Marcel Janco 120th Anniversary

Homage to the Red Sea

Marcel Janco painted The Red Sea toward the end of the first decade after his immigration to the Land of Israel in 1941. The painting reflects a planned composition and structure: architectural elements and sharp shapes that create the landscape together with harmonic use of color.

Through the project “Homage to the Red Sea” we have chosen to mark 120 years since the birth of the artist in a way that makes it possible to link his works to contemporary artistic practice. We distributed dozens of offset prints of the painting The Red Sea from the artist’s estate among contemporary artists. These artists were asked to create something out of and influenced by the painting. They were given no limitations regarding size, technique or artistic language. The only two conditions were that the work would be done specifically for the project and that it would be possible to point to the source of influence. Almost all the works created have been included in the exhibition, which contains the work of 37 artists, 34 Israelis and three guests from abroad who created their works while they were at Ein Hod during the last several months.

The works in the exhibition can be divided into four groups:

Works in which Janco’s painting was used as the surface for the new work: Eitan Buganim built a collage on the painting; Boyan used it as stage set and painted on it; Dilara Akay (Turkey) turned the print into a cutout; Yuval Shaul or the Tav Group did not touch the print but rather used it as an assisted ready-made.

Works in which the artist dismantled the components of the work and used them to build a new work while using many prints: Eyal Yehuda “carved” them out and joined them; Etamar Beglikter cut out stripes and braided them together; Ella Amitay Sadovsky connected dozens of particles from the details of the print; Arie Berkowitz integrated details in a three-dimensional work; Doron Fishbein used distorted scans of the work; Dror Karta created a collage from different materials, including parts from the painting; Tali Navon digitally dissembled the painting and created a video work; Raya Trinker inserted colored cutouts from the work into a kaleidoscope she created.

In the third group, the largest group, the artists used colors and formal elements from the painting as a basis for new work: Adva Drori embroidered elements inspired by the painting onto fabrics; Ulrike Siebel (Germany) used the colorfulness of the painting to create a “ladder” and floated a small boat next to it; Noemi Tedeschi Blankett’s work also contains a boat floating in a tub made of papier-mâché; Avi Sabah transferred the composition to a copper plate; Elinat Schwartz and Veronique Inbar took the outlines and used them to create drawings; Vered Pirchi Linenberg transferred the spirit of the painting to the surface of an old carpet; Vardi Bobrow isolated details from the painting that reminded her of animals; Yael Reshef interwove segments into a collage. Navah Joy Uzan created a video work based on the landscape, and Nir Dvorai used the work to create a photographic collage; Nurit Gur-Lavy transferred parts of the painting to ceramic plates; Chanchal Banga integrated parts into a delicate drawing; Shoni Ribnai cast pieces of it in epoxy; Konstantin Jakson (Russia) sprayed a large graffiti on a wall and integrated into it the central scene from Janco’s painting.

The fourth group includes works that moved quite far away from Janco’s work: Avner Sher created a huge ceiling installation dominated by the color red in which the drawing line appears; Avraham Eilat copied Janco’s forms into a collage made from watermelon cartons; Belu-Simion Fainaru isolated the color red and created a video work from it; Avital Bar-Shay “drew” landscape shapes with a red thread; Carmit Weizman created video and sound work based on the differences in colors in Janco’s work. By drawing Liat Klein transferred parts of the painting to a three-dimensional construction; Lisa Gross took the circular motion and translated it into an installation made of hanging palm spathes; Pavel Zenbacht and Igor Kaplunovich positioned a kinetic installation in which the red fabric is programmed to change its surface in accordance to the “peaks” appearing in Marcel Janco’s work.

The encounter we called for between Marcel Janco’s painting The Red Sea and a group of artists working today, more than 60 years after the work was created, produced a variety of works across the entire spectrum of techniques of plastic art. Only a small number of the artists related to the entire painting. Most of the works were created by disassembling and “destroying” the original work and, in the spirit of Dada, expanding the original idea and transferring it to distant provinces of creativity.

The Human Figure in Marcel Janco’s Oeuvre

The exhibition examines the way in which Marcel Janco fashioned the human image. The exhibition investigates two types of lines used by Janco to form his figures: rigid and broken triangular lines and soft and rounded lines.

Janco’s early paintings dating from when he was in his mid-twenties were influenced by his teacher Iosif Iser. These works portray classic images that have been disassembled by disruption of the outline, internal hatching and shading, creating a dialogue with early cubism. This design is unique to this period of Janco’s work. From the early 1920s and throughout his life, Janco frequently shaped his images in a manner that became identified with him.

In his landscape paintings human beings are part of the landscape. The human figure is implicitly described as a silhouette or a splotch of color surrounded by a black outline, without identity or gender, comprising a structure of triangles and broken lines. Usually the triangle representing the head rests upon the triangle of the chest and interfaces with the triangle of the legs. In his transition to rounded lines the human figure is portrayed by a closed continuous line delineating the head-arms-legs, where the internal splotch of color usually does not match what exists in reality. Across from these implicit figures in the landscape, Janco inserted many details when painting a single figure using broken or continuous lines—articles of clothing, body and hand gestures, objects, accessories and animals.

Upon immigrating to the Land of Israel, Janco joined local artists’ circles and adopted a repertoire of topics from the work of building the land as well as Orientalist topics depicting Arab residents in fixed and typical formations, as in paintings of people in a coffee house. It is interesting to see that the artist chose a different type of line for men and for women. Like many in his generation, Janco chose to describe Arabs at a distance from a general perspective, without facial features or specific details except for typical identifying marks such as tarboosh hats and nargilehs. The landscapes and images of the East fascinated Janco, and he often painted coffee houses and “resting” scenes depicting figures in rows, again without facial features, arranged in a decorative order and rhythm that is assimilated into the décor of the surrounding landscape.

Following Israel’s War of Independence, Janco’s paintings began to feature the “wounded soldier motif,” usually solitary, introspective, in a closed and curved format, his head leaning sideways and only his rifle crossing the composition with a dark perpendicular line. The rounded line also serves as a means of expressing the pain of the wounded soldier – his collapsed posture enfolded in the mandala pattern, the angles are softened and the triangles of the face rounded.

Janco made extensive use of rounded lines primarily in figures of nude women: the rigid lines soften and begin to flow, describing the curves of the body, the hair and the sexual organs in harsh detail. Descriptions of groups of nude women are typical of French painting at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, usually in the context of brothels, and Janco appears to have continued the tradition of these compositions, even with a humoristic wink.

Janco’s way of shaping the human figure can be compared to music playing in the background. Sometimes the tempo is fragmented and rhythmic, breaking up and reconnecting the work, while at other times the tune is undulating and melodic.