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Painted in 1991 in Reeb's Tel Aviv studio, Ofrah Haza with Soldiers in Gaza depicts the contact sheets from photographs taken by Miki Kratsman (an Israeli photo-journalist who works for the newspaper Ha'aretz) and indicates the synchronous and serendipitous nature of a photographer's work and of life in Israel. The first eighteen shots on the reel, reproduced in the top half of the painting, depict crowds in the street and a Jewish Yemenite singer, Ofra Haza, in a social situation which could only be described as perfectly 'normal' - normal, that is, by western European standards. But the last eighteen shots on the reel, which form the bottom half of the painting, illustrate disturbances in Gaza in the late 1980s, indicating that a peaceful life of pleasure and entertainment coexists simultaneously with violence and war. Painted in blue and black, the canvas depicts unedited contact prints in direct contrast to the way that news is edited and filtered to the outside world. The manner in which Reeb paints, which is deliberately sketchy and painterly, is at once illusionistic while at the same time declaring boldly that it is nothing more than a painting. It is important to the artist that the viewer can reconstruct the way in which the painting was made and the actions the painter took to achieve it. Similarly, the fact that the images are laid out in a direct replication of the contact strip allows the viewer to reconstruct the order in which the shots were taken and thus the passage of time of real life events.
The subject matter of Reeb's work always has a political connection, normally to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Israeli occupation of Arab territory. He works from photographs which are frequently taken by another photographer, usually Miki Kratsman. He paints in the isolation of his studio in Tel Aviv with music blaring in the background. Thus the conditions under which he works are entirely dissimilar to the conditions under which the photographer works, which are generally dangerous and to the accompaniment of gunfire. Reeb sees himself as a dispassionate observer of an irresolvable conflict.
The photographs are projected onto canvas in a darkened room and Reeb, interposing himself between projector and canvas, inevitably blocks the part of the image he is painting. Thus he must work from memory within the context of the prompts given by the surviving parts of the projection. Memory plays an important role in his work for the memory of the conflict between Arab and Israeli subsumes memories of the holocaust and of the State of Israel's own subsequent quest for recognition as an independent state. Thus Reeb's paintings work on a number of different levels and often with a sense of detached irony which comes from his own ambivalence towards the aims of the state of Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians, as well as from his deadpan use of photographs of emotive subjects.
Let's Have Another War: David Reeb, M Publishers, Tel Aviv 1997
David Reeb: Recent Paintings and Photographs, exhibition catalogue, Haus am Lützowplatz, Berlin 1999
Jeremy Lewison and Giorgia Bottinelli