A trip through time

By Hiromi Uechi Time of article published Nov 26, 2014

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Ein Hod, Israel - The Ein Hod Artists' Village is nestled in the foothills of northern Israel, where the Mediterranean Sea lies in the distance and stone houses that blend into nature are hidden among the trees.

Established by Jewish artist Marcel Janco, known as the father of Israeli art, the studio retreat is a utopia for emerging artists.

Janco himself lived and worked in the village. His spirit still reverberates in the nature surrounding Ein Hod.

Janco was born in Bucharest, the capital of Romania. He started drawing when he was about 13 and went to Switzerland to study architecture at the age of 20. He cofounded the revolutionary art movement known as Dadaism. After returning to Romania in 1922, he started working as an architect.

In the 1920s to the 1930s, he was active in Romania at the forefront of Dadaism, an art movement that challenged the existing order and rules of convention, but he moved to Israel (then Mandatory Palestine under Britain) in 1941.

At the time, Nazi Germany was spreading anti-Semitism in Europe, and Janco's work had become a target of discrimination.

After the murder of a family member, Janco sought safe refuge in his roots. It is said that to ensure smooth immigration procedures, he bribed British soldiers with nude pictures.

Having moved to a new land, Janco changed his style as if to mark the dawn of a new historical era. With the artist living closer to the clear Mediterranean Sea, the colours in his paintings grew brighter.

His drawings of Jewish people suffering from poverty and soldiers injured in war also became more graphic.

Moving away from Europe, the centre of the art world, hurt Janco's career. Raza Zommer-Tal, the 56-year-old director of the Janco Dada Museum in Ein Hod, points out, “Janco is underrated compared to Jewish artists who continued painting in Europe.”

Under such circumstances, in 1953, five years after the establishment of Israel, Janco sensed his new “mission.” When he visited a Palestinian village that was to be demolished, the beauty of the architectural style there caught his eye.

He not only came up with the idea of establishing a village for artists in order to protect the houses, but also decided to bring a new perspective to Israeli art, which was still in its infancy.

It led to his focus on offering guidance to young artists and the founding of Israeli art.

“He would start his work first thing in the morning. He was always willing to give advice to young artists and was strongly aware of the role that he ought to play in Israel,” reflects Michaela Mende-Janco, the artist's 47-year-old granddaughter.

Janco, who fancied a plain and simple life, enjoyed being surrounded by nature in Ein Hod. He left a will with instructions to preserve the houses in Ein Hod.

According to Zommer-Tal, Janco's achievements include “not only developing Israeli art and its artists, but also developing the country.” Ein Hod Artists' Village provides a stage for budding artists to grow through friendly competition.

It has also turned into a tourist destination, with the work sold at the gallery supporting artists' livelihood.

Today, about 150 artists live in Ein Hod. Abraham Eilat, a 75-year-old artist representing Israel, is one of them. He reflects with a laugh, “I saw Janco when I was in my 20s, but he was such a major figure that I couldn't just go and call out to him.” Janco's influence can be seen in Eilat's work, which takes samurai as its theme. - Washington Post/The Yomiuri Shimbun

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