A stripe or two of color

Learning about art and more with Dalia Eshet – who has seen a thing or two in her long life.

Dalia Eshet applies a touch or two of color to her house (photo credit: MULA ESHET)
Dalia Eshet applies a touch or two of color to her house
(photo credit: MULA ESHET)
Ever feel that the color has drained out of your life, that all around you is doom and gloom, and your spirits could do with a merry pick-me-up? If that is the case, then you would do well to get yourself over to Holon, to Beit Meirov Art Gallery, where Dalia Eshet’s new exhibition has just opened with due splendiferous fanfare.
The show goes by the name of “Sama Pas,” which translates literally as “adds a stripe” or, proverbially and much more in the line of Eshet’s life philosophy, “doesn’t care a hoot.”
One might normally associate such a seemingly insouciant outlook on life with a teenager, but, at 79, Eshet is way past her adolescence. Mind you, when you meet the artist, and are swept away by her bonhomie and zest for all things bright and beautiful, you get the sense of a woman who simply does not know how to age.
We met at her north Tel Aviv residence, which she shares with her husband, Mula Eshet, who set the country’s fashion photography community in motion back in the ’60s. I had the address but wasn’t sure exactly where on the street I’d find the Eshets’ abode. I needn’t have worried. As I turned the corner on my carbon two-wheeler, the polychromic structure hove gloriously into view.
My high-end bicycle found a psychedelic counterpart at the Eshet home. In terms of palette, the artist’s creation put my white, black and red velocipede to shame. “You see, I have a bicycle, too,” says the irrepressible and ever-smiling Eshet, indicating a bike adorned with practically every shade under the sun. “I have all sorts of things – I am a sort of a collector of alte zachen [old junk],” she laughs. “Here’s a table with cups,” she notes, pointing to a brightly colored surface with drinking vessels embedded in it.
“She’s always dragging things home,” says hubby Mula, feigning a gripe but following it with a wink. Both Eshets clearly have a weakness for accumulating artifacts, although Mula’s tend to be the finished item – there are Indonesian dolls and puppets and a fine slew of antique cameras among his accumulated objets d’art.
The notes in the exhibition catalogue describe Eshet as “a multifarious artist, a hopeless optimistic, a woman with an ever-present smile and bewitching boundless optimism, who creates highly personal art, unbridled heavenly art.”
After just two minutes with the bubbly senior citizen, it is abundantly clear that ne’er a truer word was spoken.
No utensil, item of furniture, domestic fitting or fixture, or anything incapable of getting out of the way of Eshet’s gleeful and capable hands, is safe.
“That’s Wheels of Time,” she notes, when I espy a clocklike work which, on closer inspection, turns out to comprise an old bicycle wheel with strategically positioned dolls’ heads and arms.
And, just when I was beginning to think that Eshet has a one-track, multihued mind, I come across a couple of dogshaped objects which, amazingly enough, are just black and white. “Not everything has to be so colorful,” says Eshet with a mischievous smile. Not quite everything.
And there can’t be many artists around who let it all hang out with such gay abandon.
There are artists such as Salvador Dali whose structures were definitive calling cards, and seminal American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses were an excellent shop window for his wares, but, somehow, the rainbow spectrum of stripes that cover the pebble- dash exterior of the Eshet residence comes across as a tour de force of joyous going with the flow.
So, what did the other residents of this quiet, respectable neighborhood think of Eshet’s hippie extramural endeavor? “I have had quite a few people walk by and say ‘Bravo,’” she says. “I think most people here like the splash of color. No one has said a bad word about it.”
Eshet’s creative pursuit appears to be having a positive knock-on effect on her physical health, too. There can’t be too many septuagenarians capable of decorating the outside walls of their home in such an unconventional fashion.
It is difficult to perceive the why and wherefore of Eshet’s creative path, with good reason.
“I never plan what I am going to do,” she explains. “I look at something and I think, Let’s put a bit of blue here, and a bit of red here.’ I paint things on a whim; I just go with whatever pops into my mind on the spur of the moment.” And it didn’t take too long to dress up the house. “I think it took around six months,” says Eshet. “Some days I put more hours in, and less on other days. I just painted as I felt.”
There is the common cliché of the artist having to suffer for the fruits of the creative labors.
Not Eshet; she gets stuck in and paints away. “I’m not interested in going to town and sitting in cafés every day. Everyone has their own character. Some like to sit around and gossip. If there’s a birthday or some special occasion, I’ll go to a café to celebrate, but I know people who go every day. That’s not for me. They have retired, but I can’t retire. I have to work. That’s just the way I am.”
As we encounter another member of the Wheels of Time series, I learn of Eshet’s more “serious” past. “I took some of Mula’s photographs and I cut them to the size I wanted,” she explains. “They are photographs that I developed.”
That takes us back to the Swinging Sixties, or the local watered-down version of the so-called decade of free love, flower power and spiritual enlightenment.
Mula got in on the fashion photography act – the country’s first – and Eshet joined in the fun.
“When Mula started as a photographer, I worked in the dark room, and I developed and printed the photographs of the models,” she explains.
“And when he got into fashion work, I became his stylist, even before anyone was familiar with the profession.”
Eshet frequently found that her purview stretched into other, more delicate, interpersonal areas. “If Mula saw a good-looking girl in the street and thought she might be good as a model, he’d be too shy to go up to her and ask her,” Eshet recalls. “So I’d first talk to the girl, and then I’d go to talk to the girl’s mother, to make sure everything was okay. Back in those days, there were no model agencies and that sort of thing. There wasn’t even all the equipment we needed here, so we brought things back from Paris.”
It was all off-the-cuff stuff, and Eshet learned as she went along.
“I taught the models how to stand in front of the camera,” she says. “Some were more natural than others.”
The world of fashion photography also led Eshet neatly into a world of rich colors, which stands her in excellent stead today.
The fashion work eventually petered out, Mula struck out in a more business-oriented direction, and Eshet took a painting course at Artists House in Tel Aviv, and the rest is very colorful history.
“It wasn’t a serious course,” she recalls. “I bought paints and brushes, and I began to make paintings.” That gradually segued into ever more abstract endeavor, until Eshet began applying hues to a motley spread of mundane contraptions.
The results of Eshet’s unquenchable thirst for vibrant expression are now on display for all to see, and enjoy, in Holon.
“Nothing I do is planned,” she says with a chuckle. “I go wherever the mood takes me.”
“Sama Pas” closes on April 30. For more information: (03) 651-6851