The man who paints souls

Like in his day job as an architect, Marcelo Fiszman won’t accept anything less than perfection in his art.

‘Birds of the Soul,’ acrylic on canvas (photo credit: COURTESY MARCEL FISZMAN)
‘Birds of the Soul,’ acrylic on canvas
 The general outlines of Marcelo Fiszman’s life are straightforward and clear.

His paintings, however, require lengthy periods of observation and reflection.

Fiszman was born 62 years ago in Argentina, where he studied architecture at Universidad de Buenos Aires and art from Nestor Belles. He recalls, “I have always tried to be creative in whatever place I have been, and in whatever I do. When I studied architecture, I also studied painting; and when I finished my work every day at the university, I painted at home.”

Upon completion of his university studies, Fiszman began work as both a professional architect and artist.

Motivated by strong Zionist beliefs, he immigrated to Israel in 1979, alone at the age of 26, and spent a year on Kibbutz Ramot Menashe. Upon leaving the kibbutz Fiszman eked out a living from a series of odd jobs, until he began working as an architect for several local firms. He met and married his wife Shulamit, started a family, and opened his own company in 1989, specializing in both infrastructure design – bridges and tunnels – as well as public and residential buildings.

Fiszman moved his office, residence and studio to Tel Aviv’s small but vibrant Montefiore neighborhood, where I found him recently, gearing up for his current exhibition of paintings. Called “Movement and Spirit,” the show consists of six large multi-dimensional works, all acrylic on canvas, painted during the past two years. This is his ninth solo exhibition of paintings in Israel thus far.

I observe him holding a thick handful of notebook pages – all completely covered with his handwriting – and ask him what they are for. Fiszman stands silently for a moment, pondering the question, as he does with every question I later ask him. At length he explains, “Before painting, I always write. I write what I must do now. I write what I am singing. I write about the problem I am facing in the painting and how to solve it.”

Asked if he normally sees a painting as a “problem,” Fiszman replies, “Yes, it’s a problem. It’s a problem because I must be very good at what I do. I must be perfect; it is a problem.

But usually, I solve the problems.” He becomes silent for a moment and then adds, “This is my language.

It’s the language I use to talk to you, to talk to everyone.

It’s my best way of being in touch with everyone; this is how I am able to express myself.”

Fiszman’s comment about singing while he paints deserves a bit of attention.

“When I paint, I am an artist.

When I’m working on a project in architecture, I am also an artist. I design tunnels, bridges and buildings. And although architecture is by necessity a lot more circumscribed than art, I try to put my own artistic stamp on every creation.”

But while the tunnels, bridges and buildings he designs display elements from the world of painting – like radical lines and curves, elimination of openings, and incorporation of outlets in the pillars and walls of bridges – his paintings are inspired much more by the worlds of music and dance. Particularly fond of jazz, Fiszman invites jazz musicians – all personal friends – to individually come to his studio from time to time, to play their music while he paints. These musicians include saxophone players Eli Djibri and Asaf Yoria, as well as keyboardist Jonathan Riklis.

Aside from jazz, Fiszman admits to listening occasionally to “hard rockand- roll,” but is especially inspired by the late Argentine composer, musician and arranger Astor Piazzolla, whose name appears on the body of one of the figures dancing in The Leader.

The influence of dance is evident in several of the paintings in Fiszman’s exhibition, depicting dancers in pairs or in complex interlocking group dances.

Notable examples are The Leader and a triptych titled Dancing in the Garden. Of the latter, Fiszman says, “The people are dancing in a tree. I am the choreographer.”

Asked if the people in his paintings are drawn from life, he replies, “The people are from life, my life – but not my real life. They are from my emotional life, my imaginative life. They live in my mind. But they are very interesting and they are very good dancers.”

Fiszman admits to no specific influences in his art, and is reluctant to characterize his work as either figurative or abstract. He says, “You see people in my paintings, but I try to paint them from the inside. I paint their energies, their spirits, their souls.”

Asked if he is religious, he replies, simply, “No.” But asked if he believes that people have souls, he unequivocally answers, “Yes.”

Souls indeed figure rather heavily in Fiszman’s paintings, represented variously as people, birds, the horizon and even as joyful spirits responding to the uplifting force of music. We see this particularly in Saxophone, where the spirit seems to emerge from some dark space underground and gradually ascends upwards as the music crescendos towards infinity, perhaps, or maybe even heaven. Birds of the Soul shows precisely that: birds representing the spirit of a man who may or may not be the artist himself.

Asked how he approaches the canvas to begin a new painting, Fiszman responds, “Before I begin to paint, I make a lot of sketches. After I have made anywhere from 10 to 20 sketches, I begin.

When it all becomes clear to me, I begin. I use directions from my soul, which I see in colors.”

Asked how he knows when he has completed a painting, he says, “I work hard and spend a lot of time on each painting. When I am sure it is finished, I finish; not before. I have to be 100 percent sure. I know what I want; when I have gotten what I want, I am finished.”

As for what is next for him after his current exhibition, Fiszman says, “I have an idea: I want to paint something about masks. I will try to see people in different situations, to enter into their minds, discover their secrets and then reveal them.”

Asked in conclusion what he would do if for some reason he could no longer be an artist or an architect, Fiszman stands without speaking, shakes his head for a very long moment, and says almost in a whisper, “I don’t know.

This is my life.”

“Movement and Spirit” is showing until February 21 at the Zaritsky Artists House, 9 Alharizi Street, Tel Aviv. Visiting hours: Monday-Thursday 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 5-7 p.m.; Friday 10 a.m.-1 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m.-2 p.m. For further information: (03) 524-6685
(03) 524-6685