Draw me a Sheep, over and over again

Draw me a Sheep, over and over again
Why do certain artists replicate and paint the same motif over and over again? Do they really “repeat themselves” or does the recurrent painting enable them to perform a persistent, original and longstanding in-depth study?

Amadeo Modigliani repeatedly painted long-necked women. Marc Chagall focused on flying figures. Salvador Dali’s painting feature clocks and eggs. For Menashe Kadishman, it was sheep; Yosl Bergner – triangular heads with elliptical eyes; Tsibi Geva – spoons and floor tiles. These are but a few examples of painters who present a recurrent motif in their work. For them, the ongoing attention to the same figure or entity or shape allows for profound artistic exploration of all dimensions of the painted object – aesthetic, formative and symbolic.

From the meadow to the Biennale: Kadishman’s sheep

Sheep have become the trademark associated with Menashe Kadishman, who passed away last May. Kadishman painted
sheep for over three decades, mostly sheep heads directing their gaze toward the viewer. Kadishman explored even deeper and, upon reviewing his various works, we will clearly notice that no one sheep is similar to another. Each sheep has a unique character and gaze – whether by its gleaming color palette, monochromatic colors or the fine details that set each sheep apart.
Kadishman’s intense fascination with sheep began in his youth, in the early 1950’s, when he worked as a shepherd at Kibbutz Maayan Baruch and later in Kibbutz Yizre’el. At 21, Kadishman set shepherding aside in favor of art studies in Israel and later in London, attending the prestigious St. Martins and Slade. However, the link to the land, the simplicity of life and serenity of nature in Israel left its mark even as he lived and created abroad.
In 1978, he was chosen to represent Israel at the Venice Biennale, among the most important art events in the world. At the Biennale, Kadishman presented an ambitious project entitled “From Nature to Art – From Art to Nature”. He built a shed with dozens of sheep, which he marked as the shepherds do, painting blue blotches on their backs. Kadishman’s display was a great success and it was once again reconstructed at the Tel Aviv Museum in 2005.
For Kadishman, sheep are not just some random model. To him, they are an Israeli-Jewish icon that embody the authentic Israeli nature, the link to the land, locality and deep-rootedness, while bearing the sheep motif as it appears in Jewish tradition – accompanied by associations of innocence, sacrifice and binding.

The Liberation Movement: Chagall and the Flying People

Figures floating through the air are a prominent and recurrent motif in Marc Chagall’s work. They are lightly borne in the wind, fluttering over villages, towers or floral bouquets. Chagall, perhaps the most important and prominent Jewish artist of the 20th century, was born to a poor Hassidic family in 1887. As an adult, he relocated to Paris, integrated within its art scene and acquired the reputation of a unique and unusual artist.
Chagall did not consider himself part of a certain and defined artistic stream or movement. He was a school of his own, combining surrealistic and expressive elements with traditional motifs of the Jewish Shtetl. His paintings reflect a fantasy, with dream and reality intertwined along with memories of his hometown, Vitebsk, combined with imaginary visions.
For Chagall, the flying figures symbolize liberation from tyranny and personal and national freedom. The combination of traditional Jewish figures and unfettered flying in the air symbolized his hope for freedom, especially in a time when Russian Jews were not even permitted to travel from one town to the other without approval from the authorities.

Sadness with a smile: Extraterrestrials in Bergner’s work

Yosl Bergner is considered unusual in the Israeli art scene. Alongside his Israeli painting that is filled with a glaring light and local landscape, Yosl Bergner introduces a symbolic-surreal aesthetic. His work is characterized by a dark and deep palette of colors, as well as a recurrent motif of figures that have evolved into his trademark: boyish, gender unspecific figures with a triangular head and large, intense and black elliptical eyes. Bergner’s mysterious figures seem inhuman, perhaps even “extraterrestrial”, revealing a fun and humoristic aspect of a butterfly-eating “extraterrestrial” family, flying kitchen utensils and children’s toys coming to life.
Bergner also designed sets for the theater, mainly for plays produced by his good friend, Nissim Aloni. The dramatic language of theater seems evident in his paintings as well. His “extraterrestrial” boys resemble theater masks, a means used by the actor to encourage discussion and debate from the viewers.

Taken from an article published by Michal Zer on Ynet.