Motion and emotion: Notes on a Renaissance Man

Motion and emotion Note

Domy Reiter-Soffer 248.88 (photo credit: Carl Hoffman)
Domy Reiter-Soffer 248.88
(photo credit: Carl Hoffman)
Artists, as everyone knows, are different from the rest of us, and the short, compactly-built artist currently featured in a one-man show of paintings at Beit Sokolov in Tel Aviv is no exception. Asked to state his name, age and marital status, he smiles and replies, "My name is Domy Reiter-Soffer. Domy in Hebrew means 'tranquility of God,' and it comes from Psalm 33. My age today is nearing 60, but usually it is between 40 and 50. I am a bachelor. I have always been involved in great amours that didn't come to fruition because of the way I live. I love life, and I love my work." Domy Reiter-Soffer, 59, is different from most other artists. He not only paints - he's conducted 23 one-man exhibitions all over the world - but also dances, choreographs, directs plays and operas, and writes plays. As if that weren't enough, Reiter-Soffer has also studied psychology, and he professes a consuming interest in rocket science. Growing up on Tel Aviv's Rehov Yehoshua Ben Nun - where, he says, David Ben-Gurion was a neighbor whom he recalls walking around in shorts - Reiter-Soffer was introduced to the arts early. "The arts were a very important part of my life, because my parents loved music and opera, arts and sciences. "I sang Mahler, not knowing it was Mahler, at the age of five," he tells. "I went to concerts not even knowing who the composers were or what the music was, but I could sing the music in my bath. "I grew up in a family that believed that art was more important than food," Reiter-Soffer adds. After studying dance as a child and dancing with the Israeli Opera Ballet and the London Dance Theater, Reiter-Soffer received a scholarship at the age of 15 for two years at the Royal Danish School of Arts and Sciences, where he completed his academic course while studying art, music and dance. He also studied art at the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts, with Yossi Stern in Jerusalem, and in London with Francis Bacon and John Paddy Carstairs. At the age of seventeen, Reiter-Soffer was accepted to the Royal Ballet Academy in London, and later, as a member of the famous Sadlers Wells Company, the London Dance Theatre and the Scottish Ballet. Later on, he joined the prestigious Royal Court Theatre in London as an actor, where he worked with such stars as Anthony Page, George Devin, Maximilian Schell and Jill Bennett. In 1974 he was made artistic adviser of the Irish National Ballet Company, where he remained until 1989. Also in 1974, he choreographed works for the Bat Dor Dance Company, a creative collaboration that continued for over 27 productions until it closed almost twenty years later. His 1981 production of Equus for the Dance Theater of Harlem won him the Best Ballet of the Year Award from the New York Daily News, and his play Mary Make Believe, staged at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, was nominated as the best play in the local theater festival. Other achievements - and awards - in directing and choreography have followed up to the present. On top of all that, Reiter-Soffer has created over 31 stage designs and costumes for theater and ballet productions all over the world. "After sifting through all my knowledge and experience, I have come to the very essence of what I want to say, how I want to choreograph dance, how I want to direct plays and operas, and what I want to paint," he says. SO WHAT does he want to paint? Reiter-Soffer replies, "I'm basically a figurative painter. But in the last several years, I've become much more aware of our country and the beauty we live in. So I took six months in which I roamed from the south to the very north of Israel, and I stayed a few weeks in each place." "For example," he continues, "in the Negev desert and at the craters I stayed a few weeks at a time. I stayed in Eilat for a while, and I stayed in different parts of the country, like the Dead Sea. "The power of God or the power of the universe is so enormous that we really have to look at things in a much more philosophical way and not take the words literally," Reiter-Soffer says. "I saw Genesis every day. What I painted is what words cannot express. I didn't try to paint photographs of the places I visited, but rather the very essence of the feeling. "My exhibition is called 'Genesis,'" he explains, "because I believe there is genesis every day when we wake up. There is genesis in everything that we do, and in everything that we think." Reiter-Soffer says his paintings are about places, motions and emotions. "They are depictions of what this country is all about," he explains. "The paintings are not about what you see in one dimension; they go deeper than that. "When I paint the Kinneret, for example, I don't want to paint a photographic picture," he says. "I want to paint the very spirit of it - the tides, the movement, the very essence of the Kinneret. I hope that people will say that this is a unique exhibition. "It doesn't matter whether they like it or dislike it, but they can't ignore it," Reiter-Soffer says. "I think it is important for people to look at the paintings carefully, and not just glance at them in a quick pass through. I want them to experience the third dimension - the essence of each painting, my inner soul, speaking to the viewer's inner soul." In his attempts to achieve this, Reiter-Soffer has several aces up his sleeve. His knowledge of one branch of the arts contributes to his execution of each of the others. His knowledge of dance, for example, informs his approach to painting. "Dance and choreography have enabled me to see that there is movement in everything. Nothing is still in life," he says. "Even someone sitting is thinking and feeling about something. Life is motion and emotion. If there's a little bit of wind, you need to paint the wind - not merely things being blown, but you must paint the wind itself." Reiter-Soffer actually manages somehow to accomplish this feat in his painting, "Summer Wind in the Upper Galilee," a focal painting in the show. The nuances learned in acting - for example, the various shades of meaning expressed in the different ways of saying something as seemingly simple as "I love you" - also aid him in painting emotions. "The way you make your brush say the words, the different tones of color can convey different emotions," Reiter-Soffer says. Perhaps nowhere is this emphasis on motion and emotion more apparent than in "Genesis," the theme-setting painting of the exhibition. Taking Reiter-Soffer no less than two years to complete, the painting is about the end of the world's sixth day, when all of the creation was finally completed. But the creation is not immobile; the earth is still very much in motion. Much of the painting, perhaps around four fifths, is of what lies beneath the surface of the landscape. This focus on the depths that lie beneath the surface of things seems to permeate most of the paintings in the exhibit. One might actually say that the most important part of a 'Reiter-Soffer tree' is not the usual array of trunk, branches and leaves, but rather the dramatic twisting motion of the tree's roots, deep under ground. In "Genesis," the painting tells the story of creation, as the eyes move slowly from the bottom of the picture to the top. Many of the exhibit's paintings are of different places in the Negev, but not of the desert's photographic charms. Reiter-Soffer has painted what he says are the "essential elements of the place, along with their movements." Speaking of the painting "Yotvata," he says, "The desert around there is a place of enormous vastness. But it's not the desert, but the movement of the desert that takes over." Movement, indeed, is the leitmotif that is evident in all of the exhibition's paintings. It is especially striking in "Summer Wind in the Upper Galilee," in which Reiter-Soffer has attempted to paint the wind. He says, "The summer wind in the Upper Galilee is so windy, that when you stand on a hill, there is a peculiar kind of haze, and you think you're seeing apparitions. It was the apparitions that I was trying to paint. And you can see the wind." After "Genesis," Reiter-Soffer says that he has written his second play and is looking forward to guiding it into production at some time in the near future. "I don't think of myself as a 'Renaissance Man,'" he says. "I don't know what the expression means. I just know that I have talents and that I've worked hard on them and willed them to fruition. That's what I love doing. My father used to say that the road to success is always under construction." "Genesis" is running at Beit Sokolov, 4 Rehov Kaplan in Tel Aviv, February 5 through 23, Sunday through Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and on Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Reiter-Soffer says he plans to be at the show "most days," to discuss the paintings and his views on art.