Famed Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman dies aged 82
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Famed Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman dies aged 82

Israel Prize winner was best known for series of sheep sculptures and portraits, and numerous public artworks in Israel and abroad

Menashe Kadishman in the Tel Aviv Museum next to some of his iconic sheep on May 15, 2007. (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Menashe Kadishman in the Tel Aviv Museum next to some of his iconic sheep on May 15, 2007. (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Israel Prize-winning sculptor and painter Menashe Kadishman passed away on Friday evening. He was 82 years old.

Kadishman was best known for his repeated rendering of a sheep’s head, at once a symbol of the spirit of the pioneers who built the modern state of Israel and a reference to the biblical sacrifice of Isaac.

Kadishman was born in the British Mandate Palestine in 1932. His father, who was a pioneer, died when Kadishman was 15 years old. The young Menashe left school to help his mother with housework and to earn money.

When he joined the IDF, he was among the first conscripts to serve in the recently established Nahal Brigade, whose conscripts were posted in kibbutzim and budding periphery communities. Kadishman was posted in Kibbutz Ma’ayan Baruch in northern Israel. He worked also in herding sheep and it was there that his obsession with this theme emerged.

He studied sculpture with Moshe Sternschuss and between 1959 and 1960 attended the St. Martin’s School of Art and the Slade School in London.

Menashe Kadishman's Binding of Isaac sculpture outside the Tel Aviv Museum (photo credit: CC BY-SA GFDL, Wikimedia Commons)
Menashe Kadishman’s Binding of Isaac sculpture outside the Tel Aviv Museum (photo credit: CC BY-SA GFDL, Wikimedia Commons)

While his drawings and paintings tend to representation, his sculpture is often severely abstract. He also used materials like steel and iron, sometimes allowing the metal to rust in a way which became part of the final outcome.

He was influenced by Picasso in his sculpture and in his painting by the likes of Matisse and the Fauves, a French movement from the first half of the 20th century.

Kadishman represented Israel at the Kassel Dokumenta in 1968 and again at the Venice Biennale in 1978. He won numerous awards during his life — most notably the Israel Prize in 1995.

From 1995 he began an immense series of sheep portraits; large-scale paintings which show a sheep’s head painted in a free style, often with striking colors.

He became so identified with the sheep pieces that he even starred (as himself) in a TV ad for Israel’s national lottery as a Michelangelo-like figure sculpting a huge stone sheep in the middle of Tel Aviv.

Among his famous pieces is the epic piece Ascension — a series of three large iron disks standing diagonally. The piece is on permanent display in the plaza of Habima theater.

Other works are located all around the country, including in the plaza of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the Weizmman Science Institute in Rehovot, the Teffen Technological Park and others.

A poignant massive public piece is featured in the Berlin Jewish Museum. A large space contains 10,000 semi-abstract “masks” of screaming faces cast in metal. When the spectator walks across the space, the metals rub against each other and make screeching scream-like noises.

Kadishman was divorced. He left behind a son, Ben, who is a painter, and a daughter, Maya, an actress.

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