Building with sticks and stones

For Israeli painter Dafna Alon, there is no substitute for life experience, as is evidenced in her new work on exhibit in Tel Aviv

PAINTINGS FROM Dafna Alon’s latest exhibit, entitled ‘Sticks & Stones.’ (photo credit: Courtesy)
PAINTINGS FROM Dafna Alon’s latest exhibit, entitled ‘Sticks & Stones.’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Calling an art exhibition Sticks & Stones has got to conjure up a sort of childlike, if not naïve, context in most people’s minds. In case you can’t quite recall the complete line from the nursery rhyme, it goes thus: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me.” Painter Dafna Alon fully admits to taking an unaffected, if not insouciant, approach to her art, and to life in general. That comes across, plain and clear, in her new exhibition which opened last week at the Caprice Gallery in Tel Aviv.
“My work is very basic and elemental,” says Alon, and that doesn’t just go for the images she produces. Alon adopts an uncluttered mindset regarding the whole process of creativity, raw materials included. “I use honeycombed paper,” she explains. In fact, the precise term for the substance is paper honeycomb, which is used for packaging and in construction and, the “paper” terminology notwithstanding, is highly durable and robust. “My works of art are very primordial. Sticks and stones are reminiscent of tribes, and bonfires and something primal. This style really suits me. My paintings have a strong naïve influence. It works well for me.”
The gouache paintings are also delightfully colorful and, yes, there is something innocent about them. Then again, as the exhibition notes, the images are “grotesque and full of humor, and stare the spectator full in the face.” I put it to Alon that that could be the result of an uncomplicated, innocent view of life, but could equally suggest an almost threatening, I-dare-you stance.
“That could be,” she admits, although, at the same time, proffering a more positive and edifying social ethos. “The images are proud, even if they are different.
They are not afraid of looking at you. It is very extravagant, but also very expressive,” she says with a laugh.
The paintings are certainly highly entertaining and attractive, and seem to reflect Alon’s own personality. She says she doesn’t know why she is drawn to the naïve side of the art form, and simply says it feels right.
“Art is about expressing feelings, and is very intuitive.”
It is, says Alon, also a vehicle for expressing our inner selves, without straining the end product through the filter of maturity, or socially acceptable behavior.
“I am also a child,” she states. “Every person is also a child, and I work with children, I teach art to children aged around five to 12.”
Presumably, Alon’s young charges like their teacher’s creative output. Alon says that classroom opinion is divided over her style.
“Some like my paintings a lot, and others say: ‘Teacher, I could do better than that.’” There is, however, a more serious educational side to Alon’s work.
“You know, children of a certain age want very much to belong, to identify with the crowd. And if they don’t feel they are part of the main group, that can be a problem for them.
“I want to take them out of that way of thinking, and to show them that it’s okay for them to do their own thing. I tell them that if it suits the group that’s fine, and if it doesn’t that’s fine too. That’s the basis of my work with the kids, to let the individual blossom and come out.”
That, says Alon, necessarily sidesteps the competitive streak engendered by some educators.
“I don’t want the kids to, say, look and see who draws a heart shape the best, or see who can draw from memory the best. There are all those stereotypes. We have to get away from that. You don’t have to go with the mainstream, unless that is your thing. For me, if your thing is unusual and different, that is much better than following the crowd.”
Certainly painting on paper honeycomb could be viewed as taking a leftfield tack.
“I have never been attracted to painting on canvas,” states Alon, adding that she came across her current base material of choice in serendipitous circumstances.
“I discovered it by chance, in the street,” she recalls. Using the unconventional substratum for painting demanded some gumshoe work.
“Canvas is more absorbent than paper honeycomb. I had to work out how to protect the paint in my works. It was a trial and error process, but eventually I found epoxy, and cold enamel, and using that produces a sort of glazing effect that covers the paint.”
There is also a dichotomous, and even oxymoronic, feature to Alon’s work.
“There are contrasts all the way through,” she notes. “On the one hand the work I do is very soft and tender, and then the epoxy turns it into something distant and also finer. You get this ongoing play of contrasts, in the substances too. I sometimes fit bits of wood I find in the street in my work.”
Hence, the eponymous sticks.
Alon acquired the basic skills of her craft over 20 years ago, at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan. While she explored a seemingly very different field of art from her current discipline, she says she feeds off her school work.
“I studied textile design and that influences the design of the clothes I put on the images in my paintings.”
In fact, Alon is able to bring plentiful street-level experience in her artistic pursuit.
“I lived in New York and Canada, and I designed T shirts,” she explains.
“I also worked in television set design and also created large light sculptures.
I bring a lot of things from life into my paintings.”
Even with all that baggage, it took Alon quite some time to find her thing.
“A couple of years ago I took some time off, shut myself up in my studio and this is what came out. It just felt right.”
Sticks & Stones closes on May 22. For more information: (077) 536-2430 and