Liat Yossifor: The Tender Among Us includes a suite of four new monochromatic paintings and several sketches based on her investigations into war imagery, figure/landscape relationships, the processes of painting, and art historical imagery.
Yossifor’s paintings merge the tradition of modernist abstract color field painting with a conceptual and political focus on topical issues—identity, the body, images of war, and staged photography. Inspired by Jacques Callot’s 1633 etchings The Miseries and Misfortunes of War, Francisco Goya’s 1810-20 etchings Disasters of War, El Greco’s 1608-14 painting Laocoon, and Theodore Gericault’s 1819 painting The Raft of the Medusa, Yossifor uses a wet-on-wet oil painting technique to render the emotionally charged and complicated subjects of war and its victims.
The work included in the exhibition “The Tender Among Us” continues Yossifor’s studies into the relationships between abstraction, representation, and complex iconography. Yossifor’s new paintings consist of abstracted scenes of layered, prone bodies or several figures in conflict—the torsos, legs, and backs alluding to the hills and valleys of the landscape. In these paintings, the body metaphorically becomes the landscape as Yossifor examines the theater of bodies and war in a violent environment. In monochromatic fields of varying shades of black, deep blue, and dark umber, she paints and articulates these haunted figures suspended in an enigmatic space.
In earlier work, the Israeli-born artist focused on portraiture, painting a series of portraits of female friends and another series of Israelis who served in the military. Like the current work, these paintings reveal their subject matter only upon sustained reflection. And, again like the current work, the complexity of the iconography is enhanced by the process of painting and the resulting effort the viewer must make to discern the imagery. The light striking the surface transforms the image and brings the figures and subject to life. In both bodies of work, she paints from photographs and inscribes the figures into the background/landscape. Undergoing a labor-intensive and painstaking process, Yossifor works virtually non-stop over several days, with a limited palette, essentially sculpting figures through her rapid and sure-fire manipulation of paint and brushstroke. This confident brushwork creates subtle color shifts where figure and ground merge together, the figure invisible or visible only as relief.
By playing with the visibility of the figures in her paintings, Yossifor, in both the current figural compositions and in the earlier portraits, subtly addresses the role of the body and identity throughout history and through conflict. In the portraits, Yossifor uses rich reds, browns, whites, and flesh tones, to reference the body. While the depth and solidity of the painted portrait and the assertive, perhaps confrontational, poses of the women, suggest a fierceness, the semi-erasure of the subject through the blurring of image and ground hints at multiple readings.
With the work in “The Tender Among Us,” Yossifor expands on the issues she dealt with in the portraits. Using multiple figures, a somber palette, and shifting backgrounds allows her to develop her subject matter, place her work in an art historical context of artists dealing with war imagery, and continue her material manipulations with paint.
Liat Yossifor’s exhibition is the thirty-second in the Pomona College Museum of Art’s Project Series, an ongoing program of exhibitions that brings to the Pomona College campus art that is experimental and that introduces new forms, techniques, or concepts.