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Dror Ben-Ami

  • תמונת הסופר/תDror Ben Ami

Zuzu Exhibition

עודכן: 21 ביוני 2023

Africa, Beirut, Gaza and Poetics // Dror Ben Ami

Curator: Rotem Ritov

Charcoal drawing and collage on paper

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 smo

ke 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 quotation

s 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


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