Exhibition: Synthetic Realism

Exhibition: Synthetic Realism
Location: Wilfrid Israel Museum, Kibbutz Hazorea, Israel
Date: 2001-2002
Review By: Orit Lutringer
Exhibition Review

Ilana Raviv – Synthetic Realism

Orit Lutringer

With her very special form of artistic expressiveness, Ilana Raviv creates an array of figures all of which are caught up in a storm of energy. Their inner biography draws the viewer to an awareness that at their center is a universal cultural tradition directly attuned to the essence of woman. At the same time the artist, in a process of self-examination through the medium of painting while ignoring the laws of photo-realism, expresses an intuitive and spontaneous process of creation, one that is not an illustrative description of nature but rather a reconstruction of shapes, presenting them in a new and different form. In her paintings, Raviv presents female heroines such as Scheherazade, Lady Godiva, Gaia or Leda whose presence may be interpreted in various forms. As such Alice in Wonderland is transformed into a metaphoric-artistic symbol and provides legitimate raw material for the artist’s own childhood memories or her development in a world pervaded with paradox and disorder. Ilana Raviv studied art in New York, has held nine one person shows and participated in many group exhibitions where she has exhibited together with artists such as Rauchenberg, Knox Martin, Larry Rivers and James Rosenquist.

Journey into Femininity

Ilana Raviv alternates her work and life between Israel and the USA. It is, however, difficult to classify her works in relation to the location in which they were created. Scrutiny of her paintings reveals an obsession for subjects with an emotional affinity to female situations. Such situations may be interpreted on a universal level, related to women’s existence in general but also on the very personal level of the artist herself and her nature as a woman and a mother. Such subjects, who do not present any specific localized characteristics, occupy Raviv equally both at her studio in Neve Zedek and in New York.

Raviv offers the viewer a visual presentation of situations and attitudes that represent a kind of ”journey into femininity”. In her stylized paintings which embody, among other things, a dimension which makes reference to the model in a psychologistic manner, she succeeds in expressing a both artistic and substantive power and presence. Her expressive style of painting with powerful lines or strong colors which do not dissolve in a tremor of transparency simply serve to empower Raviv’s dynamic and determined declarations.

Ilana does not create self-portraits. In her work she turns to heroines from mythology and from literature and it appears that through them she is able to delve into the layers of her own femininity.


A concrete expression of this assertion may be found in her painting ”Gaia”. The painting reveals the feminine personality of the mythological goddess, ”The Earth Mother” who, according to legend created all the succeeding generations of gods. Gaia created the sky, the mountains and the sea. She is the primeval, mother element created from nothingness, from chaos. Gaia is the childbearer, the giver and the mother of all life. Her name is associated with ge – earth – geography.

In Raviv’s unique painting, Gaia is portrayed with her legs and arms surrounding an empty space colored in azure and which she appears to be securing and protecting. Her black hair is interwoven with white lines and she is drawn in thick and expressive brush strokes which indicate a violent tempest. The red stains add a dramatic contrast to the colorful composition and may be interpreted as a metaphor to the element of fire, its dynamics, the eruption and the expiration of the flame. The shade of azure may be interpreted as symbolic of air and water. Gaia’s arms and legs are the pillars which support the globe.

The scrutiny of Gaia symbolizes the wonder of the female sex and of the artist herself simply because she is both a woman and a mother. In Raviv’s own words ”Gaia is a rock, the earth, water and currents of energy combined with the female form while she protects and is both soft and hard at the same time. As a woman to a certain extent I am able to identify with the image of Gaia as it hovers around me giving me no peace. She is constantly reminding me of the need to acknowledge her function which is one of creation and balance in our world full of disturbance and conflict”.

Alice and Feminine Presence

In her series of paintings called ”Alice in Wild Land” Raviv also maintains a form of dialogue with the female presence. The personality of Alice has occupied her for a full 20 years and she has already given a showing on this theme in New York in the eighties. Alice is sometimes represented as a child and sometimes as a mature woman. Many of the works depict her as bent or stooped, attempting to fit within a frame or the dimensions of the page. It is Alice’s flexibility which enables her to survive in a capricious world and to rearrange herself in accordance with the demands made of her. Alice is seen by Raviv as a metaphor for the gentle and the flexible female personality. A pliable figure from which, because of her amazing ability to reproduce herself anew at any time and in a multiplicity of variations, almost anything may be manufactured.

In the Alice series, Raviv makes use of old rabbit and child like dolls, as models for her paintings. The use of objects from the past ties in to a certain extent with Alice herself who is used as an analogy with the childhood of the artist.

Alice is associated with a world which permits her to see both an object and its opposite while enabling her to accommodate herself to the paradox. ”I was able to identify with Alice – with her childlike point of view (in the positive sense of the word) and to ascribe to her things that I had experienced during my own battle for growth. After all, we are all to a certain extent, small children in a hypocritical, confused and crazy world” says Raviv.

In her painting ”Alice # 2” Alice is running away from something frightening and in ”Alice in her Party Dress” her hands are painted pink and she is wearing red high-heeled shoes. In ”Alice in a Dream” animals peek out and the rabbit, similar to her other paintings, is depicted with raised ears, doubtless symbolizing a male sexuality located somewhere in the background, in need of Alice or needing to control her mobility. Similarly to Lewis Carroll, Raviv presents a visual story of a growing maturity which is not always a comfortable experience. Alice’s large limbs are trying to find their place and the drift between childhood and maturity remains a powerful concept.

Other Female Figures

Another series of paintings recalls Scheherazade and Lady Godiva. Scheherazade, the femme fatale, is painted in powerful black with lustrous and sensuous lips. She is enveloped in a kind of blanket that blends with her wavy and wild hair as childish innocence gives way to female maturity.

Lady Godiva is seen riding naked on her horse while her breasts are thrust forward on a daring and humorous note. Her powerful personality almost crushes the horse she is riding. However, at the lower corner of the painting, by the horse’s hoof, appears another human figure. Is this the ”peeper” or perhaps it is Godiva herself in her personification of fear?

The painting ”Leda and the Swan” is another variation on the theme, which associates mythological heroines with feminine concepts. Leda, the wife of a Spartan ruler, became the object of Zeus’s seduction. Zeus, the king of the gods, undergoes a transformation into a swan and succeeds in impregnating Leda. In this work, the swan’s neck is transformed into a snake that twists and winds itself around Leda’s neck. His head is that of a swan and his beak penetrates Leda’s head as if attempting to penetrate her brain and her thoughts. Again we are faced with those paradoxes and conflicts that appear in Raviv’s work. Leda’s long arms seem to be embracing the swan’s snakelike neck and it is not clear whether they are ensnaring him in order to drive him away or embracing him in a gesture of acceptance and love.

Sorties into Other Subjects

A preoccupation with woman and femininity is without doubt central to Raviv’s works and has absorbed her attention over the period of many years. Nevertheless, in her rich collection of works additional components of content and shape may be discovered during brief sorties from the series of works mentioned above. Thus her paintings ”Flowers in White”, ”Flowers in Red”, ”The Holocaust” and Zechariah’s Vision and Judgment Day”.

The painting ”The Holocaust” which is exhibited in the Museum of the Holocaust in Washington D.C., USA is a response to the human condition which cannot ignore aspects of evil in the world. ”It was my intention to reveal the monstrous aspect of the holocaust, more than an observation of its results. Her work depicts the ten commandment’s ablaze in flames and their fight for survival is expressed solely by means of color combinations: red, black and white – Nazi symbols, and blue and white – the colors symbolizing the Jewish people”.

One of Raviv’s large scale works was exhibited in New York at the ”Peace Tabernacle” constructed in that city as a symbol of Israel’s 40 years of existence. The work, exhibited next to that of the American artist Knox Martin, is created on a parchment on which is quoted a verse from Zechariah alongside a colorful depiction of Jewish symbols such as, date branches, the dove of peace and Jerusalem landscapes (this work will be exhibited at ”The Painters and Sculptors Association” building in Tel Aviv in April 2002).

This work reveals to us Raviv’s attitude towards her spheres of expression. Nevertheless, here too one is able to recognize her ”handwriting” which has not changed fundamentally over the years. As with her painting ”Sheinkin Street”, in which the artist reveals an array of abstract lines and marks creating an autonomous landscape which need not actually be identified as the Tel Aviv street in which the artists lived and grew during her early childhood. Here too – as in her other paintings, her work focuses on a harmony and balance between the variations in form.

Synthetic Realism

An observation of her various works reveals the order which characterizes them. Raviv attributes her works to the school of ”synthetic realism” which synthesizes reality and rebuilds it while altering its shape with the use of metaphor. Raviv’s works are created intuitively as far as that is possible and avoid illustrative depiction of visible and concrete objects. The foreground and background of her paintings appear equal and realistic perspective is invalidated. Classical perspective is undermined until a system of colors is created within which dimensions of width and length are created while the dimension of depth is missing. It is up to the viewer to construct this dimension in his mind and imagination. Raviv’s signature is also an integral part of the painting and is placed in different places and at different angles amongst and within the painted elements.

Raviv usually paints on bright white paper made from untearable fibers. For her the white of the paper is of equal value to the other colors she uses. The unpainted white spaces form for her the ”active spaces” of the work, the light and air within it.

An examination of Raviv’s paintings does not leave the viewer indifferent or neutral. Their dynamic power draws the viewer into an emotional involvement with the content and substance of the works.