Written by Lonnie Monka
Moshe Hoffman was an accomplished Israeli artist and Holocaust survivor, who passed away in 1983. For the current Jerusalem Artists’ House exhibition of his work, curator Ron Bartos chose the name Fighting the Rules of Attraction. Bartos notes that ‘rules of attraction’ is a literal translation of the Hebrew phrase for gravity, which relates to this artist’s self-acclaimed inability to fly — leading to an earthly perspective. Yet, there is also a kind of tame double-entendre at work in this word choice, hinting at a sexual gravitas present in much of Hoffman’s work.
In the curatorial statement, Bartos does not shy away from describing Hoffman’s work as “…the act of shaping heavy bodies and weighty figures: his women are lush, full-bodied, with round breasts and juicy buttocks…” — after passing by this statement, gallery visitors can view a number of woodcuts, with their bold, hard lines, depicting “round” and “juicy” female forms. One such work is “Cream Pie”, where a woman’s body — cut off from just below the shoulders and below the ankle — is depicted as full thighs, buttocks, and breasts, sitting and facing a piece of pie. The pie and it’s single cherry topping both appear to be dripping with wet chocolate. What might seem like a parody, exposing the cause for the body’s fullness, can also be a bold claim: the pleasure of the full-bodied nude and the joy of devouring the piece of pie are inter-related, if not commensurable.
Another work clearly depicting Hoffman’s integration of sensuality, art, and earthiness is titled “Self Portrait”. At 245 x 125 centimeters and with an entire wall of its own, Hoffman’s self portrait shows more than just the artist at work. Near the center of the piece, a bearded glasses-wearing bust of an artist pops out from a circle of framed pictures. His gaze is locked on one of the two nudes — again, a full-bodied woman, now with everything but her feet in the frame. She lounges, with eyes closed, laughing as if towards the sky. The circle of pictures surrounding the artist is separated into two types: those in front of him with black backs that face the viewers, and those behind him, exposing their framed contents. The visible pictures depict the same Hoffman-esque figures as well as the lines of surrounding landscapes. Both the depicted portraits and the woodcut itself display a similar landscape: bare, rounded hills which, next to the women’s curves, turn sensual.
The landscape becomes especially ambiguous as those within the framed pictures meld into the hilly landscape of the artist’s self-depicted outer frame — those same lines cross the borders of the pictures within the picture, transforming a cartoon-like but overall realistic scene into a dream-scape. This realistic break is most clearly depicted in the frame above the artist’s head, where the silhouette of a woman flies above the mountains, free from gravity.
Even with Hoffman’s hint towards a release from gravity, most of his figures seem weighed down in the sensuality of the earth. Hills as much as hips exhibit a kind of seduction, while also being the product of attraction. Bartos’ decision for the name of this Hoffman exhibition seems odd. Thoughtful visitors may find themselves wondering: Did Hoffman fight attraction, or does his work engage it, maybe even displaying a kind of indulgence? Perhaps deception, one of seduction’s most dependable tricks, can help attract a closer gaze at the works of a bygone artist.
About the Author: Lonnie Monka is a freelance writer and poetry enthusiast. He is also the founder of Jerusalism, an initiative to foster local literary community in Jerusalem, where he continues to organize readings series, workshops, and social gatherings. He also enjoys posting pictures of @toiletsofjerusalem on Instagram.
Photo credit: Ran Erede