Lea Nikel (1918-2005) and Khen Shish (b. 1970) two tempestuous, fleet-footed souls, with a lust for life – meet in the arena of painting: one is a modernist action painter, whose art was formulated around the painting style which at the time was at its height, i.e. during the 1940’s and 1950’s; the other is a post-modernist gesture artist, part of the generation that currently represents the most unrestricted painting in the history of art.
Towards the middle of the last century, action or gesture painting introduced an infusion of new and vital blood into the arteries of formalist abstract art and set in motion a new wave of abstract painting. Lea Nikel – winner of the Israel Prize in 1995, was among the formulators of this wave in Israeli abstract art.
The Nikel painting genre dared to shake free of the assets of lyrical abstraction such as the figurative sorcery, the suffocating shackles of adherence to nature, to a model and to the practice of painting from observation. Like American abstract and French Tachism, her painting too strived for universalism while expressing an entire world of inter-subjective feelings: painting that is enlisted for urges of the self, which is no more than non-edited documentation that preserves “mistakes” and impulsive, automatic utterances; painting that is no more than an accumulation of the artist’s feelings in the course of doing and footprints of the painting activity itself; painting that celebrates the concept that views the artist as a natural, authentic force that does not create a picture but rather an “event”; a painting devoid of “subject”, clean of “representation”, even if not lacking in poetic, emotional, spiritual “content”.
And still, to exhibit two artists from two different generations, who operate on different emotional registers, one next to the other – it’s not an obvious choice, however challenging. To emphasize the connection between two bodies of work born under distant circumstances of life and time, works have been selected in which the central motif is the color black: the same black of which Matisse said that if you are a colorist, you will make your presence known even in a simple charcoal drawing.
The joint exhibition seeks to explore the affinity between two aesthetic doctrines and the degree of closeness or distance between the ivory black, that functions as a full partner of the colorist Nikel – and the carbonic, furnace-like black that functions as a default choice, as a fundamental somber-like given of the almost-monochromatic art of Shish; the relations between the modernist gesture that moves under conditions of flow and regimentation in Nikel’s work and Shish’s post-modernist gesture, moving among free assemblages of abstraction and representation, reduction and symbol, minimal-existential scratches and poetry.
Open to surprises, Nikel and Shish play their painting unaffectedly, embellishing it with noises, crashes, rhythmic repetitions, spontaneous deviations, pauses, breaths, meditation and improvisation. The process is the subject of art itself and the painting is a miracle, both would conclude, without cynicism or irony.