When it comes to painting scenes from the Jewish state, artist Barbara Israel puts the “land” in landscape.
One time in Israel, she said, “I was working in oil on a very windy day,” she told NJ Jewish News in a phone interview. “I was fighting the wind…. It was like a sailboat and the canvas was the sail. That painting is full of a lot of grit and sand; everything stuck to it. That’s the happenstance in art.”
Israel (the artist) is showing a collection of her work about Israel (the Holy Land) at an exhibition at ACL Art Gallery, Livingston; an opening reception with the artist will be held Sunday, June 10, from 5 to 8 p.m. The paintings in the exhibit — “Beyond Time and Place: Paintings of Israel” — were done over a period of three years during numerous vacations and family events.
Israel begins her projects, often as sketches or “underpaintings,” during her visits, “covering as much ground — physically and metaphorically — as I can,” and completes them upon returning to her studio in West Orange. She also takes photos to fill in the details at a later time. Her most recent works were done in and around Jerusalem, because, she said, she thinks of the city as “a very precious place, a very vulnerable place, and really a very critical point in history.”
Israel said she picks places and ideas that capture the meaning and vibrancy of Jerusalem, “where people do get along, thank God, and there is life and liveliness and diversity…. It’s not something from history and something you might read about in a newspaper.”
One recent piece depicts a major landmark in the Jewish Quarter during Purim. “Sitting there, with all these absurd costumes and people walking in the streets, I couldn’t capture everything on the spot, so I was able to get the Hurva Synagogue, sketch in a few fast figures, and I finished it at home, filling it in with people in character.
“It was a crazy fun day. I tried to capture all that in the painting” because, she said, the synagogue was the site of many tragedies, but the scene “shows Jerusalem alive.”
Israel, 56, likes to work in oils, painting “to the very last second, so I’m standing there, waving the canvas in the sun, trying to wave a board to dry out or put it out in the sun as I’m packing my suitcase, and then I’ll put some wax paper between the various canvases and roll them up.” Toward the end of her trips, Israel sometimes works in watercolors, which dry faster. Even better are the watercolor pencils she employs, sometimes using the remnants of her coffee to serve as the wetting agent. “My paintings tend to have a sepia or coffee-color underpainting because you can usually find coffee sellers anywhere.”
The wind isn’t the only issue when it comes to painting in the Holy Land. The arid climate can also influence her art. “I’ve tried working in acyclic, but that’s no good because it dries so fast…in the sun and in the dry heat, that by the time I get my brush off the palette and get it to the canvas, it’s dry,” she said.
Israel is a lawyer by profession, a graduate of Columbia Law School, but she missed art so much she eventually earned her MFA in 2004 from the New York Academy of Art. “Since then, my lawyering has taken a much more part-time role.”