Anat Betzer untitled521.
(photo credit: Reuters)
‘Everybody thought I was crazy – my friends, my family, people in the art world.
After 10 years of building a good reputation as a conceptual artist, everything
was fine, but I realized that it wasn’t for me, something didn’t feel right,”
said artist Anat Betzer in 2002. Since then Betzer has built up a career as a
landscape and figurative painter, exhibiting in group exhibitions and with the
Julie M. Gallery in their Tel Aviv and Toronto bases. “Forget-Me-Not,” an
exhibition of her recent works opened at the Julie M. in Tel Aviv at the
beginning of the month.
Betzer’s move from conceptual art to the more
traditional medium of paint was brave and unusual. At the time Israeli painters
and sculptors were and still are championed, but in the main the Israeli art
scene’s focus had shifted to video and conceptual art.
how she spent two years preparing a large installation for an exhibition at the
Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art. “I didn’t visit my studio much” she says.
“There were lots of meetings and time spent raising money. I spent a lot of time
thinking about the space, and then there were two weeks of very physical work
for building the show, and that’s it. The process of conceptual art is very
different, very on/off.
The art starts, and sometimes finishes, with the
moment of the idea” she continues.
Conceptual art is, by its very nature,
more cerebral. It was this realization that played a part in her switch to
painting. Unsurprising, perhaps, since conceptual art can at times seem
“I have to believe people really want to be
Conceptual art seems somehow removed from us,” she says,
reflecting on the transition.
Its not difficult to see why she was
initially drawn to conceptual art. Painting is rarely considered “sexy” in the
world of modern art, not to mention the fact that local art schools have
gradually shifted their focus to newer mediums such as video and
“It was exciting to think about doing big installations
with sound,” she explains. “I have this idea and then I need to start to make it
happen. I would spend time thinking about the space, trying this and that. It
was like a circle; finally I would come back to square one,” she
Betzer studied and taught fine art at Hamidrasha School of Art in
Tel Aviv. As a student and as a teacher she recalls as beneficial both learning
and teaching with artists such as Rafi Levy, Tsibi Geva and Yair
Having taken the decision to stop teaching, in effect to
establish some distance for herself, she could then devote herself to painting
The decision was not an easy one, she admits.
were good years. I liked the students, the environment, and it kept me in touch
with what’s going on, but [at a certain point] I felt that I don’t have it the
way I should to be a good teacher. The more I am into my art, the less I am into
You can’t teach if you’re not interested in what they are doing,”
For the most part Betzer’s paintings have been landscapes,
specifically wooded areas and forests with occasional solitary figures and
Mostly rendered in hues of black and white with
occasional muted color working its way in, the scenes are bleak and desolate and
anything but typically Israeli.
“My grandparents are from Russia and were
My family grew up on a kibbutz near Jerusalem, called Kiryat
Anavim,” she says. “The kibbutz was surrounded by woods and I spent a lot of my
childhood playing in and around the area. I think probably that the woods and my
family history play a part in my work. I see it as part of my DNA, a part of who
I am,” she explains.
This collective memory likely influenced a series of
portraits exhibited in 2010, under the title Run Betzer Run. Using photographs
gleaned from the Internet she painted what are probably her strongest works to
date: several portraits of hunters and their prey in the stark Siberian
Bear hunting has a long tradition in Russia.
sport of tsars, it still continues today.
The paintings show tough and
rugged men in gritty, realistic scenes. For Betzer there is no glamour or
romance in the typically male world of the hunt.
In her current
exhibition Betzer, in part, deals with a subject close to her heart.
came across a book about three years ago titled Women Who Read Are Dangerous,”
she says, “and I started to read about the history of reading and literature and
its place in art.” One of the works that will be on show, titled Emma Bovary,
C’est Moi (Emma Bovary, It’s Me), is, she says, a reference to
“Reading is a large part of my daily life. I am taking
[Flaubert’s character] back for myself because I finally understood that the
woman who reads is me,” she says.
Betzer’s studio has well-stacked
bookshelves, as well as many canvases for her upcoming exhibition.
her switch from conceptual art she has been more comfortable with the working
processes involved in painting and putting the necessary time into the
“Each painting takes me between two and four months,” she says.
“Sometimes I become interested in certain ideas and don’t quite know what is
leading me there. When I was younger I wanted to know, but now I trust myself.
If I hit a wall I have the confidence to be patient and move on. For painting I
need to be here every day, but that’s okay, I like this intimacy with my
“Forget-Me-Not” is showing at Julie M., 10 Bezalel Yafeh Street,
Tel Aviv, until May 11. For more information: (03) 560-7005.