The Dwek Gallery at Mishkenot Sha'ananim opens a solo exhibition of works by Ilan Baruch

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The Dwek Gallery at Mishkenot Sha'ananim opens a solo exhibition of works by Ilan Baruch
Ilan Baruch, Roofs of Geula Neighborhood, 2020. © Avi Amsalem.

JERUSALEM.- A Painter Facing the Land, a solo exhibition by artist Ilan Baruch, is a celebration of landscape, still life, and portraits. Baruch’s works speak a classic figurative language alongside a contemporary one, and the artist challenges contextual boundaries even in his use of local light and scenery. These seemingly ordinary, commonplace scenes and vistas appear to be decidedly Israeli, yet despite the fact that they were created through observation, an ancient mythological touch is evident in them.

Baruch draws inspiration from the views in the area around him. They include the natural scenery of Jerusalem and the wild fields of Judea and Samaria, near his hometown of Modi’in.

In the urban scenery collection, Rooftops (2020), Baruch revisits the views of his childhood in the Geula neighborhood in Jerusalem, which borders on Mea She’arim. He reexamines the area from the distance of time and from a bird’s-eye perspective, depicting detailed rooftops, red-slated or painted white, leafy treetops (mainly cypress), water tanks, and a slice of clear sky. At first glance, the three paintings seem nearly identical, but a closer examination reveals subtle differences in weather conditions, angles, light, and composition. Baruch’s attention to his direct interaction with the subjects of his work as he paints on site, unassisted by photographs, creates a sense of intimacy. Yet this intimacy is accompanied by distancing, as despite his firsthand knowledge of the neighborhood, its streets, and its homes, he chooses to depict it from above. The viewer’s perspective is elevated, remote and generalized, making it difficult for him to discern the uniqueness of the landscape.

Baruch’s physical and emotional process of observation shifts between inside and outside perspectives. “If I plan ahead,” he confesses, “I am bound to find out nothing. All the things that are outside are ones that I found within.” His journeys in search of subjects produce encounters with Israeli landscapes, sometimes devoid of humans, yet rich in flora and fauna. Sometimes he encounters and interacts with extraordinary people.

Ruins (2015), painted in the abandoned fields on the outskirts of Modi’in near Baruch’s home, depicts an orientalist scene in which two Bedouin, a man and a woman, sit near a fire in the foreground of the painting, against the backdrop of a ruined village. A close examination reveals that the rock beside them bears the colorful marking of the Israel National Trail hiking path. These ruins are the remains of the Palestinian village of Haruva, abandoned in 1948. This knowledge charges the pastoral scenery and seemingly rustic atmosphere with political and historical relevance. Baruch thus portrays a complex reality while removing from it any hint of heroism or “historical grandeur.” Hikers on the Israel Trail draw attention to the absence of the village’s original dwellers.

Other paintings feature Bedouin shepherds (Ziad, 2020), settlers in Judea and Samaria, and newly religious Jews (Yochai, 2020). Each character is painted in his own locale and in the context of his own identity. Their love of the land and their strong connection to it are clear.

Camel (2019) is different from the exhibition’s other oil paintings in its material presence, wood panel surface, size, and uniform black background. At its center is a kneeling camel adorned with a vibrant woven saddle. It appears to be waiting for us, the viewers, to mount it and take it for a short ride. But the camel is a relief made from paint remnants, construction materials, and tools, a symbol of “Arab labor.” Baruch lays down the land atop the wooden surface, and sets himself up as an observer. As the name of the exhibition suggests, he sees himself in his work.

The Dwek Gallery is home to rotating exhibitions of contemporary art. The gallery, which operates in the heart of the Konrad Adenauer Conference Center at Mishkenot Sha'ananim, is open to the public free of charge. The gallery is open seven days a week from 10 am to 8 pm.

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