David Reeb

Ofra Haza with Soldiers in Gaza

1991

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Artist
David Reeb born 1952
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 1396 x 1595 x 28 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Joseph Hackmey 2000
Reference
T07651

Not on display

Summary

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.

Further reading:
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
February 2002

Technique and condition

A fine, plainly woven linen canvas was stretched onto a fixed strainer of unusual, and probably homemade design. It was then primed with a white granular, ground applied with a brush upto the reverse edges of the tacking margins. This priming appears to have been brushed vigorously into the canvas as the canvas has been pushed back into contact with the strainer bars and the priming has been forced through the canvas to be visible on the reverse and the inside of the stretcher bars. There are also numerous burst air bubbles which add to the lively texture of the surface.

Once primed with the slightly rough textured white layer, a thin, but intense blue wash was applied with broad uneven brushstrokes. It appears to be dilute oil paint. Where the brush was loaded, hard, bleeding edges are manifest, whereas thin patches which show the white of the priming appear where the brush was drier.

To create the design, the artist projected images by photographer Miki Kratsman (photo-journalist working for newspaper Ha'aretz) onto the canvas. He interposed himself between projection and canvas so that his body obliterated the part of the image he was working on. He therefore had to work from memory, when painting on the canvas and make up the image from what was still visible around him. His technique is deliberately painterly and sketchy to belie the photo-journalistic format he has chosen. This allows the work to operate on two different levels. On the one hand he is depicting real events, whilst on the other he is deliberately filtering them through his own artistic vision to draw attention to the fact that it is a painting. It is important to him that the viewer can reconstruct the way in which the painting was put together. Similarly the way in which he has laid out the image as a series of unedited contact prints, allows the viewer to reconstruct the order in which the shots were taken and thus the passage of real life events which inspired the work.

Annette King
September 2000