The Lost Paradise

Michaela Mende-Janco

Raya Zommer
“In my opinion, abstraction is some kind of a new language for all, young and old, because abstraction creates a euphoria of colors and forms, a more sincere, refined and human art, which directly influences the pure sensibility, with no intervention of the intellect. Impersonal art is beyond aesthetics. It is a kind of oasis of freshness and brotherhood amongst all human beings.
…This new art is a revelation of shapes and colors to be understood by all; children, youth, men and women, an art which is universal and common to all peoples because it is abstract, an art that soothes all outbursts. We are convinced that Man is good by nature, talented, wise and inspiring, rising above all the other creatures on earth, in the air and in the seas. Abstract art is the true international language, able to create fraternity of nations. Man deserves the best art and his mission would be to lead and enlighten it.”1
This exhibition includes oil pastel paintings on paper, which Marcel Janco created in the 1960’s. They are all characterized by abstract style. There are several groups of paintings on a scale between pure abstract and figurative abstract; the most conspicuous and central group is the one called “ImaginaryAnimals, which includes organic forms in space, evoking imaginary animals. The second group, entitled Rhythms, is dominated by music dictating the composition. Another group consists of colorful paintings entitled Storms”, with a turbulence of colors and lines. This group illustrates abstract compositions of round and sharpened forms conversing with one another.
These paintings were created in the 1960’s, a period when the group New Horizons, with Marcel Janco as one of its founders, flourished in Israel. The main importance of the group lies in its belief in new modernism and the abstract language. Marcel Janco, who previously had brought the avant-garde language to Romania, after years of experimentation with abstract in Zurich and Paris, saw it as his mission, when he immigrated to Israel, to foster and bring up to date the language of art in his new country. As an architect, he emphasized the structural elements and the importance of creating geometric compositions. The group wanted to create a typical form of Israeli abstract, and part of Janco’s contribution was to emphasize the symbolic facet.
“Janco paints
The underground groan
And the song of the earth”2
The group Imaginary Animalspresents amorphous, abstract forms which become concrete. The artist painted the animals in a kind of movement – in some sort of stylized tango. The composition is always balanced and the works are colorful and full of life. This group of paintings emphasizes the biomorphic source of Janco’s work and his tendency to be inspired by Nature. The imaginary animals are not real, but they come from an organic source and naturalistic elements. They bring us back to a reality of inner poetry, a dream of shapes and colors – a lost paradise.
“The Lost Paradise” is a quotation from the Romanian writer and poet Demetru Urmuz (1883-1923), who created an original surrealistic language, defined as absurd long before the Surrealist Movement appeared in literature. Janco connected with the avant-garde aspect of Urmuz’s work and called many abstract works by names inspired by the artist’s writings. This relation between word and picture is very typical of Janco’s abstract work in which vision and narrative co-exist in harmony.
In fact, throughout all his prosperous years as a painter, Janco maintained an ongoing dialogue between the concrete and the abstract. Unlike the contemporary artist Gerhard Richter, who moves in two parallel styles – abstract and figurative, Janco sought to connect between the two: his abstract works are anchored in reality, in a certain experience or cultural context, whereas his figurative works always feature abstract elements which play a role not less central than the theme or the concrete form.
Jean Arp described it in his poem:
“Janco paints concrete
 With an abstract hat
 Janco paints abstract
 With a concrete hat”3
Joseph Isser (1881-1958), Janco’s teacher, taught him as a boy the foundations of classical art. Janco took this classical basis and turned it into a clear element within abstract creation. This is why, in all of Janco’s abstract works, there is some kind of realistic element, a glimpse of a portrait here and a hiding animal there, as though trying to break out of the abstract composition.
“…and there is a certain law of development one should not skip. Every true painter follows a path, quickly or slowly, repeating some phases of the history of art. One cannot start right away with abstract art as it is today. Every painter in the past, had to come a long way and today it’s too easy. Israelis must search here, not in America, not in New-York. (Pointing at a picture hanging in front of us) When an American painter paints squares, he might be thinking of cities like New York or Boston, the huge sky scrapers with their walls and windows. In the beginning there was the poetic experience, but this painter applies only technique in this painting. Thematical elements in painting are varied and changing: it can be an idea, a landscape or a first touch, the first spot on canvas. With me, as I have already said, there was first an idea: the impression of the landscape, the vision preceded the picture”4.
With the group of paintings representing rhythms, Janco tried to express voice in forms and translate various musical experiences into color and form. There are the fugues – whole symphonies of notes, and there are ascending and descending lines, reminiscent of sirens. Janco gave abstract forms movement and rhythm.
Music was a leitmotif in Janco’s biography. As he told Francis M. Naumann in an interview to Arts magazine: “I was first drawn to art in my youth thanks to my mother. She was a very good musician, without academic training, though she could play the works of Liszt and other great musicians. She tried to make musicians out of her three sons and daughter so that we could all play together… but it did not help, because I was unable to learn music. My inclination was to color and form.”5
And in the same interview: “Mussoni, the Italian musician was there (in Zurich). He taught at the Academy of Music in Zurich, and we (the Dadaists) connected with him in order to apply the laws of musical counterpoint to abstract painting”.6
The group of works entitled Storms illustrates the madness which got hold of the forms. Unique to this group is the fact that they look as if created at random by some sort of rapid scribbling, works which by first impression seem not to have been worked through sufficiently. But a further look discovers a well thought out composition, conspicuous balance and meticulous colorful planning. The dark colors (especially black) are obvious and emphasize the bright colors. These paintings are very dynamic and full of inner movement.
The last group is an expression of pure abstract. On paper float geometric, stylized shapes engaged in a dialogue. It is a group of contrasts, light and shadow, broken, closed lines and round, delicate forms jointed together, pseudo-geometric forms which were once a circle or a triangle – a kind of geometric break-up of shapes and lines which play an important role in the composition. In this group, too, there is meticulous planning despite the general impression of casualness. The tension between planning and casualness, has its roots as well in the Dada period, ready-made, and the works of Arp – collages made by casual dropping of paper scraps.
There is something child-like and primal in all the paintings, resulting from the use of oil pastels – a medium which is less associated with fine art – and the way they are spread on the paper. Originality, freedom and freshness were considered by Janco as a Dada inspired ideal – the Dadaists exhibited in the Cabaret Voltaire children’s art as well as folklore art from Europe, Africa and Asia by naïve and intuitive artists.
“Dada appreciated and loved first and foremost the direct and powerful expression of the children. We were the organizers of the first exhibitions of this art in the Cabaret Voltaire”.7
The works created decades after Janco had left the original Dada group correspond to the avant-garde spirit of the beginning of the twentieth century, and although they were made at the period of New Horizons, they show the elements of forms he had brought from Europe.
From a manifesto written by Janco in Tel Aviv:
“We believed in a more primary art, purer, more abstract, nourished by sources of creativity through intuition. An art without formulas, empiric, dedicated to life, vital.”8
Janco demonstrates absolute creative freedom with all that concerns abstract work – his great love. “Abstract Art is the Art of Brotherhood” wrote Janco in 1983. And, in fact, Janco’s works have wings. They are free of all restrictions of form or intellect – borderless, without gravity, maintaining a dialogue in a parallel universe. Sometimes the work is almost poetic, lyrical, sometimes it is expressive and stormy. Abstract is for Janco a universal language which he uses frequently, parallel to the dialogue he had been maintaining in these years with local subject matter related to Israel in its first decade, and for which he uses a more figurative language.
There is a lot of gaiety in his work, the entire spectrum of colors, dynamism, humor and a fair amount of beauty, which was at the base of the New Horizon’s ideology, and which emanated naturally from Janco, the mature artist. All the works are abstract, but concrete elements emerge and make them fresh, dream-like and poetical, partly real, partly imaginary.
“Marcel Janco
Does not paint the world
In order to multiply it
But because it pleases him”9