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"The Butchers' Dialogue": Igael Tumarkin's homages to artists on view at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art
Igael Turmarkin, Homage to Rembrandt, 1968-9. Bronze and iron.

TEL AVIV.- In the late 1960s, Igael Tumarkin developed an assemblage technique that combines organic and geometric forms. Some of the works created during this period were clearly autobiographical, while others constituted "tributes" to well-known artists, and were accordingly titled "homages." In one preparatory sketch from 1969, the artist drew a set of three memorials designed as geometric frames. Each of the memorials bears an individual serial number and title, and each is a tribute to a different artist: the first is a tribute to Rembrandt, the second a tribute to Chaim Soutine, and the third a tribute to Francis Bacon. The general subject of this sketch, which is inscribed on it in Hebrew, translates as: "The Butchers' Dialogue."

The title "The Butchers' Dialogue," which alludes, with a certain degree of humor, to painters who used the motif of slaughtered animals in their work, makes reference to a vital artistic tradition centered on this subject. The consecutive series of numbers affixed to these "homages" also allude to Bacon's debt to Soutine, and to Soutine's debt to Rembrandt, while giving expression to Tumarkin's deep admiration for these three artists. In a series of conversations about art broadcast on IDF Radio in 1985, Tumarkin spoke with great feeling about Soutine's work, describing him as the most important Jewish artist. According to Tumarkin, Soutine's use of motifs borrowed from Rembrandt in order to express his own torment positioned him as an heir to expressionist artists such as the northern Renaissance painter Matthias Grünewald, Vincent van Gogh, and Bacon. The three memorials in Tumarkin's sketch may thus be understood as an iconographic summary of the "slaughtered ox" motif, and as an implicit reference to the decisive impact of this motif on his work.

These paintings by Rembrandt, Soutine, and Bacon served as Tumarkin's point of departure for the series of sculptural "homages" he created in 1968–1969. In the sculpture Homage to Rembrandt, a vertically positioned hand transforms the composition into a memorial, while the two faces joined to the animal body are vaguely reminiscent of the figures in Rembrandt's Anatomy Lesson (1632)‎. In Homage to Soutine, Tumarkin affixed an iron wheel, which may be interpreted as the wheel of fortune, to a rectangular frame that may allude to Soutine's turns of fortune, and to the fame he acquired only after his death. The position of the hand, which is reminiscent of a road sign, seems to command the viewer to stop and think about Soutine. In Homage to Bacon, the figure of the pope is replaced by a screaming woman – a recurrent tragic motif in Bacon's paintings that is based on Edvard Munch's The Scream (1893). By replacing the pope with a female figure, Tumarkin circumvented Bacon's explicit hints to religious intolerance and expanded the meaning of his work into a general allegory of violence and human barbarity. In Tumarkin's world of images, as in modern art more generally, the slaughtered animal has a double meaning: it functions as an autobiographical allegory for the creative artist's suffering, as well as a symbol for man's inhuman behavior.

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