Nogah Engler’s painting language is a fragmented and a broken one, which builds a new enchanting world from ruins. The paintings’ themes are mainly landscapes, what she refers to as “simultaneous landscapes”; mental regions which mix with actual regions. Places and times which split and re-unite, break and heal, vanish and appear. Utopian places and dark places are bound together.
Her paintings embody the fragility of existence and the ultimate dichotomy of life/death that lies at the heart of the natural order. Although never directly depicted, the human presence is always implied. The oppositional elements of her subject matter are effectively manifested through Engler’s painting technique. She constructs a complex illusory space of interconnected zones of paint combining translucent washes of oil and color with areas of beautifully drawn, tightly rendered detail set against open voids of raw, blank canvas. By systematically creating and negating large areas of the painting’s surface, Engler speaks as much to what is not seen as to what is revealed through tangible objects and situations. The negative space is activated as a means to go behind physical presence and figurative interpretation to reach concealed human narratives.
Nogah’s personal biography is present in each and every painting. As a second generation to holocaust survivors, as one that grew up on stories about Europe, “that place” became an inner scope, a place that constantly exists in the awareness, a place which she always imagines and also wakes from in dread. She found those landscapes which she imagined in works of Renaissance painters such as Lucas Cranach, Peter Bruegel and Jan Bruegel. Into these landscapes she cast her memories from the other stories.
Nogah Engler’s new body of work began with a journey made into the heartland of the Ukrainian Galicia region in 2005. Drawing on written and word-of-mouth accounts left to her by her grandfather, she tracked down the village of Kosov and the dwelling where her father, uncle and grandfather remained in hiding for two years during the occupation and systematic massacre of Jews throughout the villages in the area during World War II. Although the final realization of a place long-imagined enabled some emotional catharsis, it has only worked to further intensify her infatuation with a landscape that remains forever beautiful yet endlessly tarnished by its own history.
Across an organic process of development and experimentation, the landscape paintings moved to other regions, with the story’s events in the background. There are elements of pastoral beauty which is uncovered underneath the surface or presents an apocalypse-like landscape. Each painting approaches this theme from a different angle and perspective and there is a cumulative effect in the gallery space. From tangled scrublands criss-crossed with frozen forests, burnt down forests, fallen trees, broken fences, paths seem to lead toward one fateful mountain. Throughout, animals, serrated mountains, sharp rocks, huts, architecture shadows as a sign of human life passed by, scorched grounds, all of these are mute witnesses. By their side, flowers and berries that fight the odds and bloom through the permafrost stand as a hopeful testament to nature’s unswerving ability to re-generate and renew. Day follows night and life inevitably begins again.
Nonetheless, as an Israeli living in Europe today she finds herself living simultaneous lives. The echoes of a place where one is physically absent reverberate inside incessantly. This echo splits one’s existence and renders it belonging and not belonging. This is an effort to create a utopian place out of the recognition of utopia’s failure. The effort of catching the echo is the one of building a new personal identity, which tries to unite the worlds.
When she finished her Art MFA studies in 2004 at Chelsea School of Art, London, Nogah Engler was chosen by the Times Magazine as one of the six artists to follow and one of 25 artists selected by Art Review. Since then she exhibited solo and group exhibitions in Europe and Israel and was awarded the 3rd Castellion Prize for painting and the Celeste Prize for painting in 2006. Her works are included in important collections in Israel and abroad.
Simultaneously to the Noga Gallery exhibition, Nogah Engler will exhibit at “Wondrous Worlds”, an exhibition at the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion, starting March 12th.