Shy Abady: Entre chien et loup, Irena Gordon, January 2012 (from Radu's catalogue)

Shy Abady: Entre Chien et Loup

Shy Abady is a painter of life stories. For Abady, the visual present is emotionally and conceptually flooded by the past. Abady does not adhere to the conventional genres of still-life and landscape, nor does he conceive the body and portraiture as themes in themselves. They are the launching point for a journey into people's private past – an attempt to understand the meaning of their personal stories in relation to the collective narrative. The figure is at the centre of the artistic investigation, whose journey spreads out in a sequence of visual images, mainly portraits and other motifs which indicate different stages of life. In Abady's work, past and present merge into a continuity, evoking impressions of beauty and pain embedded in the lives of others and the influence of these impressions on our daily existence. His works draw invisible threads between the private lives of the figures themselves – some still vivid in the collective memory and some forgotten – and between historical and artistic events, both local and universal. His series on individual figures, like dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky, or political theoretician Hannah Arendt, follow their biographies and different aspects of their personalities. The works seek to decipher the figure whilst acknowledging a kept secret.

Abady's series of works from 2006-2009, "Radu", focuses on the figure of Radu Klapper, an Israeli-Romanian poet and writer. The series unravels Klapper's changing portrait from childhood to old age, whilst interwoven with his poetry and his cultural world. Abady started to work on the series shortly after Klapper's death and created it as an act of reaffirmation and interpretation of Klapper's personality and work. The series is a direct continuation to Abady's dialogue with Klapper, a man of art and culture, an immigrant and a homosexual, a close friend and a role model. The series includes twelve works, and all (but for one painted in oil on canvas) were created with an electric pencil and mixed media on large plywood boards. Abady's manner of working with etching and engraving on wood, not as a basis for print on paper but as a direct means of expression, endorses the act of drawing and presents it as an act of life. With the engraved line scorched into the organic matter of the wood, comes the memory of the figure and a life story.

The series expresses tensions between poetry and painting through a combination of visual and textual imagery, with parts of the poems etched on the changing figure of the poet. The words of the poems are thus forced onto the spectator, who has to read them, confront them, and face them as visual entities in space.

The series also raises questions about identity. It probes the possibility of translating a familiar experience into a foreign one, and it reflects upon the manner in which contrasting feelings of estrangement and belonging are formulated within the same artistic expression. Radu Klapper is almost unknown to Israeli public. He immigrated to Israel from Romania in 1976 at the age of 39. He published two poetry books and one prose in Hebrew. He was a theatre and dance critic of foreign newspapers in Israel and abroad and was the director of the Dance Library of Israel at Beit Ariela in Tel Aviv. He worked, wrote and created in the gap found in the life of the everyman, and every artist, who finds himself an emigrant at a mature age. And thus wrote Klapper, in a poem Abady chose to engrave on one of the portraits in the series: "In his old age this man/ without thinking, almost without knowing what he does, was suddenly reborn on the sea shore/ between orchards and sand, between embroidered letters/ and young men whose speech cannot be understood." (from "Three", Forbidden Poems, 2003)

Klapper's words touch the sense of rapture and loss which are part of the emigrant's experience in his new country; the experience he cannot explain or justify to himself, and as such his own decisions and his very existence becomes arbitrary. Yet, at the same time, his new reality tempts him with exiting sights and sensations, contradicting those he knew in the past. Klapper writes about his longings for the old, familiar European landscapes, but through metaphors inspired by the land of the Middle East, he touches on bodily passions, sexuality and the quest for love: "All the thoughts run away from me. I was left with sand, not even a dry swamp." (from "Dead End", Forbidden Songs, 2003).
Israeli society, in spite of being continuously changed by waves of new comers of different ages and from different cultures, prioritizes its own legacy and its homogeneous character. It remembers only those who have been assimilated at a young age, who speak its language and who assert its canonized myths. The place of the stranger, arriving already formed in mind and thought, is pushed aside, sometimes aggressively and sometimes with pure apathy.
"Radu" confronts these ambivalent notions through the changing portrait. Abady's works move from extreme pop-like close ups of the poet's face to a distant gaze of his boyish figure meditating in the landscape. In one drawing, the poet's face is even evoked as a Christian icon. The portraits express the movement between past and present, between Jewish culture and Christian culture, between European memories and Israel's landscapes, and between the tradition of Western poetry and prose and the Hebrew language in its past and present forms. Abady follows Klapper, the stranger, in his restless wanderings after the essence of transformation, after the meaning of touch, after the unreachable places of beauty as described by the poet Charles Baudelaire in "The Stranger": -- Tell me, enigmatic man, whom do you love the best?  Your father, or your mother, or your sister, or your brother? -- I have neither father, nor mother, nor sister, nor brother. -- Your friends? -- You are using a word whose meaning remains unknown to me to this very day. -- Your country? -- I do not know under what latitude it lies. -- Beauty? -- I would love her gladly, goddess and immortal. -- Gold? -- I hate it as much as you hate God. -- Well then!  What do you love, extraordinary stranger? -- I love the clouds ... the passing clouds ... over there ... over there ... the marvelous clouds!" [Translated from French by Cat Nilan, 1999].

"The hour between dog and wolf" is an expression in the Talmud's tractate Berakhot referring to the moment day breaks. "Entre chien et loup" is the French parallel and it similarly refers to either dawn or dusk; the time of day when things are not as they seem to be. The proverb in French is the title of the only work in the series in which Radu's figure does not appear. Abady chose it to express Klapper's deep, yet mundane connection to French culture and language. At the center of the void in the work, which is actually the wood in its various textures, is a dog or a wolf, sitting with its back to the spectator and by its side, an old gramophone. The dog represents safely walking in daylight, all that is cultural and familiar, while the wolf represents the night with its unknown realms, and the fears and nightmares it evokes. The dog/wolf is a recluse in its loneliness. It demands, along with the entire series, an intense listening to the quiet sounds, both cultural and wild, that emerge from a man like Radu Klapper, whose silent beauty shapes our lives unobtrusively.

Irena Gordon