A closer look at Israel’s advent into the visual arts.
Just as the icing on the cake adds a layer of completeness and finesse, visual art adds a touch of class to the nation it represents. As playwright George Bernard Shaw expressed it, “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”
True as this is, the pandemic of 2020 badly hurt the gallery industry and the appreciation of fine arts. As art gallery sales fell by 36% on average in the first half of 2020, resourceful artists like Lithuanian-born Tadas Zaicikas, looked to virtual avenues to present their work.
Zaicikas has, in fact, achieved greater recognition by exhibiting his work online, than by exhibiting in traditional art galleries. That says a lot, since he has held exhibitions in Canada, the U.S., France, South Korea, Italy, Austria and Switzerland. Moreover, he believes that the nightmarish experiences of covid lockdowns, have helped the gallery industry grasp the benefits of digital technology.
Moreover, at the core, Zaicikas is a truly global artist. He was born in Lithuania in 1974, attended art school in grade school, did a Master Degree at Lithuania’s Kaunas University of Technology, and, since 2013, he has been making art out of Saint Pierre and Miquelon in France. Although his main passion is street art, he also enjoys abstract expressionism and digital artworks, many of which can be found on his YouTube channel. He creates his own style by mixing material and blending techniques, allowing bold strokes and intense colors to express his vision. Furthermore, his ability to mix vandalistic energy on canvas, applying in layers, using spray paints and acrylics to start and oils to finish make for fascinating observation. As he says, “Art is not about understanding.”
From his artistic vantage point, Zaicikas says, “Modern artists have existed in every century. They shaped the world of art in a new way.”
This is true of many countries, including Israel. For instance, Israel’s advent into the visual arts, began with the founding in 1906, in Jerusalem, of the Bezalel School to train artists and people in professional crafts. The founder of this prestigious school and Israel’s oldest higher education establishment, was Jewish-Lithuanian artist and sculptor Boris Schatz, who named it in honor of the biblical character Bezalel, son of Uri.
As it happened, Bezalel initially introduced European styles and trends to Palestine, which became unpopular a few years later, when the academy grew in size and reputation. The young artists, in particular, sought a distinctive Israeli flavor in art styles. And so, the artists of the 1920-1930 period named it the “Migdal David” period, to signify their effort to go back to their roots of King David’s times, and to engage Middle Eastern traditions and motifs in their work.
Nevertheless, by the 1930s, another powerful influence reached across the Mediterranean Sea. This was from the Bauhaus school of design, architecture, and applied arts, founded by architect Walter Gropius in Germany, during the period 1919 to 1933, This school focused on simple and practical styles and geometric shapes, with glossy, creative industrial material.
As the years went by, powerful nationalistic sentiments engulfed Israel in the years preceding independence in 1948, resulting in the formation of a cultural and ideological movement named Canaanism (originally known as “Young Hebrews”). Canaanites were a small group of around two dozen registered members who believed that most of the Middle East had once been a Hebrew-speaking civilization. Furthermore, most of the Canaanite members were prominent intellectuals and artists, and the impact of the movement on society was far greater than its size. In fact, one of its pioneers in the visual arts, Itzhak Danziger, was focused on creating a new Israeli identity by blending modern concepts of Zionism and socialism with mythological motifs of ancient cultures of Israel.
The next change in Israel’s visual art took place when the Ofakim Hadashim art movement was launched by a group of artists who called themselves “The Group of Eight,” and mounted an exhibition in Tel Aviv’s Habima national theater in December 1942. However, this group became a meaningful artistic movement only after the state of Israel was founded in 1948, and was called the “New Horizons.” Their style was formed by the group’s leading artists, especially by Zvi Meirovich, who preferred abstract European modernism of the pre-World Wars era. New Horizons enabled the influence of international art on visual arts in Israel.
Through this influence, a new group of Israeli artists called “10+” began a new chapter in Israel’s visual art through the 1960s, by introducing Pop Art and video art that were powerful American movements at the time. The group was called “The Want of Matter,” and they laid the basis for an Israeli art style that prevailed in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. These artists used limited creative materials, exhibited artistic sloppiness, and criticized social reality and the myth of Israel society; they were, in fact, searching for a fresh abstract form.
However, after the October 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israeli art became more political, and by the 1980s, Israel’s militarism and the continuing conflict with Palestinians were expressed in visual art. During this time, artists also focused on the horrors of the Holocaust, as a reminder to the remaining Holocaust survivors.
In the intervening years, Israel developed a free-market economy, training its manpower in technology and industry. By the 1990s, Israel had caught up with American and European technology, and this was reflected in Israeli art. Likewise, contemporary Israeli artists are building their artistic talent through works that portray Jewish history and identity mixed with modern technologies. Especially the younger Israeli artists begin their artistic careers training at Bezalel, and subsequently pursue graduate fine arts training in Europe and the U.S. Many of them represent Israel as cultural ambassadors in their adopted countries.
Today, the innovative artist has developed his own style that merges his life experiences and the influences of urban abstract street art. While he confines his works on canvas, Zaicikas considers himself to be an abstract expressionism graffiti artist whereby he expresses his unique form of vandalism with spray paints, ink, acrylic, and oil. The movements of neo-expressionism, street art and graffiti have played a significant role in his art pieces.
Zaicikas’ gentle advice to artists is, “Don’t be afraid to create something new, create what you like.”