State of Mind
Anne Ben-Or is a painter. Her works stand at the entrance to her south Tel Aviv studio, leaning against the wall with their blind stretchers to the viewer. She takes out the paintings one by one, and gradually the complete picture falls into place.
Anne Ben-Or weaves a dialogue with the space of her studio, with the architecture of her home, and with the outside urban sphere. In the scene portrayed before us, City in a Room (2018), we see two people sitting at a table, their faces hidden. On the wall there is a photo, or perhaps a painting, of the buildings outside the studio – the photo is pasted onto the canvas of the painting. The studio’s latticed window is reflected in the floor, internal and external spaces intermingle.
Ben-Or continues to show me other paintings. In Triptych (2018), a female figure sits in a chair, her arms spread to the sides, one hand leans against a table with still life: a vase, a glass, and a squash. Behind her, on a wall divided into three sections there is a mural: shapes suggestive of trees and buildings, and in the middle – a scene of a young goatling in a meadow.
Anne Ben-Or's works are anchored in a realistic world, however, she does not attempt to depict reality, but rather to convey to the viewer feelings, emotions, and moods that the encounter with the subject of the painting triggers in her. There is no narrative in the painting – there are states of mind.
According to the artist: “Each piece is an attempt not to fall asleep in the obvious but create something that can alter how we look at things around us. For me, the artistic act is the freedom to create boundaries, separations, and rediscover them anew. They are what allows life in general and the artwork in particular. I constantly set out to look at things around me from a different place. Not from a place that knows. I don’t know what flowers are. What a man is. What this place is. We are brought up to identify these things in advance, without really looking. I am trying to make room for everything, to see what is different and what is similar and to communicate how it feels. How do you transport it into the painting? I am not interested in creating a faithful portrayal of reality, I am interested in what happens between us, between me and the canvas, between me and what I see. Observation is crucial, it is what triggers and stimulates my work process. There is no one fixed method. Sometimes I begin with a drawing, sometimes with shapes and colors, sometimes I go back and draw over the colors, erase parts and make alterations, look at the live model, at my own body. I may use photographs, memory, imagination… until something starts working and the painting expresses a truth that lies at the bottom of things and resonates within me.”
Anne paints people, particularly her close family, in their domestic space. One of the recurring motifs in her works is a table surrounded by figures. This is not a meal at the table, this is a gathering of people around a table. Not a singular event, but rather a habitual practice; the gathering of the family, or a group of people sitting at the table. This is not The Last Supper, one of the most famous artworks in the history of art, whose symbolic subject matter was given so many artistic treatments. Here, in Anne Ben-Or’s art, this subject does not stem from the religious realm but rather from the domestic and family sphere. What is this table that brings to the fore the emotions of the artist and draws her to revisit this theme time after time and from all possible angles?
The painted table is close enough to a table we all know to give the impression that we are indeed looking at something that is familiar to us, but at the same time it is new enough to elicit a different feeling towards the object than we expected. As viewers we are asked to step outside of our comfort zone and enter a place in which what we are observing has no definition. But we must not go too far since then we would identify the thing before us by an entirely new name.
The dinning room we are looking at, with the table at its center as the main idea, is in fact the stage on which the artist shares her feelings with the people around the table. Ben-Or examines the figures’ body gestures and the human and social behavior through the basic everyday activity of eating around the table. Food is not the main subject here but a metonym for the relationship between people and gender or other power relations. According to Ben-Or, the table has a central place in life and in the household. It is where significant interactions take place, it connects and protects. It offers a place where one can form a dialogue, share and offer, lean on, it carries a spiritual and psychological significance.
Another motif in her current body of work is the horse. The horse is an archetypical image that on the one hand symbolizes free explosive power and on the other hand – man’s conquest or domestication of that power. One painting, Belgian Horse (2017), depicts a feminine figure (the painter’s daughter) riding a horse. In another painting, Murals, a group of horses appears along a long and narrow horizontal wall, when the repetition of the image of a horse amplifies the image itself. This painting is reminiscent of ancient Greek pottery divided into narrow registers, each densely populated by horses pulling carriages, whose role in the composition was to aggrandize heroic acts and victories. Ben-Or repeats this scheme several times to construct the composition in contrast to a sleeping woman curled up in front of the wall. The disparity between the pose of the woman, whose legs are crossed, and the open legs of the horses, galloping towards an unknown point, establishes dialectics of closed movement versus open movement in the composition. In another painting, Taming (2018), we see a cellist practicing the musical instrument, which is much larger than her, tightening the strings before she starts playing. On the wall behind her, a painted horse turns to look at a rider who tries to tame it while its neck is caught up in the cello’s neck. This situation brings to mind the grand images of horses in cinematic battle scenes, from which Anne Ben-Or isolates a horse that looks like a marionette with its own movements.
Alongside these, we find the painting Puppet Master (2017), which portrays Anne’s daughter as a puppeteer, using the strings to lift the horse’s legs so that it will gallop on her desk. In this painting, the figure of the girl seems to blend into the wall behind her. The horse and its rider enter another scene in a different painting by Ben-Or titled Passé Composé, which depicts a group of people around a table, intently watching a laptop in front of them. In a mural on the left, a scene of horses merges with the peaceful atmosphere of the room. The harmony is underscored by the flow of the curvy lines of the horses’ bodies.
Anne adds: “The horse holds a secret. It is a wild animal that man managed to domesticate but still has a wild element that cannot be conquered. Similarly, in music and painting you also have a wild, primordial element, as well as skills that require practice and training. All the training in the beginning is to achieve the greater freedom later on.”
Anne Ben-Or describes feelings that unfold a spiritual manifesto, which focuses not only on painting but also, and especially, on architectural aspects, murals, the culture of wallpaper covered walls, or stained-glass windows. A reality that surrounded Anne as a young girl.
In another painting, Almond Blossoms, a figure sits in a chair, a vase with almond blossoms at her feet, on the backdrop of a painting of four dancers evocative of Matisse’s 1910 painting The Dance. Another phenomenon in this painting: the wall, the floor, and the vase form one entity, and the perspective disappears, as well as any illusory traces of volume or space, as can be seen in Matisse’s The Red Studio (1911). Ben-Or treats the flatness of the image, the pure abstraction of the line and ornamental pattern, and the color through the spectrum of pastels.
The structure of Ben-Or’s painting is formed by drawing free, somewhat geometric shapes, in the first layer and working them with a palette knife and a brush to create formal cohesion. This cohesion is achieved through the use of subtle monochromes to the point of removing any color conflict and reaching a slightly abstract quality.
The shapes, lines and colors present me with a challenge. More and more I realize that the painting is the result of a dialogue between me and what I see. Exploring the visual realms nourishes the drive to continue the search. The attempt to bring new harmony on the canvas is like praying. For me, the goal of my work is the process of painting itself. When I paint, I try to look at the world as if for the first time. It is the ground on which a different reality is built.
Anne Ben-Or looks head-on at life itself, drawing inspiration and seeing the world through fresh eyes. She chooses to describe it from a place of total freedom and uses a language that turns up the dial of emotional charge. A language that is at times ironic, and at times even naïve in a part-realistic, part-imaginary and magical world.