The paintings of Israeli artist Tsibi Geva can be seen as a form of neo-abstract expressionism, with references to Robert Rauschenberg and Gerhard Richter, with strong, stark brush strokes and high contrast. His sculptural installations on the other hand are a lot more realistic. Both however draw on the symbols and iconography of everyday life in Tel Aviv.
The keffiyeh, which is a Lebanese scarf with a fish net pattern worn around the head, came to symbolize the Palestinian struggle for a national identity and the armed Intifada uprisings. However the fish net pattern can also in some ways be seen as a chain link fence, as seen in Geva’s Keffiyeh (1994), as well as the fact it was worn by an earlier generation of Jewish fighters during Israel’s struggle for independence.
Perhaps it is this inherent ambiguity that is intriguing; for some it is a source of nationalistic pride, for others it used to be a source of pride, but now it is a reminder of the daily division, strife, the need to separate and protect oneself.
The Terrazo series of paintings depicts a fragmented view of the ubiquitous floor tiles, somewhat reminiscent of a Pollock, while breaking up the concentrated gaze. It is unclear whether they are also referring to shattered floor tiles, for example after a rocket attack, but in general can be applied to the fragmented, slightly schizophrenic urban contemporary life.
Which leads to Wall (2012), a reflection of what its like to live ‘peacefully’ under the constant threat of terrorism in the 21st century. That ‘peace’ is obviously an illusion, as it can at anytime be shattered by terrorist attacks, leading to more walls and security check points.
The compositional arrangement of Wall (2012) of dividing up the painting into quadrants, reflects what Geva describes ‘a metaphor for the internal order of things in the world’, the system of compartmentalizing everything in the (developed) world.
In Untitled (2010), the strong, dark brush strokes of early abstract expressionism suddenly gives way in the middle of the painting to a weaker, more diluted ones, where the strokes bleed off the canvas. It is somewhat reminiscent of Chinese or Japanese ink brush painting, until one realizes that they never let the ink bleed off the canvas like that, since the scrolls are painted flat on a table, traditionally anyways.
So one side of it starts off as an oil/acrylic painting and ends up on the other being an ink painting. This ‘induced diptych’, one that looks like there are two panels but isn’t, might be an experiment for a more varied visual experience, what’s known as the ‘push pull effect’, to create a dialog between the images on a single painting.
The depictions of social interactions on the other hand, seem freer, less constrained, formal and more expressive, while Untitled (2013) incorporates elements of both the flowing human interactions and the formal patterns of a map, or a window lattice, expressions of the system. Still there are elements of both the oil/acrylic and bleeding ink brush strokes.
The influence of Robert Rauschenberg’s Black series of paintings are most clearly seen in Untitled, White Bird On Black (2015), with a chromatic, almost but not quite black background and textural undulations on its surface, which is in effect painting with the ambient surface reflectivity of a material. It is unclear whether the pale white bird represents the state of a ghostly, colourless nature, the image of a bird ‘bleeched’ by the harsh sunlight or the artist himself, but it is a symbol that appears in many works.
It is hard to know exactly what is going on with Black Raven (2012) and Untitled (2013). Both being a collage of images that might include nature, sunsets, even blood, and the built environment but done with such gestural abstraction and adherence to ‘the end of painting as an illusion’ that patches and swathes of colour have come to represent different scenes, different thoughts.
But the Archeology Of The Present (2015) and Shutter Wall (2015) installations differ from Rauschenberg’s Combines series in that the items shown here are found things which people keep in their storages. In Rauschenberg’s case he used what people had thrown away. One had value before hand while the other didn’t. Here it is a representation of life in Israel, while the other was about re-purposing and re-contextualization of an object.
Using symbols found in everyday life and subjecting them to abstractive, deconstructive processes and the element of chance, these are therefore freed of their original cultural and theoretical associations. In this way, the artwork of Tsibi Geva reflects the complexities of contemporary life in Israel; a state of unresolved, sometimes anxious yet peaceful Arab-Israeli co-existence. This is one where the landscape, geo-politics and decorative motifs conjoin together in unresolved tension, oscillating between freedom and confinement, exhilaration and monotomy, pleasure and injury.