Artist Lenny Dinar Dothan’s Renaissance-inspired painting of herself and her infant son.
Artist Lenny Dinar Dothan’s Renaissance-inspired painting of herself and her infant son. Left: “Imprisoned in Perfect Proportions,' a work from the 'Florentin' exhibit in south Tel Aviv. Photo by Lenny Dinar Dothan
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Entering the Tel Aviv studio of artist Lenny Dinar Dothan one encounters hospitality amid charming disorder. Sawdust is scattered everywhere, among the saws, rulers, pencils and books. Propped up against the wall are some of her works, among them a painting in which she is seen nursing her little son against the backdrop of an arch. The classical composition immediately evokes associations with the Florentine school of the Italian Renaissance. Add to this the fact that Dothan works in the Florentin neighborhood of the city - and you have an apt name for her current exhibit - "Florentin," at the Hahanut Gallery in south Tel Aviv. The tiny exhibition is her first solo one, but the list of Dothan's activities to date is extraordinarily long and complex.

The same composition is repeated in Dinar Dothan's video work, "Sleeping Madonna," in which she is filmed nursing her son as she falls asleep.

"I wanted to be a perfect mother," she says, "but I'm not. I fell asleep. All those utopians," she says, referring to the new generation of parents. "All of them are in couples therapy. I don't buy those utopians."

She did the painting in the studio, she explains, just before a municipal tax inspector paid her a visit to make sure she was not running a commercial shop."I took brushes and painted, and he was very impressed, and photographed me," she recalls. "Then he said to me, 'Just try it without nudity.' I asked him 'whether we live in Iran and whether he has any idea how long they've been painting nudes?"

Renaissance girl

Dothan, 31, has been thinking about the Renaissance ever since she was a child. As a student at the Democratic School in Tel Aviv, the bastion of open education, she submitted a project on the subject of Renaissance men, or multi-talented individuals. In a move that typifies her, she decided to become one herself. She studied art at Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts in Givatayim and afterwards completed a Labor Ministry carpentry course. In the army she did a brief stint as an operations sergeant but quit within seven months. Then she opened a kindergarten, moved to New York for a while and about eight years ago decided to study architecture at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem.

She is the daughter of Dani Dothan, a filmmaker, writer and soloist of the HaClique Wiki band. Her uncle Uri is an artist who had been living in New York for years. She came to New York hoping to conquer the art scene. "I went around like his shadow. Through him I got to know the ugly backstage of the art scene in New York. I was sure that Cindy Sherman and I, Rachel Whiteread and I, would immediately become 'best friends' and in a little while we'd arrange to go out together," she recalls, referring to the accomplished artists.

"In a place where the art scene is a hundred times larger than in Israel and where not everyone knows your father and very few people have even heard of him, I realized that things were really going differently from what I had thought and that was quite a shock. I sat on the steps at the entrance to Uri's house and I imagined my life in America: that I would fall in love with an American and marry him, that my children would grow up there. And then I thought that's really not what I want and I reserved a plane ticket back to Israel."

Both her final project at the architecture department and her works as an artist are difficult to classify as part of any trend. At Bezalel, she dealt with the topic of Jerusalem and submitted a project consisting of a book and paintings - quite a departure from the usual project that consists of a detailed building or an urban plan.

"For me, architecture and art are the same thing. I went to the head of the architecture department at Bezalel and I said to him, 'Let me do my book. If not, I will feel as though all of the five years are culminating without a meaningful end.' And in other projects I used photograms and paintings and carpentry," she says.

Leading a double life

Dinar Dothan describes that period as her double life. While she pursued a degree in architecture, she also painted abstract paintings and "sold them under a made-up nom de plume. They were sold to company offices and accountants in order to match the sofa and 'design' the room." This work, which helped pay for her studies and living expenses in Jerusalem, went on for six years. "At Bezalel I was Lenny, and there in painting I was someone else. I sold works for thousands - four works a month. It's funny because I haven't sold a single one of my works under my real name."

Dothan recalls that growing up there was never any separation between adults and children in her family. From her childhood she remembers the bohemian surroundings of the gallery run by her father and her Uncle Uri, the legendary Tat-Rama Gallery on Sheinkin Street in Tel Aviv. "I remember a performance, say, on a stage in the street, with a woman who strips," she recalls. Her father was considered "the first punk" in Jerusalem, says a taxi driver who was a high school classmate of Dani Dothan's in the late sixties. "He shaved off all his hair except for a strip in the middle and 2,000 students did the same after him. And then they threw him out of the school," recalls the cabbie.

Broken family

The main work in Dothan's current exhibition is a family picture that draws on Christianity, a sculpture entitled "The Very Last Supper." She and her partner, Hovav, and their son, Yaheli, are sculpted, sitting behind a table that is about to fall down. The slanted angle of the table creates a situation of a forced look inwards, a technique that was common in Renaissance painting. Sculpted food - a plate with chicken, a bowl of peas and bowl of pasta and meat - sits on the table and "spills" forward as though it had been sent flying by an explosion. It is hard to understand why, but Dinar Dothan describes the young family as being in crisis, "a family falling apart," she says.

Her mother, Michal Dinar, is less well-known than her father and separated from him when Dinar Dothan was little more than a year old. Dinar is a makeup artist who has worked with prime ministers, ministers, actors and models. On films sets, to which she accompanied her mother, Dinar Dothan saw the preparations for makeup, the mixing of colors and then the painting on the faces of the people who would be filmed. Another small work in the exhibition is "Imprisoned in Perfect Proportions," a nude self-portrait in the format of a precise square. If you move your gaze from side to side you see her position in a changing photograph like Leonardo da Vinci's "Vitruvian Man," the source of classical proportions and one of the most hackneyed images in art.

During the Renaissance, says Dinar Dothan, they painted Jerusalem from imagination. Pilgrims who returned to Europe described the faraway city and the artists in Italy tried to bridge between the Italian landscape familiar to them and the pilgrims' stories. Later, she explains, the British brought back to Jerusalem the treatment of the city as "monolith, a bloc of religion. And the city isn't that, it's a multitude."

Dinar Dothan has still not sold any of the art works she has produced under her own name. To earn a living, she teaches art in kindergartens. "I show them works by contemporary artists and they are smart and they understand everything. I would like to start a school, a really open school."

She says she embarked on her winding path of architecture, carpentry and art in search of tools, and not in search of a profession. What kind of tools? "Useful tools. So that if the world is destroyed, I will be able to build a home for us. And then gradually I will also be able to build the city."