Art of Shimon Tzabar


Shimon did many things during his lifetime, but he always considered himself an artist. He showed talent for drawing from an early age though he never managed to be the best in the class (read The beginning of an artist).

Throughout his life, he engaged in different visual art media (see Paintings, Drawings, Prints, Collages). He made a few sculptures and even attempted conceptual art which may have suited his way of thinking and his sense of the absurd, but he did not consider it a serious art form. The most memorable example of his conceptual art work was crossing out with a thick black pen every single line of Joyce’s Ulysses.

In the 1950s, Shimon was a member of the Kvutzat Ha’asara (The Group of Ten), exhibited with the group (read Group of Ten and other things) and participated in other group shows, including one at the Pushkin Museum, Moscow. He also had at least three solo exhibitions in Tel Aviv (at the Mo’adon Letarbut Mitkadement, the Club for Progressive Culture, Galeria Katz, and Galeria Orit) and one in Copenhagen. He was known in Israel of the 1950s and 1960s, predominantly for his draughtsmanship, his seemingly effortless but nevertheless precise line, and for his paintings and prints executed in the style of his own version of social realism.

At the time when other Israeli artists dreamed about spending time in Paris, Shimon wanted to go to Mexico and to learn fresco painting from Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. This dream eluded him, but he managed to get a commission to decorate with mosaics a pool with a fountain, in Gan Ha’atzma’ut (Independence Park) in Tel Aviv. This commission satisfied his need to make art that was accessible to all (read On street art: mosaics in the Independence Park, and see the work itself in Mosaic). The pool’s surrounding wall is filled with mosaics: decorative sections along the sides that are suggestive of waves, and a series of diamond-shaped panels on the top depicting 22 animals commonly found in Israel. The fountain, together with the mosaics, was damaged (Shimon had believed that it was destroyed) during the process of hotel building work on the sea front. Unexpectedly, however, it was reconstructed by Tel Aviv Municipality in 2009. The sad irony about the fountain is that its location is on, or very close to, a now destroyed Muslim cemetery (read about the destruction of the Muslim cemetery in Shimon’s column in Ha’olam Hazze, Kotzo shel Tzabar [H]).

While in London, he participated (reluctantly) in two group exhibitions in Israel – in 1981, an exhibition to mark the 30th anniversary of the first show of Kvutzat Ha’asara in the Museum of Israeli Art, in Ramat Gan, and in 1998, an exhibition, Social Realism in the 50’s in the Museum of Art, in Haifa. Both exhibitions were curated by Gila Ballas (read her essay from the catalogue of the exhibition in Haifa read also about Shimon's reasons for participating in these exhibitions, and his reasons for refusing to participate in others, in Making Art in London).

In the early years in London, being busy with political writing (see Politics), writing the White Flag Principle (see Books), earning a living, there were long breaks between bursts of artistic activity. During this period Shimon made collages, large scale works on paper (see Mixed media), drawings and watercolours. When he finally retired from his building work, Shimon resumed painting, which resulted in a series of small scale pictures, mostly, though not only, of still life. He wrote about these paintings in his memoirs: “what I liked to do best and what I also appreciated in the work of other painters, were small pictures that do not try to impress the viewer with their literary, philosophical or conceptual content or their size.” In his last years he revisited his old paintings and drawings, and used them as inspiration for a large set of richly coloured woodcuts (see Woodcut).

In London, Shimon never held a solo exhibition or participated in a group show, though towards the end of his life he put together an exhibition of his late prints in the home of a friend, for his friends.