Is Samuel Bak’s retrospective exhibition a look at the artist’s journey burdened throughout with his horrifying experiences during the Shoah? Or, is the journey impelled by the burden itself? No simple answer presents itself. The journey and the burden are interwoven, at times concealed beneath layers of abstract, anonymous paint, at times surfacing from between amorphous forms, and at times a sharp, clear and voluble manifesto.
The blend of journey and burden is not unique to the biography of artist Samuel Bak. The paradigm of the stories of survivors who embarked on the voyage of life after their encounter with death in all its horror, and the baggage they carry with them is thus both personal and collective – the story of European Jewry during the Shoah. Like his fellow survivors, at first Bak wrapped himself in silence, seeking to forge for himself an Israeli identity after his immigration to the country in 1948. Gradually, as his path took him across countries and continents, he shed the cloak of silence until he felt that he could no longer keep the burden locked inside. Thus began a journey of a different kind, into the recesses of his own identity, which culminated in a direct confrontation with the burden itself, with the realization that the burden was part of his ipseity and therefore bound to be the essence of his art.
Viewers joining the decades long journey of Samuel Bak’s works, as presented in this exhibition, are presented with a multi-faceted experience – an encounter with an artist dealing head-on with the basic question of “how” underlying the language of art, with an artist debating with himself about the abstract, the figurative and the gamut between them. His varying stylistic periods reveal an artist capable of producing fine pencil drawings in the classical tradition, on the one hand, and thick, layered oil brushstrokes of pasticcio color on large canvasses. Every period reveals a little – the configurative response of the artist’s journey in a sea of expressive artistic possibilities – but conceals twice as much about the inner burden. Thus until the decisive juncture, where artistic expression and inner truth meet. The journey and burden are shaped into a single identity, which, while it may be paradigmatic, is nevertheless unique and private - the arduous road of Samuel Bak spanning decades of creativity.
Senior Art Curator