Yoav Ben Dov – Icons

Past Exhibition

03.02.2012 - 28.03.2012

In his new solo exhibition, Yoav Ben Dov exhibits portrait paintings, most of them painted during the past year. These works, dealing with a theme that was absent until now from Ben Dov’s oeuvre, reveal the sculptural nature of his work and his continuous preoccupation with the linkage between language and material.

Portraiture is an artistic medium serving to explore issues concerning identity and representations of reality. In his portraits, Ben Dov takes an opposite direction – instead of exposing the figure, its presence in time and space, its characteristics and uniqueness, he removes all its identifying signs, leaving only its outlines, and turning the portrait into a stratified sculptural and conceptual exploration, in order to break its essence apart, turn it into words, and communicate these words through the visual image.

Such is the work Self Portrait with Mighty / Closed Eyes, a personal interpretation (and homage) to Aram Gershuni’s work bearing a similar title, Self Portrait with Closed Eyes. The closed eyes of the artist, that do not look at his figure while painting, but rather absorbed with his inner imaginary world, turn, in Ben Dov’s work, to another meaning of the word Atzumot (closed) in Hebrew, that alludes to gigantic eyes, reminiscent of the idiom ‘having eyes bigger than one’s stomach’. With this allusion, Ben Dov refers to the eyes of the viewer, who is asked by the artist to capture and complete the figure out of his own memory, but also refers to a person having gigantic, or big, eyes, who wants to gluttonize.

Another homage to a well-known cultural icon is found in Self Portrait with a Hat, which is a portrait of the artist with many hats, reminiscent of the many self-portraits of Magritte with the immortal bowler hat. Like in, the viewer of this work also has to complete in his imagination the human figure, which can be discerned only with effort. Ben Dov actually moves the center of gravity from representing a human figure to the objects identifying and defining it, in this case – the hat that can be seen three times, in a quick hovering movement. This is a hat in the sense of “changing hats – changing roles” – the artist’s role as having a social, cultural and personal responsibilities.

Hands of Gold – Touching the Edge while Standing Tall, is a life-size self portrait, a version of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. Here, too, there is only a silhouette of a white figure, this time on a golden leaves background. The title of this work alludes playfully to these golden leaves, the material from which the work is made of, and also using the term for a person having high technical skills. The one that has ‘hands of gold’ is the artisan – the artist, but also the sculptor and the angel. The Vitruvian man is a person with perfect proportions, having harmonic relationship with nature, which brings him closer to God. Ben Dov explores playfully the Vitruvian image, and also examines the limits of the artist as a divine entity.

In contrast to this glittering work, there is a work made of most humble materials –Wanted, a self portrait constituted of about fifty post messages sent to Ben Dov and announcing him he has registered mail to claim from the post office, mail which was never claimed (“And I am sure these are not candy boxes waiting for me there” he says). As opposed to the golden leaves romantic and intimate works, this work is a defiance of Ben Dov as a person and an artist against the pressure of bureaucracy that turned him into a destitute ‘wanted’. The usage of the jute material as a support for the work emphasizes his cry more intensely – the jute is a cheap and simple fiber, serving for preparation of sacks and coarse cloths. And here we are carried by our imagination to a wide variety of idioms and phrases in Hebrew that testify to the artist’s protest – a punching bag (in Hebrew, literally, a punching sack), a potato sack, “put sackcloth upon his loins” (a mourning practice, Genesis, 37, 34).

Another aspect that is unique to the portraits of Ben Dov is the action of the painting itself – a portrait painting demands that the artist sits a long time in his studio, while conducting a deep observation, whether into his own soul or into other persons’. This is not the case in Ben Dov’s works – his painting action is a completely sculptural one – he puts the sitter in front of the canvas and draws his or her outlines. This is a kind of action painting, but while modern action painting is an obvious sign of the purifying physical act of the artist who is isolated from his environment, Ben Dov’s painting action is never individual, but rather always involves his family and close friends in the studio. The social aspect is an important facet in Ben Dov’s life, being a social activist in the Shapira Quarter of South Tel Aviv, where he lives for the last twenty years. Ben Dov’s linkage to community and social activities is evident in each of the works displayed at the exhibition.

This linkage can be found, for example, in Minian, a work in charcoal and oil on canvas, referring to the Jewish practice maintaining that an assembly of ten people turns into a sacred gathering. Ben Dov assembled ten people from his close circle and drew their outlines, one after another. Ben Dov’s minian defines the dynamics and the grain from which action can grow and develop. Each of the painted persons was exposed to the language that Ben Dov speaks, as a kind of prayer understood only by this small community.

Family Portrait also utilizes the language of the physical action. This work summarizes the double nature of the portraits exhibition, the personal and social facets that intertwine in it – on the one hand, it is a specific family, Ben Dov’s extended family, whose outlines were weaved while standing against the canvas. It is a notably personal work, created several days before the death of his mother, in last January. But on the other hand, it is an all-family portrait; it stimulates the viewer’s imagination into identifying his own family in this painting, and he is asked to fill the silhouettes constituting it.

The exhibition ends in the inner room of the gallery, that functions as an intimate space, where several works are displayed next to each other: the self portrait of the artist as a Simple Man, that also refers to the several meaning the word simple, pashut,  has in Hebrew: He spreads and stretches out his limbs (pshut-eivarim), when his hands are in a gesture of acceptance, and he is also a humble and simple person, wearing simple cloths and having no externality, and next to him, in contrast, the portrait of the “help meet for him” – the Sgula (Purple / Virtue), (in Hebrew Sgula, which means purple, but also a characteristic, a virtue and a talisman), a work in which the material becomes the signifier of the traits of the word . This is a laud to feminine traits, and it refers to the precious material from which the female figure is made of – the real golden leaves that occur again, and the cobalt powder. The entire work is constituted of the signs of the Hebrew letter  י(Yod, equivalent to I or to Y), a motif that reiterates in Ben Dov’s works of the recent years. The letter י, he claims, is the root of the Hebrew letters, from which all the other letters derive, and in this work he links the power of the female virtue to the root of the language.