Making art in London

In addition to building and decorating work, and mushroom studies, I never gave up art, and, in 1991 when I officially retired, art became my main occupation again.

My concentration on drawing while in Israel had a reason. At a time when modern trends like pop and conceptual art became popular among artists, I remained loyal to traditional, figurative art and wanted to excel in the technique of drawing before taking up colour. In London, I went straight to oil and then to acrylic. I painted a lot but never exhibited. I did not try to exhibit in a private gallery nor did I ever send a painting to the Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy. The reason for keeping a low profile was because I regarded myself an Israeli painter. Although art is not confined to national borders similarly to music or architecture, it nevertheless has national configuration. People in Israel knew what kind of an artist I was. They followed my development from art school and through exhibitions. They read what the critics had said about my work. My drawings appeared in books on Israeli art, and were reproduced from time to time in the national press. Whether I liked it or not, I had to admit that my public was in Israel. Here, in England, I would have to start from scratch and make a name for myself if I wanted to be regarded an artist. This was too much for me.

I've just said that my artistic home was in Israel. Did I exhibit in Israel all these years? No, I did not, but for a different reason. My fight against the occupation and the barbaric treatment of the Palestinians set me in conflict with society and with my one and only public. This put me in an awkward position. From time to time I received invitations to participate in exhibitions. For example, I was invited to participate in an exhibition called To Live with the Dream, in Tel-Aviv Museum of Art. I received the invitation, but did not reply, because the exhibition was part of the festivities connected with the 40th anniversary of the Jewish state, and I did not want to take part in these celebrations.
In 1988, Meira Pery-Leheman, curator of drawings in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, came to London to see my drawings and discuss the possibility of having an exhibition in the museum. These were the days of the first intifada, when Israeli soldiers shot and killed Palestinian youngsters who threw stones at them. It was nice to be offered an exhibition, but I had decided to turn the offer down because an exhibition in Israel Museum could be interpreted as silent support for such policies. To make my stand clear, I published the correspondence between me and the museum on that issue in the local paper of Jerusalem. This decision, of course, had nothing to do with art. But sometimes, an artist has to take a political stand.

Whether or not I accepted an invitation to participate in an exhibition did not always matter. Sometimes I was represented in an exhibition with paintings that were in public or private collections in Israel, without my consent. This happened, for example, in 1992, when Gila Ballas, professor of Art History in Tel Aviv University, organised an exhibition in the Museum of Israeli Art, Ramat Gan, called Kvutzat Ha'asara (The Group of Ten) to mark the 40th anniversary of the first exhibition of the group with the participation of the same artists. In 1951 it was the first exhibition of native Israeli painters of which I was one. I did not want to take part in the 1992 show but the organisers had enough of my prints and drawings of their own to put up in the show.

Years passed and, at the end of 1997, I was approached again by Gila Ballas. She was asked to organise an exhibition in Haifa Museum of Art on the subject of Social Realism in the Fifties and the Sixties as part of the events to mark the 50th anniversary of the State of Israel, in 1998. Gila asked me if I would send some of my work from London. This time I heard myself saying: "Yes, I will." I had succumbed. Why did I succumb? My feelings about the politics of Israel had not changed, nor the behaviour of the Israeli people towards the Palestinians become more human. Was it because I saw the futility of my personal protests for all those years, that had not changed a thing, or was it the realisation that I was getting old? Now at the age of 73, did I want to regain my place in the Israeli art scene that I had neglected for so long? To give lip service to my wounded conscience, I stipulated two conditions. The first was that one of the pictures exhibited will be a collage made of two copies of Picasso's Guernica and photographs, with the title, Six Days' War. My second condition was to hang among my other pictures, a large empty frame with the title, The Massacre of Innocent Villagers in Kfar Kassem (a picture I did not paint in 1956).