Yehuda Armoni: 70% water
“The painter, any painter, while he is painting, practices a magical theory of vision. He is obliged to admit that objects before him pass into him or else that, according to Malebranche's sarcastic dilemma, the mind goes out through the eyes to wander among objects; for he never ceases adjusting his clairvoyance to them...”
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Eye and Mind
A hike in the landscape, making one’s way, seeing and observing, a process of thought and soul – all of these elements are at the very foundations of Yehuda Armoni’s paintings:they are the core of things. And so is the freedom to choose a “place” and remain as its guest, to partake of its beauty, and honor it by quiet, deep observation. Present, too, is the attempt to delve deeply into the source of the here-and-now experience that is also broad and abstract, one which breaks down the materiality of the locale to elements of understanding, color, and light. They repeatedly form themselves into groups gathered onto the canvas, bringing with them the echo of the image of the place in which the painter tarried. Something additional returns to the canvas, hovering between the brushstrokes forming the painting – these are the results of Armoni’s “magical theory of vision”: the sensation of the image itself, as perceived through the senses and through seeing beyond the senses.
But we are ahead of ourselves. The correct order would have us begin from the walk through the landscape: the path leads upwards in a modest slope, on both of its sides a greenish-greyish grove of pines, low bushes with greenish foliage rippling downwards towards its sides. Then the inner struggles begin: Should I turn right or left, since right in the middle of the path a green puddle of water is peeking out. In it is the reverse image of the treetops; to its side, the remains of the dome of the sky with floating clouds. The margins of the puddle are dark, with visible clumps of mud and the earth heavy with water; one can almost smell its typical fresh odor. To the right, a small piece of lawn stretches outwards to the rain pool. The grass is partially illuminated; on it, resting in identical ease, is the dark shadow of the treetops and the rays of the morning sun. It is possible to tread on the edges of the dirt path to the left of the puddle, continue to climb slowly in the direction of the horizon disappearing into the thickness of the trees. The walk continues through another section of the path whose calm has already been shattered by wheels that signified “onward,” transversing the big puddle that rested there. Grey-blue water with green algae forming in it rests obediently in the strips of moist, black earth alternating with sandy terrain in which the muddy channels were formed. Horizontal rays of light are cast on the warp and woof of the path, the bright light drawing the eye further and further to the place where the path once again disappears into the thicket, slightly under the wooden frame of the painting. As for you – the viewer – you want to continue walking on the path inside the local landscape which is so familiar, but that despite its frequency becomes otherness in the paintings. You the viewer want to explain to yourself the meaning of the experience when facing the paintings which are holding the different and the familiar together as one, in perfect balance.
I remember what Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in his Letters on Cézanne, attempting to describe a painting by the artist and struggling with the limitations of language to write about talent and the dazzling painterly outcome:
“Here, however, the subject itself can be captured more readily, and the words that feel so unhappy when they try to give the facts of painting would be only too happy when confronted with a representation with which their province begins to recover themselves and describe what is there.”
Indeed, words “feel so unhappy” when faced with the impossibility of precision in describing the landscape reflected from the paintings and the experience when observing them: the thin misty layer over the hill of cypresses, paths through local groves whose scent of moist dust can almost be felt while viewing them, the nearby fields surrounded by golden green foliage, the hills beyond the corner, the rain pools collecting water on a rainy winter, the grass glowing bold green after plentiful rainfall, and the puddles resting in the dark, heavy earth. The sights are local and familiar; nevertheless, there is a vague feeling of difference emphasizing the fact of standing in front of a painting – a superb painting, carefully made, very realistic, while remaining personal and exciting. It is not “the thing itself,” but the reflection of the eye and mind of a painter who took a walk between the elements depicted in the painting.
Armoni painstakingly selects the realms of painting that enable him to stay a while to experience them fully. Going outside to paint en plein air is for him a daily necessity, like air or water. He sets out for the open landscape in search of a challenging adventure, each time anew, guided by the desire to find in the landscape drama, surprise, excitement, and more challenges. The eye observes the landscape, searching for the painting concealed in it and begging to be revealed.
The daily foray into nature refines the gaze and habituates it to distinguish the changes being generated outside. The familiar local landscape becomes even more familiar, the slight changes not sensed by the untrained eye- a dust cloud or moist spray, sunlight on the path, or a breeze moving the treetops – all of these will find their place on the canvas, thanks to Armoni’s close, sensitive gaze.
When he finds what his eyes sought, he becomes filled with vitality. An inner fire flares up joyfully as a dance of impending miracles is about to take place on the stretched canvas before him and the beginning of a journey. The hours of painting outside is the time Armoni remains in the hidden realms of the soul, hours during which he makes his way through the canvas in a journey that sounds like a spiritual and emotional shakeup. He depicts states of flow and a search, uncertainty, storms, tempests, moments of despair and regret:
“The path is interesting but at times exhausting. I think I'm on the right way but then everything becomes messed up …I haven’t the slightest concept of how I’m going to get out of here. The flow stops, suddenly I remember that I am in the midst of a painting…I call upon past experience that tells me that I have already gotten myself out of similar situations. I scrape it out, start over, or continue from the middle. I become stubborn. I don’t give up, I make my way through. Suddenly things become clear. A moment of joy…”
Over the past year, these were the signs of the water – rain pools and seasonal and other reservoirs that caught Armoni’s eye, hurrying to return to seek them in the landscape. More and more puddles, each one with its own unique shape, impacting the environment, coming together in his paintings before surrendering to drought and oblivion and disappearing. Along with the marks of Armoni’s concentrated gaze and the personal negotiations with the landscape that characterize him, these paintings show a deep enchantment with water and its activity in the local landscape as well as a deep appreciation and recognition of the necessity of water for him, for his body and soul. This very same enchantment makes itself present to the viewer, who in devotion to the hike through Armoni’s painted landscape remains as enchanted and excited as walking through a nature trail.