Foreword of the book Baruch Elron by Héctor Martínez Sanz, Niram Art Editorial 2012
Spring has already arrived at my window. I gaze through it at people with hats riding their High Wheeler Gran Bi, some birds flip their feathered hands and scissors take off in a fllight while the trees smile with their old face carved by experience. A distant music plays on the chords of a feminine cello, accompanied in its melody by a standing harp, both directed by the musical note composed by a trumpet. The flowers are lending their garments to all the women who pass in front of me and I can find in them the same youthful beauty.
A bit farther, a man with heavy eyebrows and penetrating look, owner of a perfectly rounded goatee is waiting for me with a golden pocket watch in his hand. There are two small paper notes in my window. The first one says: “non nova sed nove” and on the other smaller one it is written: “Elron”. I take my hat my Gran Bi, my watch and I go out to meet him.
This is how this book should be for the reader: an open window towards Elron’s world. There is nothing new under the sun in his world; nevertheless there is a new way to contemplate things, a new manner and a new perspective. It is what we call “creativity” as opposed to “creation”, a demiurgic reorganization of the time-governed universe. Elron, an artist-demiurge recreates, replaces and disposes of the elements of life in a new configuration that transforms the vision of the world and its understanding because the human reality – what man calls reality – is not absolute, but conventional, a creative act which we perform every day, it isn’t fixed but dynamic and changing, immersed in the flowing river of time and in a continuous metamorphosis.
In consonance with the art of the second half of the 20th century, for instance the theatre of Ionesco and Beckett, we can also read in Elron’s paintings Tertulian´s motto: “de facto credo quia absurdum”, that is, “I believe because it is absurd”. To Ionesco, if art had to imitate life and the latter proved to be absurd, consequently, art itself would have to be absurd. The absurd gains a value different to the one which it had been given in the first place. In Elron´s paintings, the absurd that emerges out of the juxtaposition of the elements has a higher value and intrinsic meaning that we cannot discard.
This manner of understanding life, reality, the world – not only as a metaphysical category-, is to aesthetically understand it through metaphors and symbols, away from the corset of a language that is equally systematic, categorical and insufficient. It asks for abandoning the empty concept, throwing out the old shell of the egg which had been incubating for centuries and got broken a long time ago, making use of intuition and its evocative power, and for annulling the rules that we only suspect to be unbreakable.
Although in art the traditional lineal vision, both historicist and essential of the human being and his environment have been rejected, although it has already been demonstrated that what we call reality is nothing more than an anthropomorphic construction, a concept which varies alongside with the variation of our description of it or the system which serves as a lens when looking at it, and despite of the fact that the world always hides something from us, the idea that what we perceive is the way we perceive it is still rooted deeply in the general human conscience. There are still many who do not assume the “rational faith” on which we rest our knowledge and they barely accept the distinction between the manner in which the world shows itself and the manner in which we capture it. Nevertheless, the way in which we look, our perspective, our manner of placing ourselves in the world influences the image we see, although we actually do not have anything new in front of our eyes.
Baruch Elron perfectly understands this difference. This is way he underlines the Latin motto: “non nova sed nove”: reality – understood as something laid in front of the man – does not change, what changes is our way of contemplating it and our concept of “reality” – understood as what we build and know. This is the only way of getting closer to it and understanding it. However, this manner doesn´t allow us to make absolute assumptions because the movement and dynamism of reality is still our own movement when we vary the perspective. It is the contrary of idealism –whether platonic or Hegelian – or of naïve realism. “Each human being has his or her frame which delimitates a space where he feels well, comfortable, safe and protected. Without a frame, the human being feels naked and is uncomfortable. (…) as it is said in the Psalms: “what was will be. There is nothing new under the sun.” the frame is the only thing that changes.”(1)
It is not about the antagonism between the apparent and the real in order to affirm an absolute and intangible reality but about the intersection between the apparent seen as a phenomenon and the dream. It is about overlaying the reality, in its dual directions, external and internal. The two realities lay one on top of each other not according to the classical pattern of subordination or of coordination which perceives them as independent realities, but according to juxtaposition of the motifs contained within the work. The phenomena of the real experience interconnect on the axes of fantastic unreality. This is way Jean Askenasy, from the point of view of a close friendship, affirms that: “Bick is the only person I know who, after having lived for 70 years within the real-unreal bigamy, he withdrew in an unreal world in order to write in oil on canvas the experienced he had lived”.(2)
This is why we can speak of figurative surrealism in the majority of Baruch Elron´s works in a line similar to the well-known Ernst, Magritte, Delvaux, Tanguy, De Chirico, Dali, or the more contemporary Onik Sahakian, Francesc Moresmont, Heidi Taillefer or Elron’s disciple, Alex Levin.
Just as it happens with De Chirico, in many of Elron’s works the human figure fades away in its own shadow to the point where it can be recognizable only by its belonging and still objects such as shoes, walking-sticks, armchairs, eyewear and hats. However this doesn´t happen with his own image or with Lydia’s, his wife, inserting an autobiographical mark of self-portrait which brings to mind the motifs of Dali and Gala, without their extravaganza and narcissism. With Elron, the inert gets animated in an against the logic scenario that goes beyond rational reality; the objects and the beings go through several metamorphoses and connect by means of the free association of the oniric which separates them from their conventional denotation, although they adopt a symbolic meaning of their own, separately as well as collectively.
Credit should be given to the forms, but the individual as well as the collective content of the elements of the work shows itself and appeals to intuition rather than conscience and reason. This symbolism will also appear with the erotic charge of a refined and transcendent sensuality that is very close to nature and its harmony. Thus, landscapes, trees and flowers, birds and fish, objects of the past, eggs, watches… they will all pass in front of the spectator with the normality with which they pass in dreams, at first as illogical and incongruent images.
Nevertheless, Baruch Elron is far from any aggressiveness violence or sexual provocation that is, of the never-ending beating with the hammer of the indecent and rebellious challenge of the revolutionary spirit. We should differentiate between two types of thematic surrealism (3): the first one, born within the bosom of nihilism and lack of creed of the first third of the 20th century, like an vanguard contingent driven by the convulsion and crisis of that epoch; a second one, post-world war II, of a more mystical and oniric substance, where the notion of “belonging to a group” disappeared and the individual artist emerged, continuing the surreal line with more personal style and personalized technique than with pictorial movement, more as a means and tool of expression than as a weapon against the hardships of the moment. The critical component of the first ones was replaced by the allegoric component of the latter ones, where Elron also belongs, as he is near the school of Vienna and his option for Magical Realism whose roots can be traced to Magritte and Bosco. A third surrealism can also be identified, as trend and commercialization, mere imitations of the previously mentioned artists, contemporary to Elron, but with whom Elron would never blend.
To put it differently, that figurative surrealism of the second half of the 20th century returned to the past and changed the course of time. Two of Dali´s favorite motifs, the egg and the clock, reappear with Elron with a scientific, mythological and cosmological meaning.
Just as it happened with Dali, or with another genius such as the sculptor Constantin Brancusi (4), the ovoid takes on the cosmic meaning and of mythological fertility of return to the origin and invitation to the foundation of the ancient and also new time – omne vivum ex ovo -. Sometimes, the egg will appear hatched, other times as an empty and broken shell, bringing a pessimistic vision; however, it will also appear the translucid egg which allows its content to be seen as a promise of a new fertilized life, as the myth of the eternal return, of perpetual renovation.
Together with the egg, there is the eye. The eye of the spectator who contemplates and the eye that provokes the viewer from within the painting. The eye of the egg yolk, outside its shell, served on a plate to be eaten, as in “The look of the fried eye” (5) or “Cosmic Eye”, or “The man´s hat is the man´s table”, where the theme “in ovo veritas” appears. It is the eye that recalls Magrittes´s eyes and the one of Horus. Elron said:”the eyes are the best and the most wonderful way to express the human existence.” (6) To which he added:”if I succeeded in opening the eyes of a small group of people through my paintings and I could warn them of the risk of losing the personality in modern society – then I would consider myself a successful painter”.(7)
Elron´s paintings open the eyes and make us, the viewers open them in the same way to the world in which we live. Nevertheless, in one painting, “The talking eyes”, the eyes do not open but remain closed behind the eyelids that were converted into lips. Looking and talking are the same thing. An eye that will also have to be interpreted in the series of the windows in which, in a ready-made style, Elron fusions it with the pictorial matter, in the understanding that “the windows provides us with the fascination of knowing the unknown, they are the eyes of the house and an attraction towards the prohibited.” (8)
Concerning the clock, the pocket watch with a chain or the sand clock they certainly are not Dali´s melting clocks, whose softness represents the principle of pleasure that governs the psycho-analytical unconsciousness, but have the same metaphorical approach of the principle of reality to which, in psycho-analysis, the I surrenders. Time, within the clock , manifests itself ironically, for instance in “The time juggler”, where Elron takes Magritte as a reference and his “The pleasure principle” – as a threat with which to play and which turns more relative as it conditions the human being. Stopping it, juggling with it, underlining its irrelevance and nevertheless having it always present. The fact that it is represented in pocket watches and sand clocks is significant: in this type of watches time hasn´t lost yet its cyclic description to linearity, they are clocks that need winding or whose needles do not actually move forward but describe the primordial circle which takes them back to the origin. Baruch Elron, unlike the megalomaniac Dali, whose negation of the principle of reality launched him into the most profound layers of desire, takes us, in his rejection of the same principle, to a communication with the natural time and, from here, leads us to superior levels of transcendence of the human existence.
The Individual, human time that is established between the two critical and vital points of birth and death as a straight line, lacks importance. It is precisely for this reason that we will not feel in Elron´s works vital emotions as the fundamental theme. The overlaying of both ways to perceive time, human and natural is most interesting in the series dedicated to the “Four seasons”: there, the two human figures, self-portraits, grow old as humans in the midst of the natural cycle of the seasons. Naturally, Winter makes us imagine the return of Spring and a new beginning.
The most direct consequence of the matter of time is some sort of temporal, romantic evasion, perceptible in the objects brought in stage and in disuse during the artist´s lifetime: hats, motorcycles, pocket watches, monocles… the spontaneous mixture and coincidence, juxtaposition of these objects strengthens the surreal impact of the work, against the futurism that cemented the previous surrealism. Baruch Elron, from a historicist perspective – despite the fact that he had abolished it, I use this term as common understanding – doesn’t go forward but backwards….towards mannerist classicism…and even farther back, towards the primitivism of the image and the biblical passage. Elron renews them within a new frame.
Renaissance and Greek-Latin topics multiply as emblems of the works: “Tempus fuget”, “Laudator temporis acti”, “Ars longa vitae brevis”, “Tempux edax rerum”, “Sustine et absinte”… and among them, we should mention the fundamental one with which we opened our introduction:”non nova sed nove”. All this is wrapped within a symbiosis between nature and the human being, represented in the feminine figure, in fertility. But it´s not only that. Elron knows how to borrow from the Renaissance and Flemish art the chromatics and contrasts between warm and cold shades, the attention to detail, and the profundity of the composition, although he does so from a mannerist and baroque point of view, which is refined, unreal, deformed from the classical ideal, subjective, where colour and light are enhanced, as the same time as it proves to be artificial and devout of movement, horizontality and inversion as opposed to the harmonious and vertical balance of the Renaissance. Mannerism is revitalized by the surrealists and is assumed by the School of Vienna, its realistic-magical characteristics being well valued in the works of Ernst Fuchs (9), Aril Brauer, Rudolf Hausner, or the second generation represented by Kurt Regschek, Herbert Benedikt, Franz Luby and Helmut Leherbauer, with whom Elron has genuine resemblance, from the technical, stylistic and thematic point of view.
The series of works in which we can best notice this “non nova sed nove” is the one dedicated to the passages of the Old Testament, such as Adam and Eve, the Flood, Jonas and the whale, the Tower of Babel, the descent of Moses from Mount Sinai with the Tablets of the Law. Just as I wrote in another article: “Moses descends from Sinai on motorcycle, wearing headphones, and he is faced with the worshippers of the golden calf – money- , having a good time in the desert on their quads. Time goes by, times are changing, but the Tablets do not, they cannot change because they are eternal, they are for all eternity. Moses, their keeper also. On other occasions it is the flood which remains unchanged, with his self-portrait in the front, while we remain indifferent, engaged in love affairs under an umbrella and all around us perishes. Adam and Eve cover their private parts with dollar bills. We can see the Tower of Babel walking on various legs without knowing where the area heading. This time, it will not perish because of its tongues. Jonas, transformed in a diver, is swept to a deserted beach while the famous whale is floating away.” (10)
The Biblical story remains unchanged; it is only updated with elements of our contemporary times, which form an new and imaginative frame for a new reality, overlaid on the reality of the Old Testament. The characters and the facts are unaltered, and the objects framing them bring them into the present. Just as it happened in the series “The four seasons”, there is an out-of-time reality merged with the human, lineal one.
In this time voyage towards the past, we reach with Elron, mostly in the 90´s, a paradigmatic primitivism whose ancestors can be traced back to Matisse, Gauguin and Picasso, and close to the Art Brut of Dubuffet, with expressionist traits similar to Rouault’s, but without their violence of colour and avoiding the naïf style, which would later on evolve on the same path. If we use hear the term Art Brut it is not intended to put Elron into the same category as marginal trends, such as Outside Art. Dubuffet himself was aware of the existence of artists close to the Brut style but, in order to differentiate them from the Lausanne collection, he called them “New Invention”.
With Elron, we have works in which the attention to details, the perspective and the profundity disappear, in an exercise of childish abstractization, of simplification of the forms with plane distortions of the figures that recall pre-academic paintings where the concept of representation outruns the mimetic pretention, as in “Drunken Bachus”, or “My cat and I”. We can even come across previous symbols such as the birds-hands in this type of works, as it is the case of “Don´t talk to me with your hands”. Frankly, getting rid of norms and subtracting oneself from the mere rudimentary and elemental turns out to be rather complicated for an artist so well-rooted in tradition.
Primitivism does not mean only to get nearer the primitive man and his cave paintings, but also to reach an intuitive basis, which we all share, of the artistic phenomenon, exemplified in our kindergarten years, but without its conventionalism. Elron puts us in front of the origins, within the human being, of art itself, an art which accompanies us since we are born. Art, life and the human being are inseparable; it is through art that the man will open his eyes towards life.
Together with Magritte, we should mention two more pictorial references in order to follow the work and artistic evolution of Baruch Elron: Chagall and Van Gogh.
On previous pages, we dwelt upon the motif of the eye and also the substitution of the heads with light. At a closer look, we will see that Magritte´s influence in “The Time Juggler” or “Illuminating leadership” gives way to other representations of the same motif in ”Eureka”, where the “light-head” is a candle lit by the hand itself, or in “The three graces”, an echo of Rubens, who Elron presents as three lit matches. From here on, the light in the colour acquires a symbolic meaning in several elements among which the candles are of great importance, as new metaphors of the time and the existence, in “The end or Razi’s Portrat”. Let us recall here a painting of the Belgian entitled “The imaginative faculty”, where eggs and a candle form the nucleus of the work. In the same way, we find Magritte in Elron’s “A walk on the roof”, maybe as a first step to the rain in “Golconde”, of the Belgian painter, or in Elron’s “The Third Eye”, in which we come across the hidden self-portrait of the man with a bowler from “The Son of Man”, whose apple, so repeated as a symbol of temptation, will appear constantly in Elron’s works.
On the other hand, Vincent van Gogh and his famous “Work boots” or “Sunflowers” are easy-to-recognize motifs in Elron´s universe. This is, of course, obvious. Nevertheless, keeping in mind the above mentioned sources of inspiration, between a Magritte who could not abandon impressionism and a Van Gogh who moved on the border between post-impressionism and expressionism, it does not seem strange to perceive echoes of all these styles in Elron’s art. It will happen mostly in the landscapes and still lifes painted in the 80’s and 90´s. The “Wheat field with ravens” becomes under Elron’s brush “Look at them after the harvest”; humorously, the Dutch painter’s “A Pair of shoes” are given a rest in “A lonely shoe” or “A shoe on holiday”.
Regarding the still lifes, sometimes, we can see strong romantic influences, other times impressionist, although, on several occasions we come across reminiscences of Dutch baroque, as it happens for instance in “I am still living with a skull”, which recalls Linard’s “Vanitas”, or the numerous still lives of Pieter Claesz like “Skull with writing feather”.
Undoubtedly, one of the clearest similarities between Baruch Elron and art history figures is Marc Chagall, prelude of the surrealism that mingled with all avant-garde currents and revolutionized, without extravagances the art of the 20th century. There are many coincidences between the two Jewish painters, from the optimistic air of Chagall’s lively-coloured paintings, to his observance of the world together with his wife Bella, up to the motifs of musical instruments and Biblical quotes as sources of inspiration.
Truly, we cannot omit a work such as “The Violinist”, being the cello, together with the trumpet and the lyre the most used instrument in Elron’s artwork. Both painters merge instrument and player, feminizing the first one, although, in Elron’s case the player ultimately disappears into a complete fusion; the cello is the only one that remains, with the metamorphosized forms of a woman’s chest and hips – just as Picasso did with his violins. With Chagall we will also find a “Juggler” of time and many bouquets of different flowers.
Without any doubt, Elron would share Chagall´s words: “from early childhood, I was captivated by the Bible. It always seemed to me the greatest source of poetry of all times. Since then, I have been looking for this reflection in art and life. The Bible is like a resonance of nature and I have tried to transmit this secret.” (11)
Moses and the Tablets, Jonas or the cubist vision of Adam And Eve are themes shared by both painters. Chagall´s “Windows” of the church of Fraumuster are famous. They have protagonists such as Elijah, Jacob or David and Bathsheba. The window itself is an element seen many times in the work of both artists, allowing Chagall to show in this way fields and open landscapes. The motif is not trivial, because the same will also happen with Magritte, whose painting entitled “Key to the fields” shows a broken glass window.
The window, the broken glass and Jerusalem with its daily scenes and landscapes are merged by Elron into a series of works wrapped within the real frame of ancient and traditional Jewish windows. The window is an eye that observes and metaphorically unites the interior to the exterior. “To me, the window is a bridge between me and my surroundings. A broken window pane gives way to many stimuli, light, noises, warmth, and coldness. Allegorically, the broken pieces of glass represent the human limitations in their system of perspective towards the medium”. (12)
There is a longing for freedom within them. Why broken and not open windows? The representation includes this violence of the broken glass as opposed to the serenity of the open window, which makes us realize that there must be a reason of deeper psychological and emotional connotation than the purely contemplative one.
The window will act as a barrier to the world, an obstacle that must be overcome, a space that must be penetrated. It is a barrier that allows seeing the other side while providing separation of the two realities. We have to, as previously stated, overlay realities, merging the interior and the exterior. It is imperative that we break the window whose resistance only lies within ourselves. It is high time, dear reader, to break the window that I have been talking about and now, together, pass through it.
(1) Baruch Elron, for the catalogue of the exhibition “A new look at Bible’s stories”, Niram Art Israel magazine, april 2011
(2) Jean Jacques Askenasy, “Baruch Elron”, Minimum magazine, Nº 230 / 2006, Israel. “Bik” is the friendly nickname of Baruch Elron.
(3) Regarding form, the surrealism was divided in abstract and figurative, from where I take the term Figurative Surrealism in Elron´s case , with particularities that we will see later on.
(4) To deeper study these aspects of Brancusi´s art, I suggest the consultation of Mircea Eliade´s “Brancusi and the mythology” from the volume “The magical flight” (essays from 1934 – 1986) and of the 1st chapter of my book “The pentagon” (2010),
(5) The strange title comes from the play-upon-words in the Hebrew language between the expression “fried egg” (beitzat ayn) and “eye” (ain).
(6) Baruch Elron quoted by Miriam Or in “The magical world of Baruch Elron” (2004), Notes and critical opinions: Davar, 28.01.1971
(8) Jean Askenasy, “The window as a metaphor in Elron´s painting”, Ultima Ora magazine, Israel, 2006
(9) On the school of Vienna of Fantastic Realism and Ernst Fuchs, I recommend the reading of Carlos Arenas Orient, “Fuchs and school of Vienna of Fantastic Realism”, Ars Longa magazine, nº 13, 2004, pages 105-110. As general bibliography, I recommend Johann Muschik volume “Die Wiener Schule des Phantastischen Realismus” (1974).
(10) Hector Martinez Sanz, the article “In Elron´s hiding”, Niram Art Israel magazine, December 2010
(11) Marc Chagall cited by Javier Arnaldo in “La pintura del dictado del amor”, Juan March Foundation, informative bulletin, nº 290, May 1999.
(12) Baruch Elron quoted by Miriam Or, Op. Cit. Part VI.