It seems that neither of these features is present in the new, minimalist, and so neat paintings. All of them are painted with few strokes of black color on large white canvases and on delicate rice paper sheets. They are not loaded with material, slotted, and scratched, no legacies are evident on their surfaces, and even if they are related to the woodcut tradition, a tradition full of expressiveness, there are no expressive gestures in them. It also seems that nothing happens in these pictures, i.e. there are no social dynamics or narratives, and there is no reference to any specific or general location. Besides the sparingly depicted figures, there is no other mark on the canvas, which is left white. It is not even a space, but a vacuum – a vacuum in which the figures float, or, more accurately, do not float or hover, but are detached. The printed woodcut leaves in its white or black areas the traces of the material – the color or its remnants that create a texture and an imaginary background. In these paintings, on the other hand, there are not even remnants, and therefore, even if the influence of woodcuts is evident, it is an influence devoid of its characteristics.
‘Grotesque’ is a suitable term for describing these works. Not ‘grotesque’ in the current fashionable meaning, deriving its existence from morbid descriptions (such as the exhibition of corpses, ‘Body Worlds’, exhibited around the world in recent years, and also exhibited recently in MadaTech – the Israel National Museum of Science, Haifa), but grotesque in its opposite meaning – an existential anxiety demonstrated by comic and bizarre gestures. Images of horror and fear are known in art history – Munch’s The Scream, Picasso’s Guernica, and Francis Bacon’s portrait of the Pope – all of them convey a pathos that somehow empties the awesome out of Bilan’s paintings, but this leaves the awesome in the realm of deep seriousness, and ignores its power when embodied in ironic parody. This awe, grotesqueness, and anxiety are certainly present in Bilan’s works, but they are depicted in clumsy and even humorous figures. A man hovering in white space, his wide open mouth blurs his lips borders, and holding something that might be a parachute or an umbrella; a person, on a skateboard, standing as if surfing or slipping; soldiers with strange proportions, liquid faces, and imaginary animals; an emaciated figure surfs on a railroad track leading from nowhere to nowhere; a couple of figures are entangled within a bicycle, becoming almost an inseparable part of the machine; an acrobat clown that one of his feet points in one direction, and the other – in the opposite direction. All of these are representatives of comic disorientations, ending in a tragic stasis. These figures and others are a kind of combination between The Good Soldier Švejk and Charlie Chaplin, with their terribly exact and acrobatic clumsiness, and their genius foolishness that characterizes their conduct in the modern world and their maladjustment to it.
It is interesting to look at this series of paintings as a whole. Looking at the entire series of works enhances the sense of the grotesque parody emerging from each one of them. A painting that could be interpreted as a typical work done in the vein of the Second World War horrors – with all the heavy emotional load involved in interpreting work done by an artist born at the end of the war to holocaust survivors and spending his childhood in a gypsy village – breaks lose from this stereotype by utilizing the humoristic but equally horrific grotesqueness that characterizes other painting. Irony is present in these paintings, communicating a heavily loaded content in light comic language. The tragedy in these paintings is expressed in a kind of absurd theater. Covering it by a layer of irony and humor that makes it just as tragic as a tragedy declared overtly.