Keeping an eye open

A retrospective of Jacques Katmor's work reflects the multidisciplinary artist's desire to challenge the accepted norms.

Jacques Katmore (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jacques Katmore
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For people from the big wide Western world, the 1960s in Israel were something of a letdown. The flower power period and related freewheeling spirits were mostly relegated to a select Bohemian set, and when it came to having access to the artistic breakthroughs on the New York or London scene, in the pre-YouTube and global village epoch it took time for these things to filter across to the Levant.
Given all the above conditions in little Israel of the time, Jacques Katmor’s efforts to breathe some life into the arts community here, while hopefully shocking as many people as possible en route, represent quite a landmark. Some of that will become evident to the general public when the “The Third Eye: Jacques Katmor Is Wishing You a Good Death” exhibition opens today at noon at the Nahum Gutman Museum in Neveh Zedek, Tel Aviv.
As such, Ori Drumer thought it might be a good idea to provide the public with as much background information as possible about Katmor and the Third Eye arts movement that emerged around the artist.
“There will be a sort of database with all sorts of images associated with the Third Eye,” explains Drumer who curated the exhibition and, in a previous professional life, was bassist in the 1980s rock group Duralex Sadlex. The members of the movement included the likes of British-born photographer and music critic Michael Rorberger, actress Yael Aviv, artist Michel Optovsky and film director David Greenberg.
“The images will be arranged in some sort of order to help introduce people to the creative language and idiom the artists used back then. It is important to get a feeling for the context in which they worked, the historical and cultural context. The images convey the idea of where the Third Eye artists got their inspiration from – London, San Francisco, New York. We’re talking about the period from about 1966-7 to 1972-3.”
When people used the term “the Sixties,” those are the years when that virtual decade took place.
In fact, Katmor himself started life far away from where the artistic action was. He was born in 1938 into a well-to-do Jewish family in Cairo. At 18 he went to Parish to study art. He made aliya in 1960 and soon made his presence felt on the budding arts community in Tel Aviv. His rooftop apartment on Dizengoff Street became the epicenter of a somewhat feral social scene. He produced a large body of paintings, as well as a handful of short movies which, to say the least, were not approved of by the Establishment of the time. There was a generous dosage of nudity in Katmor’s works and frequent reference to substance abuse. All this was quite shocking to a still highly conservative Israel.
“From the point of view of Israelis, Katmor didn’t fall from the moon, he landed from Mars,” says Drumer. “If you look at the press clippings about him back then, he was always talked about in the context of drugs and hippies and that sort of vibe. The Establishment felt threatened by his behavior. The majority of people here weren’t able to accommodate his way. Before he made aliya he read French surrealistic literature, and he came here to change things. He came here to shock. That was part of his personality.”
Mind you, according to Drumer, Katmor’s efforts did not fall on entirely barren land.
“After the Six Day War, volunteers started coming to Israel from all over the world, and they brought with them a different mindset toward drugs and music and sex,” he explains. “This was also the beginning of interest here in New Age stuff. The exhibition includes works by Katmor from the 1960s through to the mid-1980s, and you can see all those influences in them. His approach changes a bit in the 1980s. He always reflected the spirit of the times.”
Drumer says he hopes that visitors to the exhibition will gain some insight into the man behind the art, too.
“It is easy to categorize someone like Katmor. You could say he rebelled against the fact that he came from a ‘good home’. That he was looking for new avenues of expression and wanted to challenge the people around him and the world. But it is hard to put into words exactly what motivated him. You could say he was looking for some kind of identity.”
But if he was looking to get some of that from religious circles here, he certainly didn’t go about it the right way. “He took something from the beatnik generation,” Drumer continues. “He was the first one here to dare to interpret the Bible in a revolutionary way, and he looks at things like homosexuality. No one else in Israel back then was doing that. Israelis have always had a problem with sex, and Katmor certainly challenged them on that score.”
Katmor, it seems, was always something of an alien element here, who never quite felt at home.
“The Bohemians of the time were at war, as it were, with the Sabra – you know, the checked shirt, short pants and open sandals,” observes Drumer. “Katmor walked around in black clothes with sunglasses. As an artist he was fascinating, and he brought all sorts of techniques and styles here that no one used at the time, but he was an outsider.”
The “The Third Eye: Jacques Katmor Is Wishing You a Good Death” exhibition opens today at noon in Neveh Zedek and will run until the end of March. For more information about the exhibition: (03) 516-1970 and