‘Botany’ – and printmaking

Abramson stepped into to the newly established Jerusalem Print Workshop, founded in 1974, whose innovative and educational spirit seems to be the foundation of Abramson’s career as an artist.

Images of screenprints on top of newspaper (photo credit: Courtesy)
Images of screenprints on top of newspaper
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When Larry Abramson began his printmaking journey as a young artist in the 1970s, printmaking had just evolved into an accepted form of contemporary art within in the realm of pop culture.
Abramson, an immigrant from South Africa, stepped into to the newly established Jerusalem Print Workshop, founded in 1974, whose innovative and educational spirit seems to be the foundation of Abramson’s career as an artist, painter and printmaker.
Since then, he has exhibited in every important museum and gallery in the country, also taking part in exhibitions internationally.
His current solo exhibition, “Botany,” on view at the Jerusalem Print Workshop, offers a chance for visitors to experience Abramson as one of the most important Israeli artists of his generation, in the vanguard in the art of printmaking.
The workshop’s two galleries are dedicated to “Botany,” an extensive exhibition curated by Irena Gordon, focusing on Abramson’s complex and evolving relationship with flora, botany and landscape throughout his career. An accumulation of work from several different series is presented, revealing messages and posing questions as Abramson investigates the identity of this subject.
Initially inspired by the landscape that surrounded him in the beginning of his career, he noticed how complicated the seemingly simple beauty of Israeli flora was, coming to the conclusion that it was an inherent part of his personal identity, even national identity – but not yet quite knowing how to understand or manifest it in his art.
Here we are confronted with the artistic process. Each series adds a new element – conceptually and aesthetically – as Abramson handles his subjects with a diversity of printing methods.
“Printmaking provided me with a technical and conceptual foundation that has served me well in other media. It makes you work in stages, which means there is always a space of contemplation and critical reflection between the initial intent and the result,” the artist explains.
“This awareness of the importance of process and the understanding of the final image as an accumulation of various steps and stages has been the foundation of my painting, and I suspect it owes a lot to printmaking.
I have always been less interested in creating editions, and more interested the way an image evolves over time. In printmaking you become very aware of how time is captured in the process.”
Such is apparently the case. If we begin viewing the print from Abramson’s most recent series in this exhibition, “Flora of the Land of Israel” (2012) and “Das kleine Blumenbuch” (2014), we witness black silhouettes of botanical species featuring illustrations taken from science books. The images are intensely defined by the process of screenprinting, and that intensity grows as one realizes that they are imprinted on top of sheets of old Israeli newspapers dating back to coverage of the Six Day War (1967) or the more recent coverage of Operation Protective Edge (2014).
Abramson first covers the sheets of paper in fields of a calm, sky-toned oil paint before adding his sharp botanical illustration, which conquers the words published on the newspapers.
With this, viewers enter into the world of his vision. His continuous floral subjects are at once scientific and allegorical.
Painted images, even titled after their scientific names, are powerful and detailed, and he places them in contexts in which viewers are asked to examine their existence.
The exhibition continues to deconstruct subjects and myths.
In many of Abramson’s prints, starting from the late 1980s and early 1990s, audiences come upon the artist’s use of abstract geometric shapes against his floral subjects. The use of squares, for example, is the artist’s confrontation with the language of Modernism, whose tautologies he found suffocating in his early career. By combining these shapes with natural elements and symbols, he broke out from what he describes as a “dead end,” giving the geometric language meaning and life.
A large and emotional piece viewers will face is Abramson’s Israel Landscape (2008), in which the artist uses landscape paintings by Israeli masters who painted the hillsides of cities and kibbutzim as his starting point and inspiration. Using the etching technique, which leaves an inherent gray background, he renders versions of each landscape painting separately, finally combining them into one “broken” landscape.
For Abramson, the landscape paintings initially captured a sense of artistic beauty and harmony; reminiscent of his youth and connection to the Land of Israel when he immigrated with his family in the 1960s. It occurred to him, however, how little these paintings dealt with the brokenness of the land: the realities of war, poverty and destruction.
“As an artist, I was tragically aware of the inaccessibility of the world. Like Moses from the top of Mount Nebo, you are destined to gaze at the land, but not to enter it. In my artistic practice, this awareness manifested itself in a language of fragments and parts – if the whole is unattainable, let’s make do with its parts.
Vis-à-vis nature, this meant looking less at panoramic landscapes and more at individual plants, separated from their environment and scrutinized in the studio. This connected me to botany, of course, and to metaphors about uprootedness.”
There is much more. “The Rose of Jericho,” an ongoing series that Abramson began in 2003, leaves a lasting impression.
Paying homage to the strange, miraculous and dry desert plant – he has found a living allegory. After fully blooming, the rose of Jericho dries up into a bulb of intricate branches. It can detach from the ground and roll around for half a century, but once the plant comes into contact with even a few drops of water, it opens up, releasing the seeds trapped inside its bulb to the ground, creating new life.
For Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, this plant holds significant representations of revival, rebirth and standing up to the test of time.
Abramson carefully observed and etched the specimen at different points of its cycle. Sometimes he captures it blooming, other times still, and most notably when he uses an acid bite technique, the image is given the effect of being splashed with water.
The substantial work in this exhibition is a testament to Larry Abramson as one the most important Israeli artists of his generation. His processes bespeak interest and diversity, holding the audience’s attention and never letting go.
Overall, Abramson, curator Irena Gordon, Print Workshop founder Arik Kilemnik and the members of the Jerusalem Print Workshop epitomize dedication and originality with the art and execution.
“Botany” is on show at the Jerusalem Print Workshop, 38 Shivtei Yisrael St., until August 31.