Jewelry World's foremost Resource on The Internet
|Ganoksin Presents:||Eran Shakine - Is This Arcadia?|
For more information, or for a catalougue request, please contact me at my studio:
|By: Smadar Sheffi|
It takes a measure of boldness to tackle the poetics of painting. The medium, amply buttressed in its conservative position among the arts, exacts conditional readings: the figurative as narrative, post-modernism tinged with nostalgia, the abstract as loyal adherent to modernism. Eran Shakine's pools - paintings and sculptures which defy definition - beckon the spectator down a poetic path where every step sets off a cloud of stardust emanating from the magic of art, a magic which commentaries such as this can only point to, noting the components but unable to resolve the formula.
The place depicted appears familiar, evoking quasi-Roman architecture, hollows from Italian Renaissance parks or lost Persian gardens. Only patient observation, the central requirement confronting the spectator of these works, reveals that this architecture borders on fantasy, so that despite our feelings of deja vu we have not been there, nor will we ever be, since the place does not exist. Walls surround a yard in the middle of which is a pool, possibly dried up. In one of the walls is a niche, a recess or apsis where nature imposes herself on man's handiwork: a tree or ferns (or perhaps no more than their traces) protrude against the wall.
The paintings are large without being monumental. But, like the giant works of Jackson Pollock or Barnett Newman, Shakine's paintings envelop the spectator, who finds himself in the unpainted part of the work as if hesitating on the threshold. He imagines it is still up to him to decide whether to enter or go on his way, but the moment he is aware of the thought he is already inside the place which does not exist.
Despite the title of the series, “pools”, the paintings seem largely devoid of water. From where he stands, the spectator at times may see what appears to be sparks of light over water, or reflections; at other times he may feel at the brink of somewhere dried up. There is never a sense of water in abundance but the hint of its presence, even its absence, suffice to reinforce a religious aura. In religion, water has a purifying role, symbolically conveying the observant from one state to another. In Judaism, the ritual washing of the hands prepares for prayer; in Christianity, baptism cleanses original sin and allows the admission into the congregation of faithful, while in Islam washing the feet before entering the mosque constitutes not only purification but also possibly a metaphorical end to the believer's quest, now that he has reached the source. Water offers solace, salvation and tranquillity; contact with it serves to introduce the instant when the spiritual will be addressed. In Shakine's painting, the wandering spectator is by no means certain that solace is being offered. Without water, even Narcissus cannot fall in love with himself. There is no trace of a deity nor use of common religious symbols. Reverence and relief, of the kind inherent in shrines, which enable the spirit to cast off the ego's bonds and entrust itself to a spiritual shepherd, are present despite the absence of shepherds.
The pool-paintings are like snapshots taken by a tourist, or possibly a pilgrim, documenting his rout and trying to mark his tracks with a thread like Ariadne so as to be able to find his way back. The search, it seems, is for faith: a search which is naive but inevitable in a world where ideologies have collapsed. The apsis is empty, the statue missing; for a instant the pool seems as arid as the great promises of the twentieth century: the war to end all wars, a cure for all diseases, a modern architecture to assure an environment which is lucid, hygienic and sane.
From a certain standpoint of time and distance, the paintings appear figurative. Seen from afar or after extended contemplation, the image blurs, floats, merges and brightens again. The geometric tension between circle and square, internalized as hidden construction, is evident. This is not tension in the sense of imprisonment - the square does not contain the circle or vice versa. Neither the square or the circle is whole or regular; they are not employed in their traditional roles of reflecting a perfect world. At times the lines of the architecture - where, as in the theater, the fourth wall has been removed while the fifth front is open to the skies - suggest a square and the pool a circle. At others, the pool - along with its connotations of femininity and womb - becomes an implacably angular square. The geometric shapes, scaffolding for the painting, inject a provocative factor, disturbing the composition. The canvas is the arena where yearnings after wholeness have been cut short and where the interacting forms could as well be disintegrating into each other as tendering mutual support. In the sculptures the option of harmony is examined. Viewed from above their smallness permits the eye, like that of a giant in his garden, to take everything in while ignoring what appear to be obstacles and tensions. Seen from a distance, the sculptures attest to their interior: minimalism with a secret. One is shaped like a cylinder with the pool inside it round, resembling the features of a well, a well which is a pool at its most primal and practical. In the other, an ark, the pool is square and the only rounded line an arched recess in one of its inner walls. The space remains empty: if an idol should have been there, it has disappeared; if a blessing, it has been erased.
The painted image, as familiar as its Mediterranean feeling - easier to sense than define, induces examining whether the non-place has precedents in Eretz-Israeli painting, which depicted the dream-reality. Shakine's pools are far removed from local artists' renderings of the well at the turn of the century. The image of the well is linked to the Bible: Abraham's servant finding a bride for Isaac at the well, the love story of Jacob and Rachel, the “well of living waters” in the Song of Songs. In his etchings, “Well of Jaffa” (1903) and “Ancient Well near Jaffa” (1923), Hermann Struck's spacious and graceful Arab buildings overlook wells and thus signify the importance of the rare and precious water. Rubin painted a well as a structure around which a camel revolves, causing the unseen water to rise. Gutman's orchard pools brim with erotic orientalism and vitality, in contrast to the meditative sobriety of Shakine's series. The searches for a place which leads only back to memory's vestiges means that forerunners of the painterly image remain elusive. The landscape of pools is part of the magical scenery which fills our inner selves, a landscape whose natural order is governed by yearning.
A reading of Hayyim Nahman Bialik's poem “The Pool” with fresh eyes reveals a timeless quality of lyrical sensitivity. Bialik describes a pool in the forest where the narrator roams, “my yearning heart consumed by speechless awe.” Here is the place:
and broad old moss-encumbered forest trees
on which, it seems, a blue-domed ceiling rests.
Below, a pool, translucent, glassy, calm
a silver mirror framed in fresh green grass
encloses yet another second world...”
Shakine, who did not have this poem in mind when he was working on his “Pools”, is no romantic like Bialik, nor are his paintings tainted with nostalgia. The poet believes in longing, he believes that the place is possible. He also believes in words; his pool speaks “the language of vision”:
or find a semblance of unspoken dreams.
This is the language of visions; it is spelled out
in slit of blue sky and in vast sky space...”
Translated from the Hebrew by Ruth Nevo
In Shakine's pools, the reflection is not clear: the language has got confused. The wandering spectator must seek alternative solutions to his dreams as he gazes and tries to decipher signs which at one time may have been so clear they were even readable upside-down, in reflection.
Calling these works a series could be deceptive. Shakine, who declines a proprietorial attitude, has not titled his paintings. In fact, they differ greatly from one another, in more ways than merely the angle from which each is painted and which dictates both standpoint and perspective of the viewer. In some of the paintings, the apsis stands out, the wall is concave and the upper part domed. Under other conditions or elsewhere, there might have been an alter in front or the niche might have housed a statue. Sometimes the concave wall has no dome but aims for the sky with an imaginary pillar, like Brancusi's “Endless Column”, which could be scaled to reach beyond the site as defined by the walls and the foliage behind them. In other works the walls are solid and straight, as if all recesses have been sucked into the depths, whether by trick of light, or perhaps a switch of setting. As for the sculptures, the square piece contains a precise and pleasing vault which trains the gaze towards it. In the round sculpture, only steps suggest that the space is not closed in on itself, focusing not only inwards. Shakine's steps are not interlocking, illusory, or surrealistic, but neither do they lead anywhere. They are steps which carry memory and sound, bear witness that order once reigned in chaos. There was somewhere to go down to and somewhere to climb up but these destination are now misted over. At times they almost disappear in outlines of memory or future. At others they descend deep down, draining one's eye beyond the realm of man, perhaps to the source: the reservoir of water. Nature is as though tamed, tended only to be neglected and left wild. Trees grow beyond the built-up area while beside the pool there is usually one lone tree - often a cedar - with its top bent to the wind. Yes this is a series, after all - the guardian spirit of the place, its recurrent “genius loci”, the sorrow which needs no duplication in order to exist. Shakine seems captivated by the classic search for the place of one's heart's desire: closed, protecting, with pool and tree. The word “paradise” stems from the Persian for “surrounded by a wall”*; the image of a protected place came to represent tranquil serenity. Shakine steeps in at the moment when it becomes clear that this sanctuary was only an illusion. The wandering spectator sees before him the contours of what could have been perfection.
Never the less, the question remains: is this Arcadia? Has the spectator been led to a confrontation with a shattered dream? Arcadia is an unactual locality, a mountain chain in the Peloponnese, famous Utopia. Arcadia is the country of the God Pan, where shepherds and sheppardesses live in harmony**. Since the Renaissance, the longings for Arcadia represent nostalgia for the ancient pre-Christian world and its proximity to nature. Equally, ever since the Renaissance, the desire to create an Arcadia on earth has expressed man's renewed faith in himself: while paradise in a heavenly creation, which cannot be replicated, Arcadia is seen as something man could invent. Here to, no less than any other man-made place, the promise of paradise remains unfulfilled: eternal life. The painting which has come to symbolize Arcadian sorrow - the fragility of the dream - is Nicolas Poussin's “Shepherds in Arcady” (c. 1630)***, which shows three shepherds and a female figure by a stone structure. Clear skies form the background, on one side, but on the other, clouds are gathering. The structure, which resembles a sarcophagus, bears an inscription: “Et in Arcadia Ego” (In Arcady, too, am I), reminding us of the presence of death in a place of apparent perfection. Shakine paints an Arcadia where death has visited. The feeling of sadness which imbues these paintings stems from lamenting a death in the distant past, perhaps even in the fullness of time, of the kind which dilutes any happier memories.
The physical presence of the paintings is demanding and tangible. They are filled with tension as if perpetually subject to change, at the mercy of nature and time. Such tension palpable in Franz Kline's black-and-white constructions or Helen Frankenthal's explorations of colour. Shakine utilizes the components of traditional painting but breaks away from the recognized order. His working process, the search for just the right tone, is a kind of alchemy, experimenting with the materials which will culminate in a magical likeness in the patina of melancholy. The paint is laid down in aggressive spurts, in changing densities, and it sometimes appears as if it is peeling away, piece by piece, like a crumbing fresco. The bright blues and shades of gold, colours which contribute to the stringent decorum Byzantine art, serve to convey a cultural attitude of skepticism. Lines are drawn both over and under the paint, sometimes starting to be conspicuous, at others merely indicating what has gone before. There may be a hand in the painting, but it is restrained. The encounter between freedom and aspiring to order is the story of Shakine's lyricism. There is an affinity with Cy Twombly, an artist whose creativity is unrestricted by the peripatetics of the art world. Twombly summons enormous strength in his painting, drawing on the coincidental in his strategic planning. His preoccupation with man's relationship to nature, with myths and tragedies, approaches the reverberating crescendo of a particularly dramatic opera. He succeeds in bridging eras and touching the essence of experience - the chronology is unimportant. Shakine seems to have undertaken a similar challenge with his “Pools”.
The “Pools”, painting, sculptures, and reliefs, were gradually completed over a five-year period of copious and attentive work in which time played a major role. The architectural image here does not belong to the language being relayed nowadays; it neither attempts to be over-sophisticated nor prides itself on simplicity. It provides an elegant dimension in preserving the archaic beauty of the nameless place, its stern lines avoiding a slide into glorification of the past. The wandering spectator may approach with plaintive curiosity but has no expectations of resurrecting it. The misty patina of a former age, which shrouds the paintings, is cracked when the spectator is admitted to share in their isolated moments. Shakine does not relate to the past like a connoisseur of antiques trying to piece fragments together. He makes the past part of the present through the elegiac quality of the painting and the muteness of the sculpture. The elegy is now.
|*T.O.Enge & C.F.Schroer, Garden Architecture in Europe 1450-1800, Benedit Taschen
**R.Graves, The Greek Myths, pp. 100-103, Penguin Books, 1992
***P.Rosenberg et L.A.Prat, Nicolas Poussin 1594-1665, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, pp. 283-285, 1995
|Please note that all works presented here are Copyright © The Artist. Please respect their copyrights to their work and contact the artist for permission if you wish to copy their images.|
Join & Post
Invite a friend to join Orchid
Orchid Message Archives [Subject Index] [Date Index]
Ganoksin now offers a number of ways for you to stay on top of the latest from Orchid!