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אתר זה לא תומך בגרסאות ישנות של אינטרנט אקספלורר
מומלץ להשתמש בדפדפן גוגל כרום או פיירפוקס מוזילה
(או באינטרנט אקספלורר / edge עדכני)

About Moshe Shek’s Works

By: Doron Bar      

Niches hewn into the walls of a cave in a neatly arranged rhythm, mud granaries, a wrought iron plow, clay tools with pressed-down round handles at their tips, red-lined grids painted on the sides of the vessels, a keystone with rope marks at the mouth of a cistern, stone terraces next to prickly pear bushes, ziomorphic tools and sculptures – these are some of the artist, Moshe Shek’s, objects that symbolize a longing.
The question of the essence of cultural and personal longing is actually the central question of any work of art.
From what longing are you built?
What is the heart’s desire of your cultural world?
What are the precedents that form a receptacle for your works?
What are the artistic forms that you will shape from your longing in the present?

Moshe, known as Juki, longs for everything that is local-culture or Israeli-culture, stretching from Chalcolithic ritual articles from the Mishmar River from the end of the fourth millennium BC, to findings from the early Arab period of the region in which he lives. He consciously moves away from Western art, both from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and from contemporary American and European works. The question is, how Moshe’s art in this domain of longing developed.

Moshe Shek was born in the town of Zamość in Poland in 1936, but his personal and artistic awareness was shaped in the city of Bukhara, Uzbekistan, which lies between the picturesque Surkhandarya and Amudaryo rivers, to which he migrated with his parents when he was a small boy during the War. Uzbekistan is a geographical and cultural crossroads for countries such as India, Iran, Russia and Iraq. This is where the spirit of the Mongolians, Tatars and Muslims, who had conquered the area, soared. They left behind wonderful and unique architectural works from the 14th to the 17th centuries, turning the entire region into a cultural center.

The then adolescent, Moshe, was curious and fascinated by the tradesmen in the city – carpenters, locksmiths, builders, blacksmiths, tanners, etc. This was the first time that he’d seen art in his life, and it accompanied him to the landscape of his third homeland,
Israel, when he arrived there in 1948.

At first Shek lived in Jaffa, and when he became an adult he joined the founders of Kibbutz Beit-Nir, where he lived for more than forty years. The kibbutz is located in the heart of the unique and [history-] laden area of the coastal plain, in the area between Beit Guvrin and the Valley of Elah. Traces of the deserted Arab village culture the landscape surrounding the kibbutz, which consists of low hills and typical mountain vegetation, from the mastic tree to knapweeds and chicory, alongside huge caves hewn into the rock, are clearly evident. Relics of a distant and near past, magnificant and rich findings, have been discovered over the years in archeological excavations in the surrounding mounds – Beit Guvrin, Maresha, Lachish, Tell es-Safi, Jadeidi, etc.

For many years, with curious eyes, Moshe examined the integration of man-made works in the natural hillside landscape: stone terraces with varying functions, either as retaining walls or enclosing walls; Stone mounds, called guards, that overlook the carob and fig and olive trees and vines; cisterns and reservoirs hewn in rock alongside those same enigmatic giant caves; relics of vessels and mud structures along with stoves and ceramic urns – some of which are simple and some decorated; provisional buildings containing iron and stone tools.

Giant, man-made caves revealed rhythms of surprising niches, hewn in the soft rock. Some of which are round and others triangluar and square in shape, arranged in meticulous rows. Apparently, for homing pigeons, but they may have been carved out for unknown ritual purposes. The orderly rhythm on the walls coincides wtih a a rhythmic fingerprint, like the one on the Chalcolithic pottery, which extends to the pottery of Late Arab times, and continues to the sides of Moshe Shek’s clay sculptures, and onto the rhythm of the embossed white circles he created on one wall of the kibbutz houses.
The questions about logic of the formation of the plastic forms typical of this area do not abate.
How was a shape created as it was created?
Why was a specific material selected for it?
What differentiates functional design from spiritual design?

Questions that are supposedly self-evident, that have a decisive influence on his work. His archaeological field of inspiration lies right on the palm of his hand, spanning the vast expanse of land surrounding his kibbutz.
It is revealed to him as a rich ceramic find, starting from the Greek and Hellenistic and Roman times to Byzantine and Arabic and Crusader periods, the one excavated from the belly of the earth and the one which is abundantly scattered on the open surface of the earth, is well-designed and also partially painted. Eventually, the ceramic technique became the heart of his work. He would discover the bronze technique later.

In the early 1960s, after he’d studied with Rudi Lehmann, Moshe created monumental sculptures in his kibbutz Beit Nir, in Givat Haviva and in Kibbutz Ein Hamifratz. Sculptures that are for the most part zoomorphic – a cow, horse, owl, etc. They were made of iron, concrete and wood, and were designed in the spirit of popular cultures, in the spirit of his teacher, Lehmann’s study hall, and in the spirit of sculptors such as Brâncuși and Chadwick, characterized by massive lumps, incorporating rich geometric figures with precise technical ability. Later, he would create
his sculptures using ceramic techniques, with the walls of the statues encasing an inner space and passed through fire of a very high temperature. This technique, which is both old and new, would allow him to find new formal solutions to the questions that preoccupied him. The question of internal and external rhythm, the question of the logic of the design, and the question of his “correct” and appropriate formative identity.

Moshe Shek’s ceramic sculptures look like a hybrid of functional tools with elegant zoomorphic shapes, which for the most part are zoologically unidentifiable. This mixture, with its arbitrary imaginary appearance creates the presence of a formidable rigidity, whose necessity and internal logic is difficult to doubt. The statues, with their tense and grave structure, are created by the natural and visible rhythm created by his fingers pressing down on the material. This rhythm creates a dynamic beat, that highlights the direct and humane process of creating the urn or sculpture, like the chisel imprints left in the marble in Michelangelo’s slave sculptures, or the sculptor’s prints that were left on Brancusi’s wooden sculptures. The spiral process of creating the fringes also adds to the sense of dynamism. A coating of slip (made of minerals and metal oxides), was also added to some of the vessels and sculptures either as semi-transparent surfaces or as drawings with a dedicated line.

The question of the cladding and the painting troubled and disturbed Moshe Shek constantly, even in his sculptures and especially with the many bowls he later created. After all, this question has preoccupied entire cultures, from the sculptures and reliefs of ancient Egypt, up until, for example, the paintings on the urns of the Philistine culture or the Greek and Roman urns, or in the colorful paintings on tribal houses and fabrics in Africa. In his immediate vicinity, he finds great relief in both the preschool children’s paintings and the ceramic findings of the early Arab period. However, every line of color, both on his sculptures and on his bowls, is created with much anguish: about what is needed, what is essential and what is most proper.

They come from the two-dimensional sensory source, but at the same time, they also have to confront the three-dimensional presence of the bowl or sculpture. The tapestry of lines and colors work naturally in his personal experiential abstract field, but there is also a clear echo of the figurative decorations of Greek or South American vessels and of their dynamic character.
Later, Moshe Shek will convert many of the clay sculptures to the bronze technique, that is much more resistant to human and environmental damage, this will be reflected in a change of texture, which is necessary to stretch the shapes in the dung and metal shells, and also in the uniform or variegated patina coating, but the drawings are absent. This conversion, of course, is also laden in spiritual meaning.

In the end, Moshe concentrated on creating bowls, which are both bowls in the literal sense, but are mainly “bowls” with an artistic-conceptual meaning. The tension between the two-dimensional and three-dimensional in the bowls is lower than the tension found in the sculptures, but it is more binding, as it clearly and sharply raises the questions of shape and personal identity. A large group of hundreds of bowls, evolving in a homogeneous presence, which are concurrently multi-faceted, both determines stances and asks questions simultaneously.

The bowls, made by hands pressing the clay, differ from one another, with three legs extending from their base ensuring stability, and a black or brown line drawn around their mouths. Moshe Shek draws lines and dots on them, zigzag lines painted with a paintbrush, create an asymmetrical weave, with a unique internal rhythm, which bestows a feeling of outward continuity. The compositions are partial, with their sense of whole somewhere out there in a much more formal and spiritual space. These systems are both harmonic and non-harmonic at the same time, contrary to accepted compositional structures, they create a unique aesthetic dialectic, radically different even from the ancient Arab culture, which inspired him.

Traces of the difficult transformations that shock today’s social and economic fabric of the kibbutz are also evident in Moshe’s artistic works. It looks as if he seems to be trying to hold on to the object of his longing – the harmonious, balanced and relaxed spirit of the East – the capricious spirit of the West, teeming with existential questions, has penetrated deep into the heart of his work, both in the vigorous and the zigzagged lines and in the provocative and broken compositions. Grudgingly, he was forced to create an interesting and personal synthesis between the two psychological stances of past and present cultures. A kind of hybrid of a tapestry of strenuous and wounded lines versus an enveloped and complete circle.
It also seems to me that Moshe felt that the values of the East could no longer be described as idyllic and complete formal values, despite the morally instructive lesson that he has learned over his many years of observing the logic of their creation.

The artistic-existential questions that Moshe asks in his work, are essentially the same fundamental questions that have always been asked in art, and not just by cultural artists like the Pygmies of Africa, who painted on palm fibers, Aboriginal Australians, who painted on wooden bark, Inuit artists in their northern igloos, who engraved in soft stone, or the mosaic artists in Europe and Asia who built models from small stone surfaces – but also to the same extent by individual artists such as the Europeans – Kley and Brâncuși and like the Americans – Rauschenberg and Jones. These and others, besides having very different styles, still questioned the experiential essence inherent in the rhythm of the line and the stain and space, and anyway, about the personal and collective spiritual identity.

At a time when most artists of Shek’s age drew inspiration from American art, especially pop art and later concep art, while they used every possible variant of “Multimedia” and “Want of Matter”, including photography, video and computer techniques – Shek continued with his obsessive and intimate longing for the work of the early Arab period. He attributes his stubborn, almost idealistic, rejection to a dialogue with the spirit of modern Europe and America, including the new techniques.

For more than four decades, he has continued with the same unidirectional, monostylistic spiritual quality, which he simply called “longing for the Eastern spirit”. But it seems to me that the spirit of his work is far more complex.

It is surely imposible to attribute the romantic spirit that enveloped Reuven, Gutman, Janco, Lehman and the like, to his creations, or the “Canaanite” spirit of Danziger, and not even the ironic spirit of Yair Garbuz, or the political spirit of Tsibi Geva or David Reeb. All of these used the “East” as a reference point for defining their Israeli identity. Moshe Shek does not look to the East from the outside like they do, nor does he use it conceptually. He looks at it forthrightly, in the eyes. Not from a political nor a social perspective or as an asset, but in an attempt to define his own personal and artistic identity, through understanding and inspiration of art that was created in the East, which in itself emerged in the authenticity of the East, as a natural “template of the landscape of his homeland”, obvious to its creators, the ancient ones and those of today. And that’s a huge difference!

It seems to me that it is no coincidence that they forgot about the existence of Moshe Shek’s work in the ambitious “Kadima: The East in Israeli Art” exhibition, which has been running at the Israel Museum. The “East” in that exhibition was essentially very frontal, declarative; at times image-decorative to folkloristic, almost like observing the existence of the East from the outside. Whereas Moshe Shek tries to learn about the East from the inside, as through he is trying to infuse it, vulnerably, like a blood transfusion, directly into his creative veins.

This directness can even become absurd. He tells, for example, of an Arab plow he obtained, one with a single blade designed for a horse. He cleaned it, lubricated it, and dignified it as a statue in his yard. Arab workers from Gaza came to his house and he proudly showed them the plow. The faces of his Arab guests fell and they angrily told him – “This plow – is a symbol of our failure! This is the reason it took so long for the tractor to reach us, and why we are so many years behind!” But even this response did not weaken his spirit, because he remained connected to the question of the deeper principle of the very creation of the forms and the reason for it, which as far as he was concerned, is linked with the early Arab period. Through it, he goes on to ask about the form – about the correct matter and how to work with it, harmony and disharmony, internal-external proportions, location of the color, symmetric and asymmetrical rhythm, etc. – which he considers to be the essential questions of art and, in fact, questions of the definition of life, of formulating feelings and emotions, both for himself and for the world.

Moshes’ works – both in ceramic and bronze castings – are thought provoking and interesting, particularly because of their closed, sphinx and archetypal appearance. They try to give personal answers to basic questions: what is artistic identity, what is authentic, what is relevant, and, on the whole, what is Israeli art.

The totality of his work is one of the interesting art formulas in the country, to connect an individual soul with the core of the place, in a way that could not grow anywhere else in the world. It is in its entirety attentive and stems from the materials of the place and from its human space and thus it is also contemporary. “The Place” and “the East” become necessary components in the essence of this work, and here “the West” is embedded in the “East” beyond recognition, because all of these transcend the unifying merging experience of the “person of the place” personality.