Israeli artist comments on Israeli politics and on life in Israel’s largest city in a way that makes you smile and wish you were there
They say that first impressions count and the first impression I got when I saw my first Ilan Star drawing was that of good nature. It was surprising even at first, when all I knew about the artist was that he was Israeli, because Israelis are not known for their good-natured exterior. It was even more surprising when I learned that Ilan used to be a player in the hyper-competitive computer business in one of the most competitive cities in the world, Tel-Aviv.
This impression was even more startling, because the drawings that I was asked to review for the upcoming exhibition are, or could be thought of, as political caricatures. I write for a living about the cutthroat worlds of American and Israeli politics and I don’t have to educate my readers about the vicious nature of modern political discourse.
In fact, when I was asked to write an introduction to this exhibition of political caricatures, I immediately cringed. My mental armor was in full readiness before I had even opened the first file and saw the first drawing. I was ready to go to war against the artist, sword in hand, ready to be assaulted by his political views, which would more likely than not be far from mine.
I was also almost equally ready to be nauseated by a caricature that was too close to my own political stance. Like asking for a Greek coffee with medium sugar, but getting one with a full load, I was expecting something too sweet, too much in agreement with me, not sufficiently challenging. In short, I was ready to be appalled or disgusted, or both.
Instead, what I saw was a take on politics and political events that was sophisticated, perhaps a bit aloof. The French word for “smile” is literally “under-laugh”. This is what I felt the artist to be doing when drawing these pictures, under-laughing, painting with an expression of amusement, from a stance of being simultaneously on the inside and the outside of his subject matter.
“Politics is the art of the absurd”, Ilan seems to be telling us, “we would be fools to take it too seriously.” There is humanity in the politicians that Ilan draws and that is why I hesitate to call these drawings “caricatures”. Caricatures tend to dehumanize their subjects, but that is not what Ilan’s art does. Quite on the contrary, it re-humanizes them after their humanity has been drained by the harsh limelight these people so willingly subject themselves to.
Glancing through Ilan’s non-political art on his website, one cannot help but feel that this stance of bemused observation, a study of the subject by at the same time someone who knows it very well and someone who sees it for the first time, at once a player and a non-player, is the one common motif that applies to the totality of Ilan’s body of work.
He comments, unflinchingly, on the harsh reality, the full frontal assault that is modern city life, but he seems to be telling the viewer, “don’t sweat it, man, I’ve survived it and so will you”.
The exhibition, maned “Choices” will have its gala opening at the Humanities Library of Tel-Aviv University on Thursday, March 28th, 2019 and it will run through the end of April.