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By ORA KRAUS

translation by Talia Halkin

 

Ofer Rotem creates drawings that invite sustained observation and provoke an experience of wonder. We seem to be in need of a falcon’s eye in order to observe them, as J.A. Baker put it in his poetic language:  The eyes of a falcon peregrine . . . are larger and heavier than human eyes. . . . The peregrine’s view of the land is like the yachtman’s view of the shore as he sails into the long estuaries. . . . We who are anchored and earth -bound cannot envisage this freedom of the eye. 8 Indeed, Rotem seems to be leading us to experience a new liberty of the eye, to transcend its limitations, to cast a sharp and scrutinizing gaze on a growing number of details in increasingly greater resolution, as if from the perspective of a predatory bird. It is hardly surprising that while observing his work, I found myself noting my observations while typing with my right hand and holding a magnifying glass in my left hand (at Rotem’s solo exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, magnifying glasses were provided in order to examine his works). The world revealed in Rotem’s drawings is infinite, and one can examine them at length, penetrating more and more layers as we attend to the imaginary, wordless story told by the graphite moving across the sheet of paper: grotesque figures reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights (1503/4), a naked, recumbent figure reminiscent of Henri Matisse’s painting Joy of Life (1904/6), nymphs and mythological creatures alongside contemporary, realist figures, and more. These images all percolate beneath the surface of Rotem’s exotic drawings, as if alluding to the life unfolding at the very bottom. The work is wonderfully deep and multilayered, giving rise to the sensation that one more glance will lead to the revelation of an additional image in the Edenic and infernal world conjured up by Rotem. Rotem reveals that each line and patch of graphite in his drawings marks an intuitive internal movement originating in his 10 private world, and that there are different ways to achieve a range of effective forms. He states that “Suggestive forms are flexible and change over time, and can be interpreted in ways that I myself will never see. Since they originate in my mind and my hand, they cannot be more authentic and charged with meaning – at least from my perspective. The realist image gives expression to a poetic, lyrical, expressive and personal statement. The details reflect places within myself that I was able to touch in a specific painting.” Rotem’s work originates in a series of photographs he took in nature, which serve as sketches and as a source of inspiration for manual graphite drawings. The drawings no longer reflect the original photographs, since the gaze, as well as the original, have changed. He distorts shapes and creates variations on the initial forms registered by the camera. The photograph, transformed into a drawing, is thus a reflection of the artist’s inner landscape. This is a private, authentic landscape formed in his unconscious, rather than an existing realist landscape. His works are named after the places captured in the photographs – Hessen, Germany, California, or the Sharon region in Israel. At first glance, the drawing Hessen 2 (2018) features meticulously drawn, realist vegetation, a sort of transparent screen in a style reminiscent of Art Nouveau – an artistic movement that underscored undulating, flowing, organic lines. Upon closer observation, one discovers a world of distorted creatures that are assimilated into the trees, branches, and surrounding plants. The tree trunks appearing in the depth of the pictorial space contain tiny creatures whose nature is difficult to decipher. The elusive images intermingle with one another so that they are difficult to single out, even after they have already been identified. The drawing deludes us with its imaginary imagery and the dense, blurred expanse of details visible on the distant horizon. The drawing Hessen 3 (2018) is less condensed, and underscores the play of light and shade. The treetops in the upper foreground create a window of sorts looking out to a landscape, which grows brighter and hazier on the horizon. The whitest, most brightly illuminated part of the composition 11 is the one least attended to by the artist’s hand, and thus appears less agitated. Hanging from the tangled trees are realistic and imaginary figures. The overall impression is surreal, dreamlike and intriguing. In the left is a lone bench, which appears as a vestige of a missing human figure. The drawing Muir 7 (2017) is named after a nature reserve of sequoia trees in California. At its center is a large illuminated object reminiscent of a snow-covered fir tree or of Santa Claus – the imaginary character associated with Christmas. The illuminated white areas have remained relatively unattended to, and contain fewer details. By contrast, the vegetation, including the white ferns and bushes, is carefully and precisely drawn, as are the pebbles and traces of the stream, which are cast in shadow. The illuminated areas offer glimpses of a hand or foot, a mythological bird, a strange kind of fish and other creatures that have yet to be discovered and will perhaps never be discovered. The quest for an invisible secret or enigma add a dimension of beauty and excitement to Rotem’s works.