Cracking the Ozeri Code

Inside Yigal Ozeri there is a talented painter begging to be set free.

ozeri 88 (photo credit: )
ozeri 88
(photo credit: )
Inside Yigal Ozeri (b. 1958, Israel) there is a talented painter begging to be set free. Until that happens we can only try to assess what makes his paintings, drawings and collages so deserving of the attention they get. The Four Seasons, his current exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum, is a showman-like display of an artist playing to the crowd. After many years of creating inventive architectonic drawings in unorthodox mixed-media; decorative Baroque costumes based on historical references; and several series of thematic collages (Goya's Madhouse, Unbuilt America) this is Ozeri's initial foray into a style of painting that is more rational and naturalistic. Divided into three sections (windows, portraits and pigeons), the canvases are not only subjectively repetitive but painted in an insensitive illusionist manner less occupied with the poetry of painting. Each of the three groups is displayed separately in a long gallery, cut off physically and stylistically from its neighbor. The realism Ozeri offers up is little more than bland illustrations of his studio's interior-exterior in Long Island City, across the river from Manhattan, an area that has seen better days. His painterly descriptions, from the indifferent patches of snowy ledges to brass locks and wooden mullions, are all imbued with the same callous mannerisms,brought to life from transposing programmed photographic images onto canvas. The sharply angled walls of a brightly lit air shaft are framed by silhouetted panels and shutters of loft windows. The stone surfaces are transformed by crusty brush marks into cascading streams of peeling paint and raw brick in local color and explicitly described textures which are so obvious as to make them truly unremarkable. Ozeri has unleashed a style here that falls somewhere between Norman Rockwell's wholesome Americana and the abstract expressionist surfaces by Clyfford Still. But in describing the first of these studio paintings, curator and TAMA director Mordechai Omer states that the series masterfully exemplifies the metamorphosis that occurred in the artist's painting during the course of those four seasons in 2002, during which he meticulously explored every nuance revealed to him through the studio window. This profoundlyexaggerated insight probes further into numbness when Omer makes comparisons, however oblique, between Ozeri's work and that of Lucian Freud, Balthus, Matisse, Wyeth and Hopper. Pigeons are known to be ungrateful little birds. But Ozeri has taken to them with a sense of pride and affection. As if each bird was asked to pose, his compositions are just right, nothing casual nor out of place. The quality of surprise, of capturing his avianfriends unawares, doesn't happen. Like his portraits, the pigeons posture, standing proudly or tucked into themselves on cold winter days. It is apparent, however, that several works in this series, more so than in his cityscapes and portraits, are skillfully drawn and painted into reasonable pictures with a great deal of facility. Ozeri's portraits of his children, Shear and Adam, are candid studies in staged compositions. Adam's theatrical gestures in harsh light are rather ordinary as little empathy is elicited for this tight lipped, belligerent looking child. Shear, on the other hand, is portrayed with a dour, matter of fact look and placed in the lower register of compositions controlled by jagged perspective interiors. For both Adam and Shear, a warm palette emphasizing faded sepia and tints of orange, with touches of white and umber, remind one of faded memories sponged from Victorian prints. Portraits of Nelly, a native of the Ivory Coast living in Manhattan, are more tolerable than those of Shear and Adam but still maintain illustrative conventions that detract from the drama of good painting. A screaming closeup of Nelly's face framed by a wild head of flowing black hair with indications of twirling serpents, entitled Medusa, is nothing more than well executed conspicuous melodrama. By placing a head and shoulders portrait of Nelly in the shadows of concrete stanchions below the Manhattan Bridge, Ozeri has created a combine that delves into conceptual art. The portrait transcends documentation by telegraphing messages related to feminist attitudes, integration and cultural incongruity. But once again, Omer's attempt to place these portraits in the spheres of DiChirico's melancholy piazzas or Edward Hopper's captivating cityscapes verge on the preposterous. The exhibition is accompanied a 375-page book tracing Ozeri's career from his early years in Tel Aviv. Published in English, Hebrew and French, this attractive, yet rather offensive catalog raisonn for a 47 year old, very average artist, was written by Omer. Covering his earliest drawings of clumsy chairs painted with glass paint on rice paper in the 1980s to the pictures on view, Omer is excessively sycophantic on page after page, quoting from scores of outside sources while paralleling Ozeri's oeuvre with works by the masters. Both he and Ozeri mention on several occasions the importance of figures like Velasquez, Goya, Zurbar n, DaVinci, Picasso, El Lissitzky, Hopper and the visionary architect Frederick Kiesler have played in his artistic life. If so, the influence has been purely theoretical. Lucky for Tel Aviv taxpayers, the publication (and the exhibition) was generously funded by10 individual collectors and galleries. Ozeri was born in Tel Aviv in 1958, studied architectural design in high school and was instrumental in the formation of the Meimad Art School and accompanying gallery in the mid 1980s. He left Israel in 1991 for New York where he currently lives and works. (Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Mizne Gallery, King Saul Blvd.). AN EXCEPTIONAL display of photographs by Yuval Yairi, entitled Forevermore, focuses on the Hansen Hospital in Jerusalem, an institution founded in 1887 by Protestant missionaries from Germany for the purpose of treating people with Hansen's disease, a debilitating condition associated with leprosy. An isolated section of the building still serves as a clinic for treatment of the disease. Using the still mode of a digital video camera, Yairi moved through the derelict building documenting every nook and cranny. The resulting prints, correlated from numerous details of his journey through the rooms, attics, courtyards and cellars, are marvelous demonstrations of poetic empathy devoid of gratuitous nostalgia. Yairi has painstakingly acknowledged the reality of the hospital but has added additional strata of light and texture to create pictures of a painterly nature filled with vivid colors, dramatic tensions and harmonious compositions. To heighten the affect of the series' scope, Yairi has chosen several items that he repeats as a means ofbringing greater interpretive powers to the exhibition. An empty chair, a suitcase, mirror, window and bed are the things he alters, shifts and rearranges. These symbolic items deal with transience, absence, barriers and the physical versus mental conditions,without resorting to melodrama. (Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Jeanette Assia Galleries, King Sau Blvd.).