Tova Berlinkski’s paintings hang in the exhibit “Syncopation: Lyrical Abstraction in Israeli Art,” at Hebrew College. / HEBREW COLLEGE

These visual artists create an abstract symphony



These visual artists create an abstract symphony

Tova Berlinkski’s paintings hang in the exhibit “Syncopation: Lyrical Abstraction in Israeli Art,” at Hebrew College. / HEBREW COLLEGE

NEWTON – Swirls and tightly wound clusters of lines evoke a dramatic landscape in a stunning black-and-white drawing by Anna Ticho, an influential Israeli artist acclaimed for her scenes of Jerusalem.

A viewer’s eye is drawn to a darkened center, pulsating with energy, that moves upwards to the lighter horizon.

Born in Moravia (now the Czech Republic), Ticho (1894-1980) made her way to Jerusalem in 1912. Her prolific body of work is in museums around the world including the Israel Museum, which runs the Ticho House, a cultural and art center.

In an evocative painting by Tova Berlinski, a curving pink figure-like shape seems to float across patches and lines of gray and ochre, enticing a viewer to ponder the haunting imagery.

Born in Poland, Berlinski (1915-2022) grew up in a Hasidic family. In 1938, she fled her native country and settled in Mandatory Palestine. Her family was killed in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp in their hometown of Oświecim. Over her artistic career, Berlinski shifted her focus from colorful abstract landscapes to images that grappled with the pain of the Holocaust.

A trio of Moshe Hoffman’s black-and-white prints play with lines, shapes and shadows. Curving bands of vertical and horizontal black and white lines draw a viewer into a landscape, where a small row of trees beckon in the distance.

As a young child, Hoffman (1938-1983) survived the Holocaust in his native Budapest. After the war, he immigrated to Israel, where he studied at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem.

The three are among nine prominent Israeli artists whose work is showcased in “Syncopation: Lyrical Abstraction in Israeli Art,” at Hebrew College through Nov. 30. It was mounted in recognition of Israel’s upcoming 75th anniversary, on April 26, 2023.

The intimate and compelling exhibit, curated by Deb Feinstein, includes 22 works on paper, selected from the college’s holdings. The collection was donated to the college by Nitza Rosovsky, the longtime curator of exhibits at Harvard University’s Semitic Museum. These works on paper all date from the 1970s.

Many of the artists were born in the 1920s and 1930s and were immigrants from Poland, Hungary, Iraq, Germany and Moravia. A few were Sabras, born in the land of Israel.

“They [the works of art] were not saturated with Jewish symbols but captured the land and spirit of Israel through different eyes,” Rosovsky said in the announcement of the show.

The decade from 1970-1979 was a liminal period in Israel’s development, less than two decades after the state’s founding in 1948, and only a few years following the Holocaust. These artists were at the forefront of forging an independent, modern Israeli cultural identity as Israelis looked to their future, according to Feinstein.

The collection reflects the artistic style of lyrical abstraction and an artistic movement in Israel known as New Horizon (Ofakim Hadashim), founded in 1948 by Ukrainian-Israeli artist Joseph Zaritsky, who was a mentor or teacher to many of the artists in this exhibition.

Abstraction was their visual language, Feinstein told the Journal in a phone conversation. While largely influenced by Western European culture and art, by the 1970s, these artists were seeking their own Israeli identity.

“They didn’t want to be the same as Paris or New York,” she said.

As she prepared to curate the show, Feinstein took a close look at this collection. Two themes struck a surprising chord.

“The squares and swirls and marks on paper looked like musical notes to me,” she recalled, though at the time she was unaware of the artists’ association with the New Horizon movement, which was influenced by Wassily Kandinsky, the Russian artist who defined his art as musical compositions.

“Music was a plane of interpretation for them, as well as it is for me,” Feinstein said.

What came through visually was the artists’ love of the land, Feinstein realized. “Israel became their fortress, the place where they were protected. They came to Israel and found their home,” she said.

On a tour of the exhibit with Joshua Meyer, who serves on the committee of the Hebrew College Arts Initiative, the Cambridge-based artist noted how musicality and rhythm echo throughout the exhibit. The varying height of how the works are hung resembles musical notes on a staff.

The works are in conversation with each other, he said, as he compared Ticho’s use of swirling lines with the calligraphic-like work by Iraqi-born artist George Chemeche that hangs next to it.

The show resonated deeply for Boston-area artist Caron Tabb, who moved as a young girl with her family from South Africa to Israel, at the exact period when this art was being made.

She recalled her earliest family hike in the hills of Jerusalem. “The drawings of the hills by Anna Ticho capture the feeling of that day,” Tabb wrote in a message to the Journal.

Tabb, a widely exhibited abstract artist, sees interpretations of the Mediterranean Sea in Rita Alima’s geometric, color-saturated works in blues, yellows, reds and greens.

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