Art for life’s sake

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By BARRY DAVIS

Batya Gazit says she doesn’t know how to paint, and she doesn’t ex­actly sculpt by the book. If that is the case – and who am I to cross swords with the in­domitable 77-year-old? – judg­ing by the works she un­furled in her new “Tziyun Derech” (Mile­stone) ex­hi­bi­tion at the main gallery in Ein Hod last week, she ain’t do­ing too badly for some­one with lit­tle in the way of tra­di­tional artis­tic skills.

The old cliché of artists hav­ing to suf­fer for their art may or may not have some col­lat­eral in real life, but Gazit has surely been through her fair share of chal­lenges. Then again, one can look at life’s trial and tribu­la­tions from all sorts of per­spec­tives. They can, in­deed, be weary­ing, but, to quote from “Willy,” a track on Joni Mitchell’s 1970 Ladies of the Canyon master­piece of a record, “You’re bound to lose, if you let the blues get you scared to feel.”

Gazit is not a fol­lower of Mitchell’s un­par­al­leled oeu­vre, but she does iden­tify with the sen­ti­ment, and with an oft-cited line or two crafted by an­other Cana­dian song­smith, Leonard Co­hen, on his 1992 al­bum The Fu­ture – “For­get your per­fect of­fer­ing. There is a crack in ev­ery­thing (there is a crack in ev­ery­thing). That’s how the light gets in.”

The feisty sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian Tel Avivite says she sets much store by num­bers, two in par­tic­u­lar – five and seven. “Last year in Jan­uary, it was Jan­uary 25, I sat in front of the com­puter and I thought, Wow!

It’s my 76th birth­day! Next year I’ll be 77. That’s twice seven. I am very strongly con­nected to seven. I thought I have to do some­thing about that.”

It was, it seems, high time to build up a head of steam. “I’d just been through a pe­riod of feel­ing weak, phys­i­cally weak,” she re­calls. “I thought that get­ting some works ready for an ex­hi­bi­tion would shake me up and get me go­ing.”

We meet a few days be­fore the open­ing in Gazit’s com­fort­able house on a quiet leafy side street in north Tel Aviv. As we chat over cof­fee, I can cast my eye over a dozen or so of the cre­ations that are ready and wait­ing to make the trip north­ward. My first im­pres­sion is that she likes to mix things up. There seems to be lit­tle in the way of dis­ci­plinary rhyme or rea­son to the way she puts a work to­gether, but isn’t art about in­stinct, gut feel­ing? An artist just knows when some­thing feels and looks right.

Back in Jan­uary 2019, Gazit didn’t feel right and, true to her get-up-and-go spirit, she de­cided to give her­self the best chance pos­si­ble of pro­duc­ing the goods, in a prac­ti­cal, day-to-day and artis­tic sense.

“I said I have to get to the ex­hi­bi­tion, be­sides creat­ing the works, in the best shape I can. I have to take care of Batya, not just to work. I have to get back to be­ing Batya.”

There is more to Gazit than meets the eye, a lot more.

“I am a mis­chievous type, not square. There is also some­thing con­ser­va­tive about me, but not re­ally con­ser­va­tive,” she prof­fers some­what enig­mat­i­cally. “There was a pho­tog­ra­pher who once tried to get me to pose, but he couldn’t reach me. I felt re­mote, de­tached.”

She de­cided it was time to take her own mat­ters into her own hands.

“I went to some­one in Zichron Ya’acov, for per­sonal em­pow­er­ment ses­sions.” It proved to be a good choice. “I re­mem­ber driv­ing to her for the fifth ses­sion – re­mem­ber, five is an im­por­tant num­ber for me – and I was go­ing to tell her I’d had enough. But I didn’t. And then, when I was on my way to the sev­enth ses­sion – the sev­enth! – I felt so happy and so up­lifted. And when I got there, she – the ther­a­pist – was also happy, and she said to me: ‘I think we both know this is the last ses­sion.’ She was tough with me, and it did me so much good.”

That process, as well as the un­du­lat­ing path her life has taken to date, all comes through in the 19 works on show at Ein Hod.

“I tell my life story through my work,” she states. And there is a lot to tell.

“This one I call Anemones. My hus­band was a para­trooper. He was killed in the Yom Kip­pur War. Anemones are strongly iden­ti­fied with the para­troop­ers, not just be­cause of the red berets [of the IDF para­troop­ers] but also be­cause of the Bri­tish para­troop­ers. That’s my con­nec­tion with Amikam, my hus­band. For me, anemones are al­ways some­thing more than just the beauty of the flow­ers.”

There is an­other highly evoca­tive iconic work, with anemone-red sol­dier’s boots, three red anemones, an Is­raeli flag and a page of hand­writ­ten text. “That’s a let­ter Amikam sent me from the army, in 1968,” she notes.

There is clearly a vein of pa­tri­o­tism, as well as an ex­pres­sion of per­sonal grief and loss, in the works, al­though Gazit is not one for na­tional slo­gans, or mak­ing too much of her war wi­dow sta­tus.

“I don’t like the of­fi­cial term ‘fallen.’ I say ‘killed.’ I don’t like to talk about bereavemen­t. A lot of peo­ple ex­ploit that.”

Then again, Gazit did lose her hus­band in a war. I sug­gest that, in her case, bereavemen­t is part of her makeup and, hence, must come through in her art.

She goes along with that, par­tic­u­larly in the wake of the afore­men­tioned ther­a­peu­tic process.

“When I got to this stage, of turn­ing 77, of the ex­hi­bi­tion and my [new] way of think­ing, now is the time to show who I am.”

Gazit says that one work, in par­tic­u­lar, de­manded plenty of emo­tional re­silience.

“I needed a lot of courage to ex­hibit this pic­ture. That’s Amikam and I un­der the hup­pah.”

GAZIT WORKS in var­i­ous dis­ci­plines, in­clud­ing paint­ing, sculp­ture – with pa­per and other ma­te­ri­als – and ceram­ics. She casts her ex­pe­ri­enced eye over her mot­ley cre­ations and hits on in­trigu­ing cross-dis­ci­plinary jux­ta­po­si­tions, pho­to­graphs them and tweaks them on Pho­to­shop. The re­worked re­sult is then printed on can­vas, and goes through yet an­other stage, with Gazit ap­ply­ing paint or other sub­stances, such as epoxy, adding tex­tures and depth.

Al­though she is pri­mar­ily a self-taught artist, she says she has been sup­ported through­out by Lika Ra­mati, whom she de­scribes as a sort of men­tor, and whose guid­ing hand runs through all the ex­hibits at Ein Hod, and plenty more. It was Ra­mati who in­tro­duced Gazit to Leonard Co­hen’s pos­i­tive take on bro­ken ves­sels and the emo­tion­ally shat­tered.

In fact, Gazit knew what Co­hen was talk­ing about long be­fore he wrote the line, or she even knew of his ex­is­tence. The tale of how she learned of Amikam’s death beg­gars be­lief. For some rea­son it

took the army five whole days to no­tify Gazit of the tragedy.

“Dur­ing the Six Day War we were in daily con­tact. With the Yom Kip­pur War, his ‘Shalom’ to me as he left the house was the last word he said to me.”

Amikam was sta­tioned up north, and the only means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion was via the res­i­dents of a kib­butz where the sol­diers were al­lowed to shower. They’d pass on their home num­bers to who­ever had ac­cess to a phone on the kib­butz, to con­vey their re­gards.

But, even with­out tan­gi­ble chan­nels of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and for­mal no­ti­fi­ca­tion, Gazit says she knew her hus­band was no longer alive.

“I am very in­tu­itive. On the day Amikam was killed, I took an aunt to Tel Aviv to change some clothes she’d bought. On the way, I hit a post. It wasn’t a se­ri­ous ac­ci­dent, but I just said: Shit! Amikam has been killed. My aunt said I was talk­ing rub­bish, but I knew.”

It was a Fri­day morn­ing, and in the even­ing, Gazit says, she some­how couldn’t light the Shab­bat can­dles.

“The wicks sim­ply didn’t take the flame from the match,” she re­calls. “I got a new box of matches. I changed the can­dles. Noth­ing worked. Years later a re­li­gious friend, the son of the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, told me that when the Shab­bat can­dles don’t ig­nite, it means there has been a death in the fam­ily and the fam­ily doesn’t yet know.”

There are so many un­for­tu­nate twists and turns in the sad tale. Ap­par­ently, some of Gazit’s friends knew what had hap­pened, but were pre­vented from in­form­ing Gazit be­cause it was the De­fense Min­istry’s job to do that.

“On the Mon­day I re­ceived a post­card from Amikam,” Gazit con­tin­ues. “I was so happy! But then I felt the post­card and I said ‘There’s no life here.’ I don’t know how I knew. I can’t ex­plain it.”

When the of­fi­cial word fi­nally came, with the ar­rival of the ap­pro­pri­ate IDF per­son­nel, Gazit’s world came crash­ing down around her. But she couldn’t give in to her grief. She had two young chil­dren to care for.

“Af­ter they told me, I im­me­di­ately thought, Geva’s in school, Tzur’s at kinder­garten. I need to pick them up, I have to find money for food. Life has to go on. What hap­pened hap­pened. Now I need to go with the light. I didn’t know about the Leonard Co­hen song, but that thought, then, even­tu­ally led me to those lines in the song.”

Life went on, with all its chal­lenges. The lat­ter were fur­ther ex­ac­er­bated a few years later when a child­hood hear­ing prob­lem de­te­ri­o­rated, and Gazit be­came al­most com­pletely deaf. To­day, she uses a pow­er­ful hear­ing aid and a spe­cial phone, but she man­ages to com­mu­ni­cate with the world around her, and not just through her art.

Gazit ap­pears to have come through all her bat­tles thus far, not un­scathed but em­bold­ened. She was duly fired up ahead of the ex­hi­bi­tion, and em­broiled in yet an­other strug­gle. Af­ter years of heavy smok­ing, she was re­cently hos­pi­tal­ized in a very poor con­di­tion. She says still craves cig­a­rettes ev­ery day, par­tic­u­larly in the morn­ing, but the mem­ory of the con­cern on her son’s and daugh­ter-in-law’s faces when they lis­tened to the doc­tor’s prog­no­sis helps keep the crav­ing at bay.

It is all the grist to her cre­ative and per­sonal mill.

“What I have been through in life gives me men­tal and emo­tional strength,” she says. “If any­one tells me I am strong, I find it hard to be­lieve them. Some­times I feel they are talk­ing about some­one else. But this is my life. This is what I have done.”

Gazit says she is not look­ing for a pat on the back. “I can’t say I’m not ap­pre­hen­sive about the ex­hi­bi­tion, about how peo­ple might re­act to my works. If some­one likes my work so much they want to buy some­thing, that’s the ic­ing on the cake. But I cre­ate be­cause I have to, be­cause it does me good.”

“Tziyun Derech” closes on March 25. For more in­for­ma­tion: (04) 984-2548.

(Pho­tos: Batya Gazit)

WORLD OF Si­lence ref­er­ences Gazit’s in­ner world and her hear­ing im­pair­ment, with just a touch of hu­mor.

(Lika Ra­mati)

BATYA GAZIT chan­nels her life story and fiery spirit into her art.

GAZIT PAINTS a rosy pic­ture with Life in Pink.

DANC­ING LIFE says a lot about Gazit’s re­silience.

RICH HUES abound in Sun­set at Hatzeva.

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