De Gelderlander Bezorgd over hoogmoed van mensen

For Artist Ron Amir paradise is always close

The Artist Ron Amir paints like the old masters. Nevertheless his work, bought by collectors especially from England, also reminds one of video games.

In a folder lying on a table full of paint tubes, books and computers, are dozens of drawings. Or, after a closer look: hundreds. Many of them are full of stains. Some are folded and wrinkled. But all are elaborated to perfection.

“Finger Exercises”, Ron Amir (1975) says in a soft voice, while he shows a pile of charcoal drawings in his living and work space, a former football canteen in Rotterdam. Those drawings mostly depict people who look like insects crawling between one another. Also typically Amir: bloody body parts and eaten animals. ”If you’re so browse through it, it looks really dark. I fear a lot of things will break eventually.”

Amir speaks alternately in English and Dutch. After his national service he left his native country of Israel in his early twenties. With a clear mission: to become a painter. Via Rome, where he specialised in the restoration and copying of old masters, he went to Amsterdam, “because I distinctly wanted to go to the roots of Mondrian.

The move to The Netherlands meant more to him. Rome was a traditional environment, where the presence of the pope and the Catholic Church were strongly present.The move to the Netherlands was the moment I left the tradition. Amsterdam, and later Groningen and Rotterdam, offered me the chance to start anew. For me this is the land of Jeroen Bosch and Mondrian, and everything in between.”

Amir doesn’t like to be forced. What he does, is special and totally unique. The thirty-year -old works stoically in his studio on a just as mysterious and remarkable body of work that explicitly
engages with the history of visual arts.

Monumental and possessed

In his studio there are two monumental canvases, of which the most recent one has been prepared for departure, Amir is in a good position because collectors, especially in England, purchase his work in advance. The new canvas is almost three meters long, in a Amir’s universe it’s a normal size; a few years ago he made a panel of five by six meters.

His recent work looks quiet in comparison to his previous work. In the centre of the canvas there is a table. It’s in the middle of an empty, industrial-looking space. On the table: the remains of a meal, cut-open game, guts and an abandoned penis.

Amir is not like the contemporary artist who links disinterest towards art history to irony. He opts for monumental and possessed work. That method is, in an age of computer art and video installations, not at all intended as anything but a statement, he says. Amir can not and will not change. ”As a child, drawing for me was the only way to really express myself. Don’t forget: I’m from Israel. For centuries depicting religious stories was forbidden in Jewish culture. I work from that background. I’ve fed myself with Michelangelo, Bosch, Caravaggio. As a kind of elixir of life.”

At the Royal Academy in The Hague, where he graduated in 2005, and later at the Frank Mohr Institute in Groningen, he was given “ample room to find everything out.” He drew, experimented (‘really day and night”) and developed his specific handwriting.

On the latest canvas in his studio untitled, 2010 – he worked eight months in a row. This great format is, he says, ‘necessary’, although he finds it difficult to explain why. Just as he finds it difficult to explain where the strong and bright colours come from, that appear in his recent paintings. And no – Please do not ask him about one great hero.

Full of references

“I love the longing in the work of Goya, the conceptual vision of Velazquez and the spirituality of Gauguin. But point one of them out as an example is too simple for me. I experience art as one great story. It is, I think, inappropriate to just tear out a page or a chapter from that story.”

His sense of history and natural drive form the basis for paintings and drawings that are full of references. His art can be viewed as a miraculous image search, in which the human condition is reduced to basic instincts. ”You can call it image search, or compare it to Google, that is something which I often do. The content seems endless.
Each image evokes a different one. Those images are hard to call cheerful. I recognize that. But that doesn’t mean I’m angrily working. I have no clear message or a complete story to tell. But I am worried about the arrogance of people and about how we have become separated from our findimentals.”

He nods guiltily. When he talks about his work, big words always follow, and that quickly sounds arrogant, he says. ”Let me put it like this: I’m fascinated by the detachment. And that
continues to grow because of a medium like the Internet. The boundary between real and unreal can hardly be seen any more. Therefore we are likely to forget what we can and can not do. We commit to things that are not possible. That makes one permanently dissatisfied.”

The locations he paints, like the abandoned room with the table, also reminds one of virtual spaces found in video games. The environment is something desolate and menacing, and also quite tempting. What happened during that meal, where gnawed deer heads and chopped-off legs remain?

”My work is also about how we interact with each other. I see it more as a homage to life than as an attack. In my paintings paradise is always close.”

Virtual space

When Amir took his exam at the Frank Mohr Institute, he presented an impressive charcoal drawing where naked and injured people, car wrecks and bleeding limbs form the subject as well. “Ominous” is a qualification that I often hear attributed to what I make also cheerless. I think of it as a virtual space. Let your audience go and form the truth as they like.”

Besides the monumental canvases Amir makes smaller panels, on which he uses a more relaxed style. Here, animals are often the protagonists, but then in his characteristic style. In Amir’s
style a dog walks on two legs, like a wolf, crying to an invisible moon.

”Do not ask me why’ ‘he says, while he caresses his own dog, which he got from a shelter. ”I work with total dedication. The content of my paintings is unconsciously driven. Literally: from the subconscious. I look at life from an imaginary point floating somewhere above the earth. Like I’m on another planet, and I’m trying to pin down the essence of human existence.”