One-artist Exhibition, Museum of Modern Art, Haifa.
Haifa
1959

 “It so happens that the grandeur of certain Jewish painters derives from the fact of their being uprooted. […] But Bonneh’s qualities could not come to crystallization if he had not belonged to a defined, stable universe. […] Bonneh is an epic artist; he expresses an inner, personal truth less then the cultural whole he belongs to - a whole of myths, rites adventures and gestures. He paints the Jewish epopee and the Jewish anecdote; for him they mean the same; an amalgamated, experienced reality in which there is no place for historical perspective. […] And because the Jewish epopee and anecdote are nearly always religious, Bonneh is a religious painter without being a religious Jew. His painting would fit, perfectly, in a new synagogue; the subjects are of traditional Jewish inspiration, the technique is wide, architecturally monumental. (one is tempted to compare Bonneh’s art with the great, Biblical images painted on walls of the ancient synagogue of Dura -Europos). His heroes have no hips, no necks, no wrists Massive and barbaric they would rather resemble a Prince of Gudea, an Assyrian King, or a Byzantine Emperor. They are not examples of pure beauty and harmony, of individual physical microcosm, their proportion are those of elements fitting in his cosmos. […] His heroes – Abraham, Jacob, Ezekiel – are peasants of an ancient Jewish village. They depend on the earth, on the forces of nature, on the seasons of the year turning with the Zodiac. They are people of an agricultural country, a country of altars, sacrifices and prayers dedicated to the Almighty. […] Bonneh paints already as a child but, whenever it is Painted and whatever it presents, his picture expresses basic oriental aesthetic values; plastic vitality, stylization, compactness of composition, monumentality, decorativeness. […] Bonneh is a painter blessed with richness of colors. The family table is shining with vessels and fruits, with exotic lights and legendary brocades, with silk and velvets. The human faces and the objects of cult are illuminated with reds, oranges browns and pink. […] The general naïve, sensual conception and the gold-pink palette indicate influences of Persian – Mogul miniatures, of Byzantine and Italian primitive art […] The conception of the human figures and event reach an Oriental-Jewish-Israeli monumentality. The national and the religious, the spirit of the young renaissance and of the old heritage are brought to a surprisingly adult synthesis. […] Towards the end of 1958 Bonneh began painting landscapes. From the very beginning he endowed the sky, the mountains and the sea with a sense of eternity as he endowed his heroes with inner passion and prophecy. The landscape is rendered in organized general line, in polished, rather thin surfaces. It is timeless; it has a silent dignified poetry, a pure, oriental beauty, a certain climate common only to a few Italian contemporary masters who interpret the Mediterranean world and spirit. […] Here is a young artist blessed with strength of plastic expression, bound with vital forces of his people and his country. He refuses the Jewish sentimentality and the Jewish sophistication.

 

“Pola Eichenbaum, from the forward to the catalogue of the exhibition, 1959

 

“What is interesting about Bonneh is that although born in Poland in 1930 there is comparatively little direct European influence in his life and work. […] He grew up in Israel in the more authentic pioneering years before the last war, before the great influx of those to whom Israel is a refuge rather than an ideal. […] After finishing elementary school he was able to work for tow years in the studio of the late Menachem Shemi. Since then he has studied and painted alone, has never been a number of the many art groups in Israel and has never been abroad.[…] I was taken to visit Bonneh by friends in Haifa who thought he was not only one of the most gifted younger painters but had something of the Israeli quality I was looking for. […] It is difficult to describe where lies the native quality of Bonneh’s paintings. In the first place most of his subject matter is biblical or religious. […] But the Bible, not so much as history, but as spiritual experience, is to him an intimate and deeply felt source book. […] On the subject of the younger Israeli painters, Bonneh recently wrote to me, “From my point of view the following after Western traditions is only a sign of weakness, a lack of originality which is out of touch with the natural environment of Israel – light, sun, the spirit of renewal, the traditions of the past so firmly linked with the present and, above all, the Bible. […] This concern with the Bible is not unusual in Israel and in some senses is search for roots, a new country’s desire for a past, a past of glory, which often leads to a conscious rejection of post - biblical Jewish history. Young Israelis seem resentful of Jewish history in Europe. Their search for a fresh start is almost unbalanced, since the experience of last 2,000 years cannot be erased from Jewish consciousness. Bonneh is not quite so immature and his paintings often include scenes of festivals and observances which are a link between Old Testament and post- Biblical Jewish life. But these, it will be seen, are rendered with the same dignity as Biblical subjects. Unlike the work of East European Jewish painters, they are not concerned with a personal vision of, or longing for, a remembered past, or like some western painters with the merely picturesque. Bonneh’s paintings are full of pride in a continuous, living tradition. […] The curious mixture of love, detachment and inspiration with which Bonneh views the Old Testament, free from sentimentalism or histrionic nationalism, is clearly visible in his work. I do not think it is too far-fetched to be reminded of the calm, detached, yet joyous religious atmosphere in the masterpieces of Fra Angelica and Piero della Francesca. I noted a similarity in tonal values, the mathematical planning of the compositions and the same concern with spatial problems. With Fra Angelica there is much similarity of color, particularly the blue and gold. Despite the affectionate gentleness of Bonneh’s work there is an underling strength of character and purpose.”

Chrles S. Spencer, “The Painter & Sculptor”, autumn edition 1958, London

 

 

“The exhibition of oil paintings by Shmuel Bonneh covers a period of just over three years, and provides an overview of the progress of this young Haifa-ite, aged 28. This is a demonstration of great boldness, symbolic of the revival of artistic excellence that had almost completely disappeared among the younger generation of Israeli artists, abstract and figurative alike. In fact, Bonneh is a combination of two painters: the first is Bonneh the decorative artist who firmly believes in the illustrative values of Jewish folk art and the miniature art of oriental Jewry – amulets, inscriptions and calligraphy. The second is the enthusiastic, naïve expressionist, establishing the Jewish subjects that affirm the content of his oeuvre. … But there is a new freshness in Bonneh’s painting since he abandoned the miniatures of his early work. Without doubt, he adheres to the preservation of absolute artistic values, rejecting the possibilities of easy, comfortable expression. Among his latest works, including landscapes that appear here for the first time, there is a partial return to more concrete themes, in which the artist’s treatment reveals surprising ability and maturity.”

Y. Reshef (Yona Fischer) “Haaretz” 20.1.1959

 

 

“As we have discussed formerly, Shmuel Bonneh paints with a love and enthusiasm that hardly allows of rational critique. A former pupil of Menahem Shemi, it is doubtful whether he entered the artist’s world with many preconceived theories. The language that he adopted initially, when he was influenced by the folk art of the Orient, was basically decorative, integrating clear and simple traditional elements. The spectrum of bright colours, the precise drawing, the naïve composition, are all present as a function of the subject. From depictions of Jewish festival celebrations, Bonneh moved on last year to biblical subjects. He had to express new concepts, to draw on his own imagination, to crystallize a revolutionary concept of line and colour. It is hardly surprising, then, that the painter’s ideas are expressed not in illustrative depiction but in light fantasy and clear expression, replacing the oriental forms. … Perhaps the landscapes confirm and return to the oriental atmosphere of his early works, and perhaps their rich colour, unlike most painting of biblical subjects, will return him to simple expressions of line and form.”

 

Yona Fischer “Lamerhav” 20.1.1959

 

“His works bear witness to constant and steady progress. Seven years ago he painted ‘flat’ pictures in bright colours that resembled oriental mosaics. The subjects were biblical. Today his subject is the same. The problems of area are still the focus of his interest, the principle. The colours are still bright and vivid; the pictures are monumental, less illustrative, more dramatic. He divides the surface with a cross, placed either in the centre or at the side, higher or lower. Inside this cruciform construction are the images – or it is the image itself that forms the cross on the canvas. In several pictures he emphasizes the area with a cube, covering a third of the canvas, across the centre. Bonneh varies the colour; sometimes he leaves large, empty spaces – dark or light. Sometimes he controls half the picture with a single monotone that emphasizes the colorfulness of the rest. In recent months he has been painting landscapes and has left the angular compositions, replacing them with crescents or circles. Bonneh makes do with few details in these paintings, hinting at nature only with standardized shapes. … Bonneh is an interesting, original painter who has now achieved monumental expression. His power magnetizes us, and his clear, unified depictions are remarkable, coming from such a young artist.”

Dr. Claire Lachmann “Davar” 20.1.1959

 

What, how-ever, distinguishes Bonneh is the depth of his conception and his problem of balancing a narrative method with pictorial value. […] Bonneh is an artist to be watched.”

 

E.Harris, “The Jerusalem post”, 16.1.1959


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