From Filigree to Flux

Our penchant for beauty is manifested in a universal love of jewelry, objets d'art, and
what is somewhat condescendingly called "decorative art," though it demands great
skill of execution.

In the modernist period (as in other ages and styles), jewelry design tended to the
pretentious and exclusive, as epitomized by the Dadaist pieces worn by Baroness Else
von Freitag Luringhoven, an eccentric protagonist of the New York Dada, or by
Alexander Calder's earrings, worn by Peggy Guggenheim at the inauguration of her
New York gallery, Art of This Century, in 1942. But the main attraction of jewelry
derives precisely from its universal appeal as an object of beauty and grace.

When I first saw Neta Dor's miniatures, they reminded me of jewelry, and then I
recalled that she had indeed designed and made jewelry in the past. When I shared
these reflections with her during a conversation, Dor responded by showing me pieces
of jewelry from her collection. Exquisite and delicate, these ornaments are fashioned
in the ancient Oriental filigree technique. Although our discussion related mainly to
her small-size etchings, Dor noted that her background bears on the larger prints as
well, confirming my own impression.

Dor's etchings have a relevance of their own, distinct from the content and concerns
of the onrush of innovative art forms. They contain familiar motifs from nature and
from her immediate environment, focusing on and reinvestigating distinctive elements
and details: the spherical heads of three sharp-beaked and round-eyed birds, branches
carrying small round fruits, a couple of grasshoppers in medallion format, a still-life
with a jar of flowers, an empty bench covered with shed leaves, a shaded corner of
the park.

Dor represents all these motifs with great dexterity and structural richness, combined
with an economy of detail which calls to mind traditional Chinese and Japanese
landscape painting. She consciously and conspicuously avoids the urban or electronic
elements of the surrounding world. We all take a delight in scenic sites, such as the
stately avenue of palm trees leading up to the villa of Lord Melchett by the Sea of
Galilee. Dor savors that delight for herself and for us, singling out beauty spots which
can be translated to advantage into the medium of etching, invested with the aesthetic
dimension of jewelry in the fundamental sense of something attractive, precious, and
precise.

As our life environment becomes increasingly urban, nature takes on the aspect of a
haven. It can still be contemplated and depicted in straightforward pictures, hung on
the wall and enjoyed, like Dor's etchings and drawings. She even allows herself to tell
stories about the images, especially when they contain figures and animals, interpreted
in a personal mode, as symbols. The symbolic import infuses the images with a lyrical
poignancy, as in the series "Openings," where the soft light filling the window
connotes the Middle East peacemaking process. Thus Dor annuls a modernist taboo,
which does not apply to the realm of her jewelry-etchings. In the more recent works,
however, especially in the large formats, she tends to focus on her motifs in a close-up
view which "cleans" them of excessive narrativity; thus a "landscape" may consist
solely of branches and leaves, or even of a hat with a single flower on the unseen head
of a woman. This focus imparts to the images a special clarity and concentration,
supported as always by Dor's impressive command of her medium.

One of Neta Dor's latest series, titled "Flow," warrants a more detailed discussion. It
was created after she had watched the performances of the Bat Dor ballet company
over a period of two years at the invitation of its founder, Baroness Batsheva de
Rothschild, and its artistic director, Jeanette Ordman (to whom the series was
dedicated), drawing the fabrics wrapping the bodies of the dancers with the intent of
emphasizing the abstract flow of the dancers' movements.

Dor's observation that, in these works, "the abstract comes to expression in the subject
matter rather than in the image itself," relates to the axiom of the pre-Socratic Greek
philosopher Heraclitus, "panta rhei" (as she called her previous exhibition). The flow of
the fabric along with the unfolding movements becomes a graphic representation of
the flux of reality. Thus Dor's loving observation of nature is tempered by a keen
awareness that transience is at the heart of existence.

In the series "Flow" we do not see a group of dancers but a close-up of a single
dancer - or rather of the sinuous silhouette of the fluttering fabric, and occasionally a
hint of some part of the body. Besides their forceful rendering of flowing movement,
these images are interesting and intriguing precisely because it is clear that they
represent fabric, i.e., something tangible, while at the same time having a quasi-
abstract and somehow enigmatic quality. They are also anchored in the history of art,
recalling the Greek sculptors' unsurpassed handling of drapery, Renaissance and
Baroque studies of fabrics, Degas' cropped compositions and late pastels, or Toulouse-
Lautrec's bold renderings of cancan dancers and their whirling skirts and petticoats.
However, Dor's etchings convey nothing of the frivolous gaiety of the latter works,
and there is a deliberating, intellectual quality in their semi-abstract mode of
representation. In my opinion, this is one of the best series created by Dor in the past
several years, drawing on classical themes yet focusing on the motif with the
quintessentially "modern" intention of proving that movement, flux, is a theme in its
own right.

Neta Dor's etchings and drawings demonstrate that these traditional media still have
an important function to serve in today's digital world, conveying reflections and
perceptions that transcend time. Dor indeed contrives to give a vivid and personal
expression to her view of life in works which combine technical mastery and
perceptual acuity. 1997