An Israeli Artist's Field of Ash - and Dreams

A new exhibit in Tel Aviv showcases works by Mosh Kashi depicting the real and the metaphoric aspects of nature.

Expanses of wilderness stretching to the horizon, lone trees in an arid landscape and huge, dark mountains – these are among the images that appear in the carefully constructed paintings of Israeli artist Mosh Kashi. His solo exhibition, "Ash Dreamer," opened last week at Tel Aviv's Noga Gallery.

In the exhibition, Kashi, who was born in 1966, presents a series of recent oil paintings of various sizes, their subjects ranging from meticulous, magnificent scenes of nature to abstract depictions of them.

For Kashi, the study of nature is the starting point for something even larger: for portraying the mood and spirit of a painting. The setting for his works is nowhere, “and there is something in the color shift that pushes them even farther away from the concrete or the identity of a particular place.”

Kashi does not prepare preliminary sketches, he does not go out into nature or look at photographs. Instead, he secludes himself in his Tel Aviv studio where he creates “my own natural world,” as he describes it. His artistic position is based on the assumption that an innocent look at a landscape, with its primal power but without any human presence, will be "loaded into" the viewer’s subconscious, awareness and mood. Nature, then, is a kind of proverb, he says, “and the works are, more than a reminder of themselves, a reflection of awareness, not of the thing itself.”

The fields in the Kashi paintings on display at the Ahad Ha'am Street gallery look scorched, as if they were vast expanses of ash. The way he works with the oils creates a bizarre appearance – a glazed look which leaves nothing for the eye to hold onto.

“There is a feeling of eternal smog that envelops this world, like a landscape that dreams itself,” he explains.

When Kashi was growing up in Jerusalem, his family of eight lived in a small apartment near the Mahane Yehuda outdoor market. He began painting at an early age in an after-school group at the Israel Museum that was offered to the children of the construction workers who built the museum; Kashi's father was among them. Because of the family’s financial situation, Kashi was sent to boarding school in the Ben-Shemen Youth Village when he was 13 years old. He would go out to the fields at the end of each school day, he recalls, “and stand in the field and wait for darkness to fall, like a blanket, like an analgesic.” Kashi believes that his biography is evident in his paintings, but, he adds, "I will never seek to reduce the interpretation of my work to the biographical.”

Throughout his career, he has avoided dealing with local elements, out of a desire to provide a loftier experience that rises above the banality of the canvas, the paint and the mundane.

“I’m an incurable romantic, without a shred of cynicism – or at least I’d like to think that,” he notes, adding that he is also aware of the criticism that can be leveled against his work because of the pathos and the kitsch that may be divined there.

“I wouldn’t choose to cut myself off from the option of sentimentality and romance,” he says. “I feel that there is still a place where it’s possible to talk without cynicism. I live among my own people, and I’m not stupid. But I definitely paint from a place that has no cynicism, from the last plot of innocence.”

Orit Zuckerman's Out-of-balance world

The photographic collage entitled “Ilit” (2013) well reflects the method and aesthetic view of Israeli-born Orit Zuckerman, a multidisciplinary portrait artist. Last month this work was chosen from among hundreds of entries from all over the world to win second prize in the ArtGemini competition in London.

What seems at first to be a classic, superannuated aesthetic with proper composition, precise lighting and monochromatic colors that often hark back to the early part of the 20th century turns out to be a profound picture of a world that is out of balance and disturbing, and this undermines the work's aesthetic accessibility. Zuckerman uses various digital manipulation to create multilayer collages that link various kinds of content together, creating a familiar but misleading reality.

Something similar also happens in Zuckerman’s slow video works, in which she focuses on a single, ephemeral moment, and stretches it out and plays with it, taking it far away from the reality one might expect.

“Every work undergoes two processes," she explains. "The actual filming, where I freeze an existing, non-staged and unplanned reality based on a momentary urge from my gut, and the digital-processing stage, where everything in the photograph is examined, measured, planned and combined with meticulous precision that stems from judgment and thought.”

In “Ilit,” Zuckerman took the image of a woman and longtime friend – photographer Ilit Azoulay – and combines it with the image of a horse. Azoulay and the horse are both photographed in profile, reminiscent of 19th-century conventions of portraiture. The interweaving of the images creates a work of art that is new and unfamiliar, and which in turn assumes a certain metaphorical significance.

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