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Perhaps it is not by chance that Meir Appelfeld spent almost a decade, from the late 1980s, studying and working in London rather than in New York or one of the other major European centers of art. After all, wasn't Turner English?
The uninitiated will need some enlightenment (pardon the pun) here. Many of 44-year-old artist Appelfeld's works exude a sense of warmth and light and, indeed, some actually radiate in shades of orange, yellow and brown. Romantic-era Turner's works, of course, also often feature some central source of light when often all around is dark and forbidding.
While not consciously setting out to copy Turner or anyone else, Appelfeld, whose new exhibition entitled "Paintings" opened at the Jerusalem Artists' House on Shmuel Hanagid last month, says it was important for him to live outside Israel for a while, not only to hone his artistic skills but also to be able to access paintings firsthand.
The latter facility, Appelfeld explains, offers an abundance of added learning value. "We live in a world of reproductions and the Internet. Reproductions are hermetic and synthetic. But when you see original paintings up close, you not only see the actual colors and textures, but you also get a sense of the weakness of the work and of the artist."
Weakness? Surely one is looking to feed off the artist's gems, the flashes of genius and inspiration?
"When you see an original, you see that the painting is the work of a human being, especially when you look at the works of the masters. You see their strengths and weaknesses. It gives you a perspective on what art is and on the limitations of the medium and the limitations of the person - which is all part and parcel of the same thing."
That humanist approach is clearly evident in the "Paintings" exhibition. There is a fragility to some of the works that is equally endearing and emotive. Appelfeld also draws on a range of approaches and styles. In one painting, for example, the tablecloth looks so real you can almost feel the fabric. Meanwhile, several works feature apples that span a stylistic spectrum, from something akin to high-focus photographic images to something bordering on the abstract.
Appelfeld says that for him, art is a leap of faith. "It's a sort of adventure. I look at an object, and it tells me what it wants me to do with it. For me it's about risk taking, up until the very last moment. And you can ruin a painting, but that's fine too. You just put it to one side and get back to work. I actually find that very liberating."
Painting, it seems, is also a matter of maintaining equilibrium. "There are three components to my works," Appelfeld explains. "There is the observation of nature, and I draw on the art of the past. The third element is what the artist brings with him to the work. I am a great believer in the synthesis of all three, although the artist should not try to copy nature or past works. There should be dialogue with past works. There is a delicate balance between these two elements that keeps them in check. The artist has to find his own place between the two of them."
Appelfeld's work, in fact, draws on several artistic disciplines, although some may be more vicariously accessed than others. As the son of celebrated writer Aharon Appelfeld, the painter has been exposed to a rich literary world, and he also tried his hand at classical violin. The latter continues to season his modus operandi, although not necessarily in a concrete sense.
"There is a strong link between painting and music. When I look at a painting, I get a sense of sobriety and clarity, like when you drink a good cup of coffee. I see things as they are and I try to convey my perception accurately, as if this understanding flows through me without censure. But it's not something you can put into words. You can, for instance, try to impart the meaning of love, but you can't do that in simple definitive words."
Locale also has its say in what comes out on the Appelfeld canvases, culturally, artistically and even climatically. "My father is a Jerusalemite; he has been here since 1946, and I am very much a Jerusalemite too. This is a city with many layers. They are often hidden layers, but you sense them. I don't always manage to decipher them in my paintings, but they have a presence. Jerusalem is also a surprising city in terms of the light and the climate. It's a sort of twilight zone between Europe and the Middle East. We can have really cold winters, and the summers are always hot. There is European-style architecture and people of all cultures here. Jerusalem definitely informs and nourishes my artistic work."
Mind you, you won't see Appelfeld lugging his easel, canvases and paint box around Jerusalem with him to try to "capture the moment." He also has a problem with the outdoor artistic school of thought. "I work in my studio. The Impressionists worked outside and tried to capture light and the sunlight, but I think they failed in that. You can't compete with sunlight. For me, working in nature is problematic. In the past, artists have circumvented that problem by doing sketches outside but the actual paintings were produced in their studio. Nature will always be far more powerful than anything we can reproduce or interpret."
Then again, interpretation is generally a highly subjective matter. The curator of
"Paintings," Emily D. Bilski, believes that visitors to the exhibition will go through a hands-on experience at the Artists' House. "You have to bring a lot to these paintings," she says. "There is a definite dialogue between the works and the observer. All the paintings have a lot going on in them, and I think that's what makes them so rewarding."
The "Paintings" exhibition will run until December 5. For more information, visit www.art.org.il or call 625-3653.