Ofir Dor is a painter, a native of Israel residing in Berlin since 2007. Since graduating from his art studies at the Bezalel Academy in Israel, in 2004, he has been showing large-scale paintings in a lush expressivity, depicting men and women in situations derived from a subliminal zone of dream, the occult and sexual fantasy. Initially working in a more detailed technique, with scenes that bring to mind a dark underworld of esoteric cliques and subcultures – as could be seen in a large one-man show he showed at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art just 3 years following his graduation – his painterly style has evolved into a freeform expressivity that owes as much to abstract expressionism as to the lyrical abstract and other pioneers of Israeli modernism. His characters, often in the nude, confront the viewer with their naïve playfulness and unabashed sensuality, making their surroundings, whether actual interiors or dreamed-up Arcadian landscapes, into the backdrops of sexual escapade.
The present body of work based on themes I’ve developed in smaller formats in my work of the past three years. Reworked into life-size dimension and beyond, this body of work represents, for me, the culmination of an ongoing process around erotic themes and group scenarios in painting. It deals with nudity, the axes of gaze, the interplay of characters and the force fields of push-and-pull between them, often approached in connection with noted art-historical precedents, erotic photography and the widespread scopic practices of the digital age.
I situate the scenes in a range of backdrops, from mundane interiors to settings that are replete with cultural connotations: a lush Arcadian landscape, a modern-day park, a poolside gathering, bathers at a lake or a hotel room. The locations are private to a degree, shielding their participants from the outside world, yet hardly conducive of intimacy. The characters that figure in the paintings are couples, threesomes or larger groups who are engaged in a sex play of seduction and self-indulgence, willingly offering themselves to the gazes of others – and, by extension, to the beholder. This uneven interplay of gazes, attraction and sometimes repulsion structures a pictorial balance that is always on the verge of collapse.
I progress intuitively, reworking the themes across several paintings and incorporating elements from a former painting into the next. At times, the participants that figure in one composition morph into other related characters: a scene that involves a ‘horse owner’, ‘his wife’ and ‘the jokey’ developed into one with ‘a farmer’ and ‘a chauffeur’. Once a cast of characters has been determined, a sexual intrigue begins to evolve, bringing essential elements to light. My painting style is lush and expressive, and the completion of every work is felt on a visceral level, by satisfying and inner need that resonates on both a physical and aesthetic level.
A balancing act between art history, the self and the sensual realm, this orientation in my work began to emerge some 5 years ago, related to two greater shifts that I can discern in retrospect. In 2012 I moved out of my studio and began painting outdoors under direct sunlight. With no walls or a ceiling, the painting is hit by the light from every direction, a condition that allowed me to perceive the intensity of the color like never before. This triggered a liberation in line and format, opening the painting to looser, sweeping brushstrokes that encompass the painting in its entirety. Putting aside concerns of detail and referentiality, I immersed myself in expansive color fields and bigger formats while shifting the subject matter to a realm of mythological creatures, the cosmic and erotic situations.
Some two years later, around 2014, I returned to the studio, and with it to artificial lighting and smaller formats. Recognizing the significance of my outdoor experience, I set out to “process” it through a group of paintings centered on the human figure, employing free-form, intuitive painterly gestures and a continued exploration of the themes, often in a serial manner. The studio allowed me to regain control over the composition while refining my understanding of color and gesture, following which I returned to the large formats, in pursuit of greater formal and narrative complexity.
My task at this point, and which I confront daily, is how to get all the elements to work together in harmony while maintaining a sense of urgency, excitement and intensity. As someone deeply rooted in a studio practice, I approach it by a constant elaboration of themes and compositions from one painting to the next, a process through which I synthesize ideas and reconsider former work in a new light. Alongside my reliance on art history and other contemporary imagery, my studio practice involves extensive work in drawing, often as an intermediate step between different iterations of the same subject.
As I refine my ideas across slight variations – experimenting with color, composition, setting and gesture – I try to attain a balance between a raw, energetic state and sense of balance and lucidity, doing so not so much be by a deliberate structure but rather by a fusion of image and paint, creating a one-time, particular event where content and form are bound together to create meaning.
Woman with Mirror, Man with Camera
The paintings on show, executed between 2016–2017, feature couples in erotic situations rendered through a language where symbolism, the esoteric and art history intermingle, an inexhaustible source to Ofir Dor for ideas and inspiration. The mostly nude couples are located in the domestic setting of a bedroom or hotel room, or yet in some fantasized Arcadian nature. Equipped with ocular props such as a camera or mirror, they engage in a sex play of gazes and self-display, which to the outside viewer – taking the position of a voyeur – seems naively awkward.
They indulge in their nudity, posing for themselves and their partner as they try out different positions and revel in their image as reflected or gazed upon through a window, peephole or camera. In their knowing game of appearances and the uninhibited thrill of the gaze, the male and female participants bring to mind a topic from art history, that of the artist and his model, which Dor tackles with a contemporary twist. The nude male and female figures seem trapped in a magnetic field of attraction, of conflicting powers of push and pull that, especially given the paintings’ uncertain spatiality and muddy surface, threaten to throw them out of balance.
Dor employs a multitude of layers as he explores his subject matter, aiming towards a free and intuited painterly flow to express his candid and playful themes. With the body as the focal point of his work, the sensuality of the line brings out the liveliness of the flesh and a nearly childish exhilaration, together with a certain inadequacy and embarrassment. The freeform expression, as evident in the paintings, sensitizes the viewer and alerts them to the deeply sensorial realm of the body, the personal and interpersonal.
Ofir Dor – CV
Born in Israel, 1972.
Lives in Berlin, Germany
2004 Bezalel Academy of Art and Design and Hebrew University, Jerusalem MFA (Master of Fine Arts Degree)
2000 Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Jerusalem, BFA
1999-2000 The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York, Visiting Scholar
1996 Beit Berl College, Hamidrasha School of Art, Beit Berl Certificate in Art
- Selected Solo Exhibitions
2017 “The Sun and The Moon”, Hayarkon 19 Gallery, Tel-Aviv
2015 “Woman with a Mirror, Man with a Camera”, KunstlerHaus Bethanien, Berlin
2015 “GirlyGirlyGirlGirl”, Circle 1 Gallery, Berlin
2013 “Ofir Dor”, Fresh Paint 2013, Sommer Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv
2012 “Pregnant Mirror”, Lohame Hagetaot Kibutz’s Gallery, Israel
2011 “Mr. O and Mrs. I”, Sommer Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv
2011 “Oh!”, 95 Tor Strasse, Berlin
2009 “IOI”, Sommer Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv
2007 Helena Rubinstein’s Pavilion for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv
2005 Sadnaot Haomanim, Tel Aviv
2004 “Pastoral”, Julie M. Gallery, Tel Aviv
2003 “Water Hole”, Julie M. Gallery, Tel Aviv
- Selected Group Exhibitions
2015 “Sing While You’re Burning, Restless Painting from Israel”, Circle 1 Gallery, Berlin
2015 “Don’t Shoot The Painter. Paintings from the UBS art Collection” Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Milano, Milan, Italy
2015 “Radial System”, Berlin
2014 “Five cardinal directions” Beit Uri and Rami Museum, Kibbutz Ashdod Jaakov, Israel
2010 “Portraits” Sommer Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv
2010 “Cockeye. Mail Nude in Contemporary Israeli Art”, Gal-on Art Space, Tel Aviv
2009 “Wild Exaggeration: The Grotesque Body in Contemporary Art”, Haifa Museum of Art, Haifa
2006 “Mixed Emotions”, Haifa Museum of Art, Haifa
2004 “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral”, Bezalel Gallery, Tel Aviv
2004 “Painting this Time”, Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, Herzliya
2014 Residency, La Cité International des Artes with support from Institut Français, Paris, France
2005 Grant from America-Israel Cultural Foundation