A love letter to Italy

Renowned artist Helen Bar-Lev showcases he work in Haifa.

Helen Bar-Lev with her paintings. The unframed pictures are from her recent visit to Italy, while the framed ones depict the Israeli landscape (photo credit: JOHNMICHAEL SIMON)
Helen Bar-Lev with her paintings. The unframed pictures are from her recent visit to Italy, while the framed ones depict the Israeli landscape
(photo credit: JOHNMICHAEL SIMON)
Renowned artist Helen Bar-Lev paints beautiful landscapes, so it is not surprising that she lives and works in Metulla, once had a studio in Safed, travels to Italy to find the most beautiful subjects for her art and exhibits in Haifa.
After all, the north of Israel and indeed Italy are famous for their verdant countryside and quaint villages, winding alleys and homes with picturesque doors and windows.
“To Italy with Love,” is sponsored by the Italian Cultural Institute, whose director Maurizio Dessalvi opened the exhibition on September 17 at the Artists House in Haifa. Bar- Lev’s paintings of Jewish Italy, among others inspired during a recent visit, will be exhibited for the first time.
Helen Bar-Lev is also an award-winning poet, vice-president of the Voices Israel group of English poets and won second prize in the 2015 Voices Reuben Rose Competition.
Poems that she wrote during her visits to Italy will also be included in the exhibition and she will read poems to the gallery’s visitors on select days.
Born in New York, Bar-Lev studied art at the Cooper Union. She then moved to Los Angeles and could not find a study program in the realistic art form she favors, so she studied anthropology and stopped painting for 10 years.
It was only after her aliya 43 years ago that she began attending art classes with Rachel Shavit and Eliyahu Gat in Rehovot, where she held her first exhibition. She then studied in Jerusalem with Prof. Yosef Hirsch, who was a powerful influence in her life.
Helen’s love of Jerusalem began in her teens when she received a two-year scholarship to the Haim Greenberg Institute in Baka and she was constantly drawn back there after her aliya.
“Every landscape in Jerusalem inspired my art,” says Bar-Lev. “At the time I was painting in brown monochrome watercolor using a brush and dip pen.” The architecture of the varied ethnic quarters of the city drew her attention.
When she moved to Safed in 1989 and opened an exhibition there, she began painting in a full palette of watercolors, a genre that she continued when she relocated to Jerusalem.
The move to Metulla opened her palette to the glorious landscapes and colors of the Galilee. Helen is a realistic painter, “I paint what is in front of me and try not to distort things; nature is so beautiful, who am I to tell it how it should be rather than how it is?” Since then she has held more than 90 exhibitions of her work. Together with her partner, Johnmichael Simon, Helen founded a publishing company, Cyclamens and Swords. Her art and her poetry have been published in numerous print and online publications and together with Simon she has produced several beautifully illustrated collections of poems.
She also donates each year the cover picture and illustrations of the annual Voices anthology.
The artist is passionate about the beauty of the Israeli landscape and this was the focus of her exhibitions up to three years ago when she began to explore the Italian scene.
“There is a lot of color in the buildings there. Each place is more exquisite than the other.”
On a recent visit to Italy, she focused more on the Jewish quarters of famous cities, the ghetto and magnificent synagogue of Rome, the 500-year-old ghetto of Venice and Pitigliano known as Little Jerusalem. A medieval Estrucan town, there is still a synagogue there and other Jewish sites.
Although she has exhibited in Paris, London, The Hague and the USA, all her paintings were of Israeli landscapes. So this exhibition of Italian landscapes is a very important milestone for Bar-Lev.
 A sample follows below:
May in Tuscany
I sat on the veranda
and watched the sun rise
and saw it set
as it traveled across the day
from east to west
sending shadows down mountains
then lifting them
and setting them back again
in a different direction
defining, sharpening, erasing
changing the hues of trees and seas
of sky and clouds
I could almost feel the globe revolve
A dozen birds traversed the air above my head Pitigliano is known as ‘Little Jerusalem.’
And the only sound
Was their chatter
Then at noon
A green lizard Scuttled across the terrace
Sat on its shadow
And vanished
And a black bumblebee
Flew underneath the canopy
Where I sat
Buzzed loudly and was gone
I too am but a creature
In the hands of nature
Casting a short-lived shadow
Like a lizard
Like a bumblebee.
“To Italy with Love” closes on October 8.
At the Chagall Artists’ House, 24 Hazionut Avenue, Haifa; (04) 852-2355. Hours: Mon to Thurs. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Friday and Shabbat 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Closed Sunday.
More information: www.helenbarlev.com
Helen Bar-Lev’s Poetry Poems from Italy will be read to the public at the Chagall Artists’ House on September 28 at noon and October 8 at 11:30 a.m.