TO JAN, FOR HIS 70TH BIRTHDAY
When I completed my studies in New York and returned to Israel, I was hit by culture shock. I had come from the big world and I discovered that I did not know what was going on in the world. I immerse myself in painting and here everything turns around conceptual art. As the artist Shaul Shatz told me: Michael, we're like cobblers. We deal with a profession that no one needs any more. Those were difficult years of searching for me. I did not know exactly what I was looking for but I did know that I was not buying into that nonsense.
One day, when I was going through Jaffa, I entered the Horace Richter gallery. I was met by some of the most beautiful watercolors that I had ever seen. Paintings of women and interiors. The name of the artist was Jan Rauchwerger. Two years later, I saw an exhibition of the same artist in a gallery in Dizengoff Center. This time the subject was ducks. The works were painted with a kind of marvelous baroque kitsch. Until that time, no one had dared (in my humble opinion) to do those kinds of paintings and each one of them had a freshness and beauty belonging to reality but also to the world of childhood and fantasy. I could not resist and wrote a few words in the guestbook. And we've been in contact since then. What is that contact? We'll leave that open for the moment.
I want to say something simple (and I'll develop it more later on). In Jan, I met a painter. It seems banal but it's not simple at all, that concept of a painter, and what his place is in our world. Particularly in Israel. It was an honor for me (through the Bineth Gallery,) to introduce myself to Jan and Lillian, two of the finest painters around. I am always touched by the beauty and complexity of their paintings. But let's get back to Jan. I came across an article on child psychology, which stated that there is a difference between expression and the means of the expression. The means of the expression are what define it and limit the expression, but only within them can we find the meaning of the expression. Expression without a means of expression is meaningless. If we translate the means of expression into artistic language=the language of painting, we will attain the insight that the meaning of the painting is found in the language of the painting. A painting that does not live in its language is meaningless. Jan is a master of knowledge and deep insight into the artistic language. There is criticism of Jan, that he does not make enough of a personal statement. Something is hiding within the language. But with Jan, that is a cultural stance. What does not live in the artistic language is a type of ignorance and crudeness. And the personal expression is significant only if it is connected to the language of the painting. Jan is telling us in his paintings – I am first and foremost a painter. In order to understand me you must be part of an artistic culture. Without that, there is no dialogue between us. The place of the painter is not really understood. We live in a cultural environment in which, on the one hand, there is contemporary and conceptual art and, on the other hand, the realistic art (which spread here in Israel like a contagious disease), each one of them in different ways despoiling the world of painting. There are those who make images (sometimes extremely impressive) full of messages and expression, but with no connection to the artistic language. And there are the realists who make pictures that imitate reality (sometimes at a very high technical level) and they use elements from the artistic language (composition, the relationship between dark and light, etc….) But they are the antithesis of the world of painting.
A painting is not a technical thing nor is it a political placard. Around the world, and not just here, there are few painters. Jan is one of the finest to be found. His entire world is painting. For me, Bonnard and Titian, for example, are painters whose artistic world is full of love and enormous knowledge of the thing called painting. There are painters (and they are perhaps the greatest) whose artistic world also conceals a deep and complex world of contemplation. I will note only a few of them. Cézanne, Rembrandt, Poussin, Matisse, and others. In Jan, there is the painter and the thinker and that is what is so unique about him. Jan came to my exhibition in Beer Sheba (by bus). In our discussion about the exhibition, he said that the paintings are beautiful but there is no poetry here. He looked as though he was not sure that I understood his intention. But I understood only too well. It seems to me that a painting that has no poetry is not a painting either and that is perhaps true of any work of art. Art is a living, breathing thing, its beating heart is the poetry that lives within it. Without the poetry, the work is a dead thing. Jan's paintings are mostly like poems that compel the viewer to put his heart in the intimate space of the soul, in the place from which poetry blossoms.
I would like to talk about Jan as a teacher, but there is no time and it would be a shame to give it short shrift. But it's impossible to say nothing. Jan is a type of master, and a master must be a teacher. Jan knows. If someone feels that there is a negative note then no – to the contrary. Jan is a well-known artist. It is very important to meet someone who has worked and researched for many years and he has accumulated knowledge that becomes a complete unit that says: I know. From that moment, the person is obligated to inform, i.e., to pass that knowledge on. It's a kind of mission in the world. Thanks to Jan for coming to our world and touching it and planting in those who were prepared to listen the seeds from his world, with which they can make their own artistic worlds blossom. Jan also has those who will continue on his path, but they are not absolute and I don't think that any of them has really tried to take up that mission. It is difficult and perhaps it will require more than one generation for such a student to arise and turn it into an orderly doctrine, but whether it will be possible to do so without writing it down, I don't know. For me, Jan is like a desert oasis. When my soul is fraught with a spiritual drought, it is good for me to come to see his paintings and to talk with him and to carry within me the very special resonance that Jan carries in the world. Jan is the clear eyed lover of the world.
Finally, I have a request. It may not be right to say this at this time but perhaps it should be said precisely here. It is said that we are given nuts when we no longer have any teeth. In other words, old painters do not have the strength to create the paintings that they would like to make. But the best painting is always ahead of us. Even at death's door, it is a possibility. In our later years, we already know a great deal but we believe less, we are less naïve, and that is the awful thing.
There are painters who, at the end of their lives, have created delicate paintings full of softness out of their acceptance of what they cannot achieve, and there are those (like Monet, Rembrandt, Cézanne, Matisse) who, with the last of their strength, attempted to touch the totality, out of the knowledge and belief that only they are capable of accomplishing that and if not now – when? Jan, it seems to me that you still have the strength to try. The worst that can happen is that it might fail.
And in the end, something from me to you. With regard to the experience of painting and the desire to penetrate beyond the outer layer of ice, beyond the aesthetics and the language of the painting (to which I ascribe great importance), there is the power of the experience, which is the only one that can break through the barriers of time. And what is the foundation of that experience, if not the desire to touch life, to create, to love, and that is what accounts for the significance of the content of life's connections. Old age and clear vision weaken us against the heart's desire to break through the state of being via the experience. Do not surrender to that weakness. For the grace of creativity we sometimes need a type of poetry that is a kind of prayer. I dedicate these poems to you:
Things I said for Jan Rauchwerger 70th birthday