Israeli light in a Jaffa gallery - and at the Venice Biennale

Ariella Wertheimer's art has gone global. She tells Arutz Sheva about her lightboxes and grids, Zionism and even Rabbi Kook in Jaffa.

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Rochel Sylvetsky,

Ariella Wertheimer
Ariella Wertheimer
INN:PR

The first association with the name Wertheimer for most Israelis is industrialist Stef Wertheimer, founder of the Kfar Vradim rural industrial village in the Galilee.

But there is another Wertheimer, the artist Ariella Wertheimer, Stef's daughter in law, whose penetrating observations of Israel's national psyche light up – literally – what is behind the steel frameworks that fill the urban landscapes of a complex country that deals with the uneven mixture of mixed cultures, Holocaust memories, Jewish traditions, the enemy without and the conflicts within.

Universal themes such as motherhood, violence, the smartphone generation – and the artistic contrast between Jaffa and Venice, two ports on the Mediterranean – add other dimensions to her powerful work.

Ariella's method of artistic expression is so unusual and arresting that this mother of five grown children has achieved global recognition. Her works are on display at the prestigious Venice Biennale 2017, which continues until mid November.

Ariella's studio is on Kibbutz Galuyot Street in the industrial area of Tel Aviv. And in 2016, she opened an exclusive exhibition at the Farkash Gallery called “The Freedom to Let Go” Light Boxes.

Arutz Sheva met Ariella over a cup of coffee in Jerusalem to find out more about .the artist whose unique works have gone global and found that behind the talent, creativity and international fame there is an idealistic, Zionist, family oriented, "salt of the earth" Israeli woman who continues her family's tradition of giving to others.

Explain how you create your unique "light box" art.

Ariella: I photograph steel frameworks of consruction around Tel Aviv and print them on transparent plexiglass. My paintings are on canvas placed behind the plexiglass, but between the two surfaces is a source of light that illuminates the work in both its facets.

What is the result?

Ariella: The work is three-dimensional, but looks different from near, far away and from the side, just the way we see things differently from different perspectives. And one never looks at anything as a flat surface, because nothing you see is ever flat.

What do the grids symbolize?

Ariella: The first thing that fascinated me when I moved to Tel Aviv was all the steel frameworks of all the buildings going up everywhere. I wanted to get behind them to the human beings inside and that is why many of my works have a grid as the front panel, behind which the subject of the work is seen.

Arutz Sheva discovered that there is another Ariella Wertheimer, the giving person behind the grid that describes her art.

What brought you to Jerusalem today?

Ariella: I had a meeting with an organization here that deals with troubled youth. All the proceeds from my art sales go to charity – the Rambam Oncology Department, at-risk teens, Ethiopian immigrants. We help existing organizations, but we do it anonymously and you won't find my name listed or on a plaque.

Where and how did you grow up?

Ariella: I was born in 1957, grew up in Nahariya, the place to which my family immigrated. I also grew up on their stories, turning me into a staunch Zionist who served as a radiologist in the IDF for 12 years and married a pilot who had come from Czechoslovakia. We eventually divorced and I later married my first sweetheart, Eitan, a successful technology industrialist in his own right today and whom I had known since the age of 10. He proposed when I was 21, but I was in love with the pilot I had met in the army and refused him. Later he said he had simply waited for me.

Both our families are from Argentina, and although today our family is non-observant, it is suffused with the values of pioneering Eretz Yisrael, love of mankind and helping those in need. I feel that we carry on our family's tradition that way.

How did your family choose Nahariya?

Ariella: I grew up on the stories of my famiy. My maternal grandmother's family fled the Ukraine pogroms in 1882 and moved to Argentina where Baron Hirsch had built settlements. My grandfather built the synagogue and had a mikveh in his home, founded a small factory. My grandmother had an open house where she served Sabbath meals to everyone. They helped other immigrants get settled.

My paternal grandfather's family left Lithuania before WWII and they are the only survivors of his extended family. He was the shamash in his synagogue and taught Bar Mitzvah boys in Nahariya where they settled. I remember going to synagogue with my grandparents and a flag on Simchat Torah. My father joined the Shomer Hatzair youth movement and was non-observant, but still, I was raised on traditional, caring Judaism.

You have a set of works on leaders. Whom do you choose?

Ariella: When public figures are my subjects, they are those who have been through a great deal and understand that they have to help others. Life can be like a palm tree, a tree that grows from a seed to the fruit, through climate changes, and its every part can be used by mankind: for shelter, ropes, fire, building. The fruit is success, peace, the tree generosity, strength. That is what leadership must be.

Why did you turn to art?

Ariella: I have been painting since I was a child. Eitan encouraged me to study and develop my dream. We moved to Tel Aviv when the children grew up and I became drawn to iron, steel, the skeletons of the buildings - maybe a connection to my IDF work as a radiologist. Maybe I thought of the framework for building this country.

Tell us some of your themes:

Ariella: There is Jaffa, the place where before WWI, Jews came from Eastern Europe and met sights, smells, colors, weather, spices, culture, light that was totally new. Rabbi Kook was among them and soon became a leader. How did that happen? How did they find their way, how was that meeting? Art is about the meeting of different people, different cultures, and that is behind my Jaffa series.

And the grids?

Ariella: Then there is the fact that each of us has a prison, stands behind the bars. Once someone embraces the bars of that prison, embraces problems, he can obtain the strength to set himself free, but everyone is trapped to some extent between those railings. A person has to look at himself while he looks at my works. So alongside each story there is a virtual mirror so the viewer can actually look at himself.

Ariella herself writes the accompaniment to each work. A selection is below.

Works:

Chandelier – 100 shards of glass made into a light fixture, even on the bottom and of different heights on the top, the vulnerabitlity and breakability of married life, how it can be shattered, like the cup shattered at a Jewish wedding ceremony, but can be full of light as well. As one walks around it, it looks different, as marriage changes over the years. A man and woman are painted on it, along with the words from the Jewish chuppah : For you are sanctified unto me.

Wertheiemer: Chandelier
INN:PR

The Last Supper: 12 young people enter a restaurant to dine together Each is immediately and totally preoccupied with his smartphone, then photographs the meal, sends it on, waits for the Facebook critique and so on. It conveys a sense of social anxiety, instant judgment, no real communication with gradations of opinion. A smartphone is a kind of light box itself.

Part of The Last Supper
INN: PR

My father He ran away from war, cold and hunger, but Zionism ran through his bones, he came to Israel, but nothing awaited him there. A hard working man that looked up with hope and the belief that one day the land will embrace him.

The neighbor: When I was a child, in our neighborhood, there was the old lady who constantly yelled, didn't like children, didn't like noise, didn't like herself.

Wertheimer selection
INN:PR

Ariella: One woman, a subject of a light box, said that she is not as strong as I have made her to be. You are an intense, strong women, I said to her. This has a price. It is the weight of life on our shoulders. Life, like light, changes, nothing should be taken for granted, but everything should be faced.








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