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An Invitation to a Journey


Yoav Dagon - Director Guttman Museum, Tel-Aviv, Israel

Itzik Asher ascribes a mainly autobiographical content to his series of journey sculptures. Another, equally significant facet, however, is the universal dimension whereby one can place the work in broader contexts. By using figurative, somewhat schematic human images, the artist can introduce a figure that resonates beyond a specific time and place. Its identification and facial do not define it, thus it may be located in almost any historical time. Subconsciously, these figures convey an a-temporal continuum and continuity.

The figures themselves are rooted in the ground (or in their bases), their elongated limbs enhancing the sense of growth on the one hand, and the sense of motion and temporal continuity on the other. They reflect the artist's desire to bring together the female element - the earth, and the male element - the sky or heaven, while the bird, depicted in many of the sculptures, functions as a universal messenger, mediating between the corporeal (earth) and spiritual (heavens) elements.

The presence of animals alongside the human figures typifies many of the sculptures in the Journey series. These may be divided into three major groups. The first includes domesticated animals such as the cow, ox, and horse that serve man in his pastoral life. The second group consists of marine species, such as dolphins, walruses, and fish. The third group is comprised of birds. (The sculpture Princess of Caesarea features a lion, traditionally used as a symbol of majesty and kingship. This however, is not typical of Asher's work).

The animal sculptures, like those of the human forms, strive to convey a message through a symbol, rather than depict a specific animal or human figure. The cow as well as the human figure in the sculpture The Shepherd, 1991 call to mind many cow and human depictions, from the petroglyphs in the rock shelters of Tassili in the Sahara Desert and Hoover Dam on the Nevada-Arizona border, through South African cave drawings, to wall paintings and reliefs in ancient Egypt and other Middle Eastern cultures.

Itzik Asher does not draw his inspiration from specific images. His desire to represent the cow or ox through its quintessential features has led him to formal solutions that are rooted in a centuries-long historical continuum. Similarly, the schematic figure of the shepherd draws its strength from the feeling that he is not an isolated phenomenon in the art of a single sculptor, but rather a form that echoes millennia of a formal tradition in which man - every man - is represented by a human image that the eye easily perceives and situates within a virtually boundless cultural sequence. Thus, one can detect in the formal principles that have guided the sculptor from the Senufo tribe in the Ivory Coast, or the Dogon blacksmith form Mali, just as one can identify in it forms that have occupied Giacometti's attention.

Additional motifs employed by Asher, characterized by a broad contextual scope, are borrowed from the repository of culture. The use of the boat motif in The Voyage, 1993 and Couple on a Boat, 1990 is not unrelated to the same motif as seen in Egyptian art, while at the same time connoting another journey. Indeed, one aspect of Asher's voyage is linked with his sojourn form Israel to the US, but that journey distinctly took place in the wake of an earlier phase in the artist's life; thus, symbolically, one may discuss it in terms of death and rebirth.

The horse motif emerging in several of Asher's sculptures (The Voyage, 1993; Gift of Nature, 1990; Women with Horse, 1991; The Woman's Journey II, 1992), also articulates the artist's aspiration to mold the form to the point of its reduction to the utmost schematic attributes. In this instance, too, the eye readily grasps the image, incorporating it into the reservoir of formal images associated with the animal since the dawn of history. The emergence of the chariot in some of the sculptures is not necessarily accompanied by the horse image, and it is likewise used to symbolize the quest, rather than a utilitarian mod of transportation (The Fisherwoman, 1991).

The use of journey symbols does not exempt the artist from expressing the act of travel via the sculptures' modeling. The motion of vertical growth is indeed dominant in these pieces, alongside his attempt to instill the sculpture with an illusion of movement on various levels and by various means. At times this is manifested in conspicuous reduction, by positioning one leg of the sculpture before the other (Woman of Melody, 1994-95),or by bending one of the horse's legs (The Lover's Journey). Another method discernible in several sculptures is the use of hair blowing in the wind to generate the illusion of movement vis-à-vis opposite currents. Even in sculptures where the leg positioning is static, the artist employs the arm movement to create a sense of motion and enrich the composition by positioning the arms in various dynamic gestures. These gestures counteract the sense of stasis in the body's posture.

Throughout his artistic career Itzik Asher has gained great experience and fashioned images that have given rise to a personal language. These images indeed rely on the artist's private life story and contain many autobiographical aspects.

On a deeper level, however, his art engages in a rich and fertile dialog with a universal set of images that have been represented in different cultures and civilizations through myths that touch upon the essence of human existence. The journey is, thus, a personal quest that spans many universal quests.

Woman's Journey I (detail horse), 1993. Bronze, edition of 1, 47x64x23in.
The Voyage (detail - horses), 1993. Bronze, edition of 6, 55x87x31in.
The Gift of Nature (detail horse), 1990. Bronze, 28x54x19, historic.
The Fisherwoman, 1993. Bronze, edition of 7, 36x12x9in.
Woman of Melody, 1994. Bronze, edition of 7, 108x45x60in.