An individual’s lament that eludes the abstract

Tel-Aviv, Paris, Rome 1948-1965

Israel – a new country, new vistas, a new language, a new culture, and only the art remains the same art. With the blindness of a new immigrant Bak paints his “there” in an expressionist vein, despite his encounter with the Zionist ethos, which is determined to mold a new Jewish identity, turning its back on the annals of European Jewry. His artworks now depict the residents of the Yahud Ma’abarah, the new immigrants who were settled in the tin shacks, out of deep identification with their miserable existence. As someone with first-hand knowledge of ostracism, discrimination and injustice, he could hardly remain apathetic to individual suffering, and thus joined the local movement of Socialist-Realist artists. In the family paintings, his longing for a family rooted in Israel, rather than his own, laden with hardship, is revealed. The motif of the mother grieving for her dead loved ones, protesting the injustices of human existence, becomes iconic in his artworks.

In 1956, Bak moves to Paris to further his studies, and encounters, face-to-face, the abstract tendencies in painting in the form of the French Informel. He experiments with the abstract, which sprouts a conflict between his natural inclination to identify with the great Renaissance artists and his desire to take part in contemporary discourse. This conflict is evident also in his artworks from his Rome period – the artworks’ titles give away his desire to mold content from within the abstract. However, Bak slowly sheds the abstract mantle – beneath the cover of which narration was obscured, and alighted on the path back to the figurative. Bak’s new figurativeness is influenced by his encounter with the American “Pop Art”, where Bak finds an answer to the desire to create contemporary artwork embued with narrative. The new surrealist element provides a solution to this dualism, and will from this point forward be the defining aspect of his artwork.