Exhibits to See Now in Tel Aviv: Colored Pencil Embroidery and Star-filled Fairy Tales

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Alexandra Zuckerman's Flower Field 01 (detail), 2019, Pencils on paper, 102x72cm.
Alexandra Zuckerman's Flower Field 01 (detail), 2019, Pencils on paper, 102x72cm.Credit: Uzi Tzur
Ouzi Zur
Ouzi Zur

Alexandra Zuckerman, “Flower Fields,” Noga Gallery, Tel Aviv

When you enter the illuminated space of the Noga Gallery of Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv, all you see is a sort of avenue of pale vertical rectangles with ghostly patterns flickering on them. The avenue leads to an isolated, faded rectangle, on the far wall. The rectangles along the avenue are identical in size, equally spaced apart. Each one has a softness of its own, warm or cool, and together they span a bright and colorful musical range. These are Alexandra Zuckerman’s “flower fields,” which are also fields of vision: When you approach them you discover a calculated and precise delicacy, up to the last of the patches.

Each work is a large column on which the artist has “embroidered” patterns of small squares in colored pencil in a deliberately limited range of colors; each square is embroidered with dense diagonal lines of the same hue. Everything is done in cyclical, stylized and condensed repetitiveness, using foliage and flowers and other images that have been transformed from the work of generations of embroiderers who used needle and thread, into the language of Zuckerman’s embroidery of squares with her delicate meticulousness. It’s also important to note that the artist also sketched the delicate, millimeter-sized squares themselves on the paper.

Flower Field 05 (detail), 2019, Pencils on paper, 102*72cm Credit: Alexandra Zuckerman and Noga Gallery

Sometimes the transition from one hue to another is so understated and gentle that it takes time for the eye to discover it. Indeed, Zuckerman’s works are also meant to test the limits of vision, with their patterns disintegrating and reconnecting, depending on the distance of the eye from each work. From up close the images of plants and flowers look like abstract exercises in poetic geometry; from afar the textured touch of the colored pencils inside the squares, and on the other hand the grid of empty squares surrounding them, appear to be a collection of continuous, ornamental images.

Zuckerman’s works reveal both a simple and complex play of a positive that defines a negative, and vice versa, which seize on one another to create the decorative sequences. The fields of flowers, the foliage and the fowl are reminiscent of ancient mosaic floors in their motifs and ornamentation, and also in the overlap between the techniques – the square stones that display the image against those that constitute the empty parts of the pattern.

Visitors at Alexandra Zuckerman's solo exhibition 'Flower Fields' at Noga Gallery.Credit: Uzi Tzur

But more than anything else these works are reminiscent of the embroidery patterns that were printed on thin and transparent paper and folded inside magazines for Israeli housewives, who during the period of the Tzena – a period of austerity and rationing from 1949 to 1959 – used the patterns to embellish the austereness of clothing and to brighten the interiors of their homes.

In this exhibition, on through January 10, Zuckerman displays a maturity that reveals confidence in her talent and in the integrity of her inner world. It’s as if she embroiders in secret, from inside and against petit-bourgeois taste, yet with an exemplary use of the petit-bourgeois code, language and aesthetics. Her fields of flowers are like delicate and fragile Trojan horses that one is tempted to bring into the living room – only there they would secretly begin to unravel the order.

Around your quiet beauty

Yael Ben David, “The Demon in the Sunlight”; curator: Eitan Bouganim; The project room of the Tel Aviv artists' workshops

The sound of frozen crystal seems to echo throughout this show of works by Yael Ben David with its crystalline beauty, reminiscent of the distilled and dark beauty of the poetry of David Fogel, of longings and sufferings moving in closed circles (in a rough translation): “When night approaches your window / Go out to it naked. / Soft it will leak and blacken / Around your quiet beauty / And touch the tips of your breasts.”

This is an ascetic exhibition, on through December 31 at the Tel Aviv Artists' Studios. It was curated with great wisdom by Eitan Bouganim, who has distilled the beauty of Ben David’s oeuvre to the essential minimum. A series of drawings leads one to a pair of panoramic paintings that are hidden from the eye when one first enters the space and revealed only at the end; they are the continuation of the drawings but also entities in and of themselves.

Ben David’s world of drawings and paintings are like pictures from fairy tales for adults, embodying a tension in their style between virtuoso illustration and a sort of wild primeval quality, which contradict and neutralize one another. It seems as if the artist is creating herself or her duplicate with her own hands, for herself and without any male presence.

'Panic Island' by Yael Ben David.Credit: Uzi Tzur

In the drawing “Stargirl Bathing in Starlight,” her naked image is seen emerging from a small puddle drawn in a line against the curves of her limbs that become filled out and thrust upward toward an empty moon. Her flowing hair is dark on her back, which is turned to us; the stars are imprinted on her thigh, part of her primeval essence.

In the strong and beautiful “Joy,” we see the aristocratic, elongated figure of a girl sitting on her side; her limbs on the ground seem to be crushed and to lose their solidity. Her body is drawn in a sensual line, almost bare of details, and three elongated stars hang on her “non-chest” like a divine ornament. A knife is plunged vertically into her thigh in contrast to the harmonic flow of her body, violating the divine serenity and begging the question of who plunged the blade in.

In “Andromeda Watching the Stars,” the image is one of a boyish figure in shorts, standing against a ridge of mountains at nighttime that resembles a graph measuring her soul. She is holding a Frisbee like a moon during an eclipse, tiny dots mark her nipples and her eyes look up at the sky while falling stars penetrate her body like needles.

In the drawing “Queen of summer with Thunders in her Heart,” she seems to be floating in the sky with a wreath of flowers around her head, her arms and legs, in shorts, truncated as in an ancient statue of Venus. On her non-chest are three lightning bolts, while three black clouds, one for each bolt, hang about her head.

Ben David’s “Panic Island” is a nocturnal, allegorical and mystifying painting. A pale green island – to which a frightened black dog has fled, sprawled with nipples extending from her abdomen – is planted in the depths of a sparkling night, with a mobile of stars and red crescents, sharp as fingernails, above. This work seems to be a distillation of the entire show, with its beautiful but somber aura of a fairy tale for adults, about wounded and yet empowered femininity licking its wounds far from any male, hoarding beauty and strength for the future.

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