The structure in wires: Sitting down with Ron Aloni

The visual artist known for his wire sculptures formed from endless knots went back to painting on canvas during the pandemic.

 Ron Aloni in his studio (photo credit: Arik Aviv)
Ron Aloni in his studio
(photo credit: Arik Aviv)

Ron Aloni is searching for structure.

The visual artist known for his wire sculptures formed from endless knots went back to painting on canvas during the pandemic.

Where did it all begin? Born in 1950, he now lives and works in south Tel Aviv. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Academy of Fine Arts in Nuremberg, Germany and a Master of Fine Arts from the Slade School of Fine Arts in London, returning to Israel after completing his studies. He started with drawings and paintings, but for the last two decades he has been focusing on wire sculptures, mostly monochromatic, which established his trademark style.

It is from metal rods that Aloni sculpts organic forms, human couples and completely abstract figures. He regularly works in partnership with architects and decorators. His sculptures are wall mounted, suspended or simply placed on the ground. He exhibited at the Herzliya Museum, the Haifa Museum, and the Holon Design Museum and his sculptures are part of private international collections.

During this exclusive interview for the Magazine, he surprises me with the endless richness of his new ideas, explosion of colors and new inventive techniques, which take him to the unknown in his art. Searching for the unknown, at the same time a strong need for some structure, he achieves it with help of wires and little drawing notes, which remind him of tzetalach his mother Eve used to write each day when he was a child in Ramat Gan; a time which he recalls with great nostalgia.

 Ron Aloni with 'Meduza,' metal wire epoxy paint, 2020 (credit: Natalie Zalewski) Ron Aloni with 'Meduza,' metal wire epoxy paint, 2020 (credit: Natalie Zalewski)

I visited your studio shortly before the pandemic. It looked different; there were big wire sculptures everywhere, formed from endless knots, very minimalistic and transparent. Also, following your exhibitions from the past, I thought we would talk about the wire art, but now upon entering your studio I am flooded with colors on canvas. What happened?

I don’t know. During the pandemic, no one wanted anything from me, so I had time to concentrate. All of those paintings are very new. I paint a lot. But I have not stopped working with wires. The wire has something hard, but painting in my work is something very emotional. It gets to you in one moment.

And sculptures? Your sculptures made of wires are transparent. Their perception is influenced by light and the background. Also a moment.

Transparency is the main issue of my work, and that’s what connects me to architecture. I must imagine how the light of the sun will give a shadow. But transparency is basically the highest value in any field. For example, in your job as a journalist, you want to show things clearly. I had a lot of internal fights about whether to close the wires or leave them open. I came from paintings, but lines were always more important to me than color.

But I am looking at your paintings now, and they are an explosion of colors. There are many layers in your paintings. Could you say something about their structure?

This is something I am trying to do lately, with the 3D effect. It is like relief – attached to the wall. Before the Renaissance, relief was the art. The Greeks used to define it as a sculpture made for the wall. So now, besides my wire works and paintings, I work on something else. I came with a new method of working: compiling different materials, to give the illusion that it is under the glass. It feels like a marshmallow. It is very light, but then I put it in a box, and cover it with epoxy, the transparent material... and it looks like glass. It comes as a liquid, so I put it in layers. I like the process.

Again, speaking of relief, I don’t want my paintings to be flat. I want to give the depth, so I create little pieces at home in the evening, and I attach them the next day.

Is it papier mache?

Yes, it is papier mache, but with acrylic material, so it is strong. [Aloni hands me one piece of added element.]

But also soft, really like marshmallows!

Yes. Then I cut them and attach them. All my work is coming from the material; it’s all about the material. Also, when I work with wires, I just do knots, all the time, I cut wires and make knots and see what comes of them – going around the circle.

 'VESSELS,' metal wire, 2000. (credit: AVRAHAM HAY) 'VESSELS,' metal wire, 2000. (credit: AVRAHAM HAY)

The hand move you showed me just now is like making a sweater. Do you know how big they will be, or when you will stop? Is it planned or a spontaneous decision? 

I have some idea… it depends on the wire I work with. There is always a small intimate work, a medium work, and a big work. I like to work on big things. 

But if I quote you correctly, I read that you once said that the most interesting things happen in the most intimate situations.

Yes. When I started to work, I used to make notes, like in Yiddish tzetalach. (My mother used to sit in the kitchen and write tzetalach, what she had to do that day.) I had a notebook the size of a postcard in the pocket of my shirt, and a pencil. So, whatever I saw, I would draw a note. When I had a few hundred of them, I put them on the floor like playing cards, making a composition of 2 m. by 2 m., and then I glued them to the canvas, about 300 of those notes. Sometimes I would add a line to them… It was a process, a reminder, that not everything is ready at once. Then I came with wire, I wanted to connect them.

So that gave the structure…

I am interested in drawing, painting and wiring, in putting them together. I put the wire, I draw between the wires, and I see what the effect is. For example, I have a few paintings, 2 m. by 2m., where I stretch a metal wire over the canvas, and then I paint each field with different colors, divided by the wire. Then I take a squeezer – I learned it from graffiti artists – and I add another value.

You like experimenting with different techniques. When did you start to work with this new one?

Last year. And the paintings you see are completely new, from the past few weeks.

I am honored to see them, as one of the first people. But if we may, going back to your wire sculptures, yet, your brand mark, when did you start working on them?

On wires I worked about 20 years, but I started from lines, from drawing.

Are you more of a painter or a sculptor?

A painter, whose main issue is the line. I am not a colorist. Line is something much more defined for me.

So the wire pieces are sculptures or paintings?

They are drawings. You can say they are sculptures that came from the lines. You cannot define it. Maybe they are soft sculptures. It has to do a lot with craft. Craft was very underestimated in the art world. But it came to the more respectful place.

What was your first wire piece of art?

In 1976 I had a scholarship at the Tel Aviv Art Studios, and suddenly I had that big space. Until that moment, I was painting flat, based on those little notes, but suddenly I wanted to use the space. I was interested in the process of transforming my notes into a sculpture. In a way, I am still in the process. I go to my roof and I go back to works which I started 15 years ago.

Do you find inspiration on the street, metal things that you find?

Inspiration can come anytime, in the most unexpected places: it can be a sentence in an article, a movie, talking to someone – something suddenly has a meaning for you.

When did your adventure with art begin? Was anyone in your family an artist?

No one. When I was a child, I was never good at school. I could not do these types of math equations: the train going to Jerusalem with the speed such and such, meets a train… I was never good at it. My father was very concerned, but my mother was also worried. But despite this, she said, “Don’t worry” and she sent me to the art teacher to learn how to paint. Later, when I was 16, she sent me to learn design.

So your mother put you on the path of art.

She saw my problems in school, and I was a very introverted boy. She wanted me to be successful in something.

Your mother sounds like she was a very out-of-the-box person.

She came to Israel in the late 1920s, when she was only 19... She came from old Berlin of the ’20s, of Charleston, she was full of life. I was raised in Ramat Gan, where my mother had a dance school – salon dances. There was a room underneath our little apartment; people learned English and the Vienna waltz there, foxtrot or cha cha or tango. I was sitting there on little chairs, children’s chairs, watching people learn their first wedding dance. Ramat Gan was a little town – like in the Fellini movies. Everyone knew everyone. Everything was very new. All Yekkes [German Jews], all so clean… My mother and grandmother were talking German. My grandmother never learned Hebrew, and she was taking care of me when my mother was working. She was putting me to bed, so German was my first language, before Hebrew… I was in that female environment.

They were making me pullovers, which they had seen in the magazine Burda, with different designs. My mum loved knitting.

She was knitting – just like you do now with the wires. The technique you adapted to your art.

Maybe it influenced me... I have a lot of nostalgia from my childhood, it was a very special time. It was very sentimental. I was the middle child. My father was working in big building constructions. He was always dressed well, like the European gentleman, he was from Lithuania… Look, it became a head [suddenly Aloni is showing me the piece of wires he is moving in his hands, while we are talking].

Indeed. You just made a little sculpture, as we talk! Speaking more about your art education… you continued it in Germany and England. How did it happen? Why there?

I was a very bad student at school; art was the only thing I could do. After the army, a friend of the family helped me to get a scholarship at the Art Academy in Nuremberg. At that time [‘70s], the Germans were giving many options for Jews. I studied there for five years, and then I got another scholarship in London. I am the lucky boy.

After studies in Europe, you came back to Israel.

Yes, I see a lot of problems here, but I feel very connected to Israel. Nowadays, I have my bicycle, I wake up early, I go to the sea, I come back to take a shower, and I start my work in the studio. I bike everywhere, to Levinsky Market, even to Habima [theater]; I use my car only when I want to go out of town.

I live close by. I moved from the elegant north of Tel Aviv, Basel, to live closer to my studio. I think it is good for any artist to live close to his work.

When did you start working here?

I got the studio in 1999. It was all empty around, it was storage here, there was only one restaurant around, only working people, the whole area between Kibbutz Galuyot Road and Salame Street was off Florentine [Tel Aviv neighborhood], the area was very industrial. There was still an old man working next-door, making socks.

Now in the building there are modern offices around you and your art is all over the building.

In their offices, the walls are whiter; my wire sculptures get good light and background.

[We are leaving the main studio and walking to the roof, where there are wire sculptures standing] I will show you the wire sculptures now, they are very strong, like a table.

You are jumping on your sculpture.

I just wanted to show you how strong they are!

And yet they seem so fragile… Your roof is filled with your sculptures, standing between the plants, like people in the garden. Do you get attached to them? When they go away, do you miss them?

No, I am happy that I have a place to make the new ones. I often make my work like a family, some pieces match. But then I must move to something new.

Do you know where they will be placed, before making them?

More than half of my work I do for specific sites. I cooperate with architects. I connect much better with the architects than the art world. So I know I am making it for a certain place, a lobby for example. They are made especially for it. My big wish is to go with that wire to still-wet concrete and place it in there, connecting art with architecture.

What fascinates you in architecture?

Architecture is everything. From a hospital, how the entrance is made and the ambulance can drive in. Everything is in little boxes. Architecture organizes everything. And my art works well with architecture, because with the right light, a wall behind can change the way you see my work. If you will put light inside this wire sculpture now, you will see the shadow. This is what I love about the transparency work. During the day, with the sunlight, it will look completely different.

You are very much connected to the natural powers.

Yes. In Europe, when the snow comes, they are covered with snow and it gives yet another effect.

You get surprised by the final effect.

It is always important to me to get to the point when I don’t know what I do. I love the material, I love the process.

It seems like you work (and are creating something new) constantly.

Yes, it is terrible. I work all the time. My friends ask: “Why don’t you take a trip somewhere?” I answer, I come to my studio and each day I start my trip. I don’t know where it will take me, or where it will end.

And you work on so many things at the same time now: the wire sculptures, new paintings, and the new technique with epoxy. And yet, I see your work in glass and wires. A completely different technique…

I build a construction of iron, in a certain rhythm: two one two. And then I go to Boris, who is a glass blower. And when he blows the hot glass it goes in all directions, between the wires. It gives the shape.

And you are hiding it all in your studio. When you had your exhibitions at the Herzliya and Haifa museums, you were showing only your wire works, you are known for your wire works, and everything else is a surprise... But also it seems like a consistent journey. You started from drawings and paintings...

... and I close the circle. There is something about it. Theoretically I could paint on an empty canvas. But I can’t. I need the structure. I stretch the wire, I paint in between different colors; stories in each “window.” Then I take the wire away.

Like the drawing notes, at the beginning, the wires give the structure for your canvas. 

Yes. This is the way to transform my wire work into my canvas work. I am limiting myself. I need the structure.