Whatever Is Present Is Utterly and Urgently Present, Naomi Aviv, Curator
Seek no tranquility when visiting these desolate and bustling, spectacular and agitated ancient landscapes; nor settle for the serenity that might instill in you what looks like the spread wing of an angel, just landed near a loved one lying on their side as in sleep. It’s as if a horses’ gallop has risen from the paintings, then faded, leaving More behind only a vibrant silence and movement. It’s as if the cubist tiger of the German Franz Marc, of “The Blue Rider” group, has completed its metamorphosis and turned into a craggy, expressionist rock cluster, bordering on geometric abstraction. It’s as if we have found ourselves inside Paul Cezanne’s pre-cubist forest, surrounded by stubborn lines and marks, astonishing in their total lack of coquetry. Perhaps we have been swept into the American abstract action paintings of Willem de Kooning…
This is the story of energetic gestures that produce stone and flesh, life and still life, plasticity and rigidity, depth and relief. This is the story of an encounter between the concrete and the abstract, the historical and the momentary. This is the story of a final struggle between masses, a struggle not lacking in heroism. This is a challenging journey in materials, spaces, heights and lows. A dynamic that is frozen in time, yet encourages you to climb, glide, grasp, linger. This is an indistinct site, yet it is hypnotizing enough to sit you on its lap and satiate you with mountain air. A place for observation.
Visualize the city of Jerusalem as it is imagined by the artist Beverly Barkat from her spacious studio, situated on the city’s outskirts. From the living, real, string-tight here and now, as well as through the passages of time and the rustlings of history; through the expanses of art, processed into pregnant marks or as the ghosts of imaginary forms – the elements comprising her paintings are organized each time into a different, new, surprising construction, generating crossbreeds between structure and poetics, physics and metaphysics.
Beverly Barkat’s series of large charcoal paintings, merging strong lines with anthropomorphic forms, does not immediately disclose the rich interrelations between body and landscape. An ideal point of view from which to observe these studious paintings, offering a classical synthesis between the figurative and the abstract, would be from the top of a ladder, while the paintings are spread out on the floor, lit by a fixed light from a bi-polar source. North and south. She herself seems to paint her tender, dense and powerful gestures while alternately bending over the floor and climbing up a ladder. It is this play of perspectives that endows the paintings with intense yet airy transitions, with a loaded and diligent relationship between sensual-intimate-erotic touches, and an architectonic approach rich with intercrossing lines: here is a forest of thin tree-stumps, stretching diagonally like masts, strewn with sculpted human bodies and oval head shapes. Here are sharp lines, arteries, veins and capillaries that seem to carve their way through rocks and bifurcate into the ground, then struggle to grow upwards again, towards the light and the air.
The appearing and disappearing cracks, the broken prisms and the cubist facades – it is they who build the work as a coherent whole, a work of art that is painting which is also drawing or drawing which is also painting.
The expressive movement, within the tonal and multi-layered harmony, offers surprising depictions of external and internal sites, archeological sites that unearth stones, caves, crevices and elements of an academically sculpted body. All this is done with a combination of wild will and patience, as in a cross between Delacroix and Courbet, between romanticism and realism, which gives away the fact that the point of departure are studio paintings of an Apollonian male nude, insisting on a quick, decisive and very clean execution, so that the impression supplementing the concept would not be lost, and would even manage to impart vividness and freshness in accordance with the artist’s nature and temperament. The landscapes seem to be born out of the perfect body (of the painted model) or of its parts. Our gaze is guided to dance in the light of a dramatic choreography that hovers between a physical, coveting portrayal of the organic body, and a vigorous, sweeping scenic momentum; between lingering in hidden hollows, shadowy armpits and meeting places between different body organs, and lifting off and setting anchor among lofty clefts of rocks, sliding over sharp cliffs, slopes and rugged terrains.
A reading of this series of large paintings (in which three sheets of paper are often combined into one plane) in black and white by Beverly Barkat offers a breathtaking lesson in the possible richness of grays (I counted no less than ten transitions and lovemakings between white and black), weights, measures and the system of balances and tensions connecting the composition with what happens within the space of the painting.
Beverly Barkat’s hands think through matter, while her natural temperament endows matter with movement and metamorphoses. She paints in a skillful combination of natural charcoal and synthetic charcoal, charcoal powder and graphite powder. On paper, Barkat begins with paintings of the model, simplified against the background of the studio environment, including windows, window bars, walls, corners and northern and southern light exposures; everything is drawn into the work and comes into being in it in fundamental and varying quantities, undergoing different levels of placements and abstractions and interactions. With controlled freedom, she lets the body encounter volumes and shadows and elements that are “cooked” in an intuitive flesh (rather than through an observation of nature; that is, the landscape is not a representation of an actual landscape), turning into what seems like a mountain or a tree, a stone or a cloud, a horizon or a sea. Painting, said Baudelaire, is the act of a conjurer, of a magician.
“Painting without drawing is not painting and drawing without painting is not painting. One should know when to insert a drawing into the painting, and when to get out before the painting suffocates”, says Beverly Barkat, explaining the secret of her paintings’ ascent, and thus offering another lesson in technique, which she absorbed during her three years of study with the master Israel Hershberg. She says that she is also indebted to Hershberg for her control of the mysteries of composition and its various formulas, and for the wondrous friction between the edges of her marks; friction that is like explaining one fact by tying it to another.
The master Israel Hershberg has indeed had a hand in distilling and enhancing Beverly Barkat’s talent. However, she probably owes her abundant qualities of sensitivity and imagination, tamed by order and discipline, and her ability to alternate between different orders of matter, form and representation, to the dialectic influence of her parents, Louis and Lorna Sokolovsky. Which still fails to explain her special emergence as an original painter.
The Sokolovskys, who headed the great ceramics school in South Africa, were invited to teach at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem. The family left Johannesburg for Israel in 1976. Beverly was 10. Her father founded the glass design program in Bezalel’s ceramics department, where he worked until recently. He also established the “Sokolovsky Glass” factory, making a name for himself internationally as an abstract glass design artist. Her mother developed a new processing technique for clay and paint, and founded a thriving handmade ceramics factory called “Sokolovsky Ceramics”. She too has seen success in Israel and abroad. Upon finishing her military service, Beverly studied at Bezalel, graduating from the Jewelry department, where she realized her clear penchant for the three dimensional. After graduating, she traveled with her father to the Czech Republic and studied glassblowing. An exhibition of her glass works was held in Holland and the USA, selling out down to the last object. In recent years she has worked voluntarily and in cooperation with educational institutions in Jerusalem with the aim of improving the school atmosphere. In addition she has been involved in the planning, restoration and design of various residential houses. Thus Beverly was given the opportunity to hone new skills in the fields of architecture and interior design and deepen her conception of space. It seems, however, that only the world of painting and plastic art offers a proper mooring for her life as a whole, with all its tendencies, urges, emotions, temperament, influences, education and accumulative experience.
Around five years ago she began studying painting with Hershberg and developing her own unique handwriting, which has taken shape as a fascinating and complex theater of balances. Soon she drew inspiration, for example, from Morandi’s intimate touches and richly- and deeply-hued asceticism; from the breathing and refined encounters between marks and forms in Titian, Michelangelo and Corot; from Francis Bacon’s love for kneaded flesh; from Auerbach’s lust for texture; from Hodgkin’s argumentative linear incisiveness; and from the wavy motions flowing among Poussin’s compositions.
Her dynamic brushstroke and her quick drawing ability were perfected during hours of standing in the farm and looking at horses, and, in parallel, in the studio, in front of a model with the body and flawless gestures of a dancer. The ability to capture the essence of the body and its movement unfettered her imagination and “locked” her general view of the picture as a performative site with an active, developing and assured life of its own, both conscious and sub-conscious; a life-form existing solely in terms of marks and lines; a visual being condensed into tonal content; an artistic conscience that erases the borders between outside and inside, objecthood and heart.
The life of Beverly Barkat’s painting can shower the viewer with the abundance and dynamism of “the world’s inner space”.Less