Moshe Givati had a reputation on Israel’s art scene for being difficult to work
with. But no critic or curator could dismiss his raw talent and self-taught
skill. After being largely absent from the Israeli art world since the 1990s,
the 78-year-old artist was thrilled to return with a show of his work from 2006-
2010. But it was not meant to be. Givati succumbed to a heart condition on April
13 in Tel Aviv on the eve of the opening of his much-anticipated exhibition in
New York City this week.
Deena Lusky, the curator of Givati’s new show
“Equus Ambiguity – Emergence of Maturity,” at Jadite Galleries, acknowledges
that he was a complex person, but adds that the greatest of artists usually
“He was very rough on the outside,” she says in a phone interview
from New York with The Jerusalem Post. “He didn’t give a care, but on the other
hand he had this person inside him that was so striving for
It was this insecurity, Lusky says, that caused Givati, who
took part in the major contemporary art groups in Israel like the 10+ Group
(1965-1966), Tazpit (1964) and Rehabilitation of the Nesher Quarry Project
(1970- 1971) and showed in galleries in Israel and New York, to turn down
opportunities for success over the years.
Despite being a part of those
movements, he never felt that he truly belonged.
“From the beginning with
Givati it was very hard to put him in a defined place,” Lusky says. Still, he
longed to be acknowledged as the genius that he was.
Known for his
large-scale abstract paintings using bright colors and expressive figurative
elements, the new Equus series is based on Givati’s experience seeing the play
Equus in 1975 while living in New York from 1974-1982 just after the Yom Kippur
War. In the ‘70s, he worked on the series inspired by the play about a
psychiatrist trying to understand why a young psychotic boy chose to blind six
The show deals with the questions raised for Givati by the play,
as well as his own maturation and the question of what it means to be a
“It has nothing to do with age,” Lusky says.
trying to live with the finding of who he is in his own eyes.”
paintings struggle with social and political issues as well, including one
particularly poignant one of a frightened figure behind bars, which he stayed up
all night working on during the night of captive soldier Gilad Schalit’s
“He took to heart so deeply the pains of what was going on in
Israel,” Lusky says. “He was a Jew and an Israeli at heart.”
Hacohen Wexler in 1934 in Hadera to a mother with manic-depressive disorder,
from which he also suffered, Givati’s parents, Yehudit and Moshe (for whom he
was named), immigrated from Khotin, Bessarabia in 1933. His father died at 21,
before he was born. Givati returned to Khotin when he was two years old to live
with his grandmother, but his mother brought him back to Israel just before
World War II broke out.
In Israel, he struggled to keep up in school as
he had dyslexia, and soon stopped attending classes before getting kicked out of
the Beit Hinuch Workers’ Children School.
Givati became active in the
Zionist Hashomer Hatzair youth movement and began work on Kibbutz Shamir in the
Upper Galilee. In the ‘70s, he lived in the artists’ colony Ein Hod and later
moved to Haifa – it was during this time that he studied with Marcel Janco, the
Romanian-Israeli artist best known as a leading figure in Dadaism.
shared one memory from his schooling. At around age 11 or 12, his art teacher
Aaron Priver drew a horse on the blackboard and asked the class to copy it,
threatening to slap their hands with a ruler if they didn’t.
postulates that his early artistic encounter with horses contributed to his
later interest in Equus.
While living in New York, Givati did not paint
very much, but rather focused on printmaking and textiles. When he returned to
Israel, Lusky says he reached a low point personally, drinking excessively and
using drugs, though he continued to garner praise from art critics for his
four-panel abstract landscapes and formulation.
“My head must always be
in a slightly blurry state; this is the only way I can go through life,” he had
While he continued to paint in the ‘90s, including a series of
landscapes from Jerusalem of Arab villages over the 1967 lines, opening “Studio
Givati” in a large loft in Tel Aviv and selling works to collectors who visited
him, he intentionally disconnected himself from the mainstream art scene as he
struggled financially and with his health, suffering his first heart attack in
Unable to meet mounting debts, Lusky says Givati found himself
homeless and working as a dishwasher and juice squeezer at Tel Aviv’s old
Central Bus Station. After a year, hotel owner and art collector Haim Shiff, who
had purchased Givati’s paintings in the past, offered him a room at the Marina
Hotel in Tel Aviv. Haim’s son Dov (Dubi) Shiff became Givati’s benefactor after
his father passed away.
Always open about his mental disorder, Givati
said, “Painting is my mania, and as a mentally-ill person I cannot demand
anything from the authorities. Being an artist is my privilege, God’s gift, and
just as a religious man reports every morning to pray to his Creator –
fearlessly – thus the artist wakes up every morning for his art prayer, and must
not expect anything in return.”
His last show was a retrospective of his
work in 2006 at the Tel Aviv Museum, but Lusky says the exhibition did not show
much of his later work.
After being told by curators and art consultants
that Givati was considered a “has been,” also because he designed works for his
benefactor’s hotel interiors, Lusky says she became determined to reintroduce
the artist to the world when Dubi Schiff approached her about working on an
Refusing to ever title his paintings or really verbalize what
they were about, Givati insisted that it was up to the viewer to understand
whatever he wanted from his deeply personal work.
“I am not a philosopher
or an intellectual,” he said. “I paint beautiful paintings. On the other hand,
if art lovers find ideas in the paintings, they are experiencing their own
discovery. My touch on the canvas is my story.”
The exhibition in New
York will run until June 30 before traveling to Los Angeles, and then Europe
before possibly showing in Israel, Lusky says.
For a man for whom the
canvas was his confidante, he looked forward to sharing his inner world with the
“For him it was like a dream come true,” she says of the
“He said to me, ‘in viewing my art there will be people who
will look at it and continue on. But the ones who feel a connection to something
that I’m expressing in my painting won’t ever want to leave it. They’ll want it
in front of their face continuously.”