Gabi BenZano profile

Gabi BenZano

Benzano was born in Morocco in 1943 and currently lives and works in Raanana. In 1971 his short animated film, Shape and Line, won a Silver Medal at the Venice Film Festival in the Experimental Film category.
Time spent in New York in 1975 proved to be a formative period in terms of Benzano’s artistic identity. Between 1970 and 1980 his work was defined as minimalistic and rational. At the same time he also ventured into nude line drawings, including an exhibition at the Holon Arts Center titled Woman in Line.
Together with artist Hanita Benzano, he founded the Beer Sheva Visual Arts Center in 1976. Since 1978 he has served as a senior staff member at the Holon Institute of Technology’s School of Design. In 1980 he turned his back on his minimalistic period in favor of “thinking art”.
His first museum exhibition took place at the Museum of Modern Art in Haifa in 1983. In 1986 he founded and directed The Studio, an arts study center in Raanana, jointly with Hanita Benzano. A comprehensive exhibition titled Head marked the opening of the Kfar Saba Municipal Gallery.
Since the year 2000 his line drawings have been transformed into drawings in iron. He enters into a dialog with his teachers from the 1960s, Yehezkel Streichman and Avshalom Okashi, as well as with Chaim Soutine, Willem De Kooning, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Moshe Kupferman, Lea Nikel (2009, works in tribute) and Pinchas Cohen Gan.
This site is dedicated to the exhibition named Wild at Heart which was held at Tel Aviv Artists House in September 2009.
Art curation and article: Naomi Aviv

Gabi Benzano // Wild at Heart //

by Naomi Aviv

Gabi Benzano knows a thing or two about art and painting. He knows that sometimes it is impossible to paint without discrediting painting, sometimes defiling it, releasing it from its image of purity, its burden of “culture” or “ideology”, and swathing it in radical gestures. A recent visit to the artist’s studio, prior to his exhibition at Artists’ House, standing in front of his stormy paintings, a kind of hedonistic, life-and-death Bacchanalia bursting forth; that “hunger that never brought me to any place” was clearly visible. This writer’s initial thoughts, elaborating on the lines of another poem by the same poet:

This is eternity
My own resurrection
The body imitates the spirit
And the spirit the body

Behavioral studies on heart transplant patients have concluded that the heart is more than a mere mechanical pump, perceived as beating out emotions and poetic metaphors. The heart, as proven in such studies, is also the key to wisdom and memory. It has, so they claim, a small memory of its own, able to recall flavors, smells, inclinations and preferences.

In Gabi Benzano’s new exhibition, he once again

seeks to distance himself from the “cerebral”, seemingly preferring to critique without reserve expressions of the artist as medium, or the artist as “nature” (as suggested by Jackson Pollock 60 years ago). In other words, Ben Janno approaches the present experience from a position of freedom, with an urge to make some improper gesture, even going so far as to include vulgarities in the form of images borrowed from porn websites. These images – which Benzano prefers to describe as “love making” – are implanted onto his paintings like a moment of birth, as the starting point of a spiritual-emotional process of “rebellion” in quotation marks, the same quotation marks that invariably represent what appears as an “afterthought”. Ben Janno wishes to be seen as an artist – without quotation marks; one who frees himself from the quotation marks that restrict the artist to being “an artist”, and art to being “art” – that is, an act which is a product of culture, education, processing, treatment, awareness and more.

Gabi Benzano (b. 1943) has mounted an all-new exhibition of works produced in recent months. His paintings are bursting with vital energy and present a free-spirited, immediate and erotic image of female nudity depicted on empty, flattened cardboard boxes. The medium and the use of industrial quality paint impart to the classical subject matter – the female nude – a harshly critical approach to the conventional view of the female body as a mass consumer product, accessible and disposable.

Some of the works here revert to being three dimensional objects painted on the interior, and are distributed over the central space as a crate-box-container. The upper surfaces of the box are wide open, exposed like body parts of the figure depicted. Others are positioned in the center of the space, forming an accordion-like partition painted on both sides. Images of naked women in concealed photographs, or in the paintings themselves, on the dividing sections of the cartons and gaping boxes, offer the spectator a twofold view – both voyeuristic and exhibitionistic, free of guilt or any sense of sin.

And it is precisely from within those paintings, executed in the center of folded cardboard boxes, that Benzano himself suddenly surfaces again, as though stripped of free will, and everything springs back, boomerang fashion. As though he is done, through with vomiting, discarding, secreting, hurling, trickling, spraying, rolling, kneading, relishing and wallowing in paint; and now his background, his education, years of study and instruction emerge once again; his exposure to the processes of painting and producing art, his teachers ranged side by side in an orderly line, his inspiration, past, memories, skills – all reappear as if in order.

Large, thick, cleanly drawn black lines appear on the partitions of the cardboard boxes. The crude and intense expressivity rearranges itself as a line, albeit an unruly one, but nevertheless a Benzano

line – the rusted iron line, the delicate, fine line, the scored line that penetrates beneath the monochrome paint surfaces of the past. The Ben Janno of the later drawings – his most recent drawings, those that appeared towards the end, only a few days before the opening of the exhibition: this is Benzano shaking himself free of a load that weighed heavily on him.

The current black line is reminiscent of one of his earlier periods, in the 1980s. Then too he worked on wrapping papers, drawing heads in vying lines, lines that revealed the classic struggle between head and heart, the rational and the spontaneous. “I did not know that I would return to line and line drawing”, Benzano admits, surprised at what he now sees as a device so successful that it almost deceived him: “I thought that this time I would discard everything, throw everything out. I looked at everything I had created thus far, and it all seemed frighteningly esthetic. I wanted to do something anti-esthetic, to work in a non-conformist way. I even chose the boxes to that end. Now I was unable to touch clean, white fabric. I had to work on some tattered, used, empty foundation. But here was my line, reappearing and demanding its own place in that moment”.

Adam Baruch once said of Yehezkel Streichman that “he is the subconscious of Israeli art”. It took Benzano many years to recognize that one of the motivating forces behind his paintbrush, directing his hand towards the paint pot and from there to

the painted surface, was none other than Yehezkel Streichman. Benzano does not consider Streichman to be a “lyrical abstract artist”, but an “action painter”, as too were both Chaim Soutine and Leah Nikel, with whose collages he now conducts a dialog via black patches from pants, glued onto his drawings to form repetitive black blotches.

The repetitive rhythm here is “a moment in life”, a moment in which body and time join in dance. Benzano’s current dance communicates itself as the choice of Life in the face of a sensual apathy, a time of distress and anxiety, a reality begging for “negative capability” , a spontaneous eruption-disruption.

Naomi Aviv September 2008