Shir Shvadron’s recent exhibition at the Tel Aviv Artists’ House was a reminder that an artist who loves to paint will convey that – without lofty goals, highfalutin agendas or intents to elevate the works beyond what they purport to be: an observation of the physical world of the artist.
Curator, Yuval Caspi, chose four groupings of paintings to concentrate on in this large exhibit of a hundred and thirty works which were completed over a four-decade period, which he describes as “small and intimate” in his essay. Though the exhibit could have been a bit pared down, overall it showed the artist’s main strengths, focusing on works, mostly of modest size, which concentrate on traditional areas of interest to the painter: self-portrait, landscape, the figure and still life. A range of media were included, such as watercolors, gouaches, acrylics and oils.
Getting to know Shvadron through his self-portraits is a lesson in observation. One wall of these twenty or so paintings in watercolors were completed within a short range of time, days apart, some hours apart, and each showed a fresh engagement with his own face, resulting in related, but different facets of self-observation. The set-up changed little – frontal views of his face in a table-top painting – but lighting, mood and emphasis change from work to work. The series seems as if it were accumulated pieces of an overall puzzle of self-discovery.
Other elements in the exhibit include studies of his aging parents, of his wife, the artist Lea Kochav Shvadron, landscapes of scruffy and dry clumps of trees showing sensitivity to the qualities of the local light, a building in Old Jaffa near his home, and watercolor studies of boats in the Greek Isles, resulting from a combination of observation and memory which ran to illustration of blue reveries along the water’s edge.
So what is the allure of watercolor, as a medium, to a seasoned artist? The luminosity of the colors is attractive, but it is a challenge even to an accomplished painter to achieve results, which are never guaranteed. Every movement of the brush becomes part of the painting, every runaway drip of liquid creates an immediate need to adapt, accidental splashes are common, there are no erasures, no error-hiding subsequent layers and little room for second thoughts. Every mark remains on the page for the viewer to take in. It is a most unforgiving medium.
The use of the white of the page is critical to convey light and before one even puts brush to paper, the artist must already know where the white of the paper will be left unpainted to convey the brightest of the light. Shvadron’s thoughtful usage of the white of the page is worth consideration.
In the still lifes shown, Shvadron has reduced the quiet world of objects to a spartan engagement with only two elements, a cup and a tablecloth which envelops the cup from all directions. His delicately painted watercolors ranged from those that attempted to present them in full color with developed tonality and space, to those which reduced the elements to more and more simplified examinations. The floral arabesque–like swirls became an integral part of the bowl-like cup, and finally, the cup itself is absent; its presence is felt in the vacant white space remaining amidst the swirls.
Shvadron does not break new ground in this exhibit, but his exuberance for painting is, in itself, something of an achievement. Looking hard and repeatedly confronting the subject is a slow, perhaps tedious, process that allows the paintings to develop over what may feel like glacial stretches of time, something that cannot be hurried by short-cuts or software.
The accompanying catalogue includes Dor Levy’s essay “An Analog Painter in a Digital World.” Levy refers to Shvadron’s extensive social media presence, especially on Facebook, where he has reached the 5,000 Friend limit and has hundreds more subscribers from all over the globe. Levy feels this is an extension of Shvadron’s natural gregariousness, generosity of personality and love of sharing art, his own and others. Personality aside, the use of social media has opened the world to artists from all over the globe who can now partially by-pass traditional gallery structures or help to compensate for working in far-flung locations distant from art centers and reach their own cyber-community of artists and admirers.
Born in Hadera, Israel in 1950, Shvadron attended the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem from 1973-76. The grounding of his art in the “analog” world is due to his admiration for art traditions, and Shvadron acknowledges amongst his influences artists as diverse as Piero della Francesca, Picasso, Matisse, Vuillard, Rothko, Alex Katz, Euan Uglow, and a selection of Israeli painters ranging from Streichman and Zaritsky to Lea Nikel, Ori Reisman and others.
Amongst Shvadron’s teachers was the veteran Russian-Israeli painter, Jan Rauchwerger , now celebrating his seventieth birthday. At a recent reunion of former students in honor of their teacher, another former student, Michael Kovner, recalled that he took Rauchwerger to see his exhibit and Rauchwerger, a man who could say a lot with few words, said the problem with the exhibit boiled down to one thing: the exhibit didn’t sing.
One would expect that would not be a problem for an artist whose first name means song. Sing it did.