Artist Dan Kedar hits his stride at 'Horses' show

It's a family affair. Artist Dan Kedar's sculpture features Pinocchio astride a horse, son Yuval's horse is a tribute to the great 17th century Spanish painter Velasquez, and wife Ziona is the curator for the exhibition of 100 decorated horse scupltures that will prance their way across Petah Tikva Grand Park starting today. Why horses? Because "130 years ago, Moishe Salomon and five other riders arrived and established the settlement that was to become Petah Tikva," says Ziona Kedar, explaining the idea she presented to city officials for the exhibit. "I've always loved Pinocchio, the idea of Pinocchio and the betraying nose that monitors the lies he tells," her husband says, sitting with a glass of Turkish coffee and explaining his contribution to the show. "The idea of just decorating a horse didn't appeal, so I thought, 'Why not Pinocchio on a horse?'" The horse itself looks completely naturalistic. The artist wanted it to look so real, he says, "that you feel like patting it and offering it a lump of sugar." Clunky Pinocchio, by contrast, is constructed of planks and painted in bright primary colors, and "is obviously artificial." A carpenter made Pinocchio's bits and pieces, but Kedar put them together and painted them, a process he describes as "hard work but a lot of fun." A 77-year-old War of Independence veteran, Kedar retired after a long career that mixed teaching, theater and art, but has returned after temporarily giving up his work completely. The artist says he's come to see life as a gift since recovering from an illness that laid him low for nearly a year. Paintings for a new exhibition are stacked on the floor of Kedar's work space, with the artist describing his current painting style as "intellectual realism." Among the paintings are colorful two-dimensional posterlike works that appear realistic until the viewer looks more closely and discovers there's a visual code embedded in them. Tel Aviv-born and bred by parents who arrived from Russia in the 1920s, Kedar says he can't remember a time when he wasn't drawing or painting. He says that not becoming an artist simply wasn't an option. He grew up among Tel Aviv's movers and shakers. One of his grandfathers was Moshe Glickson, a chief editor at Ha'aretz, and his kindergarten teacher was Haya Brenner, the widow of influential author Yosef Haim Brenner. After serving in a Palmach brigade in the War of Independence, Kedar established Kibbutz Harel with a bunch of fellow Bezalel students in 1949. A member of the communist-leaning Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, Kedar's identification with communism strengthened as he grew older. In 1950 he read the book that caused him to abandon art for six years. It was by Andrei Zhdanov, the Soviet architect of what came to be known as socialist realism, in which Zhdanov argued that the artist must serve only his society. "I was torn in half," says Kedar. "I believed him with all my heart, but I was brought up on individualistic modern art [by] Picasso, Roualt and Soutine, and here was Zhdanov calling for realism. I couldn't do it, so I decided to stop painting." He did. Only after Krushchev's famous "secret speech" repudiating Stalinism did "I slowly start to paint again," Kedar says. In the meantime, he'd turned to theater. At the Cameri Theater School he studied directing and design, from there moving on to the famous Old Vic school in Bristol, where one of his fellow students and stagehands was future seven-time Oscar nominee Peter O'Toole. Back in Israel, Kedar taught and directed at high schools and for army troupes, painting more and more all the while. He left the theater in 1970 after buying his studio, and committed himself fully to art again. Over the years there have been solo and group exhibitions here and in North America. He's published several books, and some of his works are in permanent collections at institutions including the Israel Museum and Ramat Gan Museum of Israeli Art. Now it's time to play: hence his Pinocchio. Kedar's work will remain on display as part of the Petah Tikvah exhibition through September 30. A public auction of the horses will then be held, with the proceeds going to purchase computers for needy children.