Golem: Black and white with color all over

Bitya Rosenak certainly got something out of the world of Purple Badge constraints, and she is about to unveil the alluring fruits of the insular hiatus in a new exhibition, curated by Ayala Landau, which opens at the Agrippas 12 gallery on Thursday.

EXPLORING THE chromic nuances of a two-color approach (photo credit: BITYA ROSENAK)
EXPLORING THE chromic nuances of a two-color approach
(photo credit: BITYA ROSENAK)
In an often overly pigeon-based world it can be refreshing to find some subtle nuances, of color, spirit or intent out there in the visual mix. New vistas open up to the mind and heart as we, possibly unwittingly, cast a hungry eye on some surprising aesthetic.
As we hopefully extricate ourselves from the pandemic doldrums it is gradually becoming clear that there has been some positive fallout to the lockdowns, mask-wearing, social distancing – a contradiction in terms if ever there was one – and absence of actual corporeal, live cultural offerings.
Quite a few artists, across various disciplines, I have encountered over the past few months have not only talked about the trauma and frustration of being holed up inside their four walls for so long. They have also referred to the insight and the benefits of looking inward rather than searching for inspiration out in the big wide world around them.
THE ARTIST changes tack by working vertically (Photos: Bitya Rosenak)THE ARTIST changes tack by working vertically (Photos: Bitya Rosenak)
Bitya Rosenak certainly got something out of the world of Purple Badge constraints, and she is about to unveil the alluring fruits of the insular hiatus in a new exhibition, curated by Ayala Landau, which opens at the Agrippas 12 gallery on Thursday. The collection is called “Golem” and comprises several dozen monochromic abstract works, of various dimensions, which suggest a definitively laissez-faire take on the process of creating. The show moniker refers both to the anthropomorphic being from the tale of mystical derring-do in 16th century Prague, and to the chrysalis interim stage, before the butterfly emerges in all its fluttering, generally polychromic, glory. Both suit the visual rollout and the creation thereof.
For Rosenak, the name fits the artistic and mind-set bill. “I saw the movie [2019 American-produced Israeli film] The Golem a few months ago. I thought, that’s it! Suddenly there’s life. It’s just some substance, something that you pour out. I do some kind of magic, with the folding, and it works. It doesn’t matter what the blot is, you get all these figures.”
The artistic line of attack must, necessarily, entail some degree of risk taking, of taking a leap of faith and trusting things will turn out alright. For the Golem project, Rosenak took that faith factor a step further. “For me, the most fascinating thing is when things happen on their own. Often I see things happen like in nature – the reproduction of elements – I often discern a sort of micro-macro state of affairs, just like in nature.”
FOLDING THE pieces of paper and other base material produces pleasing and suggestive symmetry.FOLDING THE pieces of paper and other base material produces pleasing and suggestive symmetry.
Artists often talk about latching onto some elusive muse, or being spurred on by a moment of enlightenment or apotheotic light bulb discovery. In the case of the Golem project a spate of challenging events pointed the way to the practical conduit. “I had an accident and was hospitalized just before the coronavirus outbreak and, a few months later, my mother died,” she says. “So it suited me to use a quick and simple process for creating the works. It was also therapeutic to come in here and engage in art. Mind you, that is always the case with art.”
We met in her recently completed studio space in the back garden of the gem of a house she shares with husband, Avinoam Rosenak, a senior Jewish philosophy lecturer at the Hebrew University. Their Baka residence is, the artist told me, the very first house built in the neighborhood dating from the Ottoman era and, at one stage, was home to the judge advocate general of the British army in pre-state Palestine.
Rosenak’s unfettered take keeps her on her toes, more than a little engaged and wide-eyed in wonder. “My job is sort of getting up in the morning, coming into my studio and seeing what surprises are in store for me today,” she laughs. Not a bad daytime pursuit to have. That philosophy, I ventured, could keep the fifty-something artist eternally young. “It’s a nice thought,” she smiles. “I wait for surprises and I run with them. Basically, I play around.”
The Golem creative continuum is a fundamentally unstructured escapade, the results of which appear to tend to the abstract side. Then again, as one scans the black-and-white works, delineations and recognizable figures and shapes begin to emerge. One picture, to me, suggested the head of caped superhero Batman, pointy-eared mask and all, while another looks like a skeleton. Those who go along to the gallery might find themselves spending more than a few minutes pondering the forms which materialize out of the backdrop.
SUBTLE TEXTURES emerge through the creative process.SUBTLE TEXTURES emerge through the creative process.
IN TRUTH, the works are not just the upshot of merely splashing some black paint on a white piece of paper, or canvas, and letting matters run their course. For starters, Rosenak folds the sheets of paper or material so that she ends up with a mirror-image figure. She also considers the outcome and uses her artistic nous and experience to decide whether the result passes muster. “I pour [paint], add water, adjust the temperature. I carry out all sorts of manipulations with the paper or material. It is enough to change the [physical] platform and things evolve differently. Or you can hang something up, instead of working on it horizontally. You can change the amount of water.”
The latter can also be part and parcel of the free rein ethos. “Yes, I might add different quantities of water without consciously thinking about that,” she admits, although noting that not everything manages to get past the finishing post. “I throw things into the trash can too. But I definitely don’t control everything.”
The two-sided denouement is very much to Rosenak’s liking, and produces some appealing fruits. “I really got into the concept of folding, which gives me symmetry,” she explains. That tends to move the images along from the abstract more in the direction of the figurative. “As soon as you have symmetry, suddenly you have a pair of eyes, ears and hands and legs. Something comes to life from a simple splodge into something human. It really comes to life.”
The word “balance” springs to mind. The equilibrium or oscillating act inherent to Golem is not just a physical, or aesthetic, component. There is, I proffer, a sense of a spiritual toing and froing, between the material and the more ethereal, as befits any work of art. Surprisingly, Rosenak wasn’t biting. “It is far simpler than that,” she declares, stating some anatomical givens.
“There are two of the same. We are made of pairs. We have two lungs, and the pelvis has two halves, and the forms look like that, or hands or legs, or shoulders. And it all comes out a little monstrous and surprising. I never know how it will come out. It is so exciting every time.”
So much so that, once discovered, Rosenak was drawn into a flurry of uncontrollable activity. “It became a total obsession. I just couldn’t stop. It was great fun. And you get something different every time. The possibilities are endless.” That goes equally for creator and observer.
RECOGNIZABLE SHAPES and forms evolve from seemingly amorphous skeletal layersRECOGNIZABLE SHAPES and forms evolve from seemingly amorphous skeletal layers
Looking over Rosenak’s bulging oeuvre to date you can see how the current project was spawned. While there are plenty of tonal and chromic explorations and tweaks, the somewhat skeletal undercurrent is an almost constant. She, for example, had a two-part show she called “Leserugin” which translates directly as intermittently, but also infers a grille-like linear light and shadow aesthetic.
When it comes to Golem, the artist says she is perfectly happy with the monochrome format. “It would have been too much to do it in color. The effects I work with, the black-white and transitions between them, with the grays, that is a whole world in there, and it’s enough for me. If I’d added color I would have got lost in it all. It would have been an excitement overload.”
It is also very much a matter of maintaining some degree of jurisdiction. “I would have lost control,” Rosenak observes, adding that she has nothing against the multifarious range of hues and shades life offers. “I like color and I dress colorfully myself, and my home is very colorful. But, for me, work has to be simple and the more colors come into play, it all becomes too much. This is enough for me.”
The Golem is due to run through April 17, with a gallery talk featuring celebrated author and teacher of Jewish thought and mysticism Dr. Biti Roi taking place at 8 p.m. on April 8.
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