BERLIN — There was so much to explain, and so many qualifications to the explanations that Rina Thaler moved into stream of consciousness mode discussing her newest show “Israel – Life in the Holy Land”, which opened at the Globe during 2nd Friday Arts Stroll and will remain open throughout the month.
She’d recently returned from a trip to Israel and found that the experience was almost too big for art.
The few photos from which she intended to work were likewise too small so she hit upon a middle ground, combining realism with impressionism for a striking show about a varied and complex region.
Moreover, Thaler hasn’t worked much with political themes, restricting herself to tamer topics for her shows. The decision to bring a hot-button topic to the fore in her first big Berlin opening weighed on her a bit. In the end, it was an opportunity as well as a chance that she wanted to take.
“I wanted to make a statement,” she said. “Israel is so complex a place, but it’s about the size of New Jersey.”
She told a story about watching the soldier-youth take a time out to dance to a violin player’s music before abruptly stopping and resuming their patrol. Thaler caught the juxtaposition of two 18-year-old girls with automatic machine guns walking along one of the oldest lanes in one of the planet’s oldest cities.
The modern, ancient, religious and secular all intermingle in the country; sometimes with more success, sometimes with less.
But it was the difficulty in communicating this that gave Thaler difficulty when she was trying to work just from photos.
As she struggled with her representations, she hit upon what would become the subplot for both her work and the show. A four-step approach that allowed her to take license where necessary.
As she explained it, there were the photos from which she worked, the impressions the photos conveyed, the feelings she had toward the subject and the statement she was trying to make with her show.
For example, she performed a little mental Photoshop in representing a valley view of a part of Old Jerusalem.
The buildings that surround the hills overlooking the Montefiore Windmill didn’t have the apparently-carved windows that are such a significant part of the area’s architecture, but are as much a part of the scenery as the stories windmill itself. Getting the feeling and the impression just right meant being willing to do away with the inconsistencies in the photo.
Thaler worked mostly in watercolor, which served to heighten her impressionistic approach to the material. In another view of the hills, that impressionism became allegorical. As she neared the completion of that work the hills and houses formed what appeared to her to be a silhouette of Moses holding the Ten Commandments and looking over the city.
Thaler elected to tease it out, making the lines more defined but leaving it as a subtle piece of the work that isn’t readily apparent.
The most overtly political aspect of the work is among the first a visitor to the Globe will see as they go up to the gallery. It’s an acrylic of the American and Israeli flags flying together. Upon her return from Israel Thaler was invited by a friend to attend the AIPAC convention.
AIPAC is the major pro-Israel Pac in the country and during its convention speakers included President Barack Obama and most of the then-Republican contenders. Mitt Romney, who was campaigning in the mid-West during the Super Tuesday event, spoke via video-conference.
What struck Thaler, though, and prompted both the two-flags painting as well as the overtly political statement of the rest of the show, was how clearly important Israel was as an ally. As an American tourist in the region, she had a deeper appreciation than ever of the different ways America is viewed by Israel’s neighbors. Seeing how important the relationship was to those in her own country’s political leadership just made the point more salient and, therefore, more important to tell.