Codified and subdued

The late Israel abstractionist Moshe Kuperfman is a painter Larry Abramson respects deeply and has acknowledged actively in both his paintings and his writing.

kupferman art 88 224 (photo credit: )
kupferman art 88 224
(photo credit: )
Any attempt to understand the significance that lurks behind the imaginative images of Larry Abramson's canvases, painted in a combined technique of oils and acrylics, would require the spectator to read the catalog essay in which he quotes or refers to personalities that one would assume he admires or was influenced by. Commencing with the often quoted German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin Abramson, he skips to the supreme power of Dada and Marcel Duchamp, and then refers to Kazimir Malevich and Ad Reinhardt, both of whom elevated the monolithic black square to a level that made it an indispensable icon of 20th-century modernist painting. On the way, he refers also to the Israeli Eretz Yisrael painters Yisrael Paldi and Arieh Lubin as well as the controversial German iconoclast Joseph Beuys and finally to Willem De Kooning, who, during his last years, having succumbed to Alzheimer's, created a series of lightly brushed paintings crammed with transparent hues that counteracted his insightful career as a fervent abstract expressionist. The late Israel abstractionist Moshe Kuperfman is a painter Abramson respects deeply and has acknowledged actively in both his paintings and his writing. The lesson one brings away from these referrals is that art derived from intellectual, non-emotional pursuits is as strong and as vital as an art form that finds truth in the expressive smearing of pigment onto cloth or an observational prowess that makes for illusionist narrative pictures. With the exception of possibly Lubin, each individual mentioned by Abramson, as he answered a series of questions proposed by Yaara Shehori, was a theorist and an architect of innovation as he revolutionized his times by challenging established norms and artistic assumptions with rational answers. To include oneself in this pantheon of reactionaries, this hierarchy of modernist giants, would be difficult for Abramson even as a minor player. But his current paintings are born of a deeply rational and intellectual base. They are considered, unflawed and stimulating and most certainly establish an artistic frontier that is not only compelling but, with satisfaction, incompatible with mainstream Israeli art. The pile is Abramson's working apparatus. He creates his paintings from a metaphorical heap of unedited debris, signs and tactile surfaces, objects, materials and thoughts - yes thoughts - that are inconsistent and mystifying. By rummaging through recent history, mental and physical, he extracts a range of images and recycles them into fields of color, linear vegetative elements, hard-edged building supplies and natural phenomena. Most of Abramson's pictures are composed from the broad strokes of a palette knife, crusty drawings and areas of undefined clumps of color that coalesce somehow into somber tributes. Several paintings from 2006 entitled Return of the Yellow Square refer to a series he created in 1979 and currently resurrected. Abramson has recycled the golden geometric shape into a central element that, by virtue of its sharp hue and defined borders, absolutely controls the pictorial environment from background drawing and foreground shapes to a curving intestinal shape corkscrewing down the entire vertical axis of the picture plane as it establishes the visual conditioning for something anthropomorphic. Substituting a black square for the yellow one in Return of the Black Square V, 2007, a static composition measuring 100 cm. x 100 cm., Abramson uses the central ebony form to stabilize two additional charcoal gray squares in the background, both hovering above an overall linear pattern. But his inability to demonstrate any signs of what he calls the self-indulgent narcissism of melancholy directs Abramson to inject living matter into a dead geometry, this time taking the shape of black leaves and twigs growing from the square and silhouetted against the gray midfield. It is as if the square, a purely mathematical body, has been energized into a living force from which organic life emerges. Born in South Africa in 1954, Abramson immigrated with his family to Israel in 1961. His experience as a teacher, printmaker and painter began in 1973 with studies at the Chelsea School of Art in London, followed by curatorial responsibilities together with practical work at the Jerusalem Print Workshop from 1975 to 1986. An extended teaching post at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design from 1984 to 2002 led to his appointment as chairman of the school's Fine Art Department, which he held from 1992 to 1999. Today, after more than 20 one-artist exhibitions, a participant in scores of group shows and the recipient of several important prizes, including the Ohana Prize for a Young Israeli Artist in 1991 and this year's honor from the Mendel and Eva Pundik Prize for Israeli Art, both awarded by the Tel Aviv Museum, he has assumed the position of professor of art at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan. Several startling canvases Abramson has labeled Kaff el-Nabi contain a similar trio of curious, yet clearly defined, pictograms. At the center of a pronounced horizontal or square format, brushed with wide bands of indescribable tints or a pale ocher field spotted with a random pattern of watery biomorphic cells housing small opaque centers, a hard-edged illustration of a plank of yellow wood serves as a stabilizing anchor on whose upper edge stands half of a sharply defined white crescent moon and from whose lower edge emerges spindly lines of a tree root. Unlike the pictorial content of his other works, the Kaff el-Nabi series is neither ambiguous nor challenging. Although Abramson talks about the differences between a full moon and partial ones in the catalog introduction, it seems incontrovertible that his graphic signs refer to home, land and heaven (paradise), while the pictures' titles place them in a socio-political camp of current Middle Eastern history. A full moon, perfectly round, snow white and hypnotic is the antithesis of the interlocking lines of a bramble bush that vacillates in the center of the picture plane or bleeds off its edges in a number of paintings entitled Rose of Jericho. The contrast between the tondo set on a black field, a reminder of Adolph Gottlieb's equinox explosions, and the vegetation has a tentative quality about it, yet visually the disparity of line and shape engulfs one's senses and works well. An appreciation of Kupferman's body of work is strongly suggested in Abramson's paintings by an exaggerated use of the special deep violet that was one of Kupferman's undeniable identifiable characteristics. Another distinctive mannerism Abramson has adopted is the swathing of several parallel colored bands across the horizontal axis of the picture that amalgamate into solid shields of pigment upon which he paints angular branches, leaves, fruit and flowers in local color. Larry Abramson is a thinking man's painter. If it's art that sizzles you're looking for, this is not the show to visit, for the spectator will not be subjected to fancy brushwork and ultra-colors and spiked images that express the painter's deepest feelings. Yet his feelings are there: hidden at times yet codified, subdued, understated, unassuming and meaningful as they meld together into inspirational works of art. Even the River Jordan, a powder blue undulating line on a mottled dark gray field beginning its flow in Lake Kinneret and emptying it waters into the Dead Sea, is a conundrum that seeks an answer as it sits like a nasal passage above a gleaming crescent moon. (Gordon Gallery, Rehov Ben-Yehuda 95, Tel Aviv). Till November 13.