Michael Gross

Self Portrait


Not on display

Michael Gross 1920–2004
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 2000 × 1160 × 32 mm
Presented by Joseph Hackmey 2000


Michael Gross was born into the sixth generation of a family of Jews who had settled in Tiberias, a holiday resort and pilgrimage destination on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, in the nineteenth century. He has practised as both a sculptor and a painter over the length of his career. His work is informed by his childhood memories of working on the family farm which had been established by his father on the shores of Lake Tiberias (also known as the Sea of Galilee) near Tiberias, the death of his uncle and his father at the hands of the Palestinians in 1938 and 1939 respectively and the continuing Arab-Israeli conflict. He works in both an abstract and a figurative idiom and frequently his paintings and sculptures have a strong conceptual element. He has made a series of portraits of his father in which he is depicted as a narrow, singular figure, often enclosed within a framed structure to one side of the painting, a ghostly presence within a sarcophagus-like space constructed from 'poor' materials which recall the family home sacked by the Palestinians during the 1936 riots. His father is a continuing presence as well as a victim in a dream that turned sour.

In this self-portrait executed in his studio near Tel Aviv, Gross characteristically depicts himself to one side of the canvas, adopting the rectilinear position of his father in earlier paintings. It is uncertain whether his eyes are open or shut, whether the artist is alive or dead; his dark shirt suggests an air of mournfulness. Cut off at the bottom, the grey area beneath the dark shirt has the appearance of being unfinished, as though to do so would bring the artist's life to completion. He stands there, a vulnerable figure, a fragile totem surrounded by a painful emptiness and in melancholic contemplation. The paint is applied freely in vertical strokes that accentuate the totemic nature of the image.

Further reading:
Michael Gross: Sculptures, Paintings, Drawings, Prints, exhibition catalogue, Haifa Museum of Modern Art, Haifa 1989
Mordechai Omer, Michael Gross, The Genia Schreiber University Art Gallery, Tel Aviv University, in collaboration with Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv 1993

Jeremy Lewison and Giorgia Bottinelli
February 2002

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Technique and condition

The artist has stretched a commercially primed canvas onto a stretcher. The greater part of the painting is exposed ground.

In the left part, the figure has been depicted with thinly applied paint. The deep blue torso area is vigorously brushed, with the stretcher cross bar being contacted. Lack of gloss indicates this paint was thinned with white spirit only. Whereas the lighter toned areas are more glossy. Paint medium was probably added. In some places more than one layer was applied. Generally a single layer of paint is employed.

The work is in excellent condition.

Annette King and Tim Green
September 2000

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