Dror Ben Ami shows in this exhibition a series of large charcoal drawings, depicting big pillars of smoke—dynamic massless lumps of light and shadow, black and white. Are these pillars of smoke, or rather pillars of cloud? The visual ambivalence expresses a tension between the portrayal of a catastrophic reality and the pursuit of the sublime, of revelation. In the Bible, the pillar of cloud symbolizes the divine revelation, proceeding ahead of the Israelite camp, marking their way in the desert.
Ben Ami started making these series during one of Israel’s military operations in Gaza. The works “Bulbules of Air”originate in frozen frames that the artist extracted from Israeli air force footage, that records airstrikes from this operation. In his drawings Ben Ami documents the moment of the explosion: an energetic burst of compressed air moving through space. Through an aesthetic perspective, a powerful movement of textures is seen, a play of light and shadow a mesmerizing spectacle. But this beauty is loaded with other, stark meanings, as we understand it through the wider context of being part of a process of destruction and ruin. In the work “Colossus,” Ben Ami alludes to the to Goya’s giant (painted during the Peninsular War of Spain and its allies against the French invaders in the early nineteenth century); In the center of the painting is the figure of a giant, Goya’s allegory of the condition of man, standing helpless in face of greater powers.
In recent years, Ben Ami has been creating all of his works on large paper sheets, in drawing techniques based mostly on charcoal. The extensive dimensions of the works and their saturated materiality have become a hallmark of Ben Ami’s work. A close observation of his drawings will expose a dense hachure, etched-pressed into the paper in a unique technique developed by the artist. Ben Ami notches or pierces the paper using a sharp needle, and then covers it in thick layers of charcoal which he thenerases. A delicate line of charcoal remains within the notch, slightly resembling an engraving technique. Through this method, he creates an expressive world, full of movements of shape and texture, and a broad range of monochromatic shades of black and white. There is a contrast between the weak and transient nature of the simple paper, on which the artist works, and the mass of heavy charcoal stains which it holds.
In past series of works Ben Ami was fascinated with observations of nature—of spider webs, of thorn bush patterns, of order within disorder. In this series he turns his eyes to the effect of destruction created by human civilization in its environment. His pictorial atmosphere is detached from the experience of here and now, and drifts between timeless and limitless worlds: life and death, materiality and perishability, mass and vacuum, the physical and the metaphysical. As in vanitas paintings, he enhances the experience of the observer through a gaze towards the sublime, the eternal and temporal, and invites us to see the beauty that lies within the moments of destruction. The images of smoke seem to float in the center of his large papers; a face peeks from them, a body is reflected, a figure of a legendary giant, amorphous shadows and shapes are revealed, driving us into the depths of consciousness. Everything is dynamic, everything stands for a fleeting moment and then vanishes, a kind of present here and now, disappearing and continuing. All the while—the stary night sky, quiet, silence (the spirit of God hovering), and a radiating moon shines in the darkness with its many craters.