As I mentioned in a previous post, works on paper have never had it better. Orit Hofshi‘s powerful prints and print installations demonstrate the variety and versatility of the medium with force and confidence, without loosing its intimacy. Her work, although intricate in detail and dense in content, has undeniable qualities of clarity and freshness. It is both personal and monumental, owing perhaps to its involving both the particular and the universal, both the human and humanity. Hofshi’s mastery of the medium cannot be doubted; her technique is beyond reproach. And she adds innovation to mastery, combining the prints with the wood blocks into a single composite piece: a simple, but striking and successful twist on woodcut. Despite all that, what really made an impact on me was the content: corporate loss, collective but personal memory, and resilience.
Hofshi, a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, is an acclaimed Israeli artist living and working in Herzlya. She recently re-emerged onto the Philadelphia Art scene with an exhibition at the Print Center in 2008 and with a much talked about participation in Philagrafika in 2010. A solo show of her work, Pharos, is now up at Locks Gallery.
The exhibition has on display fifteen large landscapes, images of particular scenes significant for Jewish identity that stand in as witnesses to the past or as stricken, scenic memoirs. The grandeur of the landscape is always shown against or in the light of a painful history, of personal memory and nostalgia, suggesting humanity’s powers both of destruction and of renewal.
The human element is always present, directly or indirectly. In “Reclaim,” the figure of a man walks through the scene as a shadow, removed from the landscape, while in “Pharos,” the figure standing on a ledge and peering into a cavernous pit seems frozen in time. These lonely figures wandering through ruins (perhaps the image of the same man, depicted over and over), are suggestive rather than literal depictions that sharpen the feeling of loss, a feeling that is an essential feature of Hofshi’s work. Even when the human element is apparently absent (as in “Encirclement,” “Recess,” or “Amassment”), it is always suggested discretely in the title or with striking directness in the aftermath of man-made destruction.
The images, although drawn or printed in dark, neutral shades of black, gray or sepia, have an intense clarity. In “Convergence,” one of my favorite pieces in the show, the ground seems to be pouring down, converging shapes and textures move and intersect, and the mastery of detail and balance of tones give the image crispness and luminosity. Hofshi’s landscapes masterfully combine fluidity with structure; they are both tender and visceral. The images are alive, moving and breathing, and yet marked by a heavy silence.
All the works in this exhibition seem to be telling a story. “Steadfastness,” in which the image of a church façade stands tall amidst rugged rocks and piles of rubble, is an example of Hofshi’s connection with and interest in the past. As you walk through the gallery, you feel compelled to immerse yourself into each image and search for its meaning, narrative, and purpose.
The narrative stems from her connection with her identity. A daughter of Holocaust survivors, her work draws from and builds into a pre-existing narrative. Hofshi claims as influences artists like Anselm Kiefer and Käthe Kollwitz whose works are also closely connected with personal and collective history. Hofshi searches to reawaken her own history and memory. She drags the past forward and molds it into the present in order to find healing and to revive consciousness. Her work betrays a deep sense of melancholy, mixed with an intense desire for regeneration. And at the same time that her work speaks of loss and destruction, it never succumbs to hopelessness. It rather shows a sense of ownership over a particular history and points to a place that has been destroyed and reclaimed and a people that has remained resilient despite of loss. And as in Kiefer’s work, the reawakening of collective memory is in itself the only process of healing.
A sterile silence permeates the spacious second floor of Locks Gallery. It’s the perfect setting for Hofshi’s gently unnerving, imposing, and inviting depictions. The sound of your own footsteps hitting the cold concrete floor and echoing through the room brings a sort of surreal, inner rhythm to the viewing experience. The show is up until April 13, 2012.