History as Private and Collective Memory
The history of the Jewish people is strewn with events that have left an indelible mark on the nation and become etched in our private and collective consciousness. This memory has been invoked, time and again, as reference, reproof, lesson and explanation, from the times of the Torah and the prophets, through the sayings of Our Sages and the great commentators, to the chroniclers and historians of modern times.
A similar process is discernible in art. Employing various modes of representation, from narrative "reconstruction" to symbolic imagery, mosaic pavements in ancient synagogues, medieval manuscript illuminations, and contemporary paintings and sculpture address formative events in the nation's history - the revelation of God and the formation of the nation, building and destruction, exile, calamities, and the yearnings for redemption - as they became rooted in the broad expanse between the collective memory and the private memory.
The three selected works illustrate different ways of representing such events in the work of three Israeli artists.
The life history of Moshe-Eliezer Castel and the chronicles of
his family provide a small-scale embodiment of a chapter in the history of the Jewish people: Castel was born in Jerusalem. His father was an erudite Torah scholar (talmid chacham), a scribe, and a parochet (Holy Ark curtain) maker, the descendent of a traditional family that settled in Eretz-lsrael in 1492 (the year of the Jews' expulsion from Spain) and dwelled in Hebron for many generations. Castel started his studies at the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts in Jerusalem at the age of sixteen. He spent many years in France among the circle of Jewish painters known as the School of Paris, and after his return to Eretz-lsrael in 1940, settled in Safed's Cabbalist and Artist Quarter.
Like the man, so his art: throughout its many metamorphoses, Castel's work repeatedly addressed Jewish- biblical, Eretz-Israeli, symbolical motifs. His earliest paintings include depictions of life in the country, some popular "secular", others - portrayals of families celebrating the Jewish holidays. The majority of these paintings were created in Paris, and they range from dark, often gloomy expressionism to cheerfully colorful ornamentalism.
In 1948 Castel discovered the basalt stones of the ancient synagogue at Korazin, a discovery which resulted in reliefs made of pulverized basalt and painted with the colors of the East. In 1955 he shifted to abstract and started painting decorative arabesques. The use of the ancient "letter", which was to become the hallmark of his mature work, originated in abstract "signs". This is discernible, for example, in the painting depicted on this stamp issue - a 130 x 162 cm relief painting made of basalt powder. Executed in 1958 and originally named Parchment Painting, this painting, whose title was later changed to Tablets of the Covenant, exemplifies what Haim Gamzu described as "a secret language that invokes associations of our ancient past in use' A later painting in this series is A Wall of Prayer for Jerusalem adorning the Ceremonial Hall at the President's Residence in Jerusalem.
The painting Agrippas Street combines wooden panels painted in oil, whose surfaces bear pencil and incision marks, with a street sign which similarly blends different eras: the recent past of an old Jerusalem street sign that has given way to a new sign versus the distant past of King Agrippas I, Herod's grandson, who ruled Judea under the Romans. Agrippas Street further alludes to two Jerusalemite periods in Aroch's own life - his studies at the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts as a young immigrant from Ukraine, and his last years as an artist and a diplomat who returned to his city at the end of his tenure as Israel ambassador to Sweden.
Aroch's art is the art of combination and blending. Not only blending of times and materials, but also, perhaps mainly, combinations between images of tangible objects, such as those found in his immediate surroundings, and forms which he conjures up from the depths of his memory: the memory of a cobbler's sign from his birth town, which belongs in the artist's private lexicon of images and sentiments, and the recollection of art works from the early 20th century, which belong to a collective cultural heritage - likewise reconstructed through the filter of private memory via new combinations, conjunctions and affinities.
Arie Aroch was awarded the Israel Prize for Painting in 1971.
The painting is the seventh in a group of eight identically-sized paintings - 2 x 2 meters each - all of them entitled The Rift in Time. The series was created for permanent display at Yad Layeled Children's Memorial Museum, the Holocaust educational institute for youth, established next to the Ghetto Fighters' House Museum in Kibbutz Lohamei Haghetaot in order to expose and perpetuate the child's world in the Holocaust via documentation and education.
Kupferman was born in Jaroslav in eastern Poland. As a child he experienced the horrors of the Holocaust and the Second World War: his entire family perished, and he was deported and wandered throughout the Soviet Union. In 1948 he immigrated to Israel with the group that founded Kibbutz Lohamei Haghetaot, all of them Holocaust survivors. Kupferman studied with Haim Atar at Ein Harod, and in the seminars of the Kibbutz Movement under two of the most prominent forerunners of abstract painting in Israel, Yosef Zaritsky and Avigdor Stematsky.
In the early 1960s Kupferman started to develop an abstract language. It was based on the recognition of another reality, a personal, introspective reality, and on the belief that the act of painting, as a hard daily work, is the refuge of the one who lost everything; the one who seeks, as a kibbutz member and an artist-painter, the only way to justify his survival, not by erasing the past, but rather by perpetuating its memory: a covert private memory to which the painting attests, albeit not addressing it explicitly.
Kupferman's paintings in this group are dramatic and infused with an air of weightiness, struggle and silent oppression. More than ever before, they speak of the past; a discourse loud and clear, albeit one of silence, of signs and symbols whose interpretation the artist entrusts to us, the viewers.
Moshe Kupferman was awarded the Israel Prize for Painting in the year 2000.