“Architectural Elements” - Statement
First, a little background. This work is the result of a twenty year collaboration between my wife and myself. We collaborate under our combined name of Bezalel-Levy. The proposed exhibition includes both paintings and black and white photographs of Arabic and Islamic (Ottoman and Mamaluk) architecture as well as remnants of classical architecture in Israel.. We have used the word “elements” because this work is not intended to be comprehensive, that would require an encyclopedic body of work. Our approach is meant to be more evocative and appreciative.
The work began in the early 1990's after I (Chaim) was drafted into the Israeli army at age 40. One day I volunteered to serve as melave neshek to the water truck serving various army bases throughout the West Bank. As I watched from the truck, I saw another civilization, one that I was not familiar with. When I returned home to Ashkelon, I began to notice structures in the landscape, amongst the orange groves, in the old section of town (formerly Majdal), on the road to Tel Aviv, in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Some of these structures were intact, but many were not, some were only facades. I began to document these structures with my camera as I traveled around the country on business for our small publishing company. Several of the structures, especially some of the more humble ones, no longer exist. After assembling a small archive of images, my wife, Yonnah, and I developed a new way of combining my photography with her painting. I would enlarge them in black and white onto large sheets of the highest quality rice paper, using commercial photocopy machines and she would paint and draw directly over the image. In this way we combined the documentary and plastic (fine) arts. In later years our technique developed with technology for the photographic part, but we feel that the early works convey some of the contrast and grain which are natural to this subject.
Israel, as everyone knows, is built in layers, one on top of the other. For example, the hammam in Acco is thought to have been built atop an older hammam. Synagogues, churches, and mosques have occupied the same locations. In Ashkelon, fallen columns from one conquest were used horizontally to fill in a wall. With the passage of time, what was constructed in ancient times is often buried, what was constructed in the Classical period is no longer intact but exists in ruins, yet what was built during the long period of Islamic rule can often be seen intact. This creates two typical reactions, either romanticizing it (as in so many graphic depictions of Jerusalem as an outline of domes and minarets) or taking it for granted. A third reaction was what the city of Tel Aviv did by creating a Bauhaus city of straight lines to differentiate itself from the Middle Eastern geometry of curves.
One aspect of this subject we have studiously avoided, and that is the political angle. Architecture has always been tied to politics. Jerusalem's building code requires the use of limestone facing, as restriction that began under the British Mandate.. Researching the history of some of these sites, I have run into websites with definite political objectives, on both sides. Our goal is not political, but artistic. The function of art, if there is one, is to foster a respect for beauty, wherever we find it.
Chaim Bezalel and Yonnah Ben Levy