What drivesa person to paint the same portrait over and over again, tens of times, with compulsive repetition, intensively and restlessly?
“It’s impossible to fully extract a personality in one painting” – Igal Vardi contends – “Each painting imparts only one angle, one facet, therefore it’s impossible to paint a portrait of the soul in one painting”.
Over a number of months Vardi immersed himself into an ongoing “trip” around Bialik’s portrait and personality, and for one who is engaged not only in art, but also in psychology and graphology, he endeavored to penetrate Bialik’s soul by all the means at his disposal.
The first stage was a kind of hypnotic trance of free drawing, virtually automatist, using a number of small black and white photographs of Bialik published years ago in books and literary journals (Moznayim, No. 77 etc). These are the well-known photos: Bialik frontal view, a three quarter angle or in profile, with or without spectacles, directing a penetrating look or observing in a ponderous mood, his hand supporting his chin.
A few not unusual and colorless photographs produced a complete world of experiences and personal feelings, which Igal Vardi creates out of himself. The observationof theold photographs acted as a kind of primary stimulus, which caused a gushing flow of drawn lines, paint blots, spreading, erasing,scratches and scribbling, like a jazz musician improvising around a recurring musical motif. In most cases this is a kind of “action painting” (Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock style), and the process is stormy, even aggressive: dynamic paint smears cast on the paper by force, inserting a thick pencil into paper dampened through the acrylic even tearing it, energetic shadowing erasing,engraving and scratching the face.
What drives Igal Vardi “to storm” Bialik’s portrait with such force? The urge to decipher it? The desire to identify with it? The need to express emotions of his own? Apparently all the answers are correct.
The illusive structure of a stormy soul concealed underneath a bourgeois and solid front is, probably a feature both of them share in common; As Vardi admits, he has always been attracted to the sinister, heavy and the painful side of art (Caravaggio, Francis Bacon), and inmany of Bialik’s poems he found this aspect as well.
It suffices to browse briefly among Bialik’s poems in order to come across an extensiveseries of sinister expressions such as: “underbelly of the underworld”. “Time of darkness and black”, “in a dark rock’s creviceand in the blackness of earth hole”, “in the country of heavy gloom in darkness I shallwalk”, “shadows of chaos”, “exile dark as a chasm”, “between straits of the underworld and distress of hell”, “darkness, black, silence, shade etc” and more and more. The shadows often appear unceasingly in his poems, for example (out of “secrets of the night”):
“And like shadow upon shadow, and like shadow from withinshadow,
Silent images/mute forms will float in the depth of the night”.
But prior to going back to reading the poems, Igal Vardi decided to connect up with Bialik through his profile, and to undertake a kind of “face reading” – a subject which has absorbed his interest from an early age. Reading a face is actually tearing a face, as if he is endeavoring to rip away Bialik’s face mask and penetrate his soul, while immersing and welding his own soul into it.
Some of the works have a tormented, morbid, tense, almost demonic quality, others have been executed chaotically, frantically, nervously and restlessly, and a few inspire a more passive and melancholy ambience of heavy withdrawal inwards. Many are composed of a number of color layers and create a thick and crowded material surface, and a few produce an airy and breathing effect, leaving a breathing space and light expanse. However, in the main, there is more shadow than light, and although he wasn’t aware of it while painting, observing in retrospect, Igal Vardi also discusses the shadow in the Jungian meaning of the concept: the shadow as a collective sub-conscious archetype, presenting the psychological chaos and dark instincts concealed in the depths of the soul. Furthermore, Vardi also mentions the dark side’s power to submit to transformation and become creative growth. That’s what happened in Bialik’s works, and this is what emerges in Igal Vardi’s works.
In two portrait paintings (portraits 6, 7) Bialik’s face is covered in paint smears and in aggressive sloping pencil shading: Unkempt and concealed faces, creating a disturbing sense of choking and deletion. For a moment I recall Rauschenberg’s “Erased de Kooning” – 1953, but Vardi does not refer to a conceptual act of erasure, but to a completely emotional action, to getting in associating with Bialik’s distress and inner anger and giving same a direct and expressive manner. In both these paintings, the gloomy and scratched profile is encompassed by unusually warm background colors – stark yellowand burning orange – creating a powerful contrast between light and shade, and simultaneously acting as an evoking, aggravating and stinging force empowering the pictorial expression.
Following the spontaneous and impulsive stage of the work, Vardi has tried to decipher and comprehend Bialik’s mental construct bystudying his handwriting from assorted periods and diverse situations as well. In the context of the psycho-graphological analysis, he has found that thenational poet’s enigmatic image holdswide gaps between his appearance and his external behavior and between a complex, intertwined interior, replete with tension and paradox. In his book “The Wisdom of the Soul to Heal itself – Personality and Psychopathology” Vardi defines graphology as an “attempt to interpret fabrications of writing and through them to expose fabrications of the soul” and this is precisely what his graphological analysis doesfor Bialik’s handwriting. Like an archaeologist he exposes various strata of Bialik’s personality and endeavors to view them as components of one soul totality.
Vardi diagnosed Bialik as having four personality strata: the first is a stratum replete with anger and distress of a man struck by fate (“my father – bitter exile, my mother – black poverty” from the poem “Lonesome Star”). The second one is an endeavor to design a stable, harmonic, organized, lawful and secure reality by means of social conformism. In the third stratum a fermentation of instincts, emotions and Dionysian anarchy occurs. The fourth stratum is rational, investigative, and examines the reality objectively and critically.
From among the four of the soul’s strata, two are emotional and introverted and two are rational and directed outwards – to the environment which Bialik had to contend with. The conflict between the poet’s internal sensitive ego and the family, social, cultural, moral and religious demands, created a harsh mental entanglement, which Igal Vardi depicts thus: “Bialik lives, and works experiencing both split and union between the light and the shadow within him”, and the light and the shadow will be discussed further later on.
Works in the exhibition shouldn’t, however, be considered as illustrations for those four strata of the soul, for his art is not an analytic, systematic, and scholarly research, but rather an adventurous and uninhibited journey to the depths of the soul: Bialik’s soul, Igal Vardi’s soul, anyone’s soul.
Igal Vardi’s style at this exhibition moves between bursts of expressionistic expression and “automatic writing” in the style of Dada and surrealism. In other works of his, one can see additional stylish references, such as cubism and geometrical or amorphous abstract. This arises from the urge to research, experiment, expand and examine options and unroll meanings. This can be viewed as a post-modernistic impulse, but with Vardi it also connects up with Zen-Buddhism, a philosophy which he often reads and studies, and which has become a significant component in his personal perception.
In one of the books mentioned by Igal Vardi in a conversation – “Zen in Art of Archery” (by Eugen Herrigel) – I came across a section on the art of painting, which recalls to a great degree the creation of this exhibition: “the peak of perfection in the art of painting is attained when thehand skilled in the technique acts at the moment the spirit begins to design that which is floating in front of its eyes, and there is no time gap between the actions of the hand and the spirit."The painting becomes spontaneous writing” (pg 69). On the one hand, it is surprising to find in the book which deals entirely with Zen, an expression so close to “automatic writing” known to us through the avant-garde movements of western culture, and on the other hand, it’s only natural that the free, flowing, incessant spirit of the East, infinite, avoiding the absolute,the decisive, and the unambiguous, would meet with the skeptical spirit of Dada which aspires to get free from any burdens of tradition, conventions, order, legality and logic,giving priority tothat “chance hand”, free from any message or meaning.
The open consciousness on the one hand, and the liberated hand on the other, has enabled Igal Vardi this profound journey into the depths of the soul, which he reveals here for us to see.