Tsipora Luria: About the Works of Hava Raucher
Hava Raucher: “I work from observation, internally and externally, an ‘inner eye’ as opposed to an ‘outer eye’. The outer eye perceives with a prolonged, steady glance a reality dazzled by a wealth of fleeting duplicate images, in a desperate attempt to create an original image through painting, an image that is not the product of a mechanical lens. A painting that strives to relate the presence of the painted figure and the sense that not only was this person there, in the studio, but he or she is here, present at this very moment before our eyes.
“The internal eye evokes visions from the past. A childhood spent among a multitude of Eastern European immigrants, Holocaust survivors who left Eastern Europe to settle as refugees in the abandoned Jaffa neighborhood of Jabalia. In teeming Arab shacks, unpaved streets and open gutters overflowing with human refuse.
“Jews living in exile from their countries of origin, difficult, disagreeable people, living stressful and crowded lives (one room per family), clinging with all their might – or lack thereof – to their grand European past, with niceties harking back to a different place, with their Shulchan Aruch and their well-set tables1 – fine porcelain crockery, crystal glasses, silver forks and knives and a lace tablecloth, laid out exquisitely above the open Jabalia sewers.
“The encounter with the new Russian immigrants who reached Israel in the 1990’s brought back these childhood visions. A renewed encounter with the same familiar figures - refugees, immigrants, Eastern Europeans. And the women, especially the women, the mothers, just like my own mother. An exile, lost, a stranger, an outsider, desperately clinging on to the language and the culture she has brought with her.
“This encounter gave rise to the series “Testimony” - nine large paintings of nude, matronly women, “larger than life” so to speak, at two meters height, standing facing the spectator, as if they were in the dock, elevated upon lateral fixtures, called upon to bear witness”.
The nudes confront the viewer with a disciplined directness which is at times difficult to bear. Their nudity conveys no sexual connotations; it is, rather, a judgmental, trans-female, trans-erotic nudity. The figures face the spectator like existential icons expressing a fundamental human condition of exposure and vulnerability.
Feminine existence is displayed in its mature stage, the nude body is not presented as a transgression of taboo, of social or “bourgeois” norms. The nudity does not have its roots in an act of voyeurism or erotic manipulation (as opposed to the nudity seen in the advertisements surrounding us on all sides). This is a basic human nudeness, philosophical no less than physical (one can compare it to King Lear’s nudity in his madness scene), and I think it can be described as existential nudity.
These works delineate, therefore, a new chapter in what has so far been said within the framework of feminine discourse, at least in the Israeli art scene. Chava Raucher has managed to take this discourse beyond psychological and visual banalities, to new depths and assertions. It is, as I said, often difficult to counter the impression of this demanding ingenuousness.
The figures presented in the exhibition are new immigrants to Israel. This fact, included in the background information, places “Testimony” [notice the name!] on a social plane as well. Natasha / Nadia / Irena in Eretz Israel are heart-rending human documents of uprooting, immigration and alienataion, but also – through the humane, compassionate treatment and the skillful execution – of empathy.
This exhibition adds another layer to the ever-changing Zionist saga. There is no attempt here at a Romantic statement, or conversely at an ostentatious act of myth-shattering of the sort so fashionable these days, but rather an expression of a rare sort of perception; a direct “I-Thou” sort of glance, empathic, unsentimental, simple and complex at once, imparting a sense of intimacy and distance at one and the same time. The immigrant is shown in all her wretchedness, and nevertheless as a very immediate, powerful presence, sometimes as a kind of “Mother Earth”.
Chava Raucher belongs to the group of realist painters in Israel (which includes Israel Hershberg, Shalom Flash??, Mitch Becker?? and others). These artists held a joint exhibition in 1984 in Rechovot, called “Painting From Nature”, and in 1996 at the Hecht Museum in Haifa. Each has developed according to his or her personal inclinations, but taken together they have raised the option of realism as an issue in the discussion of Israeli art. Raucher does not explore the themes frequently met with in the works of her colleagues (still-lifes of tea kettles and fruit bowls, interiors and so on), she does not turn her disciplined realist eye on neutral pieces of reality. In a very original manner (at least in terms of contemporary norms) she applies this mode to a highly-charged, quivering portion of reality. This reality serves to produce, as we have seen, a multifarious whole. Her works are an Israeli, existential and feminine document, contemporary in its import though classical and aloof in its solemn composition. Whatever perspective we take on these works, we shall discover in them an original stance, a sharp eye and a unique visual ability.
“After the show at ‘Arsuf’ in 1994 I began working on a series of paintings depicting male and female figures in liminal situations defined by lack of clarity, similar to the situation of immigration. Men and women who are neither here nor there, detached from time and place, pretending, like actors on a stage, assuming the role they wish to fulfill.
“The older women are no longer nude, powerless, but rather dressed in semi-transparent nightgowns or negligees, trying to be seductive. Mature, beautiful women, like the movie stars of the past, pathetic at times and at times full of humor and defiance. Women with a foreign, European charm, not yet prepared to surrender the power afforded them by their erstwhile seductive beauty.
“The male figures convey a sense of vulnerability, some of them dressed in female clothing, searching for their sexual identity. These are contrasted with the figure of a youth, dressed up in army attire, dreaming of being a war hero. The figure of the youth Nachshon is different from the others, since it is not cut off from time and place, but rather trying to come to terms with the reality of life after immigration.
“In three paintings executed during the years 1997-98 I look at the young Nachshon like a mother raising her son, observing his growth process through the paintings. Nachshon at fifteen, Nachshon at fifteen and a half, Nachshon at sixteen. Nachshon posing before me with the toys lying in front of him on the table: an army dogtag, a water bottle, a flashlight, a bullet, a compass. Nachshon in khaki pants, a potential soldier, a sign of strength, of control and possession, but also a potential victim”.
“[…] beneath the corporeal, often striking concreteness of her figures […] the artist builds poetic situations dealing with liminality: what, in fact, is the identity of ‘Natasha in the Land of Israel’? Does she belong to this place? Is she cut off from society? And what is the precise sexual identity of Amnon in the portrait bearing this title? The men in Chava Raucher’s drawings impart a sense of frailty and vulnerability, whereas the women are stable, firm and tend towards the monumentality of ‘Mother Earth’ figures. And what happens to space in these works? What is the image and what is its reflection? Windows, apertures, still-lifes, Renaissance-style compositions, mirrors and semi-self-portraits join forces, surprisingly enough in a genre which seems most straightforward and unequivocal, to create a final outcome lush with poetry, mystery and illusion”.
(Tsipora Luria, “Hagaleria Ha’acheret” catalog, January 1997)
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