deer, a rare kind here – not elks, not white tailed ones. Grey and elegant with beautiful antlers.
Why ’lions’ then? And then I remembered: This area (on the left, of course) often made me think of the outskirts of Tzfat (in the Northern part of Israel, the city of kabbala). Once- maybe 20 years ago (!) I read that “lions lived in the region of Tzfat till 1920″ – I remember thinking how strange and somewhat poetic that line was. I even remembered picturing (easily) a lion couple lying on those dry hills while travelling to Tzfat by bus. That memory came alive with a herd of caribu deer on Shaganappi. No wonder, I paint land that is partially always Israel.
Robert Kelly in his book Creative Expression, Creative Education in the chapter titled ”The Concept of Raven”, describes this (or similar) phenomenon of being inspired or even enchanted by a line or a statement and initiating a new research around it. In his case it was a sentence “Ravens have been known to steal fish from otters.” He conducted some serious research around it which resulted not only in writing a chapter for his book on art education but also in a considreable body of art work.
Warnings and Museums
While travelling to Vienna this August, we visited the Leopold Museum in the famous Museum Quartier. One of those museums is the Leopold Museum. It could be defined both as a museum of Modern Art and a museum of Contemporary Art. One little ‘show’ occupying a large glass wall in the foyer of the museum was particularly amusing… We never figured out if those were ‘real’ warnings (institutional regulations, so to speak) or pieces of contemporary art. I believe it has to be the latter!
“-Scape”, not “-Scope”
For the first time this year I felt how close my practice got to the theory I have been accumulating: I was working on my Oscillation piece and spent one whole day working on the particular “boiling” effect on the upper dark blue area. That area is 6′ long and 4′ wide and I literally stayed inside it getting the mark that would show that ‘radioactive’ swirl. At some point I felt being sucked inside that darkness…
I was creating a painting evoking the perception of it as a landscape, as opposed to landscope (or view). This conceptualization of landscape was elaborated at a conference on landscape which took place at the Burren College of Art, Ireland, in 2006: the participants argued that, based on the general concept of a landscape as a place we too are located, it should be clarified that the popular perception of it as an ‘image’ or ‘view’ might be faulty. This perception might have been promoted by media and multiple visual images we are exposed to, but the original root of the word landscape is much closer to the word “-ship” as in ‘partnership’, ‘collaboration’. It was noted that the meaning of the German word landschaft still preserves this connotation.
Oscillation, (detail), 04/2011, gouache and synthetic polymer on canvas, 90″x136″
March 10, 2011. Lava Paintings
These images are photographs of lava… paintings? stills? Are these actual objects? Can they be considered commodities? Abstract images… or figurative??? They look like sculpture reliefs, so some figurative still lingers… If to paint this – will it be considered representational painting or abstract painting? Right now they are super-dry (Viva Duchamp!) but when they were ‘painted’ the medium was in liquid, it was literally flowing.
Sometimes I feel (after Merleau-Ponty, of course) that nothing created by man as art can be called abstract. But what about these ‘actual objects’? Those created by G-d or natural forces – can we call them ‘abstractions’? Or are my photos or the glimpses of the phenomenon abstract? As a cultural construct ‘abstraction’ has never seemed so weak to me as right now when I am looking at these images…
February 23d, 2011
There are some encounters that change your thoughts, or your direction, or just make you see something clearer. Sometimes a passage or a line strikes you as so true you have to write it down, or a piece of art in a gallery you just have to take a picture of even if they ask you not to…
I had a moment like this with Mira Schor’s article “Figure/ Ground”: a passage rang so true and poetic that I just had to write the thought down and order the book online. It also offered two magic words that might be the name for my show one day: Terrains Vagues. Here is how the author interprets the French words: “In French, terrains vagues describes undeveloped patches of ground abutting urban areas, gray, weedy lots at the edge of the architectural construct of the city. Terrains vagues, spaces of waves, the sea of liquidity, where the eye flows idly and unconstructed, uninstructed. These spaces are vague, not vacant (terrains vides). In such interstices painting lives, allowing entry at just these points of “imperfection”, of neglect between figure/ground, there is air, not the overdetermined structure of perspectival space, or the rigid dichotomy of positive and negative space, not the vacuumed vacant space of painting’s end, but the “self-forgetful” “boredom” of the area that glimmers around paint, sometimes only microscopic interactions within a color, sometimes the full wonder of the dual life of paint mark and illusionism. Paintings are vague terrains on which paint, filtered through the human eye, mind, and hand, flickers in and out of representation, as figure skims ground, transmitting thought.” (Mira Schor, Wet, p.155)
February 9th, 2011
Let Me Tell You about Winds…
This is a line from The English Patient: “Let me tell you about winds. Ajajj is a thick wind against which falahin defended themselves with knives. Harmattan is a red wind. They call it a “sea of darkness”. It blew as far as the South coast of England, producing showers so dense they were mistaken for blood. And then there is Samun – the evil wind a nation declared a war on.
In my experience winds are just as colorful and important. Hence, The Wind Series in my collages. One of my paintings is called Monsoon, but I kept debating the title. The painting in question had another title for me: Hamsin which in Arabic means “the fiftieth wind”. These winds, whose occasions precise number is exactly 50 in a year, come from the East, from Syria into Israel and produce that “unnatural and nervous condition” mentioned in the English Patient. Within minutes the air changes its color to orange and the visibility dropps drastically. Within a couple of hours temperature rises up by 25-30 degrees Celcius, grass dies, flowers dry up and fresh green leaves on the trees curl up and fall. Very often you cannot even feel the blow, just the absolute heat. This wind changes the land. Nothing looks or feels the same. It is hard to breathe… When this wind comes in the early spring it brings unusual warmth, like Shinuk. If it comes in April, which is a late spring month, almost summer for Israel, it brings death to everything green. If you are out of the city you can see mirages. The finest dust formations change the landscape; it ‘re-constructs’ the mountains, twists the plains.
Calling a painting Hamsin is problematic – I could just write the word in Hebrew to make it totally inaccessible. So Monsoon was my next choice, as the word is known in English and means something like “the wind of change”. The downside is that it is attributed to a particular part of the world I have no knowledge of. So I am still thinking.
December 10, 2010.
I had just finished a collage and put it up on the wall (actually, over the door to nowhere) in my studio thinking of wind-swept plains in Alberta. I just noticed that the repeated energetic gesture on the left side of the collage could be read as light as well, when some little magic happened: one of them “grew” an actual ray right off the collage. With the light reflections of the blinds going in the opposite direction this one looked rather deliberate and belonging to the collage… Incorporating light? Has been done before: by Diana Thater, for example in her Knots + Serfaces, Version #1, 2001, in her installation for 5 LCD video projectors, 16 video monitors, 6 DVD players, 1 VVR-1000 synchronizer, 6 DVDs unique, +1AP:
Or by Olafur Eliasson – for Tate Modern – in The Weather Project, 2003:
There he used monofrequency lights, projection foil, a haze machine, etc. My little totally coincidental sun ray can’t compare – but was it something?