In the beginning, it was Black | Leroy Bar Natan

Leroy Bar Natan, magna cum laude graduate of the School of Art and Society at Sapir College, presents a solo exhibition as part of an excellence scholarship generously granted by friends of the school and the gallery at Kibbutz Beeri.

The exhibition deals with the process of creation and formation of identity. It is a long process of coming into being. It is difficult to mark before and after time indicators along the way. It absorbs within it and implies the process of gender identity formation, a process born of mental and physical sensations, adaptation, recognition, and acceptance of the other body.

The creation of identity begins at home. The home is primordial and precedes cognition like the darkness before the creation of the world and man. Black is the darkness, the moment before the light turns on, and you can only recognize the furniture marks and grope your way around them. Black is the things hidden inside the closet before they are discovered and exposed to light.

Leroy Bar Natan paints in black with a coarse brush and charcoal black on strips of paper covering the gallery walls from ceiling to floor. The entrance wall and the opposing wall are painted with images of a home’s interior. Two other walls are painted with body images, with the sound of screaming birds in the background.

The work process is fast, four workdays in the exhibition space while remaining on-site, including the work invested in wrapping the gallery walls with paper. A sketched painting enveloping the entire area, a drawing that considers space, fast and immediate, without planning ahead or preliminary drawing. Leroy Bar Natan draws remarkably; he is endowed with a confident hand and an exciting pictorial ability.

The home images are painted in a thick line, a coarse brush in black wall color, immediate and primary, without shadows and without three-dimensionality. In the niche, there is a child’s room: A single bed with a rhombus sewn quilt, a teddy bear and a pillow, a cabinet with toys and books, and an exposed lamp. On the other walls are the parent’s bed, a window showing a single tree, a huge wardrobe, a dresser. On the opposite wall, a dining area, a living room, a strangely elongated flower pot. The simple drawing conveys a sense of bleakness, emptiness, simplicity. The artist doesn’t allow us to be comforted by the images of the home. Everything is gloomy, dim, pinching the heart with its emotionless pragmatism.

On the other two walls, the drawing becomes delicate, in charcoal, with details and shadings. In the center of the great wall, a body floats in a sitting position, amputated at the top, and its legs seem like they hang in the air. Below them, there’s another body in an inverted position, the legs curving and disappearing upwards, and the head is cut off at the floor. The drawing highlights the curves of the female-male-youthful body, the tattoos, and the hair growing on it. Squills grow on both sides. A strange connection between body and plant nature, becoming one. On the opposite wall, another body in a sitting is rotated from the back, with cyclamens growing around it. Another body with amputated legs floats in the center in a horizontal reclining position. A pile of twisted bodies is at the edge of the wall, growing from each other, amputated like doubling the exact figure.

The body shown in these drawings, although amputated, conveys an erotic, vulnerable and delicate feeling. It hangs, grows, or floats just like the plants that envelope it. The motif of the hair covering the body is reflected in the petals and stamens as if they were one.

In the center of the space, there’s a video installation. The screen is set down like a table. The audience revolves around it, following a cannibalistic eating process using spoons, like an injury and concealment of the body, sculpted like a cake. The process is cyclical, in a loop. It constitutes endless recurring creation and decomposition, raising questions about the queer, hybrid, and changing body embodied within itself.

Hovering over everything is the birds’ screams heard in the gallery space as a disturbing background.

Dr. Ziva Jelin

More images from the exhibition