Gray is the new palette

Beverly Barkat, wife of Jerusalem’s mayor, exhibits in Tel Aviv this week.

Gray is the new palette (photo credit: Courtesy)
Gray is the new palette
(photo credit: Courtesy)
At first glance, all of Beverly Barkat’s charcoal art appear to be monochrome. But first impressions are merely an entrée to a voyage of discovery.
Barkat’s new exhibition, “Screening Layers,” which opened at Artist House in Tel Aviv last week and runs until December 26, offers plenty for the eye to appreciate and the mind to digest. In between bringing up her children and carrying out her responsibilities as the wife of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, the artist has produced an impressive body of work.
The show, curated by Smadar Sheffi, features charcoal creations of generous – and sometimes extremely generous – proportions, created in Barkat’s expansive and well-lit Jerusalem studio. As one spends more time with each work, it becomes apparent that there are multiple strata yet to be unearthed in their many shades of gray.
Considering Barkat’s artistic education, the wide swath of approaches that find their way into her creative process is hardly surprising. Her educational CV features studies at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and in the Czech Republic, encompassing ceramics, glass, sculpture, metalwork and architecture. That last one comes in handy in a variety of areas, including planning the layout of her current show.
While Barkat is of diminutive physical stature, size is no object when it comes to putting her creative message out there.
“Someone from a museum once asked me why I produce such large works – she indicated that the size of my creations was causing her some logistical problems. I told her that when you work in small dimensions, you get this,” she says, taking up a cramped position, “and, for me, this comes from the head, and this” – she stretches her arms as wide as they go – “comes from the whole body.”
Still, she implies that the two are not mutually exclusive; it is more a matter of compartmentalizing.
“That [compartmentalizing] also includes the head,” the artist continues. “We learn from other artists, from everything we encounter. But after we have taken it all on board, we have to disconnect the head and get to work. And then you use the whole body, and everything you bring with you from the things you have taken on board.”
Barkat says she loses herself in the moment and that she is hardly conscious of what she is doing while a work evolves.
“When I come out of the creative bubble, I stand back and look at what I have on the paper or canvas, and I wonder who produced it,” she muses. It is, she says, almost as if some alter ego were responsible for putting her creative juices into corporeal form.
“In a way, I am not capable of producing these works of art,” she states. “It all really comes from a place that is more of the unconscious.”
That, she notes, entails a significant mental leap of faith. “It is a learning process. It just came out of a realization that I need to work from some state of active meditation. I had to teach my body and my head not to intervene, and to let go.”
Four months ago, she found herself a fitting physical domain for these endeavors, after a couple of years at different premises on the capital’s Agrippas Street. As one enters the two-story studio near the original premises of the Bezalel School, one immediately gets the feeling that if one were going to create anywhere, this would be an apt environment for it.
“I studied painting with [Jerusalem Studio School founder and director] Israel Hershberg,” she recalls, “and when I came out of that, I had no idea what I wanted in terms of a studio, what work I wanted to do, and who and where I am in the world of art. And what I had to offer that was my own, and not taken from all sorts of other sources.”
Thus began her odyssey into the realms of her muses, which required taking stock and looking inward.
“I worked with the same model throughout – almost all my work feeds off that model or some sort of observation of our world – and for around two years I never invited anyone to the studio, and the few who did come, and whose opinions I value, tried to take me into all sorts of directions which I knew were not right for me. At that point I realized I just had to rely on myself and on whatever is evolving at the time, and to believe that I am moving in the right direction.”
One would assume that requires a great deal of courage, though Barkat says she doesn’t know “if it’s courage or simply a need. Courage involves dealing with your own fears, but need is an existential thing. I couldn’t deal with the things in the outside world, and to handle the things going on in the art world, in my creative space, and what I bring to that, without detaching myself from the outside. Otherwise I would have done other stuff, things that are not me. Everything in this exhibition comes from that journey.”
Judging by the works on display, it has been an exciting trip. There is a dynamic to her paintings that suggests a sense of searching and reflects her go-with-the-flow ethos. Though charcoal usually makes for a more singledimensional effect, Barkat – through various devices and methods of application – invites us to wend our way through layers piled on top of each other by a free-flowing hand that appears to have shot off into the unknown and unfurled emotions and ideas as they popped out.
There is something wildly primordial about her output, but there is a romanticism and pastoral calm about it, too. The latter is perhaps mostly noticeable in the recurrence of the artist’s beloved orchid motif, which has a pervading, almost mesmerizing presence.
And although all the works are monochrome by definition, there is a strong sense of color to the show.
“Don’t limit yourself to what the world tells you color is or isn’t,” says Barkat defiantly. “All the grays here have a plethora of rich, beautiful, sensual color, which we generally ignore. Popular culture dictates to us exactly what color is or isn’t. I am not willing to accept that.”For more information about “Screening Layers”: (03) 524- 6685 or