A Bird— Boom!— Falls into the Landscape:

Excerpts from a Conversation with Zvi Lachman


 

• Landscape painting, more than anything, draws out of me something profound that is not just me, that goes beyond me. Through it, I can connect to the world and give it expression. There are many things in the landscape that speak to me: forms, the architecture of space and movement in space. Yet the landscapes I am drawn to are ones shaped by an inner conflict, by conflicting forms and underlying tensions. The colors of the landscape are also significant for me. I am deeply connected to local landscapes. I am drawn to their harsh colors— ochre, brown, yellow and a kind of purple. These colors are related to my “in-ner palette” but also offer a contrast to it.
 

My commitment, in terms of color, is to the colors of my inner world, of my soul, and only then to those of the seemingly objective world outside.
 

The relationship between these two commitments creates a dynamic that involves a constantly changing palette. It’s important for me to engage with landscapes characterized by different colors in order to expand my palette and render it richer and more complex. The struggle between “objective” and subjec-tive color has gradually led, over time, to a synthesis that has enriched my paintings.
 

It took me years to connect to the landscape, to understand that I am a landscape painter. Not every landscape that has impressed me has become a painting. It may at times take years before the desire to paint a landscape matures and comes to fruition. I am not like Turner, who created painterly travelogues. It is very difficult for me to just arrive somewhere and paint it.
 

From the moment such a decision matures and I decide to devote myself to a specific landscape the work takes many months. At first I draw, attempting to understand what I see, to look at things differently, analytically, to achieve a kind of purity. It can take more than a year before the need to express the land-scape in color ripens.
 

• Sometimes you are overcome by a strong emotion as you observe something that appears in the landscape, and you stand facing a presence you cannot really understand. When I painted the sea, I stood there for days and weeks on end, and then one day I felt the movement of the waves, the clouds, the birds and the sand dunes as a manifestation of a single underlying entity and felt that this one thing is contained in every thing. Such moments of observation and insight are special moments that involve a profound emotional experience. You become detached from everything. Suddenly, for several moments, you live within another kind of insight. As if time has stopped, as if things have detached themselves from the continuum of time and suddenly appear in another context. This is a deeply moving moment, entirely unrelated to painting. The painterly act, which is about observation, suddenly becomes a tool for something completely different.
 

Standing before the landscape, you realize you are an entity contained within others. The understand-ing that you are composed of the same elements that make up the larger world enables you to see yourself differently. The act of painting enables you to detach yourself from the world and makes room for an under-standing of your inner self while also offering a connection to what is beyond you.
 

• As I face the painting I feel as if I am ignoring the existence of the world’s open wound. I want to see and feel the inner essence of the painting’s subject, to enable its inner being to emanate through its external form. It’s obvious that my own pain and emotional world participate in this dialogue, but I at-tempt to shift the focus away from them. If they appear implicitly that is part of the interpretation of my work as undertaken by others.
 

• I see the landscape as being composed of various points of view. The connection between them must be created within the work and cannot be planned in advance. The landscape has to envelop you. There is a difference between a landscape composition in which you are supposedly standing within the landscape and one as seen through a window. The structure of the window offers some form of protection: it defines proportions and situates the landscape so that you are at a distance from it. In my work the landscape intrudes upon you and penetrates your space, and in this context you must circumscribe it and determine its proportions. This is not simple: creating a frame is not an objective thing. Painting is not a camera. You are the lens! Your interiority determines what will or will not appear within the space of the canvas.

 

When the composition works, the viewer experiences the landscape as part of himself. It is no longer about him and the landscape as two distinct entities but about a fusion. The alienation between landscape and viewer is done away with. The landscape is that of the observing soul.
 

• To cast the abstract into reality is very important for me. Not in order to escape reality, but not in order to enslave oneself to it, either.
 

• It seems to me that only through working with the object can one reach a dynamic of con-tainment and subsequently create some kind of event. I see in the landscape a sort of play that unfolds before our eyes. It’s clear to me that focusing on specific details is unsatisfactory and involves the risk of losing the object’s place within the general scheme of things.
 

• I would ask whether paying so much attention to the object’s details does not put us at risk of losing track of the melody that accompanies it. When does the devotion to details create a new essence, and when does it preclude the possibility of any kind of life in the painting? I can’t say what this depends upon.
 

For me, the most important thing is to express this melody. The melody is something abstract. You could ask why I insist on figuration if I want to capture a melody. As someone who likes to feel things and sense them, I tend toward the figurative and sensual. It is through the mountains, the sea, the body and so forth that I strive to capture the melody resonating deep within. Most of the time I am not really sure it ex-ists, and yet I try to give it expression. I feel like a hunter attempting to seize the melody and at the same time to release it from within me. This is what I live and work for.
 

• I begin painting with the bottom line, which is decisive. This is a significant decision: how large you will make the floor in the painting, where the bottom line of the landscape will run.
 

This is the second most important decision once you start painting (after deciding on the format of the canvas). In landscape paintings, this is the first decision I take. There is a certain angle I really like, and it has to enter the landscape from a falling position. It’s not as if you’re walking down a paved path towards the landscape, or arriving there in a gentle, carefully modulated way. You fall into the landscape. Where this fall begins and what impact and power it has are related to the decision of where to draw the bottom line.
 

In many of my landscape paintings, there is this sense of my coming to the landscape like a bird, which— boom!—falls right into it. As it falls, the bird begins to look into the landscape, moving and turn-ing— engaging in series of rapid interchanges. It’s an experience like that of taking off from a jumping board; man falls, and as he falls he begins to organize the world. He is not at ease; rather, his life evolves out of this state of chaos.
 

• My mode of observation is active and dynamic, and it is perhaps for this reason that my paintings are restless. What I want to bring to man is not peace but rather the experience of the storm and of struggle, to examine questions that have no answer. Perhaps this is the creative process.
 

For me, painting and creation are a dialogue with the world and with myself. That’s what I’m inter-ested in: this dialogue and the developments that stem from it. This is what I devote my life to, and what fills me. I would liken it to a story about Bonnard. When he was an old man, after his wife’s death, he lived in complete isolation in the south of France (this was during the Second World War, under the Vichy government). There were entire weeks when he had no wood for heating the house or hot water, and there was no one to take care of him. Matisse came from Nice to see him, and tried to convince him to move closer so that he could take care of him. Bonnard refused, saying: “How can I leave when I love this landscape so deeply!”​

© 2013 by MICHAEL KOVNER