Excellence in black and white

Encountering Ofer Lellouche's finely drawn prints is an intimate experience.

etchings 88.298 (photo credit: )
etchings 88.298
(photo credit: )
Some 100 intaglio prints by Ofer Lellouche (and also several life-sized bronzes) now on view at the Open Museum in Tefen are a demonstration of an artist's ability to take a graphic medium to its furthest corner. Lellouche has of late devoted the greater part of his creative efforts to work at the Cabri Print Workshop where, together with master printers, he has explored all the intaglio techniques: dry point, etching and aquatint on both copper and zinc plates. If one were to scan the history of printmaking from 16th-century German woodcuts to modern serigraphs, one would find that exposure to the broadest possible audience has traditionally been an essential consideration for religious, moralistic or commercial reasons. By and large great printmakers from Durer, Goya and Hiroshige to Jim Dine have kept a lid on epic sizes, the latter breaking the canon on occasion. Examining an intaglio illustration is a private encounter. Investigating intimately the subjective details, delicacy and sincerity of line and texture, and the ensuing dark and light volumes, the viewer is prone to scan the surface as if reading an illustrated book. Lellouche, however, sees his prints as direct or recycled drawings, often as one-off sheets, and so his etchings are often measured by the meter and their editions restricted to a minimum. Although the exhibition deals with Lellouche's imposing graphic descriptions of the female nude, landscapes and self-portraits, the figurative sculptures provide a synergy that definitely broadens and enhances the overall presentation. Both the bronzes and etchings deal with monochromatic surfaces. They are both developed in stages in an unrelenting dialogue of adding and subtracting linear, formal and volumetric elements. And while we readily accept the formal differences between two-dimensional printmaking and three-dimensional sculpture, the creative and technical processes of change, elaboration and transfer that go into producing them are incredibly similar. Additionally, after pulling the paper or revealing the cast, the end result is often a surprise, either agreeable or unsatisfactory. As with all fine printmakers, excellent drawing is at the heart of Lellouche's etchings and aquatints. With the exception of several unrealized landscapes that do not reach their full descriptive potential, Lellouche maintains an authoritarian control over his subjects. Several major prints containing negative strokes on a black background are hastily drawn, treated more like an action painting than a naturalistic rendering. They cannot compete with the voluptuous shapes of pregnant women and expressive faces emerging or receding into darkly inked crevices and fields of black and burnished gray. The wide range of pictorial options on view is evidence of Lellouche's constant need to experiment with the medium and search for alternate expressive routes. All Lellouche's sculptures and reliefs deal with substantial human forms. From a roughly-surfaced full-size Kouros-looking nude lacking an archaic smile to several large heads, his bronzes are infused with the textural layering of Giacometti and surface encrustations from the painter Leon Golub and his Chicago monster school. However, in order to maintain their detachment from personality, Lellouche scars, mutilates and deforms the anatomy of faces and figures to a point where they are unrecognizable and appear unfinished. The solid, yet skillfully fragmented volumes remain in a state of flux, the final outcome to be determined by the spectator. (Open Museum, Tefen Industrial Park.) Till May. THE INTENDED metamorphosis of the female body from natural to super evocative doesn't actually happen in hyped-up paintings by Eliahou Eric Bokobza. Flora, the invented fleshy belly dancer of the painter's dreams, is a puffy, wide-eyed vamp of undisclosed origins. She neither wriggles, bumps nor grinds but reclines lazily in crass interiors on layers of ornamental pillows while glaring plaintively at the painter and spectator. The fabrics and wall hangings are garishly colored in pale bordeaux, coral pinks, ultramarine, orange, yellow and black. A second figure in Bokobza's marathon of color and fatty forms is an oriental male, mustachioed, wide-eyed and wearing an undershirt and tarbush, a clich comic figure mined from popular Egyptian cinema. Influenced by a first encounter with a belly dancer at his bar mitzva party, Bokobza is trying to reenact that experience, but an eccentric imagination has taken over for memory as he reconstructs the costumed figure, gaudy interior designs and spectacular woven fabrics to satisfy illustrative needs. An attempt to satisfy the male libido with his inane caricatures and overabundance of ornament of eroticism doesn't work. Some true fantasy is projected by a pair of high heeled shoes, common in paintings of the macho male grasping at female legs as well as some objects planted in the exhibition. (Nelly Aman Gallery, 26 Gordon, Tel Aviv.) Till February 24. ASAF BEN ZVI has unloaded his key baggage in a stunning exhibition of selected works, From a Painter's Diary, 1984-2005. He is an artist whose work has no logical reference and does not allude to be anything other than the inherent artistic qualities of the item itself. There is an intuitive directness in his imagery that thrives between direct messages and the art of rhetoric. Each of the 50 pieces in the show abounds with an aesthetic personality of its own, the result of Ben Zvi's expressive talents seeking to extract the utmost from a painting, object, mixed-media exercise or conceptual panel. Moving from medium to medium with ease and confidence, Ben Zvi hones subjects and objects to their maximum. A single pictogram of an unaccompanied glider sketched in a childlike silhouette fashion on a fiery red or raw linen field is an uncomplicated visual solution to an oil painting entitled Silent (1994). The tranquility and harmony of Silent is repeated in a series of five mixed-media oils and metallic pigment entitled Spain in Blue (1989), in which a single icon, either a cross, bumblebee or vague abstract shape is virtually implanted into unyielding fields of mottled olive, umber and wine. The immobility of both these series is broken by Days of Color (1994), small monochromatic panels whose thick, sappy pigment erupts from the surfaces like active volcanic lava. What really is interesting about Ben Zvi's display is the ease with which he moves from brashness to subtlety and from a feel for traditional magnificence to a commitment to art's fundamental elements and materials. Objects made from chunks of cleaved pine, lumps of color and penciled slogans, like Mount Tabor (2005), project an unusual beauty, one that is beyond description in classical terms, born at ground level at the feet of man's earthiness. This is a terrific exhibition and definitely worth a visit. (Gordon Gallery, 95 Ben Yehuda, Tel Aviv.) Till February 18. TWO ARCHITECTS and best of friends, Joseph Caspari and Lev Stern, investigate the structural ruins of ancient civilizations and post WWII Europe in miniature models. Caspari, an Israeli living in Paris, deals with the latter by fashioning replicas of bombed-out buildings, concentration camps and scenes of general destruction, all in cast aluminum. Stern looks at the spirit of archaeology by creating two series, one of fantastical, non-functional miniature ruins in stone and ceramics and in the second, detailed drawings of a female nude on slabs of broken marble. Both series are intriguing in that they maintain the visual essence of their subjects while carefully considering their narrative possibilities, scale and proportions. Also, the charred patina of Caspari's aluminum facades and the robust pinks and mushroom tones harnessed by Stern are exactly in place. (Engel Gallery, 26 Gordon, Tel Aviv.) Till February 15