Written by ALICE BLITENTHAL, Published in MAKOR RISHON, January 2003

Avner Sher – at the “Mabat” Gallery, Tel Aviv
Avner Sher, 52, underwent a metamorphosis when he was exposed three years ago to the sight of graffiti on the walls of public toilets. Before he was exposed to these drawings, by which these anonymous “artists” allowed themselves to totally release their inhibitions, Sher worked as a successful architect, whose imprint has been felt on public buildings all over Israel, and who dedicated himself in his free time to cubist–abstract style painting. Since then, he has been swept away to distant shores, and from the pinnacle of artistic endeavor of the 20th century, he has returned to basics, to primitive forms that prehistoric man painted on the walls of the caves or the Egyptianson the walls of the sarcophagi. Sher has created a new inner world, noting this in one of his creations by quoting the verse opening the book of Genesis “in the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth”. The figures in his paintings are somewhat virginal, with rounded heads and spiral eyes, and the nose – a long line rounding at its point. But the main feature of each painting is its rich background. He creates the background using cork panels glued to wood and in this space he goes out on a journey of self-liberation and discovery by lacerating the cork, painting it, plastering it, by leaving it in the sun and rain, by dipping it in the reddish mud from around his house, and drawing on it using an electric pencil that burns the cork. The work released thereby is authentic, full of torment, reflecting his spirit, it is elemental. The multi-hued brown color provides the background, a preparation for a journey that he takes with each painting.
As the son of Holocaust survivors, he saw the tattooed numbers on his parents’ forearms from his youth. The numbers do not physically appear in his drawings (unlike Anselm Kiefer, the leading German artist currently active, investigating and studying Kabala, emboding Jewish mysticism in his paintings as well as the Holocaust disaster that he sees repeating itself the world over), the embodiment of the sense of suffering that his parents experienced and that was transmitted to him is found in a long queue of people (principally in their faces), in the queue of children, lines of fish without flesh, where only bones are drawn under their human heads, and in mummies, figures laying in their graves in apainting, reminding one of ancient Egyptian papyruses.

“Cuckoo Thoughts” (as one of the drawings is called) is the chirping in his own head. In the background around the huge head are fish whose teeth show them to be predators, like people who destroy their brethren in war and torture, a predatory wolf, a sun shining, drawn with Van Gogh-like striation – all these are transmitted as somewhat gloomy elements, in spite of the optimism and the light at the base of the painting(fruit trees, for example, reminiscent of the Garden of Eden).

Even Picasso, the father of cubism, who greatly influenced Sher, was influenced by primitive sculptures that he placed in his studio, so that Sher’s transition from cubism to a naive-primitive-prehistoric style also has its roots. The painting is also an expression of the liberation of what was lost to him over the years. Sher’s love for painting began at the age of six when he first bought paints for himself. His registration for studies at Bezalel Art College displeased his father, and after being pressured by him, Sher turned to the study of architecture. But after five years of establishing himself and of material success, he came to the realization that painting was his principal passion. He did not abandon architecture, but concurrently went to study art and composition at the University of Haifa, not only the history of art, but also applied painting, sculpture and printing where he also acquired the ability to work freely and instinctively.