Yehuda Armoni / Lingering Gaze
An intense calm suffuses Yehuda Armoni’s paintings. The works are immersed in beauty, balance, and nature, yet are imbued with doubt of what will remain and what is ephemeral. Their essential charm lies in the way Armoni transforms scenes into free-standing spaces, creating entities. These spaces are between a primary encounter with landscape and with memory. He commands the landscape as his own, and extends this option to viewers. The paintings resonate with the memory of specific locations (Tal Shahar, the Ben Shemen forest, Latrun, the Ayalon Valley and more).
Armoni revisits certain sites to paint, most near his home in the Judean Plain. He observes its trees and paths, mountain slopes and winding roads, pools of water and expanses of green. He contemplates their character, studying the component forms, hues and shades that make them what they are. A fundamental understanding of landscape is central to Armoni’s oeuvre, bringing to mind the wonderful story by Jorge Luis Borges, “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote.”* Menard, a fictional French writer invented by Borges, takes upon himself the task of writing Cervantes’ Don Quixote – “he had no intention of copying it” – to understand it so fully that he would be able to write the book himself. We might say that Armoni rewrites landscape.
Lingering Gaze presents works begun and completed outside, in nature, and others completed in the studio. Most of Armoni’s works are in the plein air tradition, self-aware painting embracing the moment, usually made in a premier coup, in a single session in a specific place. The drawings, as well, are divided into those made outside and those made after initial sketches from observation.
The charcoal drawings can be thought of a scaffold, a structure exposed to viewers. The movement of the charcoal and the seeking hand is clear and consistent. The color palette between black and white sharpens the ability to follow the structuring of the images. The more faithful the contours of the landscape, the clearer it becomes that the drawing distances us from the natural image as it deconstructs it and approaches abstraction. Exhibiting a large drawing (120 x 186 cm) as a central work is a fundamental decision. Lingering Gaze focuses on the way Armoni chooses to structure the landscape. The tension between the horizontal mass, the vegetation doubled through its reflection in the water, and the vertical lines of the cranes is the focus of the work. The encounter between what seems to be an atemporal landscape with marks of the approaching present, the harbingers of change, gradually becomes clear.
Armoni’s paintings, both those made entirely outside and others continued in the studio, exhibit outstanding moderation. This is a rare quality and polar opposite to the standard mode of expression, from the “wow culture” to extreme sports. For Armoni, painterly technique is an instrument to create a poetic picture, works open to the viewer’s reading yet remain with the artist’s contained, private, specific moments. Through his lingering gaze, Armoni charges seemingly trivial landscapes with meaning through a visual process, distilling beauty from the mundane. Armoni paints reservoirs, vistas of open landscape and mountains, conscious of numerous precedents.
Armoni’s paintings have a double existence: they carry the memory of historical masterworks as well as the particular moment at which the artist confronts the locale.
Dr. Smadar Sheffi
* First published in Spanish in 1939, the story appeared in book form in The Garden of Forking Paths (1941) and in English in the collection Fictions (1944).