Rivers of Looking - text from the exhibition "Breadth of Spirit"

4 March 2010 | Ron Bartos

I am open. The world reveals itself through me
to the traveler, and according to him is transformed,
to his eyes’ rivers: the onlooker that sees,
him that gazes as he wonders, daydreams.
For each I carry a view for his liking…
(Work on paper 22 / Asher Reich)

One would be right to regard Rotem Reshef’s paintings in terms of music, which share with it a common ilanguage based in the abstract, and whose aim it is to elevate the spirit. When looking at her paintings, it is fitting to put the experience into musical terms: composition, orchestration, melody and harmony, crescendo, counterpoint and appassionato. With them we shall enter the world of this infinite painting, which lends itself to us as a catalyst for arriving at a sublimative sensation. Reshef’s paintings ask of us to view them from a certain distance, and in the right moment to reach closer and look at them as though face-to-face. We must step back to absorb their sizable format and perceive their compositional features, the key areas, dynamics, and inter-relationships, as well as to experience those impressive, joyful bursts of color. After a while, we shall step nearer to them as though for an intimate encounter, in order to familiarize ourselves with the nuances imbedded within – the shimmering color transparencies, color venules and edges, and the ponds of light – and above all, to immerse ourselves in the space of the abstract painting.

"Confusion is chaotic only when it can give rise to a new world” writes Friedrich Schlegel on the genesis of an independent and complex world as the outcome of a spontaneous chaos. A universe is one such possible outcome, as Schlegel here suggests, but another, no less likely, is the arousal of feeling vis-à-vis such intriguing, unempirical and curious element, which captivates us by the might inherent in it – and this precisely is Reshef’s reaction. The painter creates chaotic systems (albeit not entirely, as they posses rules and a logic of their own) that initiate the route of the viewer, who in turn evolves to infuse them with his own experience – as described in Asher Reich’s poem at the head of this essay, wherein the painting seems to address the viewer: "I am open. […] For each I carry a view for his liking.”

In his Critique of Judgment Immanuel Kant discusses the meaning of the sublime. Peter Sedgwick explains that "[…] the sublime moment of cognition is one in which an object is presented to the mind which, in turn, can comprehend it only in terms of an absolute magnitude which itself defies conceptualization. […] As such, the sublime moment is one which involves the aesthetic rather than cognitive/empirical capacities of the human mind: it embodies a feeling.”  And in Kant’s words: "[…] the sublime must not be sought in things of nature, but must be sought solely in our ideas.”  Reshef finds the abstract in the figure of the invisible nature, that which has no concrete signified, and which seeks to carry the eyes of the viewer inwards and above, not beyond the painting but beyond himself, just as the sublimative sensation is capable of. Reshef forms semi-natural compositions so as to start the course of sublimation, a step aptly described by Schlegel: "Beautiful is what reminds us of nature and thereby stimulates a sense of the infinite fullness of life. Nature is organic, and whatever is most sublimely beautiful is therefore always vegetal.” Hence Reshef’s paintings aim at the eternal and infinite. The artist refrains from paint drippings and overly-loaded brush strokes since these are not part of her artistic ilanguage, but also because her painting would like to shake off any concreteness and materiality, preferring to display transparency and homogenic textures in their stead. These paintings produce an immaterial visibility which immerses the viewer in "all over” compositions, like environments that draw the viewer into an aesthetic and emotional experience. By entering these environments he is admitted into a painterly space whose laws are given to Reshef’s whims and actions on the canvas, the very actions that gradually turn it into the scene of painting. Recognizing in it the scene of painting, we acknowledge the painting’s subjectivity and intuition, and how it embodies the course of a creative action that becomes, through its manifestation of intuitive motion, an artifact. The finished painting, marked by the medium’s motions, acts as an aperture for the viewer to glimpse through and reconstruct the artist’s spiritual gestures.

From the inside and out I am transparent
and opaque too, I am hidden
and bare. A marvel for your eyes.
All in the eye of the beholder.