By Hagai Segev
Artists’ House Jerusalem, 2012
The primordial energies that surges forth from Isaacs’ drawings threaten the picturesque existence in what may appear to be violence, but also no less than compassion and humaneness. He chisels and gashes the paper, forms black or grey lines and shades, which wreak havoc on the perfect whiteness of the white and blank paper.
Isaacs’ tone is immediate, eliciting human compassion and fostering creativity. As the observer cannot identify the essence of the image in advance, and seeing as the result is also not conclusive or definitive in its deciphering potential, we remain with a complete set of questions and contemplations. The artistic discourse returns to the same indistinct, almost surrealistic realms and gestures, which encourage spectators to rely on their own instincts, and ponder and decipher what they see with their very own eyes.
Despite the foggy haze, it is clear that these drawings deal with the interaction between living on the edge and the ever-present fear of death. The childishness bursting forth, reminiscent of the uncontrollable art-brut, also exerts an influence. This outburst of wildness, which at times appears to be calculated, or preprogrammed, which sometimes appears to be unruly, represents Isaacs’ unique attitude toward the rules of art. He takes the rules with which he is well familiar, and bends them at once.
Several of the drawings offer interminable scenes and landscapes; others display intangible concrete shapes of architectural structures, or even of machines or all sorts of mechanical devices.
The complex relationship that is formed between the devices and the expanses in which they appear create a fascinating tension consisting of vague-surrealistic scenarios. These spaces may even be compared to those crafted by artists the likes of Max Ernst or Joan Miro.
Later on, the small sketches underwent a process of expansion and enlargement on large sheets of paper. The transformation accentuated and reinforced the emotional impact generated from the sketches. The gentle and enigmatic presence expanded and was transformed into a strong presence, albeit pervaded by tenderness. The transitions and connections between the varying types of drawings on sheets create tension between strong and gentle, dramatic and low-key, and one who carves and one who caresses the paper.
The drawings that appear on the paper are daily gestures that pass from cognition directly to the paper via the hand and the felt-tipped pen. There is no truth and there is no lie, there is no gap between the desired destination and current reality: there is a given situation; there is an existence consisting of shapes which the spectator is invited to observe and feel the powerful impulses, desires and emotions which had given rise to their formation upon the paper. These are indeed the most intimate impulses and desires, and a real challenge lies in their transcription and formulation for the spectator viewing them for the very first time.
These contrasts enable him to touch upon the point of intersection between death and life, the points of contact and separation between which are unknown, only a hair’s breadth away from recognition and comprehension – just around the corner. These drawings were designed first and foremost to stimulate Isaacs himself. During this process they succeed in evoking intense emotions even among spectators, and therein lies both their strength and accomplishment.
Curator: Hagai Segev
Tel Aviv Artists’ House, 2008
“In the technological world, my means of expression are limited. I work from within this limitation: I work on an image, and then cover it up. I don’t want to leave a familiar image on the surface. I want it to be seen, but not fully understood, so that an element will remain open rather than fixed in the mind. This is my way to stay alive, to adhere to the boundaries of freedom,” says Isaacs.
Isaac’s drawings present an intuitive physical meeting of raw, almost unprocessed materials. These present an alleged contradiction with the common conception of drawing as the most delicate medium of art. The lines reveal simultaneously references to space, various realities, and create layers upon layers, time period over time period. Each of these layers is evidence of a momentary urge, representing the inner feelings of the artist’s body in free-flowing movement. These feelings cross over unfiltered, leaving the spirit’s mark in the material.
The use of the etching technique is like a license to loose ones self-control. Etching in the raw, moist paint makes the definitive control of the drawing line more difficult. Etching requires a reduction of possibilities on the one hand, and an expansion of the range of freedom and unconventionality, on the other hand. In this way, signs are created, and these serve as clues, and nothing more, of something else, which could not have been expressed, or rather, which did not fulfill its full potential earlier. The openness gives the viewer more freedom in choosing his experience or interpretation of the works.
By Dror Burstein
Exhibition at the Tel Aviv Artists’ House, 2008
When Maurice Blanchot (in his essay, “The Birth of Art”) stands before the Lascaux cave paintings, he thinks to himself that the most surprising thing about these paintings is the fact that they prove that art can constantly change, and constantly renew itself, but can never improve.Lascaux, Blanchot writes, is both a very ancient place (15,000BC, according to conservative estimates) and “modern art”: it is powerful today, even though the world in which it has been created is incredibly different from ours. It is not archaic – in fact, for us, it is less “archaic”, and closer, than the classical art of Greece.
Time flows differently in these caves, and Blanchot suddenly understands that the Lascaux is just one link in the history of art, which has started much earlier; that what we consider to be the “birth moment” of art, is in fact only a relatively late stage in the history of painting, which has started thousands of years before Lascaux. Indeed, there are also Australian cave paintings dated around 75,000BC. The moment of birth keeps going back into the darkness of the prehistoric past, while in Israeli art, paintings from fifty years ago are considered “outdated”.
John Berger, in another article on cave paintings (in his book The Shape of a Pocket) differentiates between the western perspective, dealing with distance, and the nomad perspective, dealing with coexistence, or mutual existence. These cave paintings do not have anything in them that is similar to the stage of the theater, as in so many of our paintings. There is no perspective in the common sense as in these paintings there are no doors or windows, the urban elements from which perspective originated. The lack of a window means there is no distance. This is not observation or viewing of an object, wrote Zbigniew Herbert on Lascaux (in Barbarian in the Garden), but the capturing of something that is alive, like a hunter.
David Isaacs echoes this distant tradition. The flattening of forms on the surface and the act of engraving create a feeling that is similar to what Berger talks about: not theater, not a play, no distance, but rather simultaneity, coexistence of things in the painted world. At the same time, he does not paint from the caves, of course, but from a post-modern reality, which is characterized by different noises, by a different density of images, and by allover-ness. The combination of that primitiveness and the frantic visuals of the current language of the media, characterized by a dynamic stacking of images, can explain the language of these paintings.
Viewing these paintings can be frustrating, as we face a puzzle which is not easy to solve. This is in a way like the verbal game, a word search puzzle found in crossword books: a structure of letters, in which one needs to find a meaning. This is the same in this case. But unlike the game of word search, here the words to be marked are for the most part words for a forgotten language, words which you do not recognize, and which probably no-one recognizes (including the artist). Here and there is something which seems familiar: a human figure, a plant, a ship… and still you face it like a speaker of some forgotten language: you are sure he speaks in some language, that behind the sounds he is producing there is some syntax, some vocabulary. Here and there you catch a familiar word, and this is enough to convince you of the existence of a language, a system. You can look at this differently: you look, in a museum of archeology, at a fossil. You can not ascertain what kind of animal it was, but the existence of the fossil is clear evidence to the existence of an entire world of flora and fauna. Some of these fossilized qualities are found in Isaacs’ crispy color texture. The etched shapes can be understood as signs left by creatures passing for a moment, then disappearing. Were all of these, all the shapes, “there” at the same time? Or are we looking at different strata, different worlds which were joined and spread over one square over time? Like in the caves, looking at “art” and “archeology” becomes the same.
But what is the fundamental meaning of these works? What hides behind the collection of lines, cuts, partial suggestions? After all, behind these “caves” is one person, one artist. What is his place in this complex world? I return to Maurice Blanchot’s article. In it, an answer is offered: like in theLascauxpainting which Blanchot writes about, in Isaac’s works, the human figure also appears at the margins of the paintings, and is not the center of the whole. InLascaux, too, his status is not clear: is this person alive? Dead? Dreaming? And like inLascaux, you can understand this act of painting as one in which you remove yourself in order to discover yourself. Like in Blanchot’sLascaux, is this image, more than anything else, the artist’s signature, a statement of existence at the heart of his visual world – a part of him, not his owner?
Dror Burstein is an author and curator active in Tel Aviv and teaches at the Tel Aviv University
Curator: Irena Gordon
Dwek Gallery, Mishkenot Sh’ananim, 2009
Daily reality is constantly and hectically drawn and engraved in layers of color, on hand-made paper, on plywood, in floor-mats and in iron-wires. David Isaacs’ works echo the sounds of wars and natural disasters, the cries of pain and anxiety, the feel of loneliness and helplessness. Simultaneously, they express a search for the spiritual dimension that exists in all things – a search for the possibility of touching beyond the here and now of the human condition.
Isaacs’ paintings and sculptures from the last four years, presented in this exhibition, reflect a continuous confrontation with the artist’s ability to deal with suffering and compassion through the materials of art and its signs. Through a linear painting that oscillates between the abstract and the figurative and through a sculpture-drawing that exists between the three and the two-dimensional, Isaacs creates a visual language that brings together the naïve with the conceptual. It is a language that constantly reacts to the world and to its happenings.
David Isaacs, Mute Map, Yair Gallery, Tel Aviv
Uzi Tzur, Haaretz, 28 February, 2013
Despite the big differences between Lihi Turjeman’s monumental-like pieces and Isaacs’ intimate pieces in his current “Mute Map” exhibition at Yair Gallery in Tel Aviv, they share a common spirit: an attempt to retain and revive some primeval existence thru personal and contemporary language.
In several works Isaacs reverts to prehistoric cave drawings, stripping them of figurative meaning while retaining their essence of primal energy and beauty. In other pieces, it’s as if Isaacs captured tree resins congealed into amber creating primordial life forms akin to Paul Klee’s unique language.
Others look like tile blocks on the streets of Italy’s Capitolina where Roman soldiers with their swords engraved games as relief from boredom in far away provinces.
Others look like fossils whose illusory forms were engraved in stones now evaporated from the sea’s bottom.
In one exceptional, and maybe the most beautiful piece, Isaacs paints with semi-transparent colors on linen evoking sacred Middle Age shrouds: enigmatic, undecipherable, remnants of holy rites and rituals whose meanings have been lost, but their colored transparency on thick white fleshy material, surrounded by a fluid-like aura, like body secretions—are enticing and beautiful beyond words.
Isaacs’ pieces assimilate the tension between object and painting. Two-dimensional diggings into flesh, tensions between scratch-wounds, drawn lines and stains accompany and complete each other.
The techniques are mixed: scratching on hand-made paper, hardened floor rags covered with layers of paint. Most of Isaacs’ pieces convey the vulnerability of healing scars, elevating them beyond the minor mode.