The Gilad Shalit painting, for example, features a cross and bars. Before knowing the background (most of Givati’s works are untitled), the black stripes immediately evoked the Holocaust for me. Deena Lusky, the curator of the exhibition, relates that Givati confided in her that he produced the painting in just one night – immediately following Shalit’s release and return to Israel. “It hit me so hard,” Givati confided, “that I painted in a frenzy all night through, without any thought or plan, just giving free reign to what was going on inside me.” Furthermore, Lusky writes that Givati denied that when asked about the cross, he abruptly replied, “It’s not a cross.” Lusky’s interpretation is almost as lyrical as the painting is gut-wrenching—based on the four frames:
The coloring of the painting is a deep blue, white and brown. The cross itself is not proportional, signifying a deeper and wider meaning. In Gilad’s case neither the United Nations nor the Red Cross […] did any real attempts to provide Gilad the care he deserved as a soldier taken captive by hostile forces in war. The so-called cross is painted in white with a blue background (signifying the Israeli flag), maybe conveying Givati’s disdain to this fact. The second frame is a figure with childlike terrorized eyes; hands raised high over his head in surrender, behind jail bars. Gilad was only 20 years of age, a child soldier when taken captive. However, Givati portrays the destitution Gilad must have felt of being held for over five years in captivity with no human connection; served meals through a slit in the locked door, and his sole link to the outer world was through a single channeled, black-and-white television in his cell, by painting the third frame of a body behind bars with no head. The fourth frame in the painting portrays a young man with no mouth and a disproportional body painted in shades of brown, as if it were a mass of earth needed to be shaped all over again.
The painting addresses Israel, identity, isolation. Givati seems to relate to Shalit and feel empathy for him. Despite Givati’s ambivalence towards his country and his religion, he related to the isolation of his fellow countryman. What is more alienating, after all, than art?
The most consistent element in Givati’s work was identified in a review of his very first solo exhibition by Joav BarEl, at the time, art critic in Haaretz and Givati’s best friend—that is, “the painter’s quest for self-acquaintance.”2 Givati’s self is no more fragmented because of his mental illness. In fact, one of the most successful elements of the exhibit is Givati’s ability to explore his theme both widely and deeply. While the works vary in technique, most of them are somewhat abstract with clear but minimalist depictions of horses’ heads.
One of Givati’s specific brands of diptych seems to serve him very well. His life and his work were full of dichotomies, binaries and contradictions. Only with the whole picture, is the work clear. As Lusky notes: “Givati’s work cannot be contained to one genre of art; his brilliance was manifested by his ability to oscillate between the organic and the geometric, the real and the abstract, the meditative and the expressive, the monochromatic and the colorful, the amorphous and the structural, the transparent and the covered, the empty and the loaded, the implicit and the unequivocal, the dream and the imagination, optimism and despair, connection and separation.” These binaries were an essential part of Givati’s identity. Though he may not have been able to successfully resolve the tensions in life, in art, Givati was able to join the two parts, literally the two canvases. The viewer only understands the work when the two canvases are joined.
Jean Piaget says that even as babies, we try to fit knowledge into a schema. We are wired to make sense of things and fit them into systems that we have already built for ourselves. I am sadly and neglectfully not familiar with Israeli artists of the last thirty years, so I try to connect Givati to New York artists. He lived in New York, I reason with myself, at the Chelsea Hotel no less. Therefore, I should be allowed to draw a line connecting the work of these disparate artists.
About the Author: Shoshana Batya Greenwald recently received a master's degree in decorative arts, material culture and design history from Bard Graduate Center. She is the collections manager at Kleinman Family Holocaust Educational Center (KFHEC) and a freelance writer.
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