An Israeli Artist Puts The Element Of Surprise Back Into The Overdone Medium Of Outdoor Art

I must admit to a certain ambivalence when it comes to environmental or outdoor art. Murals, graffiti, sculptures or other art installations in urban or rural environments seem mostly contrived to me. I believe that a great piece of art should stand on its own, be at home in any environment. Nevertheless, puritanical adherence to this approach would leave out many of our outdoor spaces devoid of art since they need art that is weatherproof, or rather one that weathers with its environment. And we need more art, not less, all around us. So if we are to have outdoor art, we must admit that a piece of art that is installed in an outdoor setting can hardly ignore the spacial, chromatic, and even temporal dimensions of its immediate environment.

Is it lush? Barren? Old? New? These considerations do come into play because they literally play together with the art to give the viewer the total experience of the piece as the artist intended it.

Lime walls as a living, breathing canvass for the long-ago artists at Lascaux

This interaction between art and the environment is as ancient as art itself; our Cro-Magnon ancestors used the “canvass” of the lime walls of the caves they had occupied all these millennia ago as a living contributor to their art, a co-creator of sorts. I remember visiting the Lascaux caves in Southern France and being struck not only by the amazing representational quality of the seventeen thousand year old art, but by how the artists utilized the highly irregular and three dimensional cave walls with all their niches, bulges, and fissures not as an impediment, but rather as an aid, an integral part of the grand scheme for their timeless masterpieces.

Unlike Aristotle, who had famously commented that art perfects nature, one does not get the feeling that our distant ancestors intended to achieve that objective. One feels, on the contrary, that to them nature was already perfect and they merely attempted to work with it to capture its perfection as an eternally lasting homage to it. Their attitude, rather different from the somewhat arrogant art of Golden Age Greece, was that of admiration rather an attempt at photo-shopping nature’s “imperfections”.

We don’t know why the Cro-Magnons created their art, but we can imagine, since we are members of the same species, that it helped them express their fears of predators and their hopes, perhaps for a successful hunt. To do that, they attempted to capture the essence of the creature that occupied their thoughts. While at first glance their art appears realistic, photographic even, on second look we can see that it is not quite that. Rather, through exaggerated features like horns, it attempts to deliver to us the experience of coming face to face with the amazing creatures that occupied the Upper Paleolithic.

Israeli artist Icky Bar Ziv creates in a style that is more Cro-Magnon than Aristotle. His installations, be they people, fish, or trees do not depict their subjects. Rather, they create the illusion that something else, something as unexpected as school of fish swimming in a lawn is happening around us. This element of surprise is what I like most about Icky’s work; familiar surroundings suddenly reveal to have been hiding something new, something rather interesting, something that invites another look. And isn’t that what art is all about?

Icky’s work is on display at the Orly Dvir gallery at 5 Rabenu Hananel Street in Tel-Aviv and it is curated by Ms. Dvir herself. Gala opening is on June 13th at 8 PM local time. The exhibition will run through June 27th. Other work by the artist can be found on his website: www.barzivdesign.com.

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