Brunching with Zeus in these tumultuous times

"It is an exhibition in the heart of a land that has many, many troubles – and it makes us wonder about this utopia and where we are living now."

Art by Boris Leifer (photo credit: AZI AMSALEM)
Art by Boris Leifer
(photo credit: AZI AMSALEM)
In a city like Tel Aviv, with its constant barrage of galleries and art exhibitions, it is not unusual to overlook some of the dozens of shows going on at any given time. With exhibitions of abstract paintings, sculptures and mixed-media concoctions by young, up-and-coming Israeli artists on the southern side of town being the trend du jour, seeing the works of seasoned Russian-born painter and artist Boris Leifer at the Office Gallery in the city center might be a welcome change in the current lineup of art for the people.
“Zeus’s Brunch” was inspired by classic painting techniques prevalent in the Italian Renaissance and Baroque art movements of the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as by classical Dutch Renaissance painters.
Leifer’s work centers around the themes that inspire him most: “realistic desire” in the form of still lifes, flowers, fruit and “mature women.” Born in 1946 in Ukraine, he graduated from the Repin State Academic Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in St. Petersburg (then known as Leningrad) in 1975. This was a school known for its adherence to old-school art traditions and styles found in classical European artworks, and this influence can clearly be seen in his work today.
Since graduating, he has devoted his life to painting.
He made a living as a painter of Russian theatrical backdrops until immigrating to Israel in the mid- 1990s.
Art for art’s sake Leifer paints with a great respect for light, and succeeds in creating dramatic scenes for everyday objects and, of course, women who have “come of age.” Contrasting dark, almost pitch-black backgrounds with sharp light and heavy shadows, these works possess a modern twist on timeless and classic techniques and concepts from antiquity. Themes including realism, euphoria, ecstasy and utopia can be traced back to classical Roman and Greek art, literature and philosophy.
“Leifer theater’s relationship reflects in all his works; these images are usually painted over a dark background, and radiate light in a manner [employed in] the still lifes of Italian painter Caravaggio,” according to guest curator Dr. Nava Sevilla-Sadeh, in what the gallery characterizes as this “Bacchanalic dance of nature, mature women, fruit and flowers.”
“Observation of the ink images of Leifer create a sense of respect,” she says, “not because of the comparison to Caravaggio, but because it feels as if the act of painting itself radiates brilliance inside, almost sacred.”
What sets his work apart is that Leifer is truly an outsider. He is able to communicate only in Russian. He does not busy himself with the White City’s booming art scene, nor does he let trends in art and culture influence his work in the slightest.
In short, his artistic process limits himself to his studio, where he focuses all his energy.
That being said, in this exhibition he goes beyond expressing himself through his work, and really becomes how the audience perceives each of his paintings.
“I think this exhibition takes us back to enjoy art,” Sevilla-Sadeh continues. “This work is very aesthetic and very ‘unconceptual,’ in a way. It’s not really about what the artist says or means in his work, but how the audience perceives it. I believe in this critical experience of art and I do believe this is real art.”
Despite the shooting attack that hit Tel Aviv last weekend, Sevilla-Sadeh fervently believes that this work is more relevant than ever given the ongoing security situation gripping the nation, saying Leifer’s work allows the viewer to question the ideas of utopia and euphoria in turbulent times.
“‘Art for art’s sake’ is an idea that was forgotten in the art scene, and it is very intentional and not something we didn’t think about. His art brings back the aesthetic values that were lost after many decades, and it is good for art to go back to its roots. This is especially relevant now in our very streets....,” she says.
“It is kind of a utopia; you can think about it critically,” she goes on. “It is an exhibition in the heart of Tel Aviv, in the heart of Israel, in the heart of a land that has many, many troubles – and it makes us wonder about this utopia and where we are living now. I think it is very, very important now.”