Introduction for the Gilad Efrat’s exhibition at Oredaria Gallery, Rome 2004
Gilad Efrat is an artist who utilises the ‘traditional’ tool of painting; in this way he not only renews its specific language, but also its ‘necessity’ today.
By using the means and methods of this tradition, he is, like very few others, able to give voice and a fresh power to a language that has been declared dead by our era. It is not by accident that for some time now his work has been concerned with ‘places of disappearance’. A few years ago these subjects were archaeological sites sunken in the desert; Israel was created on the memory of these ancient, biblical places that today are the basis of historical-archaeological studies (and of strategic interest) aimed at exploring the specific identity of a people and a nation, but above all of the individuals living there. Today these same ruins look like the European cities destroyed by war. Images seen from the air of cities razed to the ground by bombing dramatically recall the archaeological sites of Jericho or Bethlehem, devoured by the desert and made to surface again by compassionate hands.
Recent works recall the desertification caused by war — the ‘flat’ state from which the West had to start again and which still acts as background to our civilisation. A common destiny connects that desert to ours; and Gilad Efrat, like a compassionate archaeologist, works to ‘remove’ layers of paint from which seemingly forgotten images resurface.
Painting Silent as Stone
The landscapes depicted are mostly made of stone or, rather, painted as stone. That the stone is natural or artificial, found or manufactured, is of little importance, in any case it is there to tell us how ‘hard’ the world is. How hard it is to die – when the ruins (of villages or otherwise) are depicted – and how hard it is to rise, when the stones take the form of walls, enclosures and prisons. The hardness of the material represented is such that the painter has to expel any human element from his horizon. Any figure would remind us that cities are made to be inhabited, and a human scale would establish a means for comparison, so the figure would place itself in the foreground much as an actor does on a stage. Instead, no life and no theatre, only stone, nothing but stone and walls. Are these backgrounds waiting to be animated? Places to escape from, or rather, places from which someone has already escaped? These questions could suggest some metaphysical relation with the description of transit spaces where the appearance of architectures takes us back to the realm of mythology. On the contrary, these paintings do not tell a story (even though they spring from one) and, perhaps, they are not even representations of a political and human drama (apparently already played out, carried through once and for all).
These paintings belong to the ‘still life’ genre. The painter studies his models airborne as a bird (over cities) or slowly landing (over walls and barbed enclosures).
At times the individual body was depicted as landscape. The same material, the same colour; a macroscopic vision so close that we cannot catch sight of anything behind the shoulders of the subject represented. In this case the size of the painting coincides with that of the figure: a figure in the foreground, alone, that seems to want to melt into the pictorial surface, literally smear itself into it. A bit funny, it (almost) takes on the features of a clown. Does it want to make us laugh? Does it want to suggest to us that it is made of the same material as the landscape, and at the same time also ridiculous? In the Bible great value is placed on laughter as a creative act; Dante also speaks of ‘universal laughter’. Both the depicted cities and the individual body appear to be dwarfed by laughter that is more powerful than bombs, more atrocious that the image we see in the mirror the painter gazes into.
Laughter that mocks Man’s efforts to destroy cities (while he is already at work rebuilding others), laughter that smothers the cries of pain and mocks the attempt by some to hide others behind walls and enclosures.
The painter faces a conundrum: If he and his body are ridiculous, then everything is. This is not an attempt to overcome, with an act of narcissism, the issue of impotence or inadequacy (of the discipline of painting) with respect to the historical moment.
Rather it is a perception that tells us that such laughter has a political dimension: It concerns everything and everyone.
The Forbidden Image
We already named silent (like stone) as well as deaf (it does not listen to the laughter that dwarfs it) the image we see. Therefore it is alone, it is prohibited not because the painter refuses to represent it (in this case he would alternatively try to ‘make it speak’ or ‘be a megaphone for the laughter’), but because it is exposed. In other words, it is on display and in so doing it withdraws, denying itself to the senses. In this dimension, every image is forbidden. The cult of the image or its damnation, East or West, no longer exists; what does exist is an image that constantly changes perspective, poised between the central, Renaissance image and that of the tradition of sacred icons, or better, non-existent, multidirectional because it is perfectly flat and anti-narrative. This image does not make speeches or appeals, nor does it distinguish good from evil. In itself it is at the same time good and evil, heaven and hell.
It is, at the same time, within and without us.
What is forbidden is not so much the image in and of itself, but the attempt to reunite it within a house, a place that has been reconciled and is external to it.
Rome, November 2004