-- Artist Ruth Ben - Israel
My history, like that of my family, is strongly connected to the settlement of the land of Israel.
I am a granddaughter of Abba and Sarah Ne’eman (among the founders of the first Jewish city - Tel Aviv),
a great-granddaughter of Zerah and Yoheved Moshli (who were among the first ten families who built homes in Neve Tzedek, the first Jewish neighborhood of Jaffa), a sixth generation descendant of Rabbi Itzhak Heshin,
the “Hassalwitzer”, who was one of the leaders of the immigration of the disciples of the GRA (the Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu) who settled in Tzefat in 1805, and a sixth generation descendant of Israel Bak who made "aliya" in 1837. Through my 55-year marriage to my husband Gideon, and together with my daughters Marit and Savyon, we have also played our part in settling the country. First, when we lived in the Negev between 1955 and 1970, where we helped to renew Jewish life in Be’er Sheva, the home of our Forefathers, which became the first Jewish city in the Negev. We subsequently continued between 1971 and 1980, when we moved to the first new home built in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem after its liberation, and finally, in 1992 we moved to Neveh Tzedek
in Tel Aviv and helped to renew the first Jewish quarter built in Jaffa.
After completing my military service I went to Paris where I studied Decorative Art. Following my marriage
I moved to Be’er Sheva, during the 1950s. Family considerations brought me to the realization that I had to
give up my artistic career and study law instead. That is how I came to the world of law, and the rest is history. My scientific work has been recognized in Israel and abroad. In 2001 I was awarded the Israel Prize for legal research. I have received other prizes: I was a recipient of the Barniv Prize for labor law in 1988, of the Minkoff Prize for legal excellence in 2000, the Israel Bar Association Prize for Women in Law in 2001, the Women’s Lobby Award in 2005, Honorary Fellowship of the Open University in 2005, Woman of Tel-Aviv Award in 2008, Namir Prize together with Gideon Ben-Israel in 2008 and the Notable Person of Tel-Aviv Award in 2009.
In 2005, at the age of 74, I realized that I would probably have another ten to twenty years of activity at
my disposal. I felt I could not carry on for another ten to twenty years doing what I had been doing until then.
I felt a strong need for renewal, to gain a fresh perspective and realize myself in a new and different way. Without too much deliberation, I chose painting as my new area of activity. Alongside my own and my family’s artistic tendencies, my professional choice was augmented by the fact that it was only due to my family circumstances that, at the outset of my working life, I swapped artistic design for the legal profession. Subconsciously, I believed that it was only a hiatus. So, for me, my prompt decision to transfer to paintings was a sort of important closure in my life.
Why Bible Stories?
My decision to focus my professional transition on digital painting naturally led to the following question: What should I paint? The answer I produced to this question emerged intuitively and unequivocally: I decided to paint Biblical stories. Today, I can only try to trace the reasons that brought me to this decision. With hindsight I can think of four reasons for my decision.
The first reason stems from my roots, my origins and formative beginnings, both as an Israeli and as a citizen of the world. I had always dreamed of one day painting subjects connected to these - subjects that symbolize my connection with this nation and this country, regardless of religious allegiances. Biblical stories, including the laws and legends woven into them, seemed to me a correct choice that satisfied my heartfelt needs. In the Jewish context, the Biblical stories were the last remaining link of the Jewish nation with its national independence of yesteryear. The Biblical stories served as a magical staff for Jews in the Diaspora, and a means of dispelling the gloomy reality of their lives, and of immersing themselves in reflections on a glorious past. It was as if the events of early history were re-enacted for them every day. But, for me, the importance of the Biblical stories went beyond their national context. The story of the Creation, for example, and the initial development of human history described in the Old Testament are, for me, of universal importance.
The second reason stems from the possibility of addressing Bible stories in the context of current affairs. I felt the Bible stories were an appropriate subject for depicting the reality of our lives, because they could be imbued with contemporary content that is central to our everyday public life. For example, the story of the Creation could be used to express the heavy anxiety over destruction of the world as a result of the development of the atom bomb, in the shadow of which we live. This concern can be expressed in various artistic forms, including using a painting brush.
The third reason stems from my curiosity and research tendencies. I am looking to increase my knowledge and extend my understanding of the Midrash, Jewish law and legend. This enrichment is necessary to understand the content of the stories that I want to paint. It satisfied my personal need. I had to read the Midrash and legends, which would enlighten me about the meaning of the Scriptures, and enable me to imbue my paintings with my own special interpretations.
The fourth reason stems from my will to try to combine between the "Ancient" Bible and the digital "Progress".
Why Painting in Series?
I choose to illustrate and decorate the various Biblical stories in series. My choice to do so stems from my feeling that Biblical stories were an ideal subject for series of paintings. I found the uniqueness of series paintings as a challenge. I was intrigued by the possibility of trying to instill new meaning in an ancient painting tradition, painting Biblical stories as series. This was a tradition that told the whole story in a single painting. The magic lantern put an end to this tradition. It was no longer possible to convey the entire story in a single picture. This meant that the story had to be divided up into several static pictures whereby the whole story could only be achieved by placing them in sequence. This represented a transition from the story picture to the story series.
My decision to create a series of paintings was also prompted by my plan to use such a series to embrace and adapt comics, which is a means of expression of the younger generation of the 20th century. I wanted to use the series of paintings to forge a link between the individual picture and the graphic novel. Only recently I painted the Story of Jonah which comprises my first digital graphic novel.
Moreover, I believe that today, in the era of digital painting there is room, due to the medium’s special attributes, to make the transition to series painting. The range of possibilities offered by the computer and, in particular, by its built-in libraries enables us to use the computer to generate series of pictures that tell a story. This is relevant for stories in which the same figures and backdrops appear throughout. These can be presented (as needed at each stage of the story) using the abilities of the computer to execute infinite possibilities in terms of size and composition.
why Digital Painting ?
I chose to illustrate and decorate Biblical stories by means of my computer. The following reasons brought me to replace the traditional painting tools - the pencil, pen, brush, charcoal, chalk etc. - with a computer:
First, using a computer for the purposes of painting was a natural continuation of the habit that had taken root in me during my legal work. So it was natural that the mouse would replace the brush in this area too. Today's generation is the computer generation. People spend most of their time sitting in front of a computer screen. They use the screen for work and for leisure, for play and for study. Because of this people are now used to thinking, experiencing and understanding things in the language of the computer. They feel a sense of closeness and common experience when talking about tools which they are used to, like the computer. Young children are familiar with the language of the computer and the way it works even before they learn how to read and write. Thus, if you want to talk to the contemporary generation about art you have to talk to them in their language. It seems, therefore, that if you want to access the audience of the future there are grounds for trying to form your art in a language they understand. The right medium for painting today is the computer, not necessarily as the exclusive medium, but certainly as a legitimate medium.
Second, working with a computer changed my way of thinking, my research and teaching work, and improved them in the long term. This is particularly evident in all aspects of conceptual sharpness and precision, and clarity of thought. It seemed to me that the potential offered by the computer, and which helped enhance my teaching and research methods, provided more than a mere hint that by working with a computer I could improve my work, even when that work was painting.
Third, technology allows the artist to exceed his boundaries and the possibilities offered by traditionally accepted art, and acts as a sort of amplifier of its abilities. The language of art was enriched by embracing new technologies, and thanks to the willingness and will of artists to use these technologies. Painting on a computer using vector software creates a unique “brush”. The latter offers innovative qualities which are unparalleled among traditional painting tools used thus far for this purpose. As a result of this potential the painting loses its incidental and empirical nature that was characteristic of the artist’s studio. In these circumstances the empirical coincidental nature of manual painting is replaced by precise project planning the editing of which becomes a realistic option due to the abilities of the computer. The limits and conditions of the painting are set after the computer offers the artist the ability to precisely consider the range of potential options relating to line, form, proportions, composition of color, etc. In vector images, lines, curves and colors are defined in mathematical values. This means that each vector line, shape or composition can be enlarged, rotated, have its color or shape changed, or undergo any other processing without affecting the final quality of the shape.
Fourth, the uniqueness of the computer “brush” enables to express an innovative approach, even when the subject matter is paintings of Biblical stories. This is despite the fact that the stories of the Bible are a subject that has been addressed by the top painters with every painting means available. They have used wood etchings, charcoal paintings, water colors and oil paintings, paintings on ceilings, murals, stained-glass, etc.
However, recognition of the uniqueness of the “brush” the computer creates does not confer on the computer any status beyond it being solely a means of implementation. The status of the computer as a practical tool is similar to that of the traditional pencil or brush. The computer does not have discretion or consideration of its own. The artist is still the creator, even in the era of digital painting. The computer, similar to the traditional pencil or brush, continues to be used in accordance with the instructions of the artist, who dictates the details of the painting. The only thing the computer adds to the art of painting (when used with vector software) is that it offers the artist a new tool with unique qualities. It is a tool just like any other tool used in painting to date.