West St., the newest exhibit at Neve Schechter in Tel Aviv features the work of Tel-Aviv born Brooklyn artist Avital Burg. Gathering wildflowers from the street, Burg uses them in powerful still lifes and portraits. This exhibition continues Neve Schechter’s tradition of featuring innovative contemporary artists who, through their work, engage in dialogue about the connections between personal experience, the place of Israel and the meaning of “Jewish art.”
Read the gallery notes from exhibition curator Shira Friedman:
The exhibition West St. features recent oil paintings by Avital Burg. In these compositions, the artist refines her long-term engagement with self-portraits and still-life paintings, especially flowers and cardboard boxes.
These images of portraits or bouquets take up almost the entire compositional surface, with the addition of few details. Most of them are relief-like paintings that seem to be bursting out of the canvas into the gallery space. It is interesting to note the apparent contrast between the crowded compositions and the sculptural texture, which is enhanced by scratches and the traces of manual labor and knife work, and between the delicate subjects of these works: flowers, close-ups of the artist’s face, and fragile boxes.
The exhibition title, West St., is borrowed from that of one of the paintings, which is named after a typical street name in an American town. Burg, who lives in Brooklyn, seeks out marginal, forgotten urban wildflowers, which she gathers while noting the name of the street where they were found, as well as the date. Back in the studio, these flowers are transformed into participants in still-life scenes that Burg keeps painting until they wilt – the moment that marks the completion of the painting. The name of the street where they were picked subsequently becomes the painting’s title. The result is a sort of geographical diary in which urban nature, and different cities inhabited during different periods, are brought into the space of the studio and the paintings by means of the flowers.
Another personal form of documentation is given expression in the series of self-portraits that the artist paints once a year, on her birthday. The exhibition features two nearly identical portraits painted on the occasion of Burg’s most recent birthday. Her expressionless face is turned to the left in a three-quarter profile, taking up almost the entire surface of the painting. In the lower right-hand corner, one can glimpse something of her red outfit – while the yellow garland she wears around her head stands out against the grey ground. This garland, which has lent the painting the title “Sourgrass,” was also gathered in the street, like the other flowers included in the exhibition. One can also view it as an allusion to Burg’s childhood years in the surroundings of Jerusalem, as well as to the crown of thorns on Jesus’ head. These connections between art-historical styles, motifs and traditions and between details from the artist’s personal biography draw affinities among different periods and places in her paintings. A further affinity with Renaissance painting and the history of art may be detected in the tiny self-portrait revealed in a fragment of a broken mirror. This painting alludes, among other things, to the works of the 17th-century painter Diego Velázquez, as well as to those of the 20th-century painter Avigdor Arikha. Burg is well aware of these affinities, while creating an independent language that also explores the materiality of the subject and the painterly process itself.
The materiality of the cardboard, as both a support and a painted object, is visibly present in Burg’s body of works. The paintings of boxes included in the exhibition reveal areas of abstraction, which have been informed by her exposure to American art and specially to abstract expressionism. As for the sculptural texture, Burg creates it from dry paint remaining on her palette, which she mixes with fresh paint. This method forges a connection between these earlier paintings and those we are attending to, which contain a range of layers from the “past.” The latest paintings reveal a new practice, which is related to Burg’s explorations of materiality: an intentional unraveling of the canvas, which leaves certain bits of it exposed.
The exhibition opens December 19, 2019 and will close January 30, 2020.
42 Chelouche Street, Neve Zedek, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, 6684521