The series of works “Larizari” presents an act of participation in and disruption of an ongoing dialogue within Israeli art. Here, Hirschfeld has painted abstract strokes in the style of modernist painter Joseph Zaritsky, on top of Larry Abramson’s seminal postmodern piece “Flowers of our Country.” 

In “Flowers of our Country,” which was painted on Haaretz newspaper pages, Abramson re-insert the political gaze into modes of scientific systems of knowledge that were represented as apolitical. Upon a closer look, we see how even the renaming of local flowers contained national and political messages.

In a subversive action, Hirschfeld takes these works, and confronts them again with the promise and challenge of abstract expressionism, adding yet another layer to the narrative. 

The series was exhibited as a solo exhibition in Dwek Gallery, Mishkanot Sha’ananim, Jerusalem (2013) and was accompanied by a catalog and text by curator Ron Bartos. Since then, it has been exhibited repeatedly, most notably in 2016 as part of the “New Horizons” exhibition in Ein Harod Museum of Art. Each work work is 60x40cm, oil and mixed media on paper.





Jonathan Hirschfeld: The Return to Tzuba, Again

Ron Bartos


Tzuba is a kibbutz located on the winding road leading up to Jerusalem. The kibbutz was established by Palmach veterans in 1948 (hence its moniker "Palmach Tzuba") on the lands of the Arab village Suba, which was depopulated during the Independence War. While its story is not exceptional in the Israeli landscape of kibbutzim and settlements, nevertheless Tzuba happened to attract special attention in Israeli art. We now return to it once again in the wake of Jonathan Hirschfeld's series of paintings entitled On the Land, but first let us consider his predecessors.

In the early 1970s, Jossef Zaritsky – a member and the leader of the Israeli abstraction group Ofakim Hadashim (New Horizons) – set up his atelier in Kibbutz Tzuba. The view, which overlooked Jerusalem and the mountains encircling it, had mesmerized him already during in his infrequent visits to the area while teaching seminars in the kibbutzim decades earlier.[1] Zaritsky used to visit his studio in Tzuba every year, until his death in 1985. He found that it provided him with the desirable conditions for painting – awe-inspiring scenery, mountain air, and simplicity of kibbutz life – all of which allowed him to immerse himself time after time in painting the landscape. Zaritsky's numerous Tzuba paintings are characterized by the portrayal of first impressions with schematic pencil drawing complemented by the qualities of watercolor, on all its shades and diffused treatment of areas, the confident or pensive trails of the paintbrush, and rhythmical instances of watery pauses on the paper.

During 1993-1994 Larry Abramson painted his series entitled tsooba (Tzuba), which marks the first artistic return to the Kibbutz. It consists of 38 oil paintings done from photos of the place taken by the artist, 38 imprints of these paintings on issues of the daily newspaper Hadashot, as well as 13 paintings of branches of local flora collected by the artist around the Kibbutz. The paintings depicting branches stood for destruction and displacement, and served as an act of restoration against the devastation that took place. A similar notion was conveyed by the installation of the exhibition tsooba, held in 1995 at the Tel Aviv Kibbutz Gallery (curator: Tali Tamir): the paintings were mounted in a straight line at eye level, as though reconstituting the horizon line.[2] Abramson's tsooba cycle of paintings, which entered the canon of Israeli Art and serves as a key to his work as a whole, criticizes the blindness of Zaritsky, as an artist representing the Israeli artistic mainstream. Abramson's contention is that Zaritsky's paintings failed to notice the ruins of the Arab village, pointing at the painter's failure to acknowledge the Palestinian Nakba (Day of the Catastrophe) and the tribulations of the local Arabs. He criticizes the language of lyrical abstraction of Zaritsky's brush as being the language of the Zionism of the establishment, and concludes that the mere absence of the political component bears witness to its presence in the purpose of the painting. “it isn't necessary to create art specifically about the Nakba, because all art is about the Nakba”,[3] states Abramson, who with these words rejects (or at least removes) any possibility of discussing these paintings and others of his oeuvre (or anyone's for that matter) in a way that does not rest on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the subject of the painting or a main aspect of it.

During 2008-2009 Abramson painted the series Yehiam comprised of 21 small oil paintings, which was followed by the series Yehiam B. These paintings were based on Zaritsky's painting Yehiam (1951, Tel Aviv Museum of Art collection), and drew on its color palette of browns-pinks-whites. Abramson’s Yehiam touches upon the history of countless layers of displacement and occupation of the geographical site, starting with the kibbutz founded by holocaust survivors, through the Bedouin inhabitants preceding them, the Daher el-Omar reign before them, the Egyptian Mamluks of the 18th century all the way back to the Crusaders of the 13th century.[4] In these paintings we encounter once again details of vegetation like broken branches, cracked surfaces (black squares à la Malevich) and other motifs, which serve as a symbol for calamity and displacement. The paintings are executed on an abstract background evocative of Zaritsky's abstraction in Yehiam, alluding to his blindness.


In 2012 Abramson exhibited at the Gordon Gallery the show 1967, which featured works he had painted in 2011-2012 on Ha’aretz newspapers dating from the Six Days War. Abramson notes that in the course of working on these paintings he came to remember that during the war, as a 13 year old boy, he understood the disaster embodied in the act of conquest while the country had been swept by euphoric celebrations of its victory.[5] In this series of paintings Abramson is reformulating his position – this time it is not about the expulsion of Israeli Arabs in the Independence War (the Nakba), but rather about the occupation of the territories in the Six Day War. Zaritsky is absent, but the return to the newspaper (let alone one printed during the war) and the similar message, attest to the fact that the paintings in the series 1967 remember Abramson’s tsooba as well as Zaritsky's Tzuba.


And now Jonathan Hirschfeld adds his own paintings to the "Tzuba" cauldron: Abramson's exhibition 1967 was accompanied by a catalogue fashioned in the format of Ha’aretz newspaper (and printed on the same paper in Ha'aretz printing house), featuring the painted newspapers from the exhibition. Hirschfeld took Abramson’s old-new newspaper, separated its pages and used them as the support for his current series of paintings – On the Land. It seems that in this series Hirschfeld returns to "Tzuba" – again – in order to add another tryst to the love affair between the history of Israeli art and this kibbutz.


Jonathan Hirschfeld’s oeuvre harvests the produce of European (and Israeli) culture,[6] adding to his art everything and anything, creating a postmodern scripture of syntactic citations. In Hirschfeld’s art nothing is off the table: Christianity, Greek Mythology, Nordic folklore or the epos of the Bible; columns , capitals, and elements of Classical and Baroque architecture, alongside symbols like "vanitas" still life objects; references to the works of Giotto, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Rubens, as well as Moshe Kupferman and others; Baroque-Rococo sweeping style or Modernist rawness; luxuriance of oil paints on canvas beside the austerity of drawing on paper; scenes of angels, human figures, and beasts, contrasting figuration with thoroughly abstract blotches of paint (if not blood). In short, all is kosher.


In 2012 Hirschfeld initiated a process of self-instruction by copying the artistic language of artists whose paintings he found interesting, including masters like Caravaggio or Rubens, and prominent Israeli artists like Moshe Kupferman – as well as Zaritsky.[7] The young artist absorbed the characteristics of his artistic ancestors, in the attempt of emulating their appearance.[8] This endeavor was undertaken with the aim of creating an inter-generation, inter-style, and inter-context fusing which is so characteristic of his practice, with its awareness to its post-modern state. Thus we can trace in his paintings the chandelier from Jan van Eyck's masterpiece The Arnolfini Portrait (1434, The National Gallery, London), or figures from Caravaggio's The Taking of Christ (1602, National Gallery, Dublin), juxtaposed with abstract surfaces evocative of Kupferman; in another instance we may recognize the figure of Prometheus from Rubens' The Council of the Gods (1621-1625, Musée du Louvre, Paris) confronted by green-white geometric crystals from Zaritsky's kitchen. The work on this series of paintings demanded of Hirschfeld to discover Zaritsky's secrets of abstraction with all its hues, forms, and rhythms. Then, Hirschfeld imbued the pages of Abramson’s 1967 with instants of Zaritskian painting along other motifs of his own paintbrush or fractions of bare support (newspaper), compiling these paintings into the series On the Land.


Hirschfeld’s On the Land paintings make another return to "Tzuba", whose fate, it would seem, is to be continually picked on by Israeli art. Like Abramson, who turned to the Kibbutz to find the ruins of the Arab village absent from Zaritsky's paintings so as to imprint them as painting-residues on a newspaper, Hirschfeld turns to Abramson's painted 1967 newspapers in order to establish in them anew Zaritsky's abstraction – in an impossible pilgrimage.


Did Hirschfeld take it upon himself to answer Abramson on behalf of Zaritsky? Abramson’s tsooba complies with the artistic order described by the Frankfurt School philosopher Herbert Marcuze in his book The Aesthetic Dimension: “However, in a certain sense, the Beautiful seems to be 'neutral'. It can be a quality of a regressive as well as progressive (social) totality. One can speak of the beauty of a fascist feast […] But the neutrality of the Beautiful shows itself as deception if what it suppresses or conceals is recognized."[9] Nevertheless, we can easily claim that an absence is indicative of one's choice of a side and support of a certain idea. If Zaritsky were a realist faithful to the state of things and to what he sees, and still chose to disregard the ruins of the Arab village – then his choice would have been very meaningful indeed. But his paintings are abstract, rooted in the experience of viewing the landscape expressed by formalist artistic valeurs. We will not find in them the ruins of the village (and certainly not in the paintings of studio interiors, whence only part of the view can be seen through the window), just like they are bound to be missing more than a few other details of reality. However, it should be mentioned: the artistic and civic establishment's preference for abstract art in itself constitutes an exertion of the scopic regime, and consequently reflects a clear and comfortable political and social inclination. And so, whether by conscious choice, an overall rejection of the details of what he saw in front of him in favor of abstraction, or due to a third kind of influence, this is how Zaritsky acted and those were Abramson’s replies – this is how the two created.[10]


We asked, then, if Hirschfeld responds on behalf of Zaritsky. In terms of a reply akin to Abramson’s response to Zaritsky, the answer would be no; the young artist does not wish to convey his opinions about current matters in his art, nor does he want to adhere to either Zaritsky's or Abramson’s approach. In fact, according to the artist, the mere vicinity of a discernible ethical (political) and esthetic (formalistic) dimensions on the same artistic surface is what accomplishes his goal. Hirschfeld is a reluctant postmodernist. If only he could, he would have gone back to the Golden Age of Modernism or the Baroque era; then he could adhere to an ideology and aspire to the absolute truth, perform patricide in its avant-garde sense, shatter conventions, and strive to progress. Hirschfeld’s Zaritskian gesture remembers an historical moment of local Modernism, when the Ofakim Hadashim group praised abstract art and its artists looked to universal art, especially the French Art Informel, dubbed in Israel “lyrical-abstract”. Hirschfeld’s choice is consistent with the direction of his art which suckles from the "udder of Grandmother Europe”, as put by Dr. Gideon Ofrat,[11] and advocates a synchronic approach which does not see any historical-cultural-artistic hierarchy between Zaritsky and Rubens, for instance. Everything is there for the taking. If Zaritsky and Rubens can dwell together, so can Zaritsky and Abramson and Hirschfeld.


In his artistic-philosophical weltanschauung and in his art de facto, Hirschfeld seeks an assurance in painting – the assurance of the painter in the painterly gesture's ability to embody values, and the assurance in the ability of the viewer to translate material and visual values into an emotional experience. Hirschfeld’s artistic language does not choose to speak in euphemisms; it does not phrase something with a wink or enters it between quotes of sarcasm. As he inserts himself into the private dialogue between Abramson and Zaritsky, Hirschfeld does not side with the former or the latter, and definitely does not poke fun at either of them. Hirschfeld's "Tzuba" is an attempt at forming a third language from the present encounter, pulling it back from an ethic dimension to an aesthetic dimension. The young artist uses the mandate which enables him to appropriate the artistic elements of his forefathers and return to the kibbutz in another artistic-cultural return. A central element in Hirschfeld’s practice is this reliance on a system of art within the postmodern field that brings about the current confluence of generations, styles, and meanings – which not only serves as a clear manifestation of congruence within his own body of work, but also as a chance for the artist and his artworks to benefit from the contexts arising from this confluence.


Hirschfeld’s paintings here are "Tzuba" only on account of the existent Abramson- Zaritsky dialogue. Of course, also due to his Zaritskian homage, that is the green-blue palette and the application of paint in the artist’s characteristic manner. Hirschfeld had chosen this homage, despite the fact that Zaritsky's Tzuba paintings are not characterized by this appearance at all, but rather by open and colorful combinations in watercolor. But "Tzuba", for the sake of the young artist’s argument, is embodied and symbolized by Zaritsky's monumental paintings of abstraction. "Tzuba" also resides in the choice of the newspaper as a support – true, the newspaper does not return necessarily to "Tzuba" and that is why Hirschfeld chose as the support for his On the Land paintings the newspaper pages from the catalogue of Abramson's 1967 exhibition, fraught by the chain of the “Tzuba” events.


Jonathan Hirschfeld’s On the Land is a series of paintings on catalogue-newspaper with paintings done on newspaper, Hirschfeld on Abramson on Zaritsky, 2013 on 2012 on 1967, Tzuba on Tzuba on Tzuba.

[1] Mordechai Omer, Jossef Zaritsky, Massada, Tel Aviv, 1987, p. 210 (in Hebrew).

[2] Ganit Ankori, "Larry Abramson's Archeology of Trauma", Larry Abramson, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv, 2011, p. 383, footnote 2.

[3] Larry Abramson, "All Art is About the Nakba", Larry Abramson, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv, 2011, p. 296.

[4] Ankori, "Archeology of Trauma", pp. 395-396.

[5] Abramson is quoted in Gallery supplement, Ha'aretz, 31.5.2012 (in Hebrew).

[6] This feature of Hirschfeld's artistic practice is comparable to the extensive utalization of European culture in the work of Yigal Tumarkin. It should be noted here that the young artist was influenced greatly by Tumarkin, and they exhibited side by side on several occasions: "The Last Emperor", Hezi Cohen Gallery, Tel Aviv, 2011; "Crescendo" Sommer Galley, Tel Aviv, 2011; also, Hirschfeld conducted a Gallery Talk at Tumarkin's "Drawings Episodes and Fantasies" exhibition held in the Gallery of Kibbutz Naan in 2012.

[7] It should be mentioned that Abramson frequently uses elements of art appropriated from early artists, such as the "Black Square" of Malevich or Kupferman's style of abstraction.

[8] It should be stressed that by "emulating their appearance", I mean that Hirschfeld strove to achieve the look of their surface, since he has no interest in creating the illusion of a painting executed by Zaritsky. In his praxis, the visual code holds the ideological, cultural, and symbolic values it represents.

[9] Herbert Marcuse, The Aesthetic Dimension, Beacon Press, Boston, 1977, p. 63.

[10] The author has no intention to prefer Zaritsky's position or Abramson's, but to describe the dialogue between the two and the conflict between their worlds and values.

[11] Gideon Ofrat, "The Lament of the Palaces", Blood Stain, Hanina Gallery, Tel Aviv, 2008, p. 25-26. In another article Ofrat defines Hirschfeld as "the most Eurocentric Israeli artist", see: Gideon Ofrat, "On the Ruins of the Altar", He Who Wanted to be a God and became a Beast, Ramat Gan Museum, 2010, no page numbers.