There are artists, and then there are artists who reveal the multi-leveled nature of their calling. Moshe Kassirer is one of these, an artist intent on capturing nuances of the Galilean way of life, focused on its olive groves, or to be more precise, olive tableaus. Kassirer's images undergo a complex process, involving photography and digital dismantling and reassembly, before finally appearing on canvass (in oil).
Kassirer's awareness of his roots, and of his debt to early Israeli artists, is evident throughout his work, and his "Rosh Hashanah 2007" is actually an homage to Reuven Rubin's 1970's painting "Pomegranates on my Window" (on display at the Rubin Museum), while creating a dialogue with Van Gogh's 1889 San Remy olive trees as well. Kassirer, differing from Van Gogh, emphasizes sunbeams and heat, penetrating Galilee's soil and emanating from it, the sun as the vital source that generates Israel's olives.
The multi-leveled nature of the paintings manifests, first of all, in the layers of paint, witnessing Kassirer's respect for his materials, resulting in bountiful, multi-faceted, ever-changing works of art. The many layers create paintings that seem illuminated from within, shimmering, vibrant. Kassirer's art has to be seen face-to face. Newspaper photos, websites, or exhibit catalogues may serve to remind us of paintings we've seen, but lack the multi-dimensionality bursting from these canvasses, a feature that cannot be conveyed by two-dimensional media reproductions.
Copious layers of paint are not the only evidence of the multi-dimensional quality of Kassirer's work, which portrays numerous dimensions of interpretation as well, both overt and concealed, some of which are revealed by observing a certain painting, and others which come to light only after viewing the exhibit as a whole.
As stated, Kassirer's art deals mainly with olive trees, so if we reduce all his trees, as if by algebraic equation, what we have left are ladders, lambs, sheep and a bicycle, not to mention the farmers harvesting the olives, whom we'll relate to later.
A ladder standing on its own immediately brings to mind THE ladder of Jewish tradition; Jacob's ladder, angels ascending and descending, the only occurrence of the word "ladder" in the Old Testament, where God appeared to Jacob and repeated His promise to bequeath the Land of Israel to his descendants, "I am with thee, and will keep thee whithersoever thou goest, and will bring thee back into this land…" (Gen 28:15). In other words, there is a linkage between the land and its ownership and the presence of the ladder.
Ladders as well as lambs are to be found in the Jewish art of Marc Chagall, whose work is charged with Jewish symbolism. Kassirer chose "Maketh Peace on High Places" as the name for his lamb painting. Anyone familiar with the biblical story of the scapegoat sacrificial offering cannot help but ponder the identity of the lamb that must be sacrificed before that longed-for peace is achieved.
Looking at the olive tree in terms of national identity and self-determination raises questions as to the identity of the farmer in Kassirer's art; he looks like an Arab, but he's wearing the distinctive blue cap of the Zionist pioneers. Is Kassirer telling us that Arab farmers were the real pioneers? Are they still? And does this imply that the Jews are no longer interested in olives or land or their homeland?
Moshe Kassirer's not-to-be-missed exhibit, "The Way Home", raises these questions and more. Braude College Art Gallery through December 13.
Shoshi Norman, Curator, 2008