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Touches, Shlomi Brosh - The Exhibition (2.6.07)












It all began in Zfat (Safed).
Whenever young Shlomi Brosh roamed the alleyways of his native town, he would look out for any chance to peep into the artists’ studios scattered along every lane. In those pre-air conditioner times, the summer months drove Israel’s artists in droves to flee the heat of Tel Aviv and seek shelter in the pleasant clime of the mountain town, which thus became the “temporary capital” of Israeli art. Leading figures of the avant-garde “New Horizons” group bought homes and studios in the picturesque stone houses.  The artists’ colony was a magic kingdom to young Shlomi Brosh who, breathless and awe-inspired, became an avid observer of the artists at their labours.  His curiosity also had an additional intent: he would wait impatiently until an artist completed his day’s work and discarded the remnants of paint left on his palette.  Eager to emulate the artist’s endeavours, young Shlomi would collect the leftovers and mix them together: with his lack of experience, he was disappointed each time to find the mixture turning into a lump of a uniformly grayish hue. Perhaps that childhood frustration is why the colour gray remains so predominant in his work to this day.

Certainly, that early encounter with the art world affected him profoundly, but there was no lack of other influences. As a scion of a family resident in Zfat for 12 generations, Shlomi soaked up the unique atmosphere of Kabalist piety and deep-rooted tradition that characterized the town.  For centuries, Zfat has been a cultural and spiritual centre that attracted Kabbalist mystics and religious scholars. The town became one of the most important spiritual centers of the Jewish world, offering fertile ground for Shlomi’s lively imagination. His experience of Zfat, with its legends, its murmured devotions and melodies, its breathtaking artistic treasures – all these were to be channeled into a creative outpouring that drew upon the depths of local life, of Zfat and Israel alike.

Beyond the bounds of the town, the Galilean landscape stretched out in its abundance, with all the hallmarks of a rural culture little changed since early Canaanite times.  This is where Brosh forged his links with the soil, with the history and collective memories of the local community. His curious eyes scanned the mountainous vistas, the sublime sights he saw on all sides fostering his sensitivity to colour, to light and shade.  Those sights remain to this day an inseparable element of his childhood experience.

Offsetting the scholarly atmosphere of the ultra-Orthodox town, Brosh attached himself to the inner circle of youngsters of the country’s labour movement. That aspect was reinforced as he grew up and rendered his national service on a farming community in the southern Lachish region.  Compensating for his upbringing in a religious tradition bereft of aestheticism or any regard for the physical – Brosh is a product of a secular Israeli culture, living, breathing and with deep roots in a labour ethos. Hence the synthesis evident in his work, which combines eroticism, Judaism and the labour culture.

Brosh is a man of the hills: having grown up across from the sharp peaks of Galilee, it was only natural that he followed up his studies at the Bezalel art academy with relocation to Jerusalem, likewise in the hill country.  But his fondness for the highlands is not exclusive: he also exhibits a clear love for the primary vistas of desert where he makes occasional forays.

In view of his background and upbringing, it is only natural that his work has been influenced by the “Canaanite” school with its stress on ancient mythology. Canaanites related to the rocky soil, sanctifying the links to earth, to local themes and materialism; above all – to symbol. Hence the great impact Canaanism has had on his work, and his attraction to cultural symbols familiar from the history of this land.


All the same, it would be difficult to place Brosh within a specific artistic trend, whether Canaanite or otherwise.  His work offers expression to developments in the art world, with his Canaanism tempered by traces of influence from the great artists of our time, like Marcel Duchamp and Josef Beuys.

In his body of work, Brosh points up the intimate connection between man and environment, expressing his yearnings for the ancient bonds that link them together. His work is charged with localism, and he conducts an incessant dialogue with the polarities of Israeli art, making the deciphering of his creativity into a fascinating intellectual experience.

Brosh represents contemporary, multi-faceted art that exploits a multitude of techniques: embossing, etching, carving, ripping, gluing and re-ordering, as in his relief series.  This virtuosity testifies to an avid desire to attain the transcendental, the potency of identity. That potency is to be found in sculptured paper, it is merely necessary to expose it.



Brosh’s love of materialism and form is total, with a touch of sensuality tempered by minimalist self-restraint.  He makes extensive use of non-traditional contemporary materials, integrating them into his creations, granting them a potent sensual presence and constantly probing for the beauty buried within them. His materials – wood, stone, iron, terracotta, paint – are charged with symbolic and mythological significance.  He handles materials in a richly sensual manner, his virtuosity instilling them with a sense of three-dimensionality. Each work is a kind of micro-cosmos. The conscious use of iron that has been exposed to the damp to coat it with a rich patina, creates a kind of ancient stain alphabet, a secret code.

In his unique manner of constructing forms, as well as reversals and quotes, Brosh expresses a spiritual reality. His overall concept, resting upon sensual experience, emphasizes the extent he is influenced by landscape and understands nature.  His work reflects the esteem in which he holds the value of tilling the soil.

Brosh’s works in wood and plywood are compressed, representing primal situations and the power and beauty of life, inspired by humanism and respect for humanity.

His sculptures are ritual and sensual. Wood and iron plates are scored in sharp, calligraphic rhythms, revealing layers of material in a subtle, measured degree, the apparent falling short of what remains hidden. The ostensible contradiction arising out of the use of contemporary materials in ritual motifs is intriguing. These are modern-day works that harness material to spirit. Brosh’s creations are free of post-modern replication or irony; the bias is towards a mystic Jewish cultural stress, and, in equal measure, to an Israel of labour and study.

Of particular interest is his use of containers – bowls or rubber baskets used by farmers.  He converts implements battered from wear into erotic symbols, resembling fertility figures planted in the soil from which they derive their potency and ultimate beauty.

His cypress tree series includes airy iron sculptures wrought in sharp rhythms like a sketching in space characterized by transparency and formal distillation. Each tree is unique; the composition embraces a rich Mediterranean synthesis hinging upon a cypress tree that clings, firms and erect, to a rocky Galilean hillside.  Hence too the symbolism surrounding his choice of family name (“Brosh” is Hebrew for “cypress”).

“The Field” is a motif to which Brosh frequently reverts. He transforms straw bales scattered across a field, into a metal meadow with aluminum sheaves bundled and alienated – a reminder of a rapidly vanishing landscape and its replacement by a concrete-and-metal shell that is taking over his homeland.

Brosh’s “Crucifix” is a vertical wooden sculpture, the cross cut out in a negative slash, and the crucifix hinted at though organic, corresponding to the artist’s own bodily dimensions. The sign of the cross features in many of his works: “signs” or “shadows” of a cross.  The cross also appears in woodcuts and calligraphic etchings in many of his works. But lest we err: this crucifix evokes no religious associations; rather, it takes on a new context within a personal, agonizing crusade, an allegory of personal redemption.

In his “Traces”, Brosh exposes the canvas to rust stains created haphazardly by the fortuitous workings of nature; the canvas impregnated with the damp acidity of the iron highlights hidden and undecipherable stains, transforming it into something resembling a winding sheet or ancient parchments.  This work predates the cross works, but bears a cognitive connection thereto.

Brosh frequently resorts to ready-made compositions; antique implements, ladders, fossils, items associated with farming or local archeological contexts. In his stone bas-reliefs integrating iron elements, Brosh marks out patterns drawn from the local landscape: a pine trunk, the weave of baskets or sheaves.

Brosh’s creations in iron create an intriguing contrast: in “Offering”, four vessels of vertical planks recall wheat shutes. They are fertility goddesses, four Biblical matriarchs, a female womb on the verge of parturition. This is a presentday Demeter, the femme fatale of the aspect of femininity, maternity and fertility.  Confronting them stands an iron sculpture, “Of Local Stone”, as a masculine response replete with vigorous forcefulness, sowing and reaping.

In “Harvest Time” Brosh created a field of sheaves immersed in mud, ornamental straw, a warm, stylized wheat field, an offering to the reaper.  “Harvest Time 2” is a wood-and-iron sculpture, an ancient donkey cart previously used at harvest-time, now taking on a new form. The structure, still preserved in the iron mesh, projects a strong sense of time standing still. The wooden frame becomes a shelter, a protective roof sketched in space in rough lines of material soaring upwards, resembling a two-way Jacob’s ladder.

To Brosh, ultramarine and cobalt are colours of sanctity. In his “High Priest” works (iron on plywood) he reverts to a theme on which he had worked in years gone by (for example, the “Khoshan Stones”).  The deep ultramarine emphasizes the rusty iron plating that fashions the priest’s mystic, vague figure, surrounded by the sacred glow of the ultramarine.

The relief works (“Beehive”, “Morning”, “Figures”) are fashioned of cardboard stuffed into iron or wooden frameworks; the cardboard is treated in various ways: it is etched, carved, ripped apart in spontaneous tearing which penetrates the material to show up its inner secrets.  The hive is about to inundate the observer in the nectar it exudes.

The technique of tearing-breaking-reassembling resurfaces in Brosh’s works in stone.  These are encompassed in minimalist compositions of iron that further stress the implied sensuality.

Prayer shawls (“talitot”) painted in liquid asphalt on corrugated iron undulating in the wind, offer a reminder of Joseph and his “coat of many colours”. By bestowing sanctity upon the flimsy iron – a relic of the immigrant camps of Israel’s early years and a kind of class historical memento – the artist elevates workers’ culture to a degree of sanctity and devotion in an association characteristic of his creative work.

Brosh also employs plastic materials (acrylic sludge) in numerous works. The material is contemporary, but he transforms it into classical terracotta, again referring us to the soil and its cultivation.  Markings generate textures which transform into warm local vistas, sun-scorched furrows, wilderness, the Judean hills, the sands of Sinai – all together constituting a dialogue arising out of the culture of desert nomads and its Biblical links.



The series of totems (“Totem”, “Tower” etc.) exhibits images drawn from flora. “Tower” features the crown of a pomegranate fruit, in “Totem” the form of a thorny cactus fruit presents a force  simultaneously threatening and defensive, like two historical sentries of the “wall-and-watchtower” settlements. By contrast, the two totems with female fertility figure and powerful male figure stationed on giant screws inserted into the ground, threaten to break away and soar upwards in a vertical composition replete with dynamic expectancy, with the aesthetic, spiritual aspect of eroticism.

In the course of his work, Brosh responds to his environment. As an expression of his philosophy, the landscape constitutes a bottomless reservoir of symbols and images.  The artist is an integral component of the local landscape – whether visual or spiritual – which is taken apart and reassembled with lyrical and poetic accouterments.

Brosh injects his personal interpretations, equally on the conscious and subconscious levels. With that, he impresses his work with his view of the world, his social concepts and aims.  His work is a conceptual process.

In his work, whether two-dimensional or three-dimensional, Brosh presents everyday objects at center-stage as artistic artifacts: he depicts the voluminous, offers new three-dimensional definitions.  He harnesses materials, rhythm, space, into an autonomous creation, a formal harmony. His sculptures are fashioned in space, generating an innovative viewpoint. The space encompassing the sculpture/installation is of supreme importance.

By means of the formal use to which he puts items of scrap and antique  tools, Brosh transforms them into figures, replacing the functional object with a symbol. It is a direct utterance, integrating content and material to generate a conceptual artistic value. His creative language is compressed and autonomous.  The context is sometimes concealed, but it is an integral component of his work.

Brosh seeks to modify familiar conventions, to invigorate memory, nostalgia and stories. In his quest for relevance, he formulates his abstract language while relating directly to popular local artistic sources.  He confines himself to the bare minimum, in accord with the Jewish ethic of modesty that finds unique expression in the art of this man of Zfad, scion of a family of rabbis.

Hedva Shemesh

For Details: Shlomi Brosh

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