About Shy Abady's Hannah Arendt Paintings
"There are numerous ways of reading the history of the 20 th century; there is no way of reading it without reading Hannah Arendt."
Shy Abady is fascinated by the image-portrait of Hannah Arendt as a painter interested in her uniquely intelligent and expressive face and features, enabling him to track her entire life, ripening and maturation with his paintbrush. Yet also as an Israeli and a Jew, Abady is reacting with alert senses to the vitality of Arendt’s intellect and the skeptical instinct restlessly hovering above her, the driving force behind her wisdom and womanhood. As a person who always identified sources of immediate threat, who never blindly believed in any myth of any kind and recognized the dangers of victory and power, Arendt symbolized and epitomized the immigrant's alert senses and constant attentiveness to the echoes of catastrophe drawing nearer. As an Israeli artist, Shy Abady is well aware that he is closely observing a woman whose political insights, ideas and philosophical experience were rejected by Israeli society because she refused to acknowledge the absolute justification for the new Jewish state, and the right the state has claimed to perpetuate its victim status.
Shy Abady is, therefore, inspired not only by the complex and elusive portrait of a not-very-beautiful yet extremely charming woman, but also by her extreme love of precision, piercing thought, originality and personal integrity. He is inspired by her image as a person rejected by his culture and who is a focus of subversion of accepted values. His view is that of a young man observing a woman his grandmother's age and tracking her life from her youth to old age, a view that attempts to find, behind her features, her spiritual alertness. Pensive, smiling, smoking, serious - Hannah Arendt will always symbolize in Israeli eyes the Jewish woman from there – the Diaspora - who contains the intellectual Archimedes point that was rejected by Israeli thought. Arendt not only represents the political-critical thought of the 20 th century, primarily criticism of totalitarianism, but the cosmopolitan Jewish option that was negated and was invalidated by self-centered Zionism. Like Walter Benjamin, she was born a citizen of world culture and remained one till she died. The Zionist movement did not inhibit her, and she refused to surrender to its emotional and political dictates.
As a painter, Shy Abady approaches the portrait of Arendt using several techniques and styles, understanding that no style can fully epitomize her personality. While he does not aim to perpetuate her one official portrait, he seeks, or rather attempts, to hunt out the multitude of her faces and her elusive and suggestive complexity. Her sketched face floats in a broad figurative space, leaving emptiness around her. Abady does not surround her with heavy furniture and does not create for her a defined space - domestic, spiritual or other. He prefers to reconstruct the focus– the eyes, the look, the angle of the mouth, the cigarette smoke: a thinking entity that is not anchored to a location or belonging to a stable, bourgeois interior. In Abady's paintings and drawings, the character of Hannah Arendt is shown lacking any specific, identifiable location. Instead, Abady adds several objects to the portraits that contribute to her conceptual environment: cigarette butts, Sabra cactus plant, pistol bullets, a symbol of royalty – questions about a European past and an Israeli future, about the new and the traditional, the personal and the universal. Do the paintings expose an intimate representation of Arendt? It seems that she manages to slip through the frames. She is painted as a girl holding her mother's hand, as a young girl starting life, as a woman in her prime and as a mature older figure nearing the end of her life. Yet in each portrait she is exposed at that exact point where she never opens herself to an official portrait, and the oblique expression in her eyes examines and evaluates the situation each time anew.
The electrical pen, the technical tool Abady uses to paint Arendt's portraits, is a precise and sharp tool – harder than a pencil, sharper than a paintbrush. He scorches the lines on the wooden surface to create a dry, penetrating sketch. As a skilled sketcher, Abady succeeds in deepening the subject of his sketches, enriching it with rapid and precise yet unsentimental lines. Abady's sketches do not soften, and he is never enticed by excess sensuality. On the fringes, he opens up to gradual sfumato while suprbly controlling the medium. The two oil-on-canvas paintings, on the other hand, create a sense of satiation regarding the precise character of Arendt, who feels less comfortable in a world full of colors and profusion.
Tali Tamir, September 2005
*Hannah Arendt: A Half- Century of Polemics (Heb), Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House, Editors: Idith Zertal Moshe Zuckermann, Red Line series, page 143.