The World

2008

Kibbutz Gallery

Curator: Yaniv Shapira

When questioned what does he mean by The World, Noam Omer does not specify any special artistic purpose or subject matter, but a number of formal characteristics: "The World is constituted by all the paintings and drawings that I made since I painted The Wolf.  When I finished that painting, I knew that I was about to start a far bigger project than those I had done until then.  It gradually became clear to me that the series would include three groups: forty pictures on charcoal and acrylic, forty on charcoal alone, and forty on acrylic alone." This definition became a fixed structure that helped to frame and organize the creative pressure in which Noam immersed himself.

 

The first part of The World contains forty paintings with a central figure in black against a colored background.  The main figure has a changing relationship to the stormy "other dimension" of the colored background. This section of The World is populated by beings from a personal mythology: monsters, world-creators, amazed onlookers, animals that connect heaven and earth, and creatures that are created and destroyed by the color-storm in which they are caught. 

 

This first part is perhaps best suited to the concept of "a world" - meaning a self-enclosed peculiar reality.  Some of the creatures in "the world" are encircled by waves, vibrations, rhythmic echoes, whirlpools and haloes, which they emanate and into which they are reabsorbed. Others look at their surroundings in amazement, horror, triumph or raptness. Some seem caught in the waves of a whirlpool that threatens to engulf or annihilate them. 

 

The two other parts (a series of forty in charcoal, and another series of forty in acrylic) deal mainly with two subjects: scenes from the world of competitive sports and pictures of fishermen with fishes.  The contorted bodies of the sportsmen figure mental states that transcend the world of sports.  Some look like tragic characters, bearing on their shoulders the burden of existence, titans on the verge of collapse. One of the paintings depicts a suffering player leaning upon his coach, on his way out of the game. Noam comments: "This broken person is supported by another, as in Rodin's  Burghers of Callais."

 

In contrast to the agonizing sportsmen, the fishermen holding their huge fishes depict a world stocked with gratifications. The titan here is not the fisherman but the fish, which the fisherman  carries on his arms, as a grateful offering to a peaceful and bountiful nature. Fishing is Noam's favorite activity.  He also goes out on "fishing expeditions on the internet", searching for fishermen with big catches, who obviously had far more luck than he.  The curator called one of these paintings  "Pieta with Carp". The title suggests a possible link between the sportsmen, crucified in their breaking effort, and the fishermen with their trophies, who seem to be beyond all strife and struggle.

From the black hole to the Midrashah[1]

 

Noam's way to art began with a deep personal crisis, when he collapsed at the end of high-school.  In spite of severe learning disabilities he had set himself the goal of total scholastic success.  He tried to compensate for his handicap by an incredibly strenuous working regime.  However, just as the efforts grew, the achievements dwindled. Noam did graduate, but only with average marks. At the time this signified for him the end of all his dreams.

 

After an extremely difficult couple of years, in which he felt completely unable to undertake any activity whatsoever, Noam started to learn video-editing with the animation artist Shalom Harari. He found out that by defining himself a rigid three-hour working unit, he could keep his negative feelings at bay. He thus introduced into his life a formal principle of organization that structured his effort, proving a stabilizing and motivating force. 

 

He started to draw with the computer, creating video-clips that combined drawings and music.  Noam describes the exact moment when he was for the first time aware of an active interest in painting. He was sketching faces on the computer and suddenly found out that he could change the figure's emotional expression through shading. This started a period of intensive involvement with faces. He drew literally thousands of faces in a variety of mediums.

 

At this time he met with Eti Katz, who was to play a crucial role in his development.  Katz, a specialist in cognitive disabilities, recognized his talent and decided to help him into the Midrashah Art School.  She became his mentor, his chief supporter, his main public, and his chief critic.  She helped him to channel his inner storms into structured productivity. 

 

His meeting with Yair Garbuz, head of the Midrashah, was another formative experience. Garbuz convinced him he was the kind of student that could flourish in the Midrashah. He offered Noam a tailor-made program of studies.  He told him that his door was always open for him.  He ended the meeting by saying: "I think you have no alternative but to become an artist!"

 

The Midrashah was to prove an ideal nursery for Noam.  Eti Yakobi was central among the teachers who helped him. She encouraged him greatly, telling him that his only obligation in her courses would be to bring some new works every week for her and the other students to see. Yehudith Lewin challenged him onto new directions, helping him out of his exclusive reliance on newspaper photographs. He also feels indebted to Marilou Lewin, Nurit David, Nomi Siman-Tov and Doron Rabina.  Rabina also invited him to his first group exhibition outside of the Midrashah. 

 

Noam presented at an internal exhibition at the Midrashah already in his first year.  He was constantly eager to show even if only a small portion of the endless paintings that kept piling up at his place. The first exhibition was made out of faces-faces-faces.  He stuck them not only on the walls but also on the ceiling. At a given moment he thought of placing a mirror on the ground to reflect the faces on the ceiling, so as to underline the face-flood that characterized this period. 

 

During his four years at the Midrashah he exposed in eleven internal exhibitions, seven of which individual ones.  The first time he agreed to have his works subject to open criticism (a stressful ritual at the art school), Noam presented more than a hundred paintings.  The acceptance and support he received at the Midrashah turned the transition into the "real” world into a veritable threat.  How would he manage outside of the nursery?

 

[1] The "Midrashah" is one of Israel's principal art schools.

Lucian Freud

 

Noam sees his himself as a full-time handworker (his day is divided into: 6 hours work with the brush, some hours searching for sources, and some hours studying the work of other artists). He likes "feeling influenced" and absorbing the work of others.   Noam discovered the excitement of art in an exhibition of Lucian Freud at the Tel-Aviv Museum in 1999. On the days and weeks after his visit to the exhibition, Noam would keep looking at the mirror, trying to recognize the skin texture as he had seen in Freud's paintings.  Years later, when he started painting, the skin and all that lies under it continued to intrigue him.  He watched a TV interview with one of Freud's models, who told that Freud did not merely look at the skin but tried to penetrate it with his look.  The model described Freud's way of looking as well-nigh obsessive: "He didn't just look. He peered!"  The word "peer" became for Noam emblematic of a peculiar penetrative look, which does not merely see, but enters and manipulates the skin and the flesh.

Back to "the World"

 

The writer George Perec was afflicted with writer's block after having received a reputable prize for his first book.  He could not write for two and a half years.  He then decided to subject himself to an artificial limitation: He would write a book without the letter "e" (which is the most frequent letter in French).  This limitation set him free. He wrote a book without the letter "e" with a strange plot revolving around a number of mysterious murders and disappearances.  In the end it turns out that the killer is the letter "e".  Each time one of the characters approaches the non-existent letter, he suddenly vanishes. From that time on, Perec would not start to write without imposing upon himself some new draconian limitations. For his masterpiece "Life: a user's manual" Perec defined a whole notebook of self-imposed restrictions, which was published only after his death. 

 

One wonders whether the formalistic rules by which Noam defines his "World" (three series with a predetermined number of pictures, each with a fixed technique) has a similar significance. The tenacity with which he sticks to these rules suggests that they function like so many empty rooms, that he aims to fill with his paintings.

 

Noam speaks of this self-imposed frame, as a program that dictates his work.  However, the apparently strict order seems to unfold during the execution!  Thus he has recently "discovered" that "the World" is to include also forty pictures to be made with pastels!   However, he talks as if he had only stumbled upon another pre-existent rule in his inner notebook. Antoine de Saint-Exupery once wrote: "If tonight I discover something new, it is only because I had long born it within me, like bricks for my hidden building.  I am preparing a feast.  But I cannot talk about the apparition of another spirit within me, except for myself; for I am the one who wakens it inside me."

 

The example of Meir Agassi – painter, writer, poet and collector – comes to mind: an artist that designed for himself a mental space with a variety of compartments to tame and contain his inner life. "The Meir Agassi Museum" is an establishment without walls, existing in his imagination. The museum served to unify his contrasting loves, desires, and inclinations, and harmonize the voices that swarmed inside him. Agassi also felt the need to define beforehand all the compartments in his Museum, and yet allowed them to grow and develop according to the needs of the hour. 

 

Noam carries within him a glut of creative pressure which may become quite frightening.  By the rules he defines or upon which he stumbles, he gives order to this chaos, endowing it with a beginning, a middle and an end.  Maybe he feels the need to define his "World" this soon in his career, because otherwise he fears to get lost.  The structure may also help him to make the transition from the hundreds of paintings with which he flooded his first exhibitions, to the three or four series of forty in the present plan, and then again to the few that the constraints of reality allow him to exhibit at the present event.

 

This text is based on a number of talks between Haim Omer, Noam Omer and Yaniv Shapira 

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