Four Solo Exhibitions:
Dror Ben Ami / Africa, Beirut, Gaza and Poetics
Curator: Rotem Ritov
Although the works in the exhibition belong to separate painting series, what they share is that all were created from the same philosophical starting point, and using the same materials of charcoal and paper. Throughout a painting practice of many years, Ben Ami has found himself drawn to, and curious precisely about that which occurs on the material support – the paper: It is fragile, it rips, wrinkles, and then it must be treated, patches must be placed above and below. Thus, a dialogue with the paper is generated: dramatic scenes, strong and experiential, explosions, sky, smoke, massive walls, all drawn on a material that is delicate and almost without value. “It is nothing more than charcoal on paper. All this drama is an illusion. Art is an illusion,” smiles Ben Ami, who combines the local Israeli “Arte povera” with the richness characteristic of Western art, which formed the basis of his education at the Royal Academy of Art, Amsterdam, and MFA studies at Bretton Hall College (part of the British University, Leeds).
In his works, there is a thunderous encounter between the Classical Western heritage, Renaissance, Baroque, larger than life, spiritual, human; and the simplicity and frankness of the heritage of the Israeli “Arte povera”. Alongside the daring of working big while remaining meticulous and treating every centimeter on the surface, he uses the most basic, simplest materials: charcoal on paper. Despite the works’ powerful large scale, they invite us to observe the details, the internal occurrences and the textures, intimately and closely. The micro (the detail) and the macro (the whole) build each other. They are of equal importance. The magic is revealed in the erosion and crumbling of the paper: Where the material and the spiritual, order and chaos, form and texture, meet. Ben Ami’s drawing process includes inducing crude damage to the paper. He examines over and over again the paper’s power to endure corrosive acts: drawing, scraping, erasing, adhering. The depth of the damage impacts on the buildup of charcoal in the crevices and the richness of monochromatic shades in the drawing. The contrast between the smooth-white paper and the act of retouching – ripping-blackening, creates the drama between light and shadow, revealed and concealed, micro and macro, between the delicacy of the paper and the forcefulness of the charcoal. The drama in the drawings represents a philosophical contemplation that has troubled people since the dawn of humanity: enchantment with aesthetic and even sublime appearances that are present precisely during tragedies, crises and destruction. This dichotomy begins as early as Ben Ami’s stage of inspiration, and it is expressed in his works on the material, formal, conceptual and narrative levels. He searches for the poetic and the aesthetic within the drama, and he is motivated by visual images that elicit in him a sense of a powerful experience. Ben Ami’s working processes are long, and it takes time for the image to come together and express itself as a work of art.
The 2020 explosion in the Port of Beirut, happened after a long period in which he worked on drawings of explosions in reaction to Operation “Protective Edge” in Gaza. The images of catastrophe published in the news looked like scenes from Judgment Day and clarified what he was looking for. A giant pillar of smoke rose up from the rubble, and suddenly a massive concrete building emerged from within, remaining standing like a monument to the oblivion and destruction surrounding it. The concrete filled with cracks and was damaged from the explosion. The drawing Wall was born precisely from the image of the pillar of smoke. Concrete is absolute, closed, impermeable and unbreakable. Smoke is the opposite, it is an illusory, changing material which Ben Ami expressed in another work: The Pandemic, created in reaction to the dramatic life experience left by the Covid pandemic. Covid is drawn as spreading smoke which cannot be controlled. In the drawing there is a sense of looming tragedy, and the pillar of smoke represents both the threat and existence. The triptych is the last of the works in which Ben Ami draws clouds of smoke and it concludes a chain of tense years both personally and collectively.
The African Series was created over the last two years. It has a playful and open character. Unlike the other works, it has an amorphic quality and the drama is caused by the working process as well as the material and formal connections. It combines raw and direct ritual ethnographic symbolism with quotations from the history of Western art. It is made of cuttings from former works by Ben Ami, which have been recycled. The surface and the materiality sustain an additional layer of enchantment with the aesthetic, created out of destruction.