Artist Gary Goldstein delves in the forests of memory

The wonder of 'Well Being'

(photo credit: HAGAY HACOHEN)
It is impossible to write objectively about the art of Gary Goldstein. Now on display at the Neve Schechter gallery under a double heading; in English, it is called Well Being, in Hebrew, Wonder [Hishta’ut]. It’s not that I’m confused by the dichotomy, I can almost hear the late comedian Myron Cohen saying: ‘It’s no great shakes, I too should wonder, how is it I’m being so well?” It’s because of my own history with his art.
When I first learned of his portraits roughly two decades ago, they were suggested to me by well-meaning friends who knew of my love of comic books and literature. Goldstein’s works stand out in the landscape of Israeli art as being erudite and objects of great beauty. This used to be an anomaly as, for a while at least, Israeli artists were exploring other artistic expressions such as performance art and heavily political paintings.
Goldstein always seemed to be singular, his paintings extremely personal and painstaking, with an emphasis on pain.
It was their emotional intensity that made me appreciate his work but also put it on the shelf until later. For a while, at least, I preferred the seemingly facile intelligence of, say, David Hammonds, who sold snow balls as art works and created rocks with fans, which he then called a Rock Fan, to the silent forest of family portraits Goldstein painted.
There was, for me, something a little troubling about the intensity of the drawing, all these Jewish punim were staring straight back at you. As if they wanted something.
In other works he used silhouette portraits, but not in a graphically challenging way like Roee Rozen’s 1997 works Live and Die as Eva Brown or the 2017 work by Kara Walker Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might be Guilty of Something). Rozen’s in-your-face art is very much Israeli, an attempt to get to the bottom line fast, and Walker can be understood to be working in the context of Black Rage. Goldstein isn’t rushing to get to the punchline and whatever rage he feels, one gets the idea that he needed to take the long way around the barn to come to terms with it.
On carefully removed cream-colored pages he gently tears loss from spines of discarded volumes he paints his own visions. Volumes that tend to be collections of knowledge, an attempt to place illustrated order onto the world.
He then labors on them to make agonizingly pretty works of whales, swimming and being cut for meat and oil. Sea plants exploding in red as he writes what could very well be diary entries of an artist who seems to look back with some surprise. “Gee,” we seem to hear him think, “that whole business of being alive worked out better than I hoped didn’t it?”
In other words, Goldstein is family, not in a biological sense but in an emotional sense. His parents were Holocaust survivors, Jews from Poland. I spent several years in Poland in an attempt to solve my own family’s puzzle. What started out as a conversation about art quickly became a much more personal discussion about tsuris, mishpacha and jokes as a means of dealing with both troubles and family.
Before this show, Goldstein was invited by the Polish Cultural Institute to visit Poland, a trip he took with his brother. Poland, the place Jews imagined they could spend a thousand-year night in a famous midrash [Po-Lin, here we shall rest] before returning home, became a stage for the tragic murder of roughly one third of the Jewish people. In Yiddish the pain is called Hurban, destruction, in Romani it is called Porajmos, the devouring.
Yet, even after such immense death and pain there is some hope. Goldstein wrote about his own father, a tailor, laboring over a suit as something he can see in his own work as he paints on a large table. In his 40s, he made a decision to work at home and not at a studio. That decision, like others he took in his long career, might seem small, but small decisions become large ones, and even fate when you look back.
Art isn’t therapy, but by looking back into a great body of work one can see the grand themes that an artistic soul tackles. In a sound work created by singer and artist Eti Ben-Zaken for this space Goldstein can be heard saying: “I am old. No longer a child...Made of lead.” Yet, through the great works on display, the lead is turned to gold.
Well Being [Wonder] will be on display until March 21. 42 Chelouche St, Tel Aviv at the Neve Schechter Gallery. For more info, see here: