Natan Zach | 92

In Quest of the Lost Magic

Natan Zach

"Joshua Griffit travels", the art critic Dr. Gideon Ofrat wrote in an article in one of the artist's catalogues. "For ten years now he has been traveling in his paintings: in cars, by tram, by ship, by train, by motorcycle, on horseback, by sailboat or motorboat... and always by models of these vehicles — plastic toys, advertisement photographs... to the impossible longing". Hence, "this is a journey that has from the outset given up on traveling".

  Professor Ran Shechori, former director of the Bezalel Academy, follows suit: "The romantic and elegant magical beauty of the cars of the past with their images of organic curves... turns them into sculptured figures. Their perfect and majestic harmony appears as a realistic image on the canvas." Nevertheless, this quasi-realistic world is "a world which does not actually exist. A quasi-real environment which is only images and fictions. These are longings for landscapes which were never here, for people who are not here now," for an environment which never existed — then or now.

  Both critics focus justifiably on a central facet of the artist's work: the longing which does not allow itself to be a longing. The seriousness which cannot allow itself not to say: I'm serious, but not seriously. For the world of childhood — the world of angel-stickers, the world of the strange magic in one's first meeting with a super-elegant automobile, a cinematic love-boat or a nostalgic streetcar - is closed to the adult artist, who is sober even when he's being child-like, well aware of all that is callow and phoney in these glamorous symbols of a lost paradise which is as-it-were within reach.

  This is the source of the ambivalence here, which both critics described so well. On the one hand — the nostalgia. On the other — the irony and the mockery, also self-directed, which exposes this nostalgia and its objects to a world of "false, dead images, advertisement images, where behind the mask of glamorous illusion the internal decay is manifest."

  Griffit destroys, with his own hands, "the vehicle which is supposed to carry him to his dream destination," writes Ofrat in his sharp-witted introduction. Griffit deals with dreams — the erotic dream not excluded — or performs a demystification of these. In this view, he is "a dreamer who spoils dreams". As a result, his pictures simultaneously address two types of spectator, and possibly two contradictory poles in their expectations. One can be captivated by their "romantic and elegant magical beauty" without at all relating to their deliberate and controlled "ruptures" and discordance. But one can also concentrate on the emphases on "the banalization, the commercialization and the popularization", and then we can perceive Griffit's world as really "an arena of illusion and faking", as a journey into Kitsch in order to exorcize it.

  There is also a third possibility, however. One can both experience and live with the ambiguity that underlies this art. Because in Griffit's world a harmony does exist. not only of the sentimental and the naive in Schiller's sense, nor only of the illusion and the flight from illusion, but also of the beauty and the Kitsch. the randomness and the perfectionistic and controlled artifact produced by the air-brush in the style of the eighties.

Are we then mistaken when we recognize here traces of a native-Israeli experience, which is authentic in all its awareness of its inauthenticity, pathetic in all its mockery; which reaches out to what will always remain unattainable except as a dream, as a legend, as a quotation from another time, another place, another source?

         The aspirations of these who would isolate art from the social world are analogous to those of Kant's             dove which dreamed of how much freer its flight could be if only it were released from the resistance             of the air. If we are to learn any lesson from the history of the past fifty years of art, it is surely that an           art unattached to the social world is free to go anywhere but that it has nowhere to go.

Victor Burgin, Work and Commentary

And this is precisely the nowhere land inhabited by the callow-ripe, childish-adult and so very accomplished art of Joshua Griffit.