Young Israeli artists paint a more peaceful state of mind

From microchips to Roman ruins, modern Israeli art mirrors the experiences of Jewish history and contemporary Israeli life. The latest trends move beyond those experiences and reflect the close relationship of Israeli artists to the current Western art scene.

"The most marked trend is that the artists born in the early '70s have no experience of the wars," said Michelle Schwartz, who owns the MiLa Fine Arts Israeli art gallery in Albany with her husband, Lawrence White.

For young artists, World War II and Israel's War of Independence are merely a part of history.

"Their work is grounded in contemporary themes — whatever moves any individual artist — but not necessarily related to the land. If you look at contemporary Israeli art, you wouldn't know" at first glance if the artist is Israeli or Parisian.

Looking more deeply, one can find uniquely Israeli themes, images and colors, Schwartz said. But these themes are changing as Israel evolves from an agricultural to a technological society.

For instance, sheep appear in the paintings of Menashe Kadishman, who was a shepherd on his kibbutz.

Calman Shemi, whose work is currently featured at the gallery, also brings his kibbutz experience into his paintings, steel sculptures and tapestry-like "soft paintings," Schwartz said. "He's very tied into nature," which he represents with vibrant colors.

But relatively few of the younger artists grew up on kibbutzim. While "there are still a lot of [Israeli] artists today working in landscapes…I don't think you're going to see as much agriculture anymore [in artwork] because many young Israelis are turning high-tech," she said.

Because Israeli artists study contemporary art in Paris and New York as well as Israel, and display their work all over the world, many are influenced by trends that are global. Among them is a concern with spirituality in an increasingly technological world.

Israeli painter Dorit Feldman, whose work is also on display at MiLa, exemplifies that concern.

She "is interested in the interface between science and faith," Schwartz said. One of her mixed-media pieces incorporates a computer chip, the DNA helix and kabbalistic imagery.

Like other contemporary artists, Israelis touch on political themes. As young artists bring their support for the Israel-Palestinian peace process into their work, she said, "the desire for peace is part of what you'll see."

Although their work is not limited to Israeli themes, some contemporary artists look at Jewish history, painting images of Jerusalem or the ancient past.

Eran Shakine has painted baths and aqueducts based on Roman ruins, "which, if you live in Israel, is part of the landscape," Schwartz said. They are "dealing with what they see around them that's indigenous to the region."

On June 28, MiLa Fine Arts was the site of the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay's reception to honor major donors and celebrate the 50th anniversary of Israel's statehood.

"We thought it was very appropriate to celebrate Israel's 50th anniversary with beautiful art by Israeli artists," said Mathilde Albers, who is honorary president of the East Bay federation and chair of the event.