For his second solo show at Sadie Coles HQ, Israeli artist Avner Ben-Gal presents a series of paintings of deep imaginative consciousness. Shades of toxic green, orange, and grey dominate his pallet creating smoky and unnerving scenes through which figures and motifs emerge: a tentative soldier, a tottering old woman, a grinning wolf-like creature. If at first characters seem menacing, time in their company reveals more affable aspects and a scorched giant bird develops into a guardian force.
In Ben-Gal's paintings themes and motifs recur, across exhibitions and across series - dusty landscapes, burning buildings, animals. Shapes are also repeated and in these new works triangular forms appear alternately as a hazy pyramid, a letter, or jagged background structures. In turn, jumps in scale mean that an envelope containing a letter that begins 'Dear Granny' is rendered monumental and against a dark background becomes a kind of tombstone. The surreal prevails as elsewhere an egg-shaped fruit under a pale Northern-Light sky sprouts roots and an idiot-savant monkey executes a mathematical equation. Questions of painting and illustration are posed as text appears in Ben-Gal's work more than ever before, in letters, in a picture showing the Ten Commandments tablets inscribed with ten ‘NO's written in Hebrew, and in another painting a building is labeled ‘BANK'.
While Ben-Gal's work with misty shades, empty landscapes and phantom figures clearly taps into collective memory of recent events, he never works directly from the mass media sources suggested by his pictures. In his studio there are no photographs, rather images are internalised and reformulated layer by layer into a powerful mixture of figuration and abstraction. His paintings are populated by animals throughout, rich with anthropomorphic connotation. Temporally ambiguous, emotional and atmospheric, Ben-Gal's paintings are testament to the ability of painting to uncover the shadowy planes.
Avner Ben-Gal's work has recently been the subject of a solo show at the Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel, Switzerland, 2008, The Aspen Art Museum, 2007, and The Tel-Aviv Museum of Art, Israel, 2009. Ben-Gal has been in various group shows, including at the Villa Manin Centre for Contemporary Art, Passariano, Codroipo, Italy, 2007, Boijmans in Rotterdam, 2006, and as part of the Venice Biennial, 2003. His work is the subject of a number of books, most recently a catalogue to accompany his 2008 show in Basel. He lives and works in Tel Aviv.
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