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From Filigree to Flux

Written By Dr. Michael Sgan Cohen

Our penchant for beauty is manifested in a universal love of jewelry, objets d’art, and what is somewhat condescendingly called “decorative art,” though it demands great skill of execution.

In the modernist period (as in other ages and styles), jewelry design tended to the pretentious and exclusive, as epitomized by the Dadaist pieces worn by Baroness Else von Freitag Luringhoven, an eccentric protagonist of the New York Dada, or by Alexander Calder’s earrings, worn by Peggy Guggenheim at the inauguration of her New York gallery, Art of This Century, in 1942. But the main attraction of jewelry derives precisely from its universal appeal as an object of beauty and grace.

When I first saw Neta Dor’s miniatures, they reminded me of jewelry, and then I recalled that she had indeed designed and made jewelry in the past. When I shared these reflections with her during a conversation, Dor responded by showing me pieces of jewelry from her collection. Exquisite and delicate, these ornaments are fashioned in the ancient Oriental filigree technique. Although our discussion related mainly to her small-size etchings, Dor noted that her background bears on the larger prints as well, confirming my own impression.

Dor’s etchings have a relevance of their own, distinct from the content and concerns of the onrush of innovative art forms. They contain familiar motifs from nature and from her immediate environment, focusing on and reinvestigating distinctive elements and details: the spherical heads of three sharp-beaked and round-eyed birds, branches carrying small round fruits, a couple of grasshoppers in medallion format, a still-life with a jar of flowers, an empty bench covered with shed leaves, a shaded corner of the park.

Dor represents all these motifs with great dexterity and structural richness, combined with an economy of detail which calls to mind traditional Chinese and Japanese landscape painting. She consciously and conspicuously avoids the urban or electronic elements of the surrounding world. We all take a delight in scenic sites, such as the stately avenue of palm trees leading up to the villa of Lord Melchett by the Sea of Galilee. Dor savors that delight for herself and for us, singling out beauty spots which can be translated to advantage into the medium of etching, invested with the aesthetic dimension of jewelry in the fundamental sense of something attractive, precious, and precise.

As our life environment becomes increasingly urban, nature takes on the aspect of a haven. It can still be contemplated and depicted in straightforward pictures, hung on the wall and enjoyed, like Dor’s etchings and drawings. She even allows herself to tell stories about the images, especially when they contain figures and animals, interpreted in a personal mode, as symbols. The symbolic import infuses the images with a lyrical poignancy, as in the series “Openings,” where the soft light filling the window connotes the Middle East peacemaking process. Thus Dor annuls a modernist taboo, which does not apply to the realm of her jewelry-etchings. In the more recent works, however, especially in the large formats, she tends to focus on her motifs in a close-up view which “cleans” them of excessive narrativity; thus a “landscape” may consist solely of branches and leaves, or even of a hat with a single flower on the unseen head of a woman. This focus imparts to the images a special clarity and concentration, supported as always by Dor’s impressive command of her medium.

One of Neta Dor’s latest series, titled “Flow,” warrants a more detailed discussion. It was created after she had watched the performances of the Bat Dor ballet company over a period of two years at the invitation of its founder, Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild, and its artistic director, Jeanette Ordman (to whom the series was dedicated), drawing the fabrics wrapping the bodies of the dancers with the intent of emphasizing the abstract flow of the dancers’ movements.

Dor’s observation that, in these works, “the abstract comes to expression in the subject matter rather than in the image itself,” relates to the axiom of the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus, “panta rhei” (as she called her previous exhibition). The flow of the fabric along with the unfolding movements becomes a graphic representation of the flux of reality. Thus Dor’s loving observation of nature is tempered by a keen awareness that transience is at the heart of existence.

In the series “Flow” we do not see a group of dancers but a close-up of a single dancer – or rather of the sinuous silhouette of the fluttering fabric, and occasionally a hint of some part of the body. Besides their forceful rendering of flowing movement, these images are interesting and intriguing precisely because it is clear that they represent fabric, i.e., something tangible, while at the same time having a quasi-abstract and somehow enigmatic quality. They are also anchored in the history of art, recalling the Greek sculptors’ unsurpassed handling of drapery, Renaissance and Baroque studies of fabrics, Degas’ cropped compositions and late pastels, or Toulouse-Lautrec’s bold renderings of cancan dancers and their whirling skirts and petticoats. However, Dor’s etchings convey nothing of the frivolous gaiety of the latter works, and there is a deliberating, intellectual quality in their semi-abstract mode of representation. In my opinion, this is one of the best series created by Dor in the past several years, drawing on classical themes yet focusing on the motif with the quintessentially “modern” intention of proving that movement, flux, is a theme in its own right.

Neta Dor’s etchings and drawings demonstrate that these traditional media still have an important function to serve in today’s digital world, conveying reflections and perceptions that transcend time. Dor indeed contrives to give a vivid and personal expression to her view of life in works which combine technical mastery and perceptual acuity. 1997

Dr. Michael Sgan – Cohen, Artist, art researcher, lecturer and art critic


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