New Horizons and Yossef Zaritsky: The Israeli version of Lyrical Abstract
A major turning point in Israeli art came about with the formation of the artistic group New Horizons. Interestingly, it happened in 1948, the same year Israel declared its independence. The circumstance of the group’s formation is full of intrigue and drama, but I’ll keep that story for later because it’s more important first to acknowledge and appreciate the essence of the group’s creative force and influence on Israeli art that came ever after.
New Horizons offered a direction, a promise, a door to a new world. Although there was no stylistic or ideological common denominator for all its members’ works, there was a shared desire to avoid an explicit representation of reality. The group was formed when Israeli art’s narrative moved from expressions of the collective Zionist ethos to a person’s individual experience. It reflected the struggle between the “social art” camp and its rivals who advocated “art for art” and the “local” versus the “universalists.”
New Horizons’ principle style is known as Lyrical Abstract. It was an Israeli localized version of the abstract painting style that has long been developed in Europe and the United States. In its Israeli context, Lyrical Abstraction is characterized by exploiting the figurative subject as a starting point and a source of influence. Painters freely dismantled that subject for abstraction purposes, yet it always seems to look as if the figurative subject is at the bottom edge of the painting.
A few art historians think that the style mimics the “Israeli state of mind” of the newly created state. The following concepts can describe it: forget, silence the past, erase, blur, and move on towards the creation of a new Israeli, a modern Jew – the Sabra (the Hebrew name of the Prickly Pear Cactus fruit).
The most prominent artist identified with the Lyrical Abstract style is Yossef Zaritsky. In addition to his artistic talent, he possessed a charismatic and strong personality that made him the group leader. He was influenced by the French painter Henry Matisse. Zaritsky’s paintings are divided into many sections. Each is equal in color density and brush strokes, creating a surface with no formal tensions and no literary plot. His color strokes start with skinny layers of color and end with deep, dense, and opaque paint. The paintings are dynamic and musical. Light has a leading role, which he achieves by creating colorful contrasts of dark and light regions. I get a sense of poetic tenderness from his paintings, especially because of the canvas’s untouched white parts.