TEL AVIV. Almost hidden from the public eye, the potter Irit Abba (born 1953) has been creating for three decades. A graduate of the Bezalel Department of Ceramic Design, she has been teaching there since the mid-1980s. Her work has internalized a wide-reaching pottery culture from the ancient pottery of China and Persia to the modern esthetic discourse formed in Britain and the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. Since 2001 Abba has been perfecting porcelain work on the pottery wheel with virtuosity, testing the boundaries of matter. During the past decade, in the movement between the raw and the refined, Abba has begun realizing a fantasy of contravening prohibitions, breaching the canonical Do and Do Not Do standards of pottery.
The exhibition lays out two bodies of work, seemingly distant, that embody a transformative process undergone by Abba in the past decade, from a classical potter to a one seeking her way through porcelain. Abba has participated in many solo and group exhibitions since the 1980s in galleries and museums in Israel
The arena of representation, which was governed in the 70s and 80s by ceramic sculptors and was this closed to potters, strove for personal themes with a vernacular appearance. Peter Voulkos legacy, which successfully combined the innovative means of expression of Abstract Expressionism and Leach-like basic elements of European classic pottery, was rejected in Israel for fear of the sweeping myths, which, as Saul Friedlander wrote, may rise up to the surface at any moment and spread like a blazing fire or like flood water that suddenly fills up the dry canyons and gushes over the plains, sweeping everything along its way. The modernist option offered by Lucie Rie or Hans Coper in England was not taken up in Israel for the same reason.
Irit Abba grew in this habitat, offered by 1970s Bezalel. And yet during her Bezalel years she was influenced primarily by potters such as David Cohen, a guest-lecturer who presented Bezalel students with the Zen version of the Leach school.
Like generations of potters around the world, Abba was exposed in her own way to the legacy of Bernard Leach (Hong Kong, 1887-England, 1979) a potter and thinker who shaped the status of pottery in the 1930s and 40s, giving presence in the West to Chinese and Japanese aesthetics. Having lived for a decade in Japan and a couple of years in China, Leach established in the 1930s a studio in St. Ives, Cornwall, which attracted many potters, among them the Japanese Shoji Hamada and the British Michael Cardew, who set up the foundation for a practice of studio pottery based on an affinity between East and West. By the end of the 1960s terms such as Vernacular, Archaism, or Primitivism became part of the pottery lexicon.