Grounded in Jerusalem

There’s nothing like a bit of street-level painting, spiced up with some local lyricism.

An ice cream parlor near Mahaneh Yehuda (photo credit: ALEXEY MIKHAILOV)
An ice cream parlor near Mahaneh Yehuda
(photo credit: ALEXEY MIKHAILOV)
There’s nothing like a bit of street-level painting, spiced up with some local lyricism. It is hard to resist the charms of a picture that evokes quotidian situations, but with some magical ingredient that not only evokes the everyday hustle and bustle, but also imbues the end product with something of a transparent, yet palpable, fairytale dimension.
All the above could comfortably be applied to Rifkah Goldberg’s works currently on display at the Beit Naima Gallery in Nahlaot, just a pebble’s throw away from the Mahaneh Yehuda market.
That Goldberg is a Jerusalemite is a given. No artist, even the most gifted and observant, could possibly capture the essence of the stores and stands on Agrippas Street and the shuk without having lived and breathed the ambiance, and listened to the raucous ping pong of the vendors’ cries as weary Jerusalemites, weighed down by bags crammed with the family fruit and veg, push their way through the crowded market thoroughfares.
“A lot of my paintings are done very near this area,” says Goldberg, a little superfluously. The painter herself is not exactly a local, although she resides not too far away. “I live in Katamon. I come here a few days a week.” So, what draws Goldberg to the busy elemental streets and alleyways of Mahaneh Yehuda? “I like the light and the color, and the people, although I don’t paint many people,” she notes.
That much is clear from the works on the walls of the display area which takes up the ground floor of the solidly built 19thcentury house, which is home to artist and writer Yaffa Wagner and her actor husband. Goldberg’s paintings make up half of the two-artist “Silent Views” exhibition, alongside works by Soviet-born painter Robert Rosenberg. The show was curated by former surgeon and art collector Alexey Mikhailov.
Like all good artists, Goldberg is blessed with a healthy sense of curiosity. When, for example, you look at her painting of a kitchen, you know she has spent hours, and probably days, there soaking up not just the aesthetics of the place, but the spirit, too. You know the place is also a home and, absence of human figures notwithstanding, the scene has a lived-in feel to it.
Not all of Goldberg’s works are inspired by the same part of town. “That is a kitchen in Mea She’arim,” she notes. “I don’t take photographs of places and then go to paint them. I paint them at the place itself.” That is obvious from the vibe of the picture. You can almost feel the stony texture of the tiles on the floor, and see the washing that’s hanging in the backyard swaying in the breeze. Goldberg is a hands-on painter. She needs to follow the transient light, breathe in the scent of the spices and fruit on sale in the market stores and stands, and even inhale the fumes of the buses as they squeeze their way up and down Agrippas Street.
There is a tactile dimension to her street scenes. There is also something definitively Jerusalemite about her pictures. Goldberg has accrued plenty of local street cred since she made aliyah from the UK, and settled in the city 43 years ago. That was after gaining a PhD in biochemistry from Cambridge University. Therein lies a neat confluence with the curator. “I wanted to be a surgeon but I ended up studying something else, and then becoming a painter,” Goldberg says. “Alexey used to be a surgeon.”
GOLDBERG, WHOSE exhibitor bio includes displays at the Israel Museum, the Jerusalem Theater and the Artists’ House in Jerusalem, follows her muse – which takes her out of her home, practically every day, and into the dusty animated environs of the shuk. That peripatetic approach also led her to the Beit Naima Gallery. “I saw her painting one day, down near the bottom of Agrippas Street,” Wagner explains. “I liked what she was doing so I invited her to exhibit here.”
As Goldberg has been at it for so long, naturally some of the stores and street scenes she has got down on canvas have either changed radically or are simply no longer there. She says she wants to capture life as it is, but is not necessarily looking to document Jerusalem. “I suppose it happens,” she notes, “but it’s not the aim of it.”
Then again, she admits to harboring a desire to record the changes that are taking place in Jerusalem at an ever-increasing rate. “I don’t know why, but I am drawn to a lot of things. I did a series of a lot of buildings that were being knocked down. I call them soulscapes. I started at Mamilla. It was a difficult time of my life. It was in the Nineties. There were half-roofs and half-walls. I found it so fascinating.” The old Shaare Zedek Hospital building on Jaffa Road, subsequently taken over by the now defunct IBA, also came in for the Goldberg oil-on-canvas treatment.
Most of Goldberg’s paintings may be devoid of human presence and, naturally, they do not capture movement per se, but she manages to convey the buzz of down-and-dirty life. “Silent Views” includes paintings of shops in the shuk with dozens of items on display. Some of the works feature numerous objects but, somehow, the pictures appear almost bucolic. Goldberg says she allows herself a degree of poetic license which, considering she also writes poems, is only fair. “It’s not like a photograph. You don’t have to be exact. You can take things in and out as you feel.” And there’s no shortage of feeling in Goldberg’s work.
“Silent Views” will run until early August. The Beit Naima Gallery is located at 8 Einayim Lamishpat Street. For more information: