Ella Shimoni – “Not outside the box” Could be?
by Dr. Nurit Cederboum
“Whenever I see a good portrait, I can guess at all the artist’s effort, who must not only have seen at once all that lay on the surface, but must also have guessed at what lay hidden” (Baudelaire, “Salon of 1859”, Modern Life artist)
Indeed, the human visage exposes what is overt and superficial, but at the same time also what is “inside”. Shimoni, presents a collection of works in which the main image is a person with a small part of his/her body, mainly the face, and as noted above, this face represents reality and yet simultaneously hides part of it. Contrarily, it is actually this hidden part, the “covert reality”, that is the revelation.
Looking at this body of works, brings us back to the never-ending debate that shifts, back and forth, from an approach favoring artistic imitation – mimesis – to an approach favoring feelings, ideas and thoughts – expression. Consideration of the etymological roots of “portraiture” in Hebrew sharpens the discussion of this issue. The word “portrait” [in Hebrew – “diukan”] suggests that this is a matter of accuracy [“in Hebrew – “diuk”]. And this stimulates me to ask whether the portrait does indeed require accurate effortful portrayal, aiming to represent and imitate reality, or whether there is actually an allusion here, in the Hebrew term, to the Greek term “Dyo-Eikon” that means “double image”. And if we go further and consider the Hebrew word “demut” , we can speculate that this word echoes and implies the Hebrew word “domut” [resemblance].
Shimoni presents images in her paintings and with the hand of a sensitive artist, she treads carefully within them, on a fine tightrope between outer reality, where she draws the appearance and inspiration, and the “inner commands” (a term that was coined by Kandinsky) and imagination expressed in the painting’s language. Or we could say that she moves between different methods of representation of reality and deals with the essence of the artistic object itself.
Whether she chooses sketching with a pencil and charcoal or if she works with paint, Shimoni observes reality with a sharp eye, remaining faithful to what she sees, but simultaneously reaching out from this observation to her own personal field, the canvas or paper, and it is there that she constructs shape on shape, form within form, exquisite color games in thin monochrome transitions. Shimoni does not strive to adopt a photographic role to document reality. As is the artist’s way, in contrast to the photographer, she chooses to observe reality and then to expose the fine nuances that are “invisible deep in the visible” as did the philosopher Marleau Ponti.
“She’s hiding” she calls one of her artworks, but the real work of hiding is actually found in the artwork “Not leaving the box”. The images that Shimoni chooses, and the people who star in her paintings, embody stories and this is evident in the titles and metaphors that she uses to make her statements, and far more. “The First Doll” is a pencil drawing that resembles Christian icons before the “Pieta”, an apparently innocent painting “in pencil alone” that includes a fascinating intercourse, played out between stains and light and shade, with thin lines that proceed to gradually disappear; a gentle correspondence between line-stain-light-shade that is aligned with the history of the arts, with cultures, with belief. There is subversive work beneath the cloak of her childlike area; “The First Doll” also speaks about motherhood (Pieta) and everything that emerges from this context.
Shimoni’s pencil drawings, which are apparently the “slimmer” works, are the paintings in which the artist deals with relationships, family relations, “father and son” relations and the above-mentioned “doll”, which in my opinion also tells the story of “mother and daughter”. The strength of these sketches is actually in their reduction, in their deep observation, and in the way that the line representing the figure and the story on the paper constitutes an investigative line, an explorative line, a line that examines what is above the surface and in its modesty also transmits what is below the surface.
In the painted pictures, Shimoni echoes the approach of Cezanne to analyze the covert structuring of the object that she paints in “Not leaving the Box”. She repeats her apparently innocent interrogative activity within herself, painting a figure seated in the center of a box; but the way in which she paints the figure is far from realistic. Although the artist is careful to maintain proportions, so that the outlines of the face can be identified, the physical gestures, nevertheless this is not photographic veracity. Structured paint stains, broad brush strokes, blurring of the facial features, together create abstract surfaces within a figurative structure; a sort of moderated expression that corresponds with the portrait paintings of Reisman. And you ask, is the artist stepping “outside the box” or is she conducting a discussion with herself in which she asks herself to indeed step “outside the box”. Seemingly, the artist parts from the pencil and goes forward to regions of color, she gives herself permission to venture out into some sort of freedom. This same ambiguous message also emerges from “She’s hiding”. What is visible tells us about what is invisible and vice-versa and this is all revealed to the eyes of the observer.
This collection of works, presented here involves us in the debate between sketching and painting. Two works are sketched and two works are painted in color, while one additional work embodies the entire dialog. Although seemingly Shimoni has not “left the box”, in fact it is still possible to find colorful work there based on analysis of the surface through color stains, yet in-between there are remnants of pencil lines and also a rear area painted in grey colors that corresponds with the sketching work. Baudelaire draws a clear distinction between sketches and paintings. Sketches, notes Baudelaire, tend to trace the secret curves of the line. The characteristic of the sketcher is obvious, he adds, he is an expert in moderating the finish. In contrast, the painter “erases the pre-eminent sketch”. He concludes “the outstanding sketchers are philosophers and simplify the essence. The colorists are epic poets.”
Shimoni succeeds in representing them both. In her sketches one can sense her colorist artist’s hand and in her paintings it is possible to see the strength of the sketch. Often they are found together and sometimes apart. Her strength is her ability to allow them to dwell together or at other times to separate them. It seems that Shimoni brings a measure of restraint to the fields of art and color from the world of sketching, and to the field of sketching, she introduces a play of colors through a fascinating scale of black-white and all the intermediate hues of grey.