Anat Betzer | “That is the Bunch of Live Flowers!”

Anat Betzer | “That is the Bunch of Live Flowers!”

Opening: 07/10/2021   Closing: 04/12/2021

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Untitled #1,2021, Oil on canvas, 70X50 cm
Untitled #2,2021, Oil on canvas, 100X70 cm
Untitled #3,2021, Oil on canvas, 100X70 cm
Untitled #5,2021, Oil on canvas, 100X70 cm
Untitled #16,2021, Oil on canvas, 50X30 cm

“That is the Bunch of Live Flowers!”[1]

Anat Betzer at Noga Gallery of Contemporary Art


In her new exhibition, Anat Betzer continues her in-depth exploration of painting and its realistic manifestations. The show is centered on women’s heads painted from the back—a delicate erotic image that transforms into a black hole of sorts, floating in a bright sky, detached from the body. Fauna and flora, both framing and framed, hover in a world which is empty yet ornate, fragmented, terrifying, but full of humor.


The images are acutely depicted in great detail, cut-cropped and placed in the middle of the canvas like a feverish vortex in the heart of the desert of nothingness; a wound (hole) or a scar (hill) left as a sign of something that once existed or as a seductive hint of a hidden face. The images leap out towards us or look at us. They are as sensual as the onset of the thicket, where something tried to take an orderly shape but became disheveled and underwent a near-surrealistic metamorphosis. Hair pulled-back becomes a rococo ornament; a braid is assimilated in a feather, like a montage concatenation of dreams. And the painting—its quintessential or latent axis signifies the center, the target composition kept in our consciousness, facing us like a mirror.


In other paintings the image falls to the bottom of the canvas and even beyond it. It is cut exactly along the line of the painted eye, leaving the focal point as an absent-present—an unexplained cut that confronts us with a cognitive dissonance: an occurrence of which we get only the “tail”; an event whose essence is external, taking place outside (as the cruel beheading performed by the artist on the chicken images in the exhibition), and its “plot” is derived from the assimilated habits of our perceptions, of the self-evident imprinted in us by observation of life.


In his book And It Came to Pass, Hayyim Nahman Bialik recounts the legend of King Solomon and the bee, featuring three main characters: King Solomon, the wisest of all men, the bee, and the Queen of Sheba. Having been stung in the nose by a small bee, and once his anger subsided, the Queen of Sheba comes to visit King Solomon. As part of the teasing verbal exchange between the two, the queen proposes to the king the challenge of the living flowers: a bunch of artificial flowers (“the work of men’s hands”) versus a bunch of live flowers (“the work of nature”). His embarrassment at the inability to distinguish between the two by their appearance is solved for him by the (cheeky) little bee, who identifies the bunch of live flowers. Nature is wiser than man, even the wisest of men.


In the exhibition “That is the Bunch of Live Flowers!” Betzer looks directly at the politically, socially, and ecologically chaotic reality, addressing the question of representation in a unique complex manner. She delves into center and margins, back and forth, a gaze at and a reciprocated gaze, inviting the viewers to look at themselves, at their reflection, to peek at the world and at the woman.


The Covid-19 year, which has led many of us to realms of anxiety, helplessness, and loss of meaning, is conspicuously present in this new series of paintings. Their small scale, relative minimalism, modesty, silence, and sense of solitude (not to say isolation)—in addition to Betzer’s constant desire to find and create beauty, to cling to the flimsy, familiar and hackneyed image, reexamine it and reaffirm its power—yield a powerful statement about a moment of radical existence. It is a statement underlain by despair and profound concern alongside passion and great vitality.


[1] A quote from the legend of “King Solomon and the Bee,” in: Hayyim Nahman Bialik, And it Came to Pass: Legends and Stories about King David and King Solomon, trans. Herbert Danby (New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1938), p. 92.

Back Mind

Anat Betzer / Back Mind

Opening: 15/12/2023   Closing: 03/02/2024

Untitled, 2022-2023, oil on canvas, 30x30 cm
Untitled, 2022-2023, oil on canvas, 40x40 cm
Untitled, 2022-2023, oil on canvas, 30x30 cm
Untitled, 2022-2023, oil on canvas, 30x30 cm
Untitled, 2022-2023, oil on canvas, 30x30 cm
Untitled, 2022-2023, oil on canvas, 30x30 cm
Untitled, 2022-2023, oil on canvas, 40x40 cm
back mind, exhibition view. photo by elad sarig
back mind, exhibition view. photo by elad sarig
back mind, exhibition view. photo by elad sarig

Anat Betzer, Noga Gallery of Contemporary Art, 2023
(The text was written before the Oct 7th attacks and ensuing war)


“With the wreath’d trellis of a working brain” (John Keats).


The central image in my new exhibition is a woman’s head painted from behind. The back of the
neck, the less familiar, vulnerable, hidden side. Long months of painting a portrait that is not a face,
a hidden face (“hester panim,” if you will). A topography that turns back, charting with 0 and 00
brushes the details of this “no-face coming towards me” (Abraham Chalfi).


The different hairdos in the paintings are like a shroud, a curtain or a veil, which cover, conceal, and
illuminate – a woman, femininity.


The head that grows from the bare back seems to emerge from a nebulous background, like an
infinite cosmic space. Pictorial surfaces, brush strokes or splashes of paint seem to unfold from an
indeterminate realm. The ball of hair is in sharp focus with realistic specificity and characterization,
which is paradoxically also abstract and almost indistinct, like an obsessive realization of the
decorum, the ornate, the trifling.

The pattered or chaotic arrangement, the regular or irregular construction reveals how the “tangle”
on the back of the head is the X-ray image of a structural paradigm, method, thinking. Conversely,
these can also indicate eclectic modes of seemingly disheveled disorganized order, piled and tossed
back in a rush, like examples of chaos theory (a paradoxical expression), like the movement of the
clouds in the sky, their shape and transformation, which are not logical and cannot be replicated.


Metaphorically, one can think of a hairdo as the pet scan/reflection of the brain, of electric circuits,
the exploration or attempts to pattern the mysteries of the unknown. A network of synapses that
carry information, thoughts, an emotional labyrinth as thick as the depths of the forest – continuing
my early forests paintings and those featured in this exhibition. The twists of the paths in the forest
disappear towards the dense darkness or a source of light, towards the unknown.


In the painting, a polyphony of interlacings that intertwine one on top of the other, sometimes
interwoven separately, or as a flower and foliage arrangement that emerges from the purple-green
darkness – this is a dark (and enchanted) metaphysical nature that appears as a disturbed, mysterious
mutation, like the back of the neck that remains hidden from view. The painting heightens the
concealment, veils the veiled.

The woman that appears in the paintings, who turns her back to the viewer almost defiantly, is
“nature.” This is a seductive and thorny, embellishing and wounding, floating or captured “nature.”
The beauty erupts from within it or disappears into it like a miraculous grafting, like a parasitic plant that climbs a body, a human head, above the timeline of the mind. This is a dark forest lit by flickering fireflies.


The beauty, which I insist on, is a deceptive mask. Underneath its meticulous aesthetics, this series of
paintings can be read as an echo of an ongoing struggle, which also reflects the cardinal dramatic
conflicts of this time. Behind the curtain of beauty, unfolds the drama of undoing orders, of
challenging the “method” to the point of unbearable conceptual chaos.


“…the Impressionists, were perfectly right in electing domicile among the scrub and stubble of the
daily spectacle. As for us our heart throbs to get closer to the depths…. These oddities will
become…realities…because instead of being limited to the diversely intense restoration of the
visible, they also annex the occultly perceived portion of the invisible” (Paul Klee, quoted by
Merleau-Ponty in Eye and Mind).


Anat Betzer