Black Holes White Dwarfs" is the intriguing title of an art exhibition that recently opened at Beit Sokolov (Beit HaItonim), 4 Rehov Kaplan, Tel Aviv and will run through June 12 (8 am-6pm, Sundays to Thursdays).
Fifty-year-old artist Theodor Barr has used a novel combination of oil and acrylic paint, lacquer and cold tar to create 20 impressive canvases depicting the mysteries of the cosmos. Barr's thematic inspiration came from a contemporary source - from viewing NASA's Hubble telescope images of outer space.
The Hubble space-based observatory (HST), named for the famous astronomer Edwin P. Hubble (1889-1953) and first launched in 1990, has provided breathtakingly clear views of the universe. Its array of colorful photographs shows not only our own solar system but remote minor galaxies formed not long after the "Big Bang" some 13.7 billion years ago.
It was through the compelling Hubble images that the artist glimpsed into the mysterious world of black holes and white dwarfs. Speaking of the former, Barr says "Black holes are unexpected, cannot be photographed or measured. They are strange alien territory in the furthest reaches of the universe, a place where the laws of physics lose their power," where gravity is so strong that swallowed-up matter is irretrievable. The term "white dwarfs" refers to stars in crisis compressed to a minute fraction of their former gigantic size but emanating immense outbursts of energy before they expire.
Caught up and moved by this vast topic of cosmic themes where even scientists are making tentative inroads, Barr found himself for the first time scrutinizing the inscrutable with fervent enthusiasm. He is fascinated with concepts such as "light years" that are altogether taken for granted by most of us jaded mortals. According to Barr's curator, art specialist Miri Krimolovsky, his curiosity was challenged by the "mystery of the unknown in the universe and the aspiration to interpret the special secret light bursting forth out of the darkness thousands of light years away."
But what is most surprising about Ramat Hasharon resident Ted Barr are his other pursuits, which include writing and a commercial career. In his everyday life, he is a hard-working, competitive businessman who has focused on building up a successful insurance agency. Besides running his own office, he heads the insurance department of Club 50 (http://www.club50.co.il), a popular local website for people over fifty that is a thousand members strong. As Barr's specialty or niche market is health and nursing-care insurance for the older population, he has written extensively, lectured and given interviews on these topics. He feels that the over 50's are generally underserved in this area.
Generally speaking, Barr comes from a conventional Israeli background. His parents brought him from Romania to Tel-Aviv at age four. He later attended the Gymnasia Herzliya high school, played on the school's basketball team and attained the rank of major in the artillery corps. He studied for his MBA at Tel Aviv University, and after a brief stint as military planner in an architect's office has been involved with the insurance field for the last 25 years. Married to Orit Casif, now a jewelry designer and formerly a presenter of sports programs on Channel One television, he is the father of two teenage children.
In 1995 Barr started painting almost by chance, when his wife saw him dabbling around with his children and encouraged him to take a few lessons. Once he got started on the rudiments, a friend persuaded the famous artist, the late Shlomo Tsafrir, to teach him. Barr returned home most dejected from his first session with the eccentric artist, after the latter had denounced all his paintings as "rubbish" and asked him repeatedly in a disgusted tone, "Whoever taught you how to paint?"
Nevertheless, his wife Orit had a strong feeling that Tsafrir was the right teacher for her husband, and encouraged him to persevere. A tempestuous period followed. Tsafrir would rage and hurl paintbrushes at his pupil when displeased but sometimes melted into tears when he succeeded. Ultimately, the temperamental master bequeathed him his easel, which Barr uses to this day and regards as a treasured possession. Tsafrir in turn had inherited this easel from his mentor Aharon Avni, founder of the Avni art institute in Tel Aviv in 1936.
Barr paints mainly on weekends and holidays and, besides his artistic vocation, is also a published writer. Shimshon Crystal, his media agent, declares dramatically that his client lives with a split personality, finding it difficult to maneuver between his three passions: painting, writing and insurance. Barr's first published work was a children's book called Crombie that came out in 1990. In 2006 Frau Gruber's Camp, an enigmatic, allegorical tale about Hitler, was published by Tammuz.
Barr, who has spent time researching the Nazi era, told Metro that very little has been published in Hebrew regarding the eastern front of WWII. In addition to these works, he recently completed a novel called Adam.
Barr has the habit of committing his thoughts to writing and has been a long-time diarist. Often he will rise at 5 am to write, and even when not working on a specific piece, will jot down notes every day in a disciplined fashion. From time to time he seeks out the calm environment of Weggis in Switzerland, or retreats to a simple rented room in Notre Dame de Sion Convent at Ein Karem near Jerusalem, to organize his thoughts and progress undisturbed with his writing.
Clearly, the contemplative side of Barr's nature is well developed despite his serious involvement with a business career. This thoughtfulness is palpable in a recent internet article of his ("Backwards - An Appeal for Secular Fundamentalism") that calls for what he terms secular fundamentalism, or a return to a simpler way of life. The writer feels that "a drastic change in our entire way of life, economic, political, personal," is necessary and suggests going backwards instead of moving forwards. After all, where is progress leading us, he asks, if not downhill?
The article speaks out candidly against superficial contemporary values: the present climate of political corruption, our culture of unbridled ambition and excessive materialism, and the all-pervasive rating system.
Barr feels the alienation of the younger generation, too. "The youth of today are more connected to computers than to their families, friends and environment. The generation we are raising today will be the autistic ones of tomorrow."
His sincere appeal for a return to a simpler life style should, he feels, lead to a slowing down of our frenetic pace. He concludes the article by advocating that "A return to a natural existence, basic and free of extreme consumerism is the recipe for a fuller, happier and healthier life for us and for the world that hosts us."
As Barr admitted with a twinkle in his eye, his recent connection with the vast wonders of the infinite cosmos has broadened his perspective on life.