New Horizons and Yossef Zaritsky

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 associated with the Lyrical Abstract style is Yossef Zaritsky. Not only was he incredibly talented, but he also possessed a charismatic and strong personality that naturally made him the leader of the artistic group. One of his significant influences was the renowned French painter Henry Matisse.

Zaritsky’s paintings can be characterized by their division into multiple sections. Each section features an equal distribution of color density and brush strokes, resulting in a surface that lacks any formal tensions or narrative plot. He begins his color strokes with thin layers, gradually building up to deep, dense, and opaque paint. The paintings exude a sense of dynamism and musicality.

Light plays a crucial role in Zaritsky’s works, as he skillfully creates vibrant contrasts between dark and light areas. These contrasts contribute to the overall visual impact of the paintings. Additionally, the untouched white portions of the canvas add a touch of poetic tenderness to his compositions.


Zaritsky’s abstraction process culminated in a series of 24 paintings named: “Yehiam – Life on the Kibbutz,” created between 1949 and 1951. Following a painting seminar he conducted at Kibbutz Yehiam, Zaritsky returned and drew the kibbutz landscapes. Yehiam had just been established (1949) in Western Galilee. Zaritsky was fascinated by the kibbutz youth spirit and the nature annexation by man. The painting’s color gamut is usually bright and monochromatic, often using shades of green and blue. Houses partially conquer the natural landscape; the green hue indicates the parts that are not. In the series Yehiam, Zaritsky does not describe reality but uses it to create what some consider his best achievement.

The formation of the group had its roots in the assertive nature of a charismatic and opinionated individual who sought control and influence. It is important to note that discerning the absolute truth can be challenging, as narratives often reflect the writer’s perspective rather than the complete story. Nevertheless, the following account, as shared by Yossef Zaritsky, provides an interesting narrative.

After World War II, Italy decided to revive the Venice Biennale, a renowned international art exhibition. Given Zaritsky’s affiliation with the Painters’ Association, he received a call informing him that the Italians were willing to grant Israeli artists representation in the exhibition. They had space for eight painters and one sculptor. However, there was a pressing issue at hand – the ship scheduled to transport the artworks was docked at the port, ready to depart for Italy. Consequently, the selection process had to be expedited.

In response to this urgency, Zaritsky took the initiative. Rather than waiting for the Association’s formal meeting, he gathered a group of painters who shared a common artistic language. Together, they swiftly prepared a prospectus and secured participation in the exhibition in Italy. Remarkably, all of this unfolded just one week before the establishment of the State of Israel.

There was no process of external judgment or dimension of public transparency but a powerful and undemocratic act whose main objective, some say, was self-promotion. When it became known to the rest of the Painters’ Association, they held an assembly and decided to expel Zaritsky. The painters who participated in the exhibition chose not to leave Zaritsky alone and left with him. This group established New Horizons; it included Yehezkel Streichman, Avigdor Stematsky, Marcel Yanko, and Moshe Castel.

New Horizons left a deep mark on Israeli artists’ approach to international art, innovations, and progress. Today, the Israeli artist seems to have taken for granted the need to create a link with worldwide artistic developments. This concept did not exist in Israel before New Horizons.

You may ask why I included photos of my mother visiting an art museum in a blog about New Horizons and Yossef Zaritsky. The answer is multifold, but the bottom line is this: if I have any “Eye” for the arts, it all started with my mother. I have much to say about it, but that’s for another blog.