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Metamorphoses - Angela Levine

Written By Angela Levine

With “Metamorphosis” a suite of some 50 computer-generated drawings, Israeli artist Neta Dor makes a dramatic leap into the world of computers and digital technology. This is a surprising development from several perspectives. Not least, because Dor has specialized for more than 20 years in the production of artistic prints of a romantic and traditional character.

Dor has been quick to appreciate that the computer with its multi-option, point and pick programmes offers a freedom and spontaneity not attainable in the medium of etching where she was obliged to preplan every detail. She finds that one of the joys of working in this new medium is that she does not have to pre-visualize her end-images and effects to the last degree.

She has also discovered, so it seems, what Matisse once described as the “passion of color.” In consequence, she has moved from the monochrome or low-key color range, which characterized her etchings to a far, more vivid and richer expression, while customizing a new palette which she can store and access at will. In addition, the computer’s ability to blend, merge, shrink, split or multiply images and forms at a moment’s notice has clearly boosted Dor’s creative impulse taking all her work forward in exciting directions.

Dor has not made the mistake of becoming subservient to the computer, viewing it only as a super-intelligent tool. Lillian F. Schwartz, a pioneer in computer art and computer graphics, has compared the ideal relationship between an artist and his computer with that of the master-apprentice system practised during the Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci, for instance, trained his students to carry out special tasks but always kept the total artwork firmly under his control*.

Dor’s new drawings, comprising four major series and a number of single pieces or smaller sets of work, deal with themes which have underpinned her print oeuvre for years; namely, such topics as the cyclic flow of life, movement and flux, and the dimension of time and space viewed as a merger between past, present and future.

The images in this collection, whether tree, house, bird or boat, originate in Dor’s large oeuvre of etchings which are known, in general, for their gentle beauty and tranquility of spirit. But here, in this new medium, Dor has created in some instances a mood of tension and threat. The drawing, “Firebirds,” is one example. In contrast to her etchings where Dor depicted the plump and preening inhabitants of a dovecote or captured the graceful flight of cranes over water, one now finds her producing strange hybrid birds suspended in time between a blood-red earth and a blood-red sky. These are frightening phantoms, waiting to pounce; whose wings and talons are seemingly caught within transparent or semi-opaque planes of green, yellow and brown.

Equally threatening is Dor’s new view of the “Tree of Life.” In the past, her trees have been mostly sited within the Israeli landscape. But in this drawing, one sees only an uprooted trunk, overlaid with splashes of orange-red and brown and where its gnarled protrusions are indivisible from the white lacunae and black pitted surfaces surrounding it.

Veils, shadows or blank spaces are a special feature of many of these drawings, conveying the idea of absence, of secrets or of events of which we have no knowledge or control. This feature is especially prominent in the two series titled respectively “Sun-Shades – Metamorphosis” and “Shadows.”

The “Sun-Shades” drawings are especially captivating. At present this series consists of some 15 pieces but the possibilities are infinite, given the computer’s ability to create a permanent storehouse of images and forms which can be resuscitated and developed at a future date.

The heat of the Israeli summer, the blinding rays of the sun at the seashore, is marvelously conveyed in the earliest drawings in this series either by vivid bands of yellow and orange surrounding the central image of an open sunshade, or by a soft, mottled, Seurat-like treatment of the whole scene. At the start of the series, one sunshade only is depicted. Later the image is multiplied and abstracted. Its contours echo the curved lines of distant mountain-tops, with its blue shadow cast on the ground gradually acquiring, from version to version, an independent life of its own. In one lyrical piece, the objects and their shadows have become huge limpid objects, like giant mushrooms, which hover above the earth.

Odd man out in this series, is “A View from Another Planet;” a drawing conceived in an abstracted style which recalls the circular cosmic forms of French Orphic painter Robert Delauney. Here sunshades, shadows and seascape are reduced to bands of color and linear fragments which frame a giant human eye at the centre of the picture. “Chaos” is the most turbulent version of the whole “Sunshade” series. With the object and its shadow reduced to bright patches of color one can barely pinpoint their present in this tightly knit composition which gives the effect of a collision between surging waters and a seething ground mass.

The source-image for the “Shadows” series is an unusual etching (also given the name “Shadow”) that Dor executed in 1998. It shows a single tree with bare branches planted on an otherwise barren coastline. Its shadow is described as a network of dark brown lines slanting across the pale earth. In the present series, a purple deck chair replaces a tree, but the appearance of its shadow is comparable to that cast by the etched tree. In this drawing, the chair’s brown and white shadow progressively attains importance as it becomes stretched and distorted against a reddish ochre background. In the final version, a few stray remnants of the chair and its shadow are seen floating in a stormy sky.

Fragmentation and disintegration are comparatively new features in Dor’s thematic repertoire. These qualities are illustrated, for example, in the series “Friend – Metamorphosis.” The first work consists of a fairly detailed colored portrait of a working man, with a cloth cap on his head. Through a succession of color changes, reversed emphasis given to foreground and background, and the eventual extinction of a recognizable image, Dor convincingly projects the idea of gradual physical deterioration of the man. In the final frame, rendered against ghostly grey and white bands of color, nothing remains of his head save for a squiggle of lines and blobs of ash falling from the cigarette still held in his mouth.

Considering that Dor has achieved a new artistic freedom by intelligent and selective use of the electronic tools at her disposal, it is fitting to conclude this short review of her drawings by referring to her current depictions of horses, creatures which have always been potential symbols of liberty in her work. But among her etchings of the 1980s and ’90s, these animals seldom appear as free spirits. One finds them constrained by bridle and bit; or as wooden toys, harnessed to a merry-go-round or in the guise of rocking horses. Now in this new medium, they finally, like Neta Dor herself, attain their complete freedom. Throwing off all constraints, they are seen floating and galloping in space, their fetters tossed to the wind.

Angela Levine An art critic and historian, M.A. degree in art history.

* Lillian F.Schwartz, The Computer Artist’s Handbook, W.W. Norton, New York,

1992, page 232.

From a letter sent to the Editor of ” Art on Paper” by Angela Levine

…Neta Dor Lemelshtrich, is one of Israel’s most important printmakers, which go on exhibit in December at the Horace Richter gallery, Jaffa, Israel

This series, shown in Germany earlier this year, represents a new development in Dor’s oeuvre which has previously been centered on the medium of etching. In it, Dor customizes a vibrant palette while exploiting the computer’s ability to blend, merge, shrink, split and multiply images.

As you will note from the biographical notes that I have sent you as an attachment, Dor Lemelshtrish is the recipient of many prestigious awards; and an article focusing on her work (either in a general article, or as part of a review) characterized as it is by its beauty and harmony would I believe be of interest to you and your readers.

I would of course be happy to send through some examples of her work.

Sincerely, Angela Levine


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