Artist sees romantic realism at the beach, in a hammock and on the street

Zavi Apfelbaum shows latest collection, ‘Observation Point’ at Tel Aviv Artists’ House

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

A work by Zavi Apfelbaum from her exhibit, 'Observation Point' at Tel Aviv Artists' House through October 14, 2023 (Courtesy Zavi Apfelbaum)
A work by Zavi Apfelbaum from her exhibit, 'Observation Point' at Tel Aviv Artists' House through October 14, 2023 (Courtesy Zavi Apfelbaum)

A vendor selling ice cream at the beach, a verdant Tuscan field, the curving hills overlooking Efrat, a pair of painted toenails resting in a hammock and a Tel Aviv street of Bauhaus buildings, with blue skies above and a familiar green garbage bin in the foreground.

Each painting, equally realistic and romantic, are part of artist Zavi Apfelbaum’s latest exhibition, “Observation Point,” currently at the Tel Aviv Artists’ House through October 14, offering this Jerusalem artist’s take on the places and characters that are integral to Israeli life.

“I don’t go out and look for things,” said Apfelbaum, during a tour through the exhibition. “When I do a double take [about something], I don’t try to figure out why. I don’t break it apart. It’s not from the intellectual part of my head. It’s more like if something caught my attention, it’s worthy of attention.”

And so, in this particular exhibit of some 18 oil paintings, curator Ermanno Tedeschi, who worked with Apfelbaum on a solo exhibit last year in his Turin gallery, displays the range of subjects that capture this artist’s attention.

There are still lifes and familiar landscapes, striped beach chairs and cellphones, one’s eye catching all the little details during a good, long stare at every canvas.

There are more than a few local beach scenes, including a view of the familiar Israeli lifeguard stand and an older woman wrapped in a colorful towel, alongside a group of rocky beaches in Hawaii, where Apfelbaum and her husband recently visited.

Zavi Apfelbaum at her exhibit, ‘Observation Point’ at Tel Aviv Artists’ House through October 14, 2023 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

There’s certainly history for Apfelbaum and her Israeli fans in the local landscapes of Tel Aviv beaches or the Jerusalem hills, offering a more emotional connection to those paintings, she said.

But while a location like Tuscany or Hawaii may offer less of a personal connection, those landscapes are still “informed by all the other things,” she said, “elements of familiarity, the same way a smell will bring you back, or a certain light or mood or gesture can elicit emotion.”

Painting has always been part of Apfelbaum’s life, from her early life growing up in Los Angeles, while studying art at Barnard College and throughout several decades of life in Israel, while raising her family and working full-time for the Foreign Ministry.

She remembers capturing the attention of passersby as a little girl while drawing balloons at a local park in Los Angeles, and realizing she had a skill that was noted by others. Apfelbaum has never worked full-time as an artist, but it’s never been just a hobby, either.

“There are times where I was a little bit more active, a bit less active, but it was a constant in my life,” said Apfelbaum.

A work by Zavi Apfelbaum from her exhibit, ‘Observation Point’ at Tel Aviv Artists House through October 14, 2023 (Courtesy Zavi Apfelbaum)

It was a chance meeting with Tedeschi, a gallerist with spaces in his Italian hometown of Turin, as well as in Rome and Milan, that has moved Apfelbaum toward new audiences and some different ways of approaching her work.

Tedeschi hosted Apfelbaum for the solo show in Turin last year, while she also had several pieces in a group show of Israeli artists at a museum in Genoa.

One result of her work with Tedeschi is the decision to incorporate more people into her landscapes. When the shapes and visages of people are featured in those tranquil, reflective scenes, they are included as the movement in the landscape, said Apfelbaum.

She likens it to the sensation people have when they look at one of her paintings and recognize the scene, whether it’s a particular corner, view, or vibe of a certain place, lighting and feeling.

Apfelbaum said she began to draw people making certain gestures — like two girls taking a selfie on the beach, or a woman sitting on a striped chair at the Dead Sea — that convey the same kind of familiarity and feeling as when one views a familiar landmark.

“It’s the same thing as connecting and all of a sudden slipping into being there,” she said. “So it’s not about that person, but like slipping into the familiarity or seeing a certain scene or motion that they’ve made so many times or witnessed so many times that they kind of pulled them back into the experience.”

If a scene calls to her, and makes her feel something, that’s where she looks and paints, said Apfelbaum.

“If I just stay true to it, then it’s my hope that not everyone, but some who look at it, it will evoke a feeling for them,” she said. “It may not necessarily be the same feeling that resonated in me, but it will resonate something. And that’s what I kind of hope for our work, to connect and resonate with people and make them feel whatever it is that they need to have awakened in them.”

Tel Aviv Artists’ House, 9 Alharizi Street, Tel Aviv, entry is free.

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