The Narrative of the Other
Guy Levy shows new works from recent months on his Artist Wall.
In both works, as part of an ongoing investigative process, the artist simultaneously re examines a number of artistic devices: subject, shape, color and composition, reconstructing them so that they charge the painting with new, other significance.
In “The Bathers”, the artist is in dialog with Picasso, examining the feminine harem with a much more limited palette than he usually applies in his paintings, referencing Picasso’s Blue Period. The nude blue women, depicted in theatrical-dramatic poses, seem to leap out of the frame, contrasting with the background tile design and foreground pattern-covered drapes. The pictural elements are in play, concealed and exposed, deconstructed and reconstrued with bold dramatic shadows and highlights all in an undefined space where the most prominent object is the large urn. The painting is in shades of blue which, as opposed to Picasso, symbolizes for the artist the contemporary middle-east locale. A point of reference is that women with middle-eastern facial features carrying urns were common in Israeli art, a colonial positioning of the Other woman, exotic and sexual.
In “Birth of Ofra”, Guy appropriates Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” (1485-6), but instead of Venus emerging from frothy white waves, he has painted an orientally colored woman inspired by the late Israeli singer Ofra Haza. She stands on a Persian carpet accompanied by nymph-women who seem to be crowning her as the “Goddess of Music”. The black nymph to the right is about to cover the singer’s body with a cheap fur-patterned coat, symbolizing the ‘Frekha’, referencing a well-known song by that name (lyrics Assi Dayan) performed by Ofra Haza. (Frekha is derogative Israeli slang for a cheap and vulgar woman, humiliatingly used to describe women of middle-east origin). The light-skinned nymph on the left proffers a bouquet, referencing the song “Come to me Flower Vendor”.
The significance is reversed and Levy exalts and glorifies the reborn middle-eastern woman who is not an object of ridicule; Venus is manifested as Ofra and the artist crowns her “Goddess of Music” escorted by black and white anointers; Levy’s action reverberates Manet’s subversive “Olympia” (1863) where the woman reclining in the classic posture of Titian’s goddess “Venus of Urbino” (1538) is a courtesan and the black woman proffers a bouquet akin to one of her suitors. The dissonance between the two works stirs discomfort in the viewers.
The new Aphrodite is embodied by Ofra Haza, who gained international acclaim for her authentic Yemenite singing combined with contemporary pop rhythms. This is also a reflection of the artist’s face, that of an ‘Other’ in the art field, examining his identity as a contemporary Israeli artist and rebuilding narratives in the local context; re-tuning his strings, criticizing and condemning just as Manet did in 1963 with his Olympia.
In these works, Levy endows new meaning, inserting the narrative of ‘The Other’ into the field of contemporary Israeli art.