By Gil Goldfine 31.7.08
The challenge of realism
Date: Thursday, July 31, 2008
Publication: Weekend Page: 14
Memo: Art review
Illustration: 2 photos
Caption: Sigal Tsabari, 'Interval Between the Two,' 2006, oil on canvas. Ken Kewley, 'Striped Tart with Lemon Half,' 2000, oil on wood panel.
Ever since the Renaissance, critics and
theorists have been writing treatises and broadsides related to the concept of
illusionism in art. How and with what means a painter defines space on a gessoed
wall, a chunk of wood or a length of canvas has been the focus of untold
dissertations for the past 500 years.
From Michelangelo's foreshortening of
anatomical descriptions and architectural detailing on the Sistine Chapel
ceiling in the 15th century to Jackson Pollack's in-your-face non-objective
splashes and drips in the 20th, painters have confronted the problem of
representational art and what it means to the viewer.
As time marched on, painters and sculptors were
able to free themselves from the confines of religious subject matter while
looking toward the genre of daily life, pure landscapes and a simple still life.
And with the inclusion of psychiatry and psychoanalysis into our vernacular in
the early 1900s, the mind, with its full range of emotional responses, dreams
and associations, has been given equal status together with the eye.
Expressionism and non-representational art capture something of the depicted
subject's intrinsic qualities rather than its external appearances.
In recent years, a cache of art students has
begun to reject the latter in favor of a return to the traditional style and
values of figurative painting. Rothschild Fine Art, a gallery devoted to
exhibiting representational art, has recently mounted its first show of six
painters, all working on small formats. Of the six, I choose to discuss the
works of two, Sigal Tsabari and Ken Kewley.
Kewley, trained in the US and recently on the
faculty at the Jerusalem Studio School, shows a handful of oils and several
small, complex collages, each one a delightful voyage into a world of texture
and color. There is little subtlety or ambiguity in Kewley's pictures. They are
decidedly painted with broad crisp strokes of pure color with little use for
tones and tints except for the occasional flat surface onto which he places his
Kewley's oil painting on wood panel entitled
Striped Tart with Lemon Half, is an alla prima, high-intensity colorful picture
in which paint, and not the objects, is the medium. Using a palette knife in
lieu of a brush, there is an obvious physicality about the work as Kewley seems
to carve the various elements into existence while compressing them all into the
upper left hand quadrant of the composition. The pastry, lemon, metal spoon,
plate and crinkled paper wrapping are grouped in a way that their hues seem to
compliment each other, and in so doing intensify the entire picture plane. The
cake, described in concentric orange and reddish bands, is situated diagonally
from the sharply delineated, near-cubistic, piece of blue paper adjacent to the
acidic lemon. Together they form a triumvirate of the primary colors vibrating
on a flat tabletop and plate in tones of pale olive and cool gray.
Interval Between the Two, 2008, a romanticized
landscape by Tsabari, describes a lazy summer's afternoon in which two grazing
horses stand idly in a yellow field. The equine forms and the natural
surroundings of trees and sky are brushed with a scrubby freedom that is the
antithesis of Kewley's strict adherence to sharp contours, clear colors and
compositions planed to the extreme. In Tsabari's picture, the viewer is directed
to enter the picture plane via a fence expressed in a dash of gray line that
crosses the front legs of the brown horse as one's eye moves up to its head and
into the middle ground where a second gray mare nibbles at the dried grass. The
entire scene is shrouded in a haze as if a diaphanous veil has been pulled over
the picture's frontal plane. The horses' muscularity is nicely rendered in
several broad strokes that cover their necks and hind quarters, but they have
been denied details like eyes, mouths and manes, while hooves are totally
neglected and dissipate into indistinct smudges.
A second landscape by Tsabari is a perfectly
symmetrical composition in which two Thai workers, standing back to back between
two trees in the middle ground, are dusting crops in a pasture composed from
several tones of green from a deep viridian to olive and turquoise.
Although her time line is about current events,
the pictorial results are more about our unlimited memories and what was than
they are about the burning here and now.
Other painters in the exhibition: Stuart Shils,
Yael Scalia, Sharon Etgar and Guy Yanai.
Rothschild Fine Art, Sderot Rothschild 140, Tel
Aviv. Tel. 077-502-0484. Until August 4.
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