About Oren Ben Moreh’s New Paintings
- Painting from movies: Oren Ben Moreh’s raw materials or subjects of observation are movies. She watches movies and then paints from them (although, not all the movies that she watches become painting). She photographs frames from the movie, capturing fleeting moments with her smartphone – a relatively low quality camera, and then paints from the photos.
- House interior as a backdrop: in her latest series of paintings from the last two years, Deep Feelings, she paints predominately with oils, sometimes dry pastels, places, the inside of houses, or interior architecture. Different rooms – a dining room, bedroom, passages between rooms, staircases, openings and doors, a fireplace, floral wallpaper; as well as furniture – a table with a bowl of fruit, bread, ceramic pitcher and glasses; chairs; beds; chests of drawers; pictures on the wall and ornaments on a shelf. Bourgeoise and European looking rooms. Chandeliers and standing lamps sometimes cast a dramatic light on the room. The general atmosphere is that of a telenovela set design.
- And God Created Woman: the new paintings are based on frames from Roger Vadim’s 1956 movie. The movie that invented Brigitte Bardot as a sex goddess and made her an international star. Oren Ben Moreh paints these cinematic scenes in a way that does not quite allow us to identify the actors, as famous as they are, or the actual movie. Although at one point in the exhibition, Bardot and her honey-colored tresses do make an appearance in the portraits.
- The bride and her bachelors: the plot of the movie – which is indeed reminiscent of a telenovela – has an elusive presence in the exhibition. The figures, one woman and several (probably three) men, change places and maybe roles. Inside the closed rooms, they are trapped in frames within frames: flanked by the doorframe; blending into the wall behind them; belonging to a chair or an extension of a written letter; residing in the gaps between a chest of drawers and a desk, and between a color field and the frame that cuts the painting; engulfed by the space of the opening but also shaped from it – like a butterfly born from the cocoon, antennae and wings hatching from a shapeless mass; in one painting, a female figure emerges from the bed linen, the bed and her body forming a landscape; the room is not the backdrop for the figures, but rather the men and woman emanate from the interior setting and are a part of it.
- Untitled (Breakfast): a painting that evokes Matisse’s Red Room, not just because of the use of color. In Oren Ben Moreh’s “breakfast” – a female figure, cut from the flat red wall, wears a light blue blouse, and is depicted in an architectural composition. On the one hand, sitting on the bottom stair of a wooden staircase, she rises from the horizontal (we may even say feminine) arrangement of still life on the table at the bottom of the painting. On the other hand: the pose in which she was frozen – her arms raised to arrange her hair, forming a diamond shape – turn her into an African figurine, an ornament decorating (bourgeois European) homes, or their European Modernist versions, like Henry Moore’s sculptures of women. Above her, vertical (in contrast with the horizontal layout on the table) semi abstract phallic objects are arranged in a row.
- Oren Ben Moreh’s paintings do not offer a stable image to hold on to. The back of a woman’s blouse and torso dissolve into the opening, the black trousers of a man standing at the door merge to form a base, turning him into a lamp stand or a coat hanger; the brown door is an extension of the brown blazer. “You cannot distinguish a flare of light from a light fixture” wrote Matan Daube on Ben Moreh’s previous paintings.
The figures, furniture, and rooms are all treated the same: between flatness and hints of three-dimensionality. They are a part of the color surfaces (blues and reds are dominant in the new series, but there is also and mostly a lot of brown, the color of the mixture, the color that blurs the differences). The figures relinquish tangibility, plasticity, and volume, at times oozing and slipping, like in a dream, some would say like in the subconscious. But also like in Dali’s 1930 painting Paranoiac Woman-Horse (Invisible Sleeping Woman, Lion, Horse). And even his famous melting clocks come to mind. At times, the objects – coffee cups, a bowl of fruit, different artifacts in arrangements that allude to or quote still life paintings – are the only ones that preserve their solidness.
- The colors: blue and red, are considered primary colors. Basic colors that cannot be mixed from any other color. The blue and the red – two of the three Modernist primary colors (the third being yellow, which glimpses in the paintings occasionally) – stand out in Ben Moreh’s paintings against a brown background, which is the color of mixture, the mixture of the three primary colors. In the symbolist tradition of Modernism, red and blue are identified with the masculine and the feminine. Red, it almost goes without saying, although this was not always the case – is synonymous with the feminine, the bloody, and the fleshy; and blue with the masculine and the spiritual (a pink plastic hospital wristband for newborn girls and a light blue one for boys). Incidentally, in the history of culture, the gender identity of colors changes and alternates. Vis-à-vis the color red, I recalled David Ginton’s essay about Aryeh Aroch in HaMidrasha Magazine (issue no. 3, which I edited), in which he offered a profound and illuminating exploration of red and blue, which symbolize royalty but also the union between the sexes, when they appear together in a painting. In Ginton’s essay, I found two quotes concerning the color red, which can shed a certain light on Ben Moreh’s current series of works:
This is for instance how the author, philosopher, art critic, and cinema theoretician, Jean-Louis Schefer, writes in the essay “What Are Red Things,” printed in the book The Enigmatic Body:
Red is the last protected substance, and is in fact a mythical material. A subject of admiration and fear (from the red of regal robes, to the slippers of the byzantine virgin, to blood-soaked rags). This color is in itself the subject of legends – like that on the circularity of life-giving blood; the only human substance that can dye materials and from which Heliogabalus created his flags: “red, the flag of all women.”
The essay was written for an art magazine in 1990, as an invitation to discuss monochrome in contemporary art. In it, Schefer in fact turned to Uccello’s paintings in order to declare unequivocally that red was a feminine color or the color of the woman. He continues:
…red is almost always the color of the arbitrary – and in two senses of the word: the color of power and protection […] but an arbitrary color in that its use is encoded (or as linguists would prefer, relatively reasoned) without a signified. Meaning, without a reference to the natural and without legitimization as part of it: red things do not exist [emphasis in the original].
The last sentence of course resonates Lacan’s statement “the woman does not exist and does not signify anything.” During an early visit to Ben Moreh’s studio, before Bardot’s three portraits appeared, I searched (partly due to the title of the movie) for the woman in her paintings.
- Brigitte Bardot: as mentioned earlier, the star of the movie does not appear in most of the paintings featured in this show. And when she is depicted in the various rooms, along with other characters, she is seen from the back or is smeared and blurry. Unidentifiable. But she does appear in the exhibition – on her own – in three bright and cinematic portrait paintings, on the backdrop of natural landscapes. The only outdoor scenery depicted in the paintings. Her wheat-colored hair blowing in the wind. When Vadim’s movie was released in the U.S. in 1957, it, and mostly Bardot, caused a sensation. The New York Times film critic, Bosley Crowther, wrote about the movie: “She [Brigitte Bardot] is undeniably a creation of superlative craftsmanship. But that’s the extent of the transcendence, for there is nothing sublime about the script of this completely single-minded little picture… and its sole hint of divine inspiration is in the resemblance of its story to that of Eve.” I thought, among other things in the wake of Crowther, who searches for the sublime that is missing from the movie (and instead finds Bardot’s round and voluptuous curves, as he described her in the same column), about the brown in Ben Moreh’s paintings, the color that does not represent spirituality, and was born from mixing. The color of the earth.
- Simone de Beauvoir: we cannot not mention Beauvoir here; the counter heroine, Bardot’s counterpart in philosophy. In August 1959, Esquire magazine printed Beauvoir’s article “Brigitte Bardot and The Lolita Syndrome,” which was her favorite article, so she used to say. Bardot, whose image, particularly as it was invented on screen by Vadim, is presented in the article written by (the adoring, not to mention smitten) de Beauvoir as the harbinger of the sexual revolution, a modern contemporary incarnation of (sexual) liberty, breaking taboos, and leading the hordes of young people to sexual freedom and equality.
Among all the compliments she gives Vadim’s movie, she has one reservation. The next paragraph seems to describe Oren Ben Moreh’s paintings:
Nevertheless, there is one thing for which I blame him [Vadim], and that is for having gone so far as to de-humanize it. The human factor has lost some of its importance in many spheres. Technical progress has relegated it to a subordinate and at times insignificant positions. The implements that man uses – his dwellings, his clothes, etc. – tend towards functional rationalization. He himself is regarded by politicians, brain-trusters, publicity agents, military men and even educators, but the entire “organization world,” as an object to be manipulated. In France, there is a literary school that reflects this tendency. The “young novel” – as it calls itself – is bent on creating a universe as devoid as possible from human meanings, a universe reduced to shiftings of volumes and surfaces, of light and shade, to the place of space and time; the characters and their relationships are left in the background or even dropped entirely.
I would say that in Oren Ben Moreh’s paintings – the same universe that deals with “shiftings of volumes and surfaces, of light and shade, to the place of space and time; the characters and their relationships are left in the background or even dropped entirely,” in fact tells a different story. Not one of “rationality” and “functionality” nor necessarily one of de-humanization. We could also think in this context about Edward Hopper, a painter who has influenced Ben Moreh.
- Cinema is projected onto a screen. Producing illusions on a flat screen while we are sitting in the dark, motionless, passive, and receptive. The painting is projected from the canvas. Ben Moreh’s paintings, as Joshua Simon had once written about them (in a different exhibition) “love being painted” as though on their own accord, trying to recreate or reinvent the experience of passivity.