Like the day President Kennedy died (for those of l’age certain), everyone has a vivid recollection of where they were when they heard the news about the attack on the first tower, or later the second tower. Many were real time witnesses to the occurrences on our TV screens. The news came in spurts, with seemingly unrelated events adding to construct a puzzle of pieces whose picture added to our encyclopedia of the limitless pit of humankind’s darkest side.
Artists are a peculiar lot. We are accustomed, more than most, to filtering everyday events through the prism of our minds and souls. Many of us regularly bare our innermost thoughts, express feelings other people repress, expose our unfiltered emotions, and make public our comments on our own world as we stroll through our lives.
This event, for many artists, presented a paradox. On the one hand, the events were huge in the ways that pundits have analyzed thoroughly and I feel no need to add to that body of thought. A great many artists delved into this pool of murky waters and created works in response to the day, to the point that New York galleries very quickly tired of the subject and the works fell out of the daily art conversation.
On the other hand, the individual artist considering the impact of that day could easily become paralyzed with the futility of the meager tools with which to combat the depth of evil. Pencils, paints, paper, canvas. Why bother? What, indeed, is the point of making art, at all, when the world is teetering on a precipice?
I fell into the second group of artists. For several months, as can happen, I was unable to do any art, so shaken I was confronting the futility of creation in the face of enormous destruction. Given that I am an artist who worked in my central Jerusalem studio throughout bouts of terror attacks, I was surprised by my own reaction to the events on the other side of the world. Was this the notorious devil, “artists’ block,” rearing its head? Was this a kind of mild mid-life depression? Was this Second Generation anxiety (we tend to take war-like events a little harder than others).
I passed on the option of professional advice, and answered all of the above in the affirmative and in the negative. As time passed, I did start back to work. Mostly as a cathartic exercise just to get my hands dirty and busy, I pulled out of my head an idea that had been cooking away over the course of years. Having used the motif of eggs in a tray as an allegory for social questions, I had long wanted to multiply that image. In terms of a challenge in drawing, I was also taken with the difficulty in using a subject that had very little tonal variety.
With the image of those tall straight towers in mind, I dutifully entered Machaneh Yehuda (Jerusalem’s vibrant answer to out-door markets), walked up to the egg lady (who sits on the floor selling stacks of eggs – if you can’t picture this, pull out of your memory bank the “Feed the Birds” scene in Mary Poppins and you will have a close enough image, but with a Yemenite accent rather than East End), and purchased two stacks of trays of 30 eggs each, bound by flimsy looking string, and continued by foot to my studio, a block away and two flights up. The egg lady, marveling at her windfall, must have wondered just how many people I had invited for omelets. I admit that I am not the most graceful of people, and, not so surprisingly, a number of eggs had cracked. Dealing with the immediate clean-up crisis, I now had to re-arrange the eggs so that the empty spaces were in the interior of the carton stacks and not the exterior that I would be observing.
The results of my first encounter with that tower of egg cartons is now being exhibited in Tel Aviv in a group show of works executed only in black and white. When this piece of mine was selected I did not immediately associate the timing of the exhibit with the tragedy of ten years before that was the backdrop which led to this work. Little did I realize how appropriate the timing.
I continued to explore this subject matter in another drawing, an oil painting, and in an atypical semi-abstraction. When people see these works, they bring their own associations to the subject, as well it should be. There is nothing in the works themselves that suggest any underlying idea beyond a still life that was slowly observed. Yet, when sitting across from those many ovoid forms day after day, many thoughts flitted across my mind. Though I believe that art is first and foremost a visual medium and does not require written explanations for its appreciation, there are times when the viewer can benefit by a prompt into the creator’s mind, adding another layer to seeing the work.
With your indulgence, I will share my text for the exhibit “Walking On Eggs” (Corinne Mammon Ashdod Museum of Art, 2005) for the companion drawing which followed this piece, and applies here, as well:
“Eggs in a tray sit overlooked and unnoticed as one of everyday life’s staples. Each egg is anonymous, fragile, and filled with the potential for life. Sitting in a tray, they are in a waiting zone that seals their fate.
This work is a preparatory drawing for an oil painting that was my first painting after the Twin Towers tragedy. Beyond the beauty I found in this mundane subject matter, the stacked trays appealed to me for the architectural qualities that the multiple trays presented, a tower of sorts in itself. For me, the mass of trays recalls the towers of apartment buildings and modern office buildings enclosing faceless occupants. Unbeknownst to them, their lives are inter-connected and inter-dependent, all fatefully entwined."
“Black and White” at the Red House Gallery, Tel Aviv (till October 6, 2011).
(photo: copyright 2011 by Heddy Abramowitz)