by Martin Schneider
In the Beginning, God created the Surreal
When I received the invitation to take part in a presentation on Jewish Surrealism, and to be more specific, on Victor Brauner and Baruch Elron, I got very excited. I consider myself an admirer and a connoisseur of Baruch Elron’s work, Brauner is a universal reference in the world of art and thus, the event, about which I did not know anything else, appeared to meet up all the premises for something very interesting. I knew that there were coming some guests from Spain, the country of Dalinian Surrealism and I was sure that it would be a wonderful evening. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was to enter into a genuinely surreal world and to take part, live, in a surreal act.
What seemed to be a cultural event in the conference room of a central hotel in Berlin, turned into an explosion of colors, sounds and flavor. From the beginning, just as I entered the hall that led to the room, things made an unexpected turn. One could hear a pretty loud music, a harmony of Oriental sounds and English words, melting itself into Hebrew language and modern rhythms. I drew nearer, shy and confused.
“Bereshit” whispered someone near me, and afterwards continues in English: “Do you like it?” Taken by surprise, I didn’t have enough time to understand anything and I received the clarification: “the music, it is called Bereshit, by Ofra Haza. It can be translated as Genesis. If you prefer, we can turn it lower, until the beginning of the event”. Suddenly, the ideas connected in my head, electrically. Of course, I was familiar with Ofra Haza’s music, I also liked Esther Ofarim, even Dana International…but I didn’t expect to find her here. Almost always, these types of cultural events are, let’s face it, all the same, and I have never before participated to one so out of the ordinary.
The room was submerged in semi-obscurity; the music repeated itself hypnotically, on a screen made of almost liquid plasma, famous painting of Elron and Brauner circulated without a break. Colours, winged women, animal-tables, birds were tossing around noisily, water stirring up joyously. Everywhere, Life was throbbing, colorful, moist and soundful.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, and the light and the dark
Black and white, male and female, for life and love, for life and love…”
“We will begin in 10 minutes”, announced with a smile, Eva Defeses, the event organizer. I had the razor-sharp feeling that I had entered another world, a surreal one, laid on top of the surrounding space. My interlocutor seemed to be herself a surreal vision, her hair too red, and her eyes too dark. Had it not been for the glowing tan of her complexion, in such sharp contrast with everybody else’s whiteness, which rendered her more real, I would have thought I were in front of Fata Morgana, or that I had entered, not into the conference room of a modern hotel, but right into King David’s Palace.
The event started with the projection of 2 videos that gathered the most important works of both painters. Victor Brauner and Baruch Elron shared, just as we would discover that evening, more than their Jewish origin and place of birth (Romania). A good starting point had been facilitated to us by the election of the works on the event poster, 2 self-portraits, in which the common theme was the eye. They both spoke, nevertheless, of another matter, of that special state of clairvoyance, of artistic intuition that the Surrealists loved so much, a clairvoyance, which, with Brauner, proved itself to be true, as we all know. Elron’s self-portrait had another pair of eyes and it was called “The Artist’s Vision”.
I would like to present here, in a few lines, some of the ideas of the presentation that I gave, under the title: “Jewish Premonition, from Prophets to Artists”. In order to better understand the works of these 2 painters, suspended between dream and reality, between prophecy and coincidence, we have to go back in time, in the beginning…
There has always existed a strong connection between dreams and the Jewish people, the only one that has built its entire history and society through a dialogue with G-d, a dialogue intermediated by the prophets and their dreams. Being able to interpret dreams was, as we see it so often in the Old Testament, of utmost importance and also the proof of a direct link between the human being and the Divinity. Later on, after the glorious times of the prophets, this invisible link survived thanks to the men of wisdom, of the writers, artists, musicians. Hence, we arrive, travelling throughout the centuries, at the present times, admiring the works of these great Jewish creators, who both share the same foundation of imagination and artistic intuition.
I had received, translated, Héctor Martínez Sanz’s article on his entering “Elron’s Den” (out of which I suppose that he has not yet emerged), and I was touched by the truth of the final phrases: “Those who do not perceive art in this world, who believe that magic is pointless – and I am not one of them- , without realizing that the magic is precisely what brings us to reality, can find pleasure in admiring a series of works of pure nature in movement, of impressionist landscapes, where scissor-like birds become birds again, where tress get replanted in the ground and flowers grow in their places. They can at least be aware of Elron’s proficiency in his most realistic facet, and they will have to surrender themselves in front of a painter who travels from one shore to another, from Fantasy to Reality and from Reality back to Fantasy, a painter who has a house on each shore of the river of life.”
The key words in this fragment are Fantasy and Reality but the vehicle used to make this travel possible is missing. The Surrealists’ vehicle is called intuition. Before the artists’, it was called “prophetic gift”. In modern times, they began to call it “clairvoyance”. A great many, especially of those “who do not perceive art in this world, who believe that magic is pointless”, call it “concidence”.
Fortunately, the other guests suffered from the same quixotic madness as I did and used all of the means that art criticism could put before us in order to be able to cross the movements, to make connections between artists of different generations, to extract the common essence out of apparently distinct things. This magic that Héctor Martínez Sanz was talking about is called art and it offers the human being the possibility not only to get nearer the Divinity, but also to become Divine. Take a look at Elron’s world! It has its own society, inhabitants, it also makes use of cars and other machines, it is full of butterflies, of rhythm and taste, music and silky waves. Within his own world, the artist is G-d, and he can create and re-create it anytime he wants. Beginning from here, we arrive, again, at the debate on art and its survival, its death and regeneration. The vehicle can be changed, the brush can give way to another tool, but what remains essential is the magical breeze that constitutes the base of any artistic act, the intuition. The artist transforms and regenerates himself, but the creative impulse stays the same. Just as Alexander Schmidt pointed out, art is a living organism, in a process of continuous regeneration.
Another topic that I wanted to dwell upon was the extraordinary openness with which the German people received Elron’s work. More than in any other European country, Elron is known and admired in Germany and this can only fill me with pride and joy. Here, he had many of his most important shows, in almost all the major cities, in important museums and galleries. Germany opened, in amazement, its arms and surrendered to the fantastic world created by Elron. I can only hope that Spain will do the same thing and I salute Héctor Martínez Sanz’s initiative to write a book in order to present to the Spanish public another type of Surrealism, fantastic, magical and intuitive, the world of Baruch Elron. I was surprised to find out that Baruch Elron had family roots in Spain and I ponder once more on the difference (or similarity) between intuitions and coincidences. Nevertheless, in his lifetime, the Israeli painter had neither exhibitions nor presentations in Spain. Even more, the initiative of Héctor Martínez Sanz is congratulatory.
The initiative of Niram Art Israel Magazine is also of interest, that is to begin in Germany the first step of their ample project to bring Elron’s work to the knowledge of the Spanish public, via the German one, who already knows and admires it. From Germany to Spain, from Berlin to Madrid, from Israel to the entire world.
At the end of the event, we were invited to glance through a few books of the Niram Art Publishing House and I stopped in front of one of them on whose cover I recognized one of my favorite Elron paintings. I read in the event leaflet, to my surprise, that one of Elron’s first successes, at the beginning of his painting carrier, ocurred here, in Germany, when he received an award for book illustration at a Dresden contest. Everything got even more surreal, because I couldn’t distinguish anymore between the years 1960 and 2011, Dresden or Berlin, Brauner or Elron.
I tasted the red wine served to us while Ofra Haza’s voice conquered the ambiance once more, flying out of the room, into the night of Berlin, towards the Sacred Land. The lights had been dimmed and, obsessively, the screen projected images of the world created by the two artists. The eye ran down and its liquid wet my hands. Or was it the blood flowing from my cut head? I raised my shoulders…I was, yet again, inside a tent in the Israeli desert, as in the time of old.
In the beginning, G-d created the Surreal. Afterwards, so that everybody could understand, He created the Real. Nevertheless, there are still some, of the early kind, who do not need explanations.
Berlin, July 30th 2011
Translation provided by Defeses Fine Arts PR Agency
Martin Schneider (1971, Berlin) is curator of art exhibitions and organizer of art workshops for young people. Graduated in Philology, with Master’s degree in History of Religions, Martin Schneider is a professor of comparative literature in Berlin.