Joel Barkan lives and works in Kibbutz Hanita in the Western Galilee. Despite the distance from the center of artistic creation, his paintings radiate a colorful vitality.
Barkan names several world cultures that have inspired his work alongside local influences. His works portray vast expanses in abstract style, emanating great vitality through images that may be regarded as a secret code. Organic forms and intense coloration, alongside a unique technique that combines the use of glass paints, acrylic, sandstone and gravel – all these infuse his canvases with a mysterious, enchanting aspect.
Barkan does not account for distinctive, unique influences on his work, but he does disclose that he draws inspiration from his everyday life, from visits to the opera and to museums, and from the views that leave their impressions on him on his frequent commute on the train from Nahariya to Tel Aviv and back. The natural vistas and views surrounding Barkan's home are clearly a major inspiration. The artist turns to forms originating in nature, and is influenced by images of animals and plants from his agricultural surroundings. At first glance, the organic forms, the earthly materials, and the combination of textures appear to be drawn from reality, but a closer look reveals that Barkan paints as if he were a photographer, zooming in on bacteria, amoebae, underwater creatures, reptiles, and amphibians – all drawn from a personal memory, possibly imagined.
Alongside his meticulous choice of details or creatures which are invisible to the naked eye, one may also discern a much broader observation, a "zoom out" on the entire world, almost to the point of floating in space or in the depths of the ocean, without an anchor or safe haven. Barkan's works thus reflect the tension between images extracted from reality and abstract painting that exists exclusively within the world of color and form. This tension raises questions concerning the ability to distinguish between these two poles, and moreover – the necessity of the one in sustaining the existence of the other.
Another source of inspiration, which Barkan is reluctant to admit, is Japanese art, and especially Japanese woodcuts. This aesthetics – of large color fields bounded by accentuated thick contours that separate the different elements of the painting, combined with meticulousness and attention to detail – reached the West at the end of the 19th century, greatly influencing leading Western artists. Barkan says that he is fascinated by the Japanese arts, hence they may have left some indirect impression on him. In any case, the large color fields, the use of vivid coloration, and the emphasized linearity are some of the elements that instill Barkan’s works with a child-like air. Still, he avoids providing the viewer with any narrative or visual anchor that could help make connections self evident.
The use of glaze paints allows Barkan to create the form first, and infuse it with transparent color, thereby seeking the balance between form and color. Initially, he defines the form, and only then does he bring it to life by charging it with dominant, vital, vibrant colors. His paintings surrender formal and color images that may be construed as a cipher or as clues. The viewer is invited to embark on a journey of color, form, and matter, and flow from the canvas into his own, intimate world.
Whether consciously or not, Barkan pursues the exotic, whether African masks in various forms, elements from Aboriginal and African cultures, the use of gravel from his immediate surroundings, or the vivid coloration that calls to mind naïve and South American art. Barkan lives outside the Tel Aviv art scene; in fact, he is a cultural consumer without geographical borders, neither intranational nor international, as indicated by his wide interest in worldwide cultures. Barkan’s cultural background, his childhood experiences in the shadow of the atrocities of World War II, his engagement in the education of the future generations as a teacher of history and theater, the physical distance from Israel's cultural epicenter – all these make him a unique character in the local cultural scene. In his train rides to Tel Aviv, Barkan experiences the transition from vast, open expanses to the tumult of the city, and upon his return, the distance from the center allows him to process the culture to which he has been exposed, the product of a thinking human society, but still remain attentive to the nature around him and the surrounding fields and groves, which offer a combination of the natural with ordering, domesticating human intervention.
Joel Barkan was born in Brussels; he lives and works in Kibbutz Hanita, Israel.
Office in Tel Aviv Gallery