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Introduction

 

Itzik (Itzhak) Asher's art is the total embodiment of his life. To better comprehend his work, one needs to understand the events and circumstances compromising his life.

Artistic expression is the sum total of experience - of a creative person's development and maturity. It originates with early childhood, continues through the formative teen years and is contoured by the events of his mature life today.

Asher's oeuvre can be divided into three major periods: The Iron Period, Erotic Period, and the Journey Period, each tracing a significant stage that provided his sculptures with fundamental and decisive influences. But in order to truly realize the essence of his work, it is necessary to divide his 35 years of creative activities into those three periods. This book will deal solely with his third chapter, the journey period. This will allow the reader to come to know Asher's late works and appreciate the polished master sculptor and craftsman he has become today.

Asher's ancestors left Spain in the 15th century, traveled through Europe and settled in the Land of Israel, then part of the Ottoman Empire. Asher's great grandfather left the Holy Land for Alexandria (considered at that time the Paris of the Middle East) in the late 18th century with his young son Natan, Asher's grandfather.

Itzik Asher was born in 1946 to Rachelle and Guido Asher. Itzik lost his father in a tragic accident at the age of 32, leaving his widowed mother with two infant boys. After the accident, Rachelle Asher traveled to Israel with her sons, Itzhak, and his brother Natan. This sudden change of events altered the course of Asher's life. Unable to care for her sons while struggling for survival in a new country, and at the same time trying to recover from the consequences of her husband's untimely death, all this during Israel's difficult War of Independence, she place Itzik and Natan in a nursery boarding school. Although his mother visited on a daily basis, Asher's memories of this nursery are rather dim.

At the age of seven, upon being transferred to Aloney Yitzhak, a youth village in the Sharon Valley, Asher and his brother found themselves in a fresh rural environment surrounded by lush forests. From a dismal, cold building in Haifa, suddenly Asher was provided with a framework that gave him excellent educational opportunities, sports activities, and art lessons. In these ideal surroundings his personality began to take shape. Most of the children came to the village after the Holocaust. Several children had lost both their fathers and mothers, while others were left with a single parent.

Aloney Yitzhak is situated in an oak forest teeming with birds, turtles, snakes, and small animals. Asher was captivated by both the beauty and innocence of this natural habitat and could identify every tree, nest, hill, and dale, and had overturned every stone, literally. In these peaceful and inspiring surroundings, his persona developed - his thoughts and dreams were altered form mere reverie into tangible concepts, while his ability to translate them into artistic statements began to flourish. Even though his dream world combined all his senses, he visualized, tasted, touched, and listened to the natural surroundings that circled the village. Asher lived and studied at Aloney Yitzhak until the age of 18. In this corporeal environment his character and artistic nature were formed.

Asher's introverted and sensitive nature encouraged him to seek shelter in a dream world. His teacher unsuccessfully tried to wake him from the realm of fantasy that he had immersed himself in and eventually were resigned to let him go his own way.

In addition to excelling in sports, especially basketball, he played the trumpet in the village orchestra and was also a member of the village folk dance troupe. Nature, music, and sports were his passions during his adolescent years.

In class Asher was a dreamer and not a run-of-the-mill student. His teachers lost contact with Asher, who, when he hear a word such as "Caesar" during history class, he would immediately transform it into a daydream, one that would transport his thoughts to a private imaginary world where he would be riding a horse as if he were Caesar himself. And a bird perched on the classroom window would immediately be included in his musing, placing it on his shoulder as he continued riding his mount.

It was during his high school years that Asher would spend hours, days, and months plotting romantic journeys, journeys that eventually played a seminal role in forming his various artistic styles. They not only provided a direction but assisted in enriching his unusual creative powers.

Although one of Asher's childhood paintings was exhibited at a national children's show, he didn't consider himself a promising painter. His first foray into sculpture was at the age of 17. From several animal bones he found in the nearby wood, Asher constructed an imaginary creature that resembled a dinosaur. Fascinated by his creative spirit, his classmates adopted the creature as a mascot and proudly paraded it during their graduation ceremony.

Upon graduating from Aloney Yitzhak, Asher decided to broaden his horizons and see the world. In 1964 he became a staff member on a cruise ship that sailed to Italy, Spain, the USA, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Since he had spent the better part of his life at the youth village, this employment experience provided him with an opportunity to expand his knowledge and enrich his cultural perspective.

In 1965 Asher returned to Israel to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. Towards the end of his three year service he married his girlfriend Esther, a beautiful kibbutznik from Kibbutz Hanita. Within a short while two daughters were born, Daphna in 1967 and Ronit in 1971.

In late 1967 Asher participated in an exhibition organized by the Sharett Foundation, (at the ZOA House, Tel Aviv) and was awarded first place for his three-dimensional work entitled The Bird. The prize was a scholarship to study sculpture at the Avny Institute in Tel Aviv. At the time, however, Asher, who was in his early twenties and married, also pursued studies in physical education and advanced anatomy, the latter unparalleled in its requirements for precision and concentration. The combination of theoretical and practical concepts was taught with a rigorous scientific methodology - enhancing the tools for his future work, thus playing a vital part in his professional development.

Upon completion of his studies, Asher returned to Aloney Yitzhak as an art and physical education teacher. In addition to his tie spent teaching, Asher continued to pursue his art. In 1971 he was invited to exhibit his work at the International Culture Center in Jerusalem, his first important show that was honored by the presence of the Baroness de Rothschild who opened the exhibition.

The turning point in Asher's life occurred when he was 29. He was offered, and accepted the concession for operating one of the most beautiful private shorelines in Israel, Caesarea Beach. The concession was located in the ancient section of Roman Caesarea, built by King Herod at the end of the first century BC. Owned and developed by the Baron Edmond de Rothschild and the Israeli government, it came to be one of the most prestigious beaches in Israel.

As a child Asher had often taken school trips to the ruins of Caesarea, a destination chosen for its great historical importance and its close proximity to the youth village. Asher would return from every outing with Roman coins and bits of mosaic tiles form ancient floors washed ashore following winter storms. The enchanting quality of this ancient site was stamped in Asher's childhood memory. For years he imagined the Roman aqueduct viewed from the harbor was King Herod's palace. Many years later, he was actually able to relive the reality of those halcyon days. For Asher Caesarea was inspirational. It stimulated his creative spirit and furnished him with a raison d'etre, a reason to be.

But the question is, how Asher as a young artist, suddenly became the owner of the Caesarea Beach concession. Essentially, the story began when Asher became an obsessive collector of antiquities form Roman Caesarea.

While strolling through the fields surrounding the walled city in search of ancient Roman coins and artifact, the Baron de Rothschild's representative for Caesarea met Asher and also happened to be a licensed lifeguard. The combination was ideal and the offer was made, which Asher accepted. It was a minor miracle that provided him the freedom to continue making sculptures and the means to finance the bronze casting.

Thanks to the location of the beach, situated within the curving Herodian bay, and coupled with Asher's esthetic sensitivity for space and form, Caesarea Beach increased its status as one of Israel's most popular summer destinations. Asher established the Caesarea Diving Center that was used by marine archaeologists form around the world. The Center hosted international underwater archaeological digs. and symposiums sponsored by the University of Haifa. Alongside the diving center, facing the bay, Asher positioned his studio. The color of the sea, the antiquities and the historic surroundings made for an ideal working environment.

Asher absorbed Caesarea into his soul. Life in this outstanding archaeological setting with its captivating marine activity, the historic tale, the ruins, and the beautiful people who came to stay, were all inspirational and significantly influenced his future artistic style.

The time spent in Caesarea encompassed one of the most beautiful and creative periods in Asher's life, an experience that dramatically enriched and influenced his future. His life in Caesarea was truly inspirational. It connected and bonded him with material that would resurface time and again for many years afterwards, especially during his post Caesarea journeys.

During the summer months he spent days managing the beach facilities. In the fall and winter he invested his time by working full out in the studio. It was during these years that Asher found the time to attend art exhibitions in America and Europe. The combination of dealing with the beach and diving center in the summer and devoting his time to making art works and visiting exhibitions during the rest of the year was ideal.

Asher had a constant interaction with interesting and diverse groups of people who visited Caesarea. But it and his admiration of beautiful women, brought his idyllic existence to a sad conclusion. His wonderful lifestyle was abruptly brought to a close when Itzik and Esther separated and went through a painful divorce procedure. For Asher it was devastating, to the point that he was unable to create. For a long time afterwards he carried the emotional burden of the divorce.

The healing process began when Asher met Karen Guggenheim, a tourist who had dome to Israel form the United States with her young son DJ for a vacation. Their meeting in Caesarea sowed the seed of a new love. The married and soon after, their son Lee was born. After living in Caesarea for one year, Karen expressed a desire to return to the United States. The need to distance himself from the consequences of his grievous divorce led him to accede to Karen's wish and in 1989 Itzik, Karen, DJ, and Lee settled in Boca Raton, Florida. In the wake of this decision Asher left behind his two daughters, Dafna and Ronit, Caesarea and friends, and all that was so important in his life.

Asher's sculptural style is an established and recognized one. How did it come about? Did it begin to percolate with the "once upon a time story" of the dreamer from a youth village in the Sharon? Was it the oak forest and his attachment to nature in his formative years? Was it the archaeological discoveries of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Crusader cultures at Caesarea? Or, was it his love of the beauty of nature and women - was that what established Asher's very unusual style? The answer is, yes!

What Asher labels his Journey Period began in the States, a journey that elevated his artistry and techniques to the highest level, in line with the best sculptors of this era. In the decade that ensued, Asher became well-known for the monumental bronze sculptures he installed permanently or exhibited temporarily in numerous public spaces in the United States.

 
Worship to Addiction, 1968. Iron, edition of 1, height 37in
 
The Bull's Revenge, 1969. Iron, length 39in.
 
Asher with Eve and the Serpent, 1973. Plaster, height 22in.
 
Asher and The Temptation, 1973. Bronze, height 75in.
 
Banishment
The Banishment, 1974. Bronze, height 27in.
 
Eleanor Roosevelt
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visits the youth village in 1959. Itzik Asher, first left.
 
Dino, Asher's first sculpture, 1963. Animal bones/wood, height 9ft.
 
Journey to the New (detail), 1995. Back Muscles, outcome of Asher's anatomy study.
 
Baroness de Rothschild opening Asher's exhibition in Jerusalem, 1973.
 
Asher's one-man show in Jerusalem, 1973.
 
The Ancient Roman Aqueduct at Ceasarea.
 
View from Asher's Studio - Roman ruins.
 
Caesarea Beach - summer view.
 
Caesarea Bay. Asher's studio was to the left of the building.
 
Foundation of Love, 1999. Bronze, edition of 6, 72x16x18in. Strong influence of ancient civilizations.
West Palm Beach, Florida. Monumental Sculpture Show, 1996. Asher with Mayor of Palm Beach, Nancy M. Graham. South Beach, Miami. Monumental Sculpture Exhibition. Asher with Mayor Arthur Geiber, 1995.
   
Asher with Jerusalem's Mayer, Teddy Kollek Asher with legendary Ezer Weizman

 

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