David Gerstein is a painter ‘who has fine-tuned the technique, temperament, shapes, images and coloring which are identified with him‘‘: David Gerstein is a painter who produces simple, charming, Matisse-like decorative objects, using his unique inventive technique and employing a Fauve-like coloring and sensuality. Good-hearted objects that convey a certain irony and humor towards ‘‘Israeliness‘‘, which grows more and more convoluted and yet for him, at least, remains simple and innocent,
(by Naomi Aviv)
David (Dudu) Gerstein b. Jerusalem, 1944 is an Israeli artist who works on the border line between painting and sculpture. He began as a figurative painter and illustrator of children books and was recipient of the Israel Museum Prize for illustration, among others. In recent years, Gerstein has developed a post-pop art style, characterized by bold colored, multilayered cutout steel, which could be defined as "wall sculptures". His work has been exhibited in museums and is currently exhibited throughout the world in public venues and various galleries. His most notable public sculpture to date is Singapore's Momentum sculpture, currently Singapore's tallest public sculpture.
Childhood and the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem
David Gerstein was born in 1944 in Jerusalem to parents who had immigrated to Israel from Poland. His family moved to Ramat Gan when he was four years old. Already at pre-school age, both he and his twin brother showed a talent for painting, which was nurtured by their parents. His twin brother, Jonathan (Yoni) Gerstein, also became a painter and today is identified with the Haredi sector. One of David's teachers, Batya Uziel, was an artist and arts and crafts teacher who later presented programs on Israel's Educational TV. Uziel and other teachers encouraged the development of David's painting abilities. At the age of thirteen he was sent to a camp for the arts in Jerusalem, which he attended every summer until the age of fifteen. In his high school years, David took classes at the Beit Zvi Art Center in Ramat Gan with instruction from Rina Balktovsky Arnon. During his military service in the paratroopers he was stationed at Ein Gev for one year, where, influenced by the landscape, he painted a series of oil paintings describing the fishing docks, boats and kibbutz landscape. While there, he met the artist Aharon Giladi, who encouraged David to follow his artistic course. Upon completion of his military service, David applied to the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem, where he first met Avraham Ofek, who was to have a marked influence on Gerstein's style.
Paris and New York
In the mid-'60s, the Bezalel Academy was more graphic design oriented. Gerstein was dissatisfied with studying graphics and aspired to learn "art for art's sake". He left Bezalel after the second year and enrolled at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he studied under the tutelage of the painter Chaplain Midy. After two years of studies in Paris, he moved to New York and attended the Art Students League, where he learned portrait painting and printmaking.
Lecturer at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem
Gerstein returned to Israel at the age of twenty six and began teaching at Bezalel. At first, he taught drawing and then became a faculty member of the Department of Jewelry Design, which was then undergoing a process of renewal under the direction of Aryeh Ophir; evolving from the outmoded, tradition style of "Bezalel" to introducing innovative concepts influenced by modern art. Due to his background in the fine arts, as opposed to jewelry design, Gerstein was responsible for closing the gap between jewelry design and the world of modern art. He exposed his students to contemporary movements, such as Danish design, expressionism, conceptual art, minimalism, and other forms. He wanted jewelry design to be considered in the same light as contemporary art, no less inferior for being decorative; equal to other forms of art. Years later, Gerstein remarked that his involvement in teaching in the department influenced his transition from painting to sculpture.
In 1973–1974 Gerstein earned an M.A. in graphic arts at St. Martin's School of Art in London. Having learned lithograph and silkscreen printing in that framework, he sought to combine the two media, which had not as yet been integrated. Upon completing his studies he was awarded first prize and two awards for excellence in an end of year competition at St. Martin's. Gerstein returned to Bezalel and applied some of the ideas he had formulated during his M.A. studies. He used silkscreen techniques, prevalent in modern art at the time, to the medium of enamel. Already then, his tendency to integrate different mediums and advanced technologies in creating art was discernable; a tendency that would be reflected more strongly in his use of laser in the '90s. He continued in his position as senior lecturer at Bezalel until 1985.
Gerstein's first exhibition in Israel was held in 1971 at the Engel Gallery in Jerusalem, comprising figurative drawings and water colors. Thereafter, he exhibited at Jerusalem's Artist's House in 1972 with large oil paintings dealing with interiors and the seaside, work that received enthusiastic reviews. Among others, Gerstein was compared to David Hockney due to the fact that "like Hockney, he, too, had been first and foremost a master drawer with an excellent color sense". During those years, Gerstein led a struggle to legitimize figurative art, anomalous in the mainly conceptual Israeli art scene. The conceptual art trend was irrelevant for him and he chose the less accepted orientation at the time, figurative painting. Gerstein numbered among the few artists, such as Avraham Ofek, Ivan Schwebel, Avishai Ayal, Uri Lifschitz, and others, who focused on narrative-figurative painting.
At the same period, parallel to conceptualism, an opposite trend developed: hyper-realism, inspired by Israel Hirschberg. Here, too, Gerstein did not find his place. He aspired to creating figurative paintings informed by a personal, free style; an "accessible" art. Gerstein would later explain his approach by comparing it to a literary work whose greatness lay in its different levels, so that it could be enjoyed both as a story as well as on a "deeper reading". Gerstein sought to make statements about the world and life, inter and intra-relationships and interactions with the environment, and less about statements concerning the language of art, per se. Gerstein painted memories from his past such as his mother riding a bicycle, or a childhood painting by him and his brother. Among his main inspirations was the work of Hanoch Levin who presented life's vanities in a vein of comic irony. Gerstein aspired to do the same in painting: "I tried to express in painting what Levin wrote: relationships between men and women, within families…a sort of grotesque painting". Another inspiration at the time was the painter George Gross, to whom he felt an affinity and who also dealt with what Gerstein termed "the human comedy". In addition, he was influenced by David Hockney, Fernando Botero and José Luis Cuevas, who all dealt with the human experience and people' interactions.
The '70s and Figurative Painting
In the '70s, Gerstein explored the integration of personal statement with figurative painting, particularly in his watercolors and gouache on paper. At first, these works were intended as sketches for large canvas oil paintings. With time, though, he found interest in working in watercolors on paper, only, and they became his main medium. Gerstein created a series of paintings concerning his childhood based on photographs and memories. Another series dealt with the memory of freedom: his mother riding a bicycle in the streets of Ramat Gan, a motif that developed into a series of bicycle riders in the '90s and afterward. A repetitive motif in work describing home interiors was that of the cat and the vase, which, for the artist, expressed, "the placidity of daily routine". Both the cat and the flower vase continued to accompany his work decades later. While involved with these motifs Gerstein wanted "to escape the Israeli political reality to an Olympian turbulent-free, tranquility". In the mid-'70s, he made a series of paintings of people at the beach, influenced both by the artist's childhood memories and observation. Another series of paintings included the landscape of the Ein Kerem neighborhood, where the artist lived at the time, used as a backdrop for compositions abundant with interacting figures in groups and couples.
The '80s and First Attempts at Sculpture
Gerstein's aim to portray the daily experience of Israeli life ironically came to fruition in the '80s. Gerstein figuratively describes chapters from the Israeli experience, derived, among others, from childhood memories in Tel Aviv. The first series depicts Tel Aviv with its Bauhaus-style balconies, with a humoristic irony. This series was based on Gerstein's memories of his parents' generation of "little Tel Aviv"; people whom he regarded with wonder and humor. These paintings express the tension between the sabra generation of the children and the relatively "exilic" generation of the parents. The series contain elderly people, the "old world" reflected in their faces, as seen from the eyes of a sabra child looking at the "generation of the desert"; the generation that founded the country, having had immigrated at a young age, yet still marked by the heritage of the "exile". The origins of this series can be found in Gerstein's watercolors and gouache on paper from the '70s, parts of which were adapted to canvas oil paintings. In the '80s, Gerstein developed this into another series of paintings, those of bathers in the Dead Sea, about which Avraham Eilat wrote,"the residents of the balconies have gone down to the Dead Sea where they lie about on the shore, covered in mud, exposing their pinkish bodies to the mercy of the sun's rays and the salt and get slowly fried".
Despite the positive response his paintings evoked, both from the critics and the art world, Gerstein felt the need to renew, find new directions and expand his artistic boundaries. During 1980–1987, while continuing to paint, Gerstein experimented with wood sculptures, which were "three-dimensional while preserving a two-dimensional quality". Gerstein sought to "expand the borders of painting" to the domain of the third-dimension. Dissatisfied with his few sculpting experiments, the artist discovered that he could cut and assemble the elements into a type of sculpture in space. The idea came to him during reserve duty while dismantling cardboard boxes containing cartridges. He painted on the inner partition of a box and then reassembled it. From this evolved the idea of painting on large-scale cardboard constructed into sculpture. Following a number of sculptures from cardboard, Gerstein used wood and thin aluminum. Gerstein defines those years as a "struggle" between painting and sculpture, comparing his relationship to painting as that to a wife, as opposed to his relationship to sculpture: a captivating, but forbidden, affair.
Gerstein first exhibited these sculptures at the Horace Richter Gallery in 1981. This was a bold step for the thirty-six year old painter who had not been known for, or exhibited, sculpture previously. The works were of aluminum and wood, and the subject matter was a continuation of that of the '70s: his mother riding a bicycle, cats, flower vases and various still life elements. In the following years, Gerstein exhibited at two main galleries of the time, Sara Gilat and Ruth Debel, with work reflecting the artist's continued "search" for a new language integrating painting and three-dimensionality. In 1984 Gerstein traveled to New York, the first time since the conclusion of his studies there, and began working with the art dealer Marilyn Goldberg, who ordered the production of six limited edition aluminum prints titled "Art Cats". The series included cutouts of cats inspired by those of twelve known artists, from van Gogh to Picasso and Lichtenstein. In the wake of these works, Gerstein was invited to exhibit at the Youth Wing of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The exhibit in 1987 was presented under the heading, "From Dudu to 3-D", comprising sculptures that were "colorful, cheerful, amusing and reminiscent of toys or paper cutouts".The exhibit was a summary of Gerstein's three-dimensional work of the previous seven years and was a breakthrough for the artist. Most of the exhibited work was purchased by museums abroad and Gerstein was subsequently invited to exhibit in the United States and Canada. Gerstein continued to focus on sculpture and devoted himself to developing his unique style.
The '90s: Return to Painting and the Discovery of Laser
While continuing to develop his sculpture in the '90s, Gerstein returned to painting in the style that constituted a direct link to the balconies and the Dead Sea, depicted in the '70s and '80s. The series of automobiles created during this period presents people traveling in a car from the perspective of the spectator "peeping" in at the passengers through the front windshield. Similar to the motif of peeping into Tel Aviv balconies, here too, Gerstein chooses the perspective of the outsider looking at the driver through the windshield, while at the same time reflecting the surroundings. The series was created in Paris during Gerstein's residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts, 1990–1991.
In 1995, after years of woodcutting, Gerstein discovered the use of laser and began cutting metals and painting them in shiny colors taken from the car industry. He worked with Tzaki Rosenfeld, son of Eliezer Rosenfeld, owners of the mythological Rosenfeld Gallery, for seven years in penetrating the United States, French and German art markets with limited edition works, establishing Gerstein's status in Europe and the U.S.
2000's: World recognition
At the end of the '90s until today (2010) Gerstein has exhibited throughout the world and, among others, is known for his outdoor sculptures. During this period, he produced a line of work influenced by sports, such as marathon running, swimming and bicycling (exemplified by the works "Tour de France", "Yellow Shirt" and "Armstrong", after Lance Armstrong). Gerstein was also influenced by urban landscapes, nature (as reflected in the series of cows, birds, and flower vases), human behavior (as in the series "Heads", Jazz Players, and others). Today, the artist creates in his workshop and gallery located in Jerusalem's Talpiot industrial zone. He is the owner of two galleries, in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and exhibits throughout the world in permanent and temporary collections.
Gerstein is known in Israel and certain of the world's cites for his outdoor sculptures. Among his famous works are the tens of sculptures decorating city squares, in addition to the sculpture at the entrance to the Rehovot Mall, "Cow" at Ra'anana Park, the "Big Caravan" at Avdat, the sculpture of the Roman warrior at Bromford, London, and sculptures located in the cities of France, South Korea and Singapore. The sculpture in Singapore is the highest of those in the city, reaching 18.5 meters and situated in the center of Singapore's business district. One can see Gerstein's work throughout the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Already in the '70s, Gerstein aspired to create art that would speak to the art world while remaining accessible to the man in the street. His focus on figurative rather than conceptual art was, among other considerations, the result of desiring to communicate easily with the spectator and share with him the artist's thoughts and insights into daily life. The daring use of color, which was relatively exceptional and, in fact, became synonymous with his work, came from a desire to "copy nature". Gerstein explained that just like the brightly colored fruit or flower in nature attracts insects, so, too, his work was intended to be attractive to the observer. And as the fruit is not solely an object of attraction, but is also a source of vitamins, so, too, his works contain added value. "I expressly deal with images of consumerism and the lure of the color is strategic". His work "Shoe Mania", portraying a woman whose hair is composed of shoes is colorful, but only on second glance expresses criticism of Western consumerism. Gerstein maintains that "not everything needs to be heavy" in art, and that "there can be art for pleasure's sake", in which its deeper message, if there be, is hidden.
Another guiding principle in Gerstein's work is that art break out beyond the gallery's boundaries. In 2002, with the rise in price of his wall sculptures, corresponding to his status in the art world, Gerstein decided to make a more affordable series of work. His intention was similar to that of the '60s, when Gerstein aspired to create "accessible art". He first began working on unnumbered editions of small-scale, silkscreen sculptures, meant for museum stores and, therefore, modestly priced. According to the artist, "High art and low art go together and I want to break the unnatural divide between the museum and the street". Gerstein is of the opinion that art should be democratic and not limited to the rich. This attitude informs his having created unlimited editions of relatively inexpensive works, as well his focus on outdoor sculptures for the enjoyment of passers-by on the quotidian street.
In recent years, following Gerstein's financial success, criticism has been leveled at his work. First, his use of vibrant, bright colors has been called "decorative" and not "art for art's sake". As well, his creation of serial sculptures indicates that he is a "commercial" artist. Gerstein's response to the objection that his work is decorative: "The forms and colors in my work are my way of communicating. Those who taste the fruit will discover that it is not only beautiful, but also replete with vitamins. My work "The Human Cirlce" resembles a huge flower or bouquet, but beneath the surface is a tacit criticism of human life; the insight that we come from nowhere, are going nowhere, and in the meantime, are going around in circles, chasing our tails. Whoever chooses to see the work as a decorative bouquet, is welcome. But if you look at the characters comprising the "Human Circle", you will see that they are not pretty. In fact, they are even ugly. But the overall picture is beautiful and seductive".
On his "questionable" use of serial, as opposed to individual works, Gerstein replies, "Warhol made silkscreens". It does not really matter if an artist paints a work with his own hands, or if they are painted by assistants or printed. Gerstein believes that "everyone deserves art, even art on the level of a silkscreen that's bought the way one would buy a quality wine". There are different levels. I don't choose to brand myself as an artist for only the top decile, but for all. It's only right that everyone gets to enjoy art".
Selected Solo Exhibitions
1971 Engel Gallery, Jerusalem.
1972 The Artists' House, Jerusalem.
1980 Horace Richter Gallery, Tel Aviv.
1982 Horace Richter Gallery, Tel Aviv.
1984 Radius Gallery, Tel Aviv (a member of Radius Group).
1987 Israel Museum, Jerusalem ("From Dudu to 3-D") Albert White Gallery, Toronto.
1988 Haifa Museum of Contemporary Art ("Frames").
1989 Herzliya Museum ("Totems") - Albert White Gallery, Toronto - "Art 20" International Art Fair, Basel.
1992 Yavneh Art Workshop ("Pupils") - "Art Frankfurt" International Art Fair.
1996 Center of Performing Arts, Tel Aviv - Moria Gallery, Washington D.C. - "Art Multiple", Düsseldorf - Zimmermann und Heitmann Gallery, Dortmund - Breitbach Gallery, Unna (organized by Gallery Ostendorff, Münster, Germany).
1997 "Encircled People", Rosenfeld Gallery, Tel Aviv - Conzen Gallery, Düsseldorf - Galerie IM Kornbrennerei Museum, Telgte - Edition of Art, Innsbruck Gallery 33, Essen - Gallery Ostendorff, Műnster Germany.
1998 Gallery Regenbogen, Stuttgart - Gallery Menzel, Bad Honef - Gallery Auf der Treppe, Limburg - Gallery Konig, Darmstadt.
1999 Ambassador Gallery, Palm Beach, FL - Gallery Silecchia, Sarasota, FL - Newbury Fine Art Gallery, Boston - Stricoff Gallery, New York - Aduko France Fine Art, Lyon - Art Symbol, Paris - Art Seiler, St Paul de Vence - Gallery Plakart, Frankfurt - Gallery Veith, Ludwigsburg - Gallery Hohmann, Koln - Gallery Krombholz, Koln.
2000 Gallery 33, Essen - Gallery Fischerplatz, Ulm – Galerie de Cannes, Cannes - Art Symbol, Paris - Danielle Peleg, West Bloomfield - MI Gallery "PZ", Krefeld.
2001 New River Gallery, Ft. Lauderdale, FL - Galleria Silecchia, Sarasota, New York - Newbury Fine Art, Boston - Barrington Gallery of London, New York.
2001 "Tango Sur Seine", paintings, Artists House, Jerusalem.
2001 "Pixul", Art Gallery at The Memorial Center, Kiriat Tivon.
2001 "The Private Sector", Meirov Municipal Art Gallery, Holon.
2002 "Balance Trial", The Municipal Gallery "On the Cliff", Netania.
2002 Osklen Multimedia Space, Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
2002 Peter’s Gallery, Nicosia, Cyprus.
2002 Mensing Gallery, Hamm, Germany.
2002 "No Favorite Color", Street Installation during Documenta, Kassel , Germany.
2003 Nord L/B Gallery, Hannover, Germany.
2003 Nouances et Lumiere Gallery, Lyon, France.
2003 Clube A Hebrica, Sao-Paulo, Brazil
2003 Galery Genner-Duisburg, germany
2003 "Typical Section" Art Center at Ma'alot, Israel
2003 Art Symbol Galery, Paris, France
2004 Galerie Am-Dom, Wetzlar, Germany
2004 Star Gallery, East Sussex, England
2004 Ostendorff, Munster, Germany
2004 "In constant movement" Municipal Gallery, Ness-Tsiona, Israel
2004 Galeria Kreisler, Madrid, Spain
2004 Gstaad Adler, Geneva, Switzerland
2005 Mensing Galleries in Hamburg, Berlin, Hanover, Germany
2005 Coda Gallery, Palm Desert, CA, USA
2005 Galerie Nuance et Lumiere, Lyon, France
2006 Due-Diligence, Stadtische Galerie im Park, Viersen, Germany
2007 Gana art gallery, Seoul, Korea
2007 Gallery Ermanno Tedeshi, Milan, Italy
2007 The Catto gallery, England
2007 Mensing Galleries in Düsseldorf, Munich & Hamburg, Germany
2007 Rollebeek Gallery 28, Brussels, Belgium
2008 Ermanno Tedeshi Gallery - Milan, Italy
2008 Gana art gallery, Seoul, Korea
2008 Mensing Galleries in Düsseldorf, Frankfurt & Hamburg, Germany
2008 Ermanno Tedeshi Gallery, Rome, Italy
2008 Mairie de Hesperange - Luxembourg
2008 Rollebee Gallery 28, Brussels, Belgium
2008 Gana Gallerry, Busan - Korea
2008 Cultural Center, Modiin, Israel
2010 20.3. - 17.4. "Celebrating forms and colors" Gallery Ostendorff, Münster Germany
Selected Group Exhibitions
1972 The Print Biennale, Florence.
1973 "Israeli Graphic Art Today", Tel Aviv Museum.
1981 "Four Artists", Sara Gilat Gallery, Jerusalem.
1983 "New Acquisitions", Israel Museum, Jerusalem - The Triennale of Israeli Graphic Art, Haifa Museum - "New Prints", Jerusalem Print Shop.
1985 "Four Sculptors", Aika Braun Gallery, Jerusalem - "Towards a Godless Myth", Artists' House, Jerusalem.
1986 "There are no Bad Animals", travelling exhibition, Omanut La'am - "Artists on Miluim (Army Reserves)", Debel Gallery, Ein Kerem.
1987 "Flags", Israel Festival, Jerusalem - "Towards a New Israeli Realism", Uri and Rami Nechushtan Museum, Kibbutz Ashdot Ya'akov - "Four Artists", Meimad Gallery, Tel Aviv - "Quotation-Painting-Quotation", Museum of Israeli Art, Ramat Gan - "Six Israeli Artists", Billboard Sculptures, Israel 40th Anniversary, Fairs Center, Tel Aviv.
1988 "Haifa, Portrait of a City", Haifa Museum of Contemporary Art - International Biennale of Graphic Art, Ljubliana.
1989 "Via Maris", Bat Yam Museum - "These Sabras", Municipal Gallery, Jerusalem - "Artists' Studios", Aika Brown Gallery, Jerusalem.
1990 "Health and Long Life", Humor in Israeli art, Omanut La'am, travelling exhibition - "Leaves", Artists' House, Jerusalem.
1991 "Who's Afraid of Kitsch?", Yad Labanim Museum, Ra'anana.
1992 "Homage to the Cit?", Artists House, Jerusalem "Flowers", Omanut La'am, travelling exhibition "Receptacle and Contents", Artists' House, Jerusalem.
1993 "Persistent Image", Haifa Museum of Contemporary Art, Bat Yam Museum - "Childhood Reminiscence", Memorial Center in Kiryat Tivon - "Tel Aviv in the Tracks of the Bauhaus", the old building of the "Ha'aretz" newspaper, Tel Aviv.
1994 "Israeli Sculpture, The Last Decade", Tefen Museum.
1995 "Object-Object: Dialogue between Art and Design", Municipal Gallery, Kfar Sava - Ashdod Museum.
1996 "Local Line" Neve Tsedek Gallery, Tel Aviv - "Art Multiples 96'", Düsseldorf.
1997 "Box", Israel Museum, Youth Wing, Jerusalem - "When the Dinosaur Met the Bird", Bat Yam Museum - "Samson and Delilah", Ashdod Museum.
1998 "Look at the Vase", Arad Museum Land Marksn - Open Museum, Teffen.
1999 "End 2000", Haifa.
2000 "Public Art", Givataim – "The Year of Brand ‘, The Villa, Jaffa – "I Have a Dream", The Holon Interdisciplinary Center for Art and Science.
2001 "Childhood", Waddi Nisnass, Haifa.
2001 "Balances", The Tel Aviv District Court.
2001 "Work in the Eyes", Ha’Shfela Museum, Kfar Menahem.