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Israeli Artist Puts Action On Canvas

The only time Israeli artist Irit Zohar picks up a brush is to sign her name. For every other aspect of her “action painting,— she uses unconventional tools, including her own body, to create vibrant works of art. Brushes “limit my movement — it’s horrible,— she says.

Zohar’s latest exhibit, on display at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, is a collection of large paintings done with acrylic on canvas. They are what Zohar calls an expression of her deepest emotions and introduce the viewer to a whole new genre of painting.

Action painting allows the artist to create modern masterpieces. Zohar says she paints with any instruments that she finds around the room.

“It’s a game for me,— she says. “Every time I invent a new tool, it’s part of the fun.— She uses everything from Popsicle sticks to her hands and other parts of her body. Jessica Krivoy, spokeswoman for the synagogue, described the process as “a dance with the canvas.—

Not only is action painting physically and technically unusual, it also allows Zohar to totally lose control, experiencing and expressing deep emotions and feelings without thinking. “Whenever I’m going to paint, I’m experiencing exactly what has happened to me in the last few days,— Zohar says. “My emotions are very strong.—

Zohar lives in Israel and has been painting for her entire life. About 15 years ago, after a series of workshops on dance and free thinking and a trip to India, Zohar says she started the transition to action painting. “Something arose within myself, and I got into contact with the deepest parts of myself,— she says.

Despite her identification as a Jewish woman and the exhibition’s temporary showing in a synagogue, Zohar says: “There is absolutely no connection between my faith and my process of painting. It doesn’t have to deal with faith; it’s just pure me.—

The paintings are every bit as stimulating to the brain as they are to the heart. Multiple hues of pinks, yellows, purples and turquoises have been whipped and dripped all over the canvases. The movement of fingers across the plane is clear, and the parallel lines that they leave behind are the most obvious indications of Zohar’s direct contact with the surface. No planned design is detectable, but the sense of feeling and passion is apparent. They are canvases filled with controlled chaos.

One of the pieces, “Purple Symphony,— could be described as an optical stimulant. Layers upon layers of neon greens, blues, yellows and reds navigate over and around a lavender background. The texture of the paint is apparent, perhaps intentionally so, and protrudes in random patterns across the surface.

Zohar’s works have been shown at several exhibitions abroad, and she says that when other people show interest in her painting, it is “a very, very strong experience— for her. Although she exposes all of herself on the canvas with the paint, she says no observers can really see everything that she has put forth. “You can see me, but you cannot,— she says. “You think you can see me because you see all the storm, but you don’t really know what’s behind it.—

Zohar compares her paintings to other mediums of expression. “I am writing in the painting, and sometimes you can catch one word or a few words; nobody can really catch the whole sentence,— she says.

When asked about her future as an artist, Zohar stays true to her action-painting mindset, saying: “I can never tell because this is so automatic for me. I don’t even know what I’m painting next time, but I can tell you it’s changing all the time, even though it’s always under the definition of action painting.—

Zohar’s profound connection with her art is riveting. Her sense of life, enjoyment, despair and fear are all exposed on the canvas. Outsiders can catch a glimpse of the depths of the artist, which are expressed through etchings, handprints, dollops and splatter marks.

“It’s not a thinking process,— Zohar says. “All my paintings come from intuition; it’s beyond the process of the brain.—

“Irit Zohar: Painting in Action,— presented by the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue and the Embassy of Israel, will be on display through Aug. 31.

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