Metamorphoses


With "Metamorphosis" a suite of some 50 computer-generated drawings, Israeli artist
Neta Dor makes a dramatic leap into the world of computers and digital technology.
This is a surprising development from several perspectives. Not least, because Dor has
specialized for more than 20 years in the production of artistic prints of a romantic and
traditional character.

Dor has been quick to appreciate that the computer with its multi-option, point and
pick programmes offers a freedom and spontaneity not attainable in the medium of
etching where she was obliged to preplan every detail. She finds that one of the joys
of working in this new medium is that she does not have to pre-visualize her end-
images and effects to the last degree.

She has also discovered, so it seems, what Matisse once described as the "passion of
color." In consequence, she has moved from the monochrome or low-key color range,
which characterized her etchings to a far, more vivid and richer expression, while
customizing a new palette which she can store and access at will. In addition, the
computer's ability to blend, merge, shrink, split or multiply images and forms at a
moment's notice has clearly boosted Dor's creative impulse taking all her work
forward in exciting directions.

Dor has not made the mistake of becoming subservient to the computer, viewing it
only as a super-intelligent tool. Lillian F. Schwartz, a pioneer in computer art and
computer graphics, has compared the ideal relationship between an artist and his
computer with that of the master-apprentice system practised during the Renaissance.
Leonardo da Vinci, for instance, trained his students to carry out special tasks but
always kept the total artwork firmly under his control*.

Dor's new drawings, comprising four major series and a number of single pieces or
smaller sets of work, deal with themes which have underpinned her print oeuvre for
years; namely, such topics as the cyclic flow of life, movement and flux, and the
dimension of time and space viewed as a merger between past, present and future.

The images in this collection, whether tree, house, bird or boat, originate in Dor's large
oeuvre of etchings which are known, in general, for their gentle beauty and tranquility
of spirit. But here, in this new medium, Dor has created in some instances a mood of
tension and threat. The drawing, "Firebirds," is one example. In contrast to her
etchings where Dor depicted the plump and preening inhabitants of a dovecote or
captured the graceful flight of cranes over water, one now finds her producing strange
hybrid birds suspended in time between a blood-red earth and a blood-red sky. These
are frightening phantoms, waiting to pounce; whose wings and talons are seemingly
caught within transparent or semi-opaque planes of green, yellow and brown.

Equally threatening is Dor's new view of the "Tree of Life." In the past, her trees have
been mostly sited within the Israeli landscape. But in this drawing, one sees only an
uprooted trunk, overlaid with splashes of orange-red and brown and where its gnarled
protrusions are indivisible from the white lacunae and black pitted surfaces
surrounding it. .

Veils, shadows or blank spaces are a special feature of many of these drawings,
conveying the idea of absence, of secrets or of events of which we have no
knowledge or control. This feature is especially prominent in the two series titled
respectively "Sun-Shades - Metamorphosis" and "Shadows."

The "Sun-Shades" drawings are especially captivating. At present this series consists
of some 15 pieces but the possibilities are infinite, given the computer's ability to
create a permanent storehouse of images and forms which can be resuscitated and
developed at a future date.
The heat of the Israeli summer, the blinding rays of the sun at the seashore, is
marvelously conveyed in the earliest drawings in this series either by vivid bands of
yellow and orange surrounding the central image of an open sunshade, or by a soft,
mottled, Seurat-like treatment of the whole scene.
At the start of the series, one sunshade only is depicted. Later the image is multiplied
and abstracted. Its contours echo the curved lines of distant mountain-tops, with its
blue shadow cast on the ground gradually acquiring, from version to version, an
independent life of its own. In one lyrical piece, the objects and their shadows have
become huge limpid objects, like giant mushrooms, which hover above the earth.

Odd man out in this series, is "A View from Another Planet;" a drawing conceived in
an abstracted style which recalls the circular cosmic forms of French Orphic painter
Robert Delauney. Here sunshades, shadows and seascape are reduced to bands of
color and linear fragments which frame a giant human eye at the centre of the picture.
"Chaos" is the most turbulent version of the whole "Sunshade" series. With the object
and its shadow reduced to bright patches of color one can barely pinpoint their present
in this tightly knit composition which gives the effect of a collision between surging
waters and a seething ground mass.

The source-image for the "Shadows" series is an unusual etching (also given the name
"Shadow") that Dor executed in 1998. It shows a single tree with bare branches
planted on an otherwise barren coastline. Its shadow is described as a network of dark
brown lines slanting across the pale earth. In the present series, a purple deck chair
replaces a tree, but the appearance of its shadow is comparable to that cast by the
etched tree. In this drawing, the chair's brown and white shadow progressively attains
importance as it becomes stretched and distorted against a reddish ochre background.
In the final version, a few stray remnants of the chair and its shadow are seen floating
in a stormy sky.

Fragmentation and disintegration are comparatively new features in Dor's thematic
repertoire. These qualities are illustrated, for example, in the series "Friend -
Metamorphosis." The first work consists of a fairly detailed colored portrait of a
working man, with a cloth cap on his head. Through a succession of color changes,
reversed emphasis given to foreground and background, and the eventual extinction
of a recognizable image, Dor convincingly projects the idea of gradual physical
deterioration of the man. In the final frame, rendered against ghostly grey and white
bands of color, nothing remains of his head save for a squiggle of lines and blobs of
ash falling from the cigarette still held in his mouth.

Considering that Dor has achieved a new artistic freedom by intelligent and selective
use of the electronic tools at her disposal, it is fitting to conclude this short review of
her drawings by referring to her current depictions of horses, creatures which have
always been potential symbols of liberty in her work. But among her etchings of the
1980s and '90s, these animals seldom appear as free spirits. One finds them
constrained by bridle and bit; or as wooden toys, harnessed to a merry-go-round or in
the guise of rocking horses. Now in this new medium, they finally, like Neta Dor
herself, attain their complete freedom. Throwing off all constraints, they are seen
floating and galloping in space, their fetters tossed to the wind.