In Love with Grey

by Miriam Yizraeli, 1999

 The studio of Jordan Wolfson is located in the religious neighborhood of Makor Baruch. He is the only artist around. The atmosphere is far from being art-loving. In small apartments, devoid of any luxuries, big families crowd together. The yards are neglected and thorns, instead of flowers, adorn them. In the neighborhood’s grocery store they will sell half loaves of bread, and children are sent to buy laundry soap and matches. Just the most essential is purchased.

In the apartment adjacent to the studio a young neighbor with a head covering opens the door. Outside there is a second-hand stroller. People lead a frugal life. No, she doesn’t know of any artist who works in this building, nor had the other neighbors heard of him. On the door there is no clue to the identity of its tenant.

Six years ago he came to Israel from the United States and the first paintings he exhibited immediately caught one’s attention. Not because there was anything novel or contemporary in them, but almost to the contrary. While Wolfson studied for his MA at Yale University, whose art school is considered one of the best, and though he is well aware of what is being done in contemporary art, his heart goes after artists like Rembramdt, Velázquez and Camille Corot more than after contemporary artists like Jeff Koons and the pair Gilbert and George. Among his influences, he states, are Cézanne, Giacometti and Diebenkorn: Giacometti in his sensitive search, Cézanne in his expansive spatial sense and his great analytic ability, and Diebenkorn in his abstraction and particular use of a foundational scaffolding for the picture. The first paintings Wolfson exhibited here were interior paintings. They were not beautiful in the ordinary sense. There was no delectation in spectacular color or in a fascinating interior design. On the contrary. Wolfson focused his gaze on remote and uninteresting corners; pipes of a bathroom sink, a grey door which opens to expose a segment of mortar-colored floor, the seemingly unimportant and banal. His method of work expresses his spatial viewpoint and is set into a network of lines which is reminiscent of a reading by a very sensitive seismograph. The result is a wonderfully compact composition in which every little detail finds its right place. Since the series of floors and sinks paintings, Wolfson enriched his palette as well as his repertoire of subjects. And yet something of the same grey tonality still rules his works. “I find that grey is a beautiful color,” he says, “In a way it’s a matter of observation. For instance, in this room there is a lot of grey, in the Jerusalemite scenery there is a lot of grey, there is nothing lifeless in the color, but rather something tonal, vital and full of nuance. I am drawn to the grey also because of Corot’s paintings which I love so much. A special light breaks through out of his grey. Apparently something inside me is in love with the grey.”

Have you come to Israel out of a Zionist motivation?

“Ideological motivation is not really a part of my world. That’s not how I make descisions. I came to Israel because there were things here that suited me.”

But you moved from the center of the art world to a more peripheral place.

“What counts more is my inner self which I carry with me wherever I go.”

Do you see any change in your painting since you came to Israel?

“I paint at a different pace. There I worked slowly and it took me a long time to complete a painting. The tension here also affected me and of course the light.”

He managed to establish a reputation as a popular teacher and he divides his time between a few art schools, including Kalisher, Talpiot and Stav Pisul. Among his many paintings in his studio a few have a model in them, mostly a nude woman.

Are the human body and painting nudes a new subject for you?

“It took me a long time to feel comfortable with the subject, to find the right place for it in the space and to discover the right tension in the relationship between the figure and the space surrounding it.”

Feminists have been recently criticizing the way in which the female figure has been described in art through the objectifying eye of the male artist. And today in the politically-correct era most of the artists are careful about it.

“To be honest, I don’t really pay attention to that. What interests me is the body-space relationship. Maybe from a politically-correct perspective this is problematic, but I believe a painting is derived of much deeper regions than politics.”

And he clarifies, “It is important for me to communicate and to maintain a dialogue with the contemporary art world, but at the same time it is important to me that what occurs in the larger world around me will not dictate for me what to do.”

Jerusalem