Creative Modalities | Gershon Knispel, Works on Paper

Batia Donner

Opening: June 15th 2017

Already in the 1950s, Gershon Knispel sought to fix his gaze on the places where the personal brushes up against the collective in order to expose the gaps and the areas of distress where the individual is pushed to the margins. This mode of looking, which seeks to find what is hidden while ideologies become realized and in the actions of political systems, has characterized his art and the mediums he has chosen to use throughout the years. Knispel is an artist dedicated to idea and to action. His art strives to present a moral viewpoint and to strip away the façade of the cliché in order to focus on society and the individual who must endure the consequences of collective processes. On a path that began in the 1950s with a localized and synchronous outlook that broadened during time spent in Europe into a universal way of looking and then crystalized into a diachronic viewpoint while living in Brazil, Knispel has endeavored to join history and territory into a single meaningful entity.

This exhibition presents works on paper, mostly prints – some were created as autonomous works, others are illustrations for works by a few writers and poets, and most bear an affinity to works in other mediums, either as sketches for murals, reliefs and sculptures or as a dialectic progression for works in other fields.

In the anthology Poems of a Generation, submitted as his final project at Bezalel (1954), Knispel presented “illustrated poems” – lithographs that use drawing and calligraphy in a dialogue with selected poems of protest. The poems chosen as the point of departure, and which were gathered with a sober glance at his surroundings and lacking even the slightest trace of idealization, were indeed the artist’s “clumps of earth,” in the words of Mordechai Ardon, Knispel’s teacher and head of the New Bezalel School of Art.

A liberated, intuitive and erupting line characterizes the screen print album Along the Way, which the artist created in 1956 to poems by Alexander Penn. In the drawings one can detect the birth of two iconographic motifs that would evolve in Knispel’s art: the image of the masses as collective entity and victim, blurring the distinction of the circumstances of suffering and oppression, and the figure of the cripple, which reappears after many years in his monumental work The Four Carriages of Survival, which Knispel created for the auditorium of the Ten Yad (Lend A Hand) organization in Sao Paulo (2009–2013).

Of the drawings Knispel did for Bertold Brecht’s poem Children’s Crusade, Willem Sandberg wrote: “brecht’s [sic] fire/burns today/here glows/shining black/on the snow/human and penetrating/drawing the shadow-light of the word/sharp and yet round/clever and smart/cautioning/ that’s what was gershon knispel trying to design in that book / – and the abyss.”

Historical memory became a stronger presence in the artist’s work after an encounter with the writer and Holocaust survivor Yehiel De-Nur, known by his pen-name Ka-Tsetnik, in 1966. This meeting was a landmark in his career, after which the representation of tragedy and injustice began to play an important role in his work. The Holocaust became, in a certain sense, a kind of ethical lens through which Knispel chose to examine his surroundings in his monumental paintings and three-dimensional works which he created for public spaces and also in the print series he produced in collaboration with the renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer.