Still (Life) Landscape
The idea of Zion is embedded in deeper layers of the land, in higher layers of the air, and in both of these together, the depth of the roots and the height of the treetops, memory and ideal, both belonging to the same undeniable fabric. If we relinquish the secret, we relinquish reality itself.
(Martin Buber, "A Nation and its Land"
The moment that a certain idea of landscape, myth, vision, places itself in a real location, it has a certain way of mixing categories, of making metaphors more real than their object, of becoming, in fact, part of the landscape.
(Simon Schama, "Landscape and Memory")
Hadar Gad's attraction to the location of the paintings in Emek Harod, and her longing to express its spirit and being are understandable in light of the way her biography weaves through it. Her grandfather and grandmother, Arieh and Esther (nee Bodko) Gad immigrated to Israel in the early 1920's and were among the founders of Kibbutz Ein Harod, Her father was among the first children born in the kibbutz, and Gad herself was born there as well. "When I was one year old my parents left the kibbutz," she says, "but throughout the years we felt uprooted and longing for the valley and the kibbutz." In the past six years Gad has been painting at Ein Harod's first cemetery, located in Gid'ona at the foot of the Gilboa Mountains, and at the cemetery of Ein Harod Meuchad. At the same time she describes views of the valley as they spread below the Kumi Hill, at whose foot lies the kibbutz. The more one regards the totality of Gad's paintings, the more evident it becomes that they are not born on their own. They reverberate with the pioneering enterprise carried out by pioneers of the cooperative settlements in the valley, and the joint historical memory they bear for the "Land of our Fathers," whether they admitted or ignored it. In this background one has a sense of torn up roots, a vanishing tradition, stories left untold.
Theories of art in recent years tend to reject the central role of realism in landscape painting, and to replace it with ideological content reflecting social balance of power. According to this approach we should perceive the landscape as a network of cultural codes rather than a genre of painting. Another approach grasps the tradition of Western landscape painting as the product of a rich tradition known to have room for myth and memory. Composed in Simon Schama's view of layers of memory, it constitutes as such an intellectual and rational action before arousing the senses. "If a child's vision of nature can already be loaded with memories, myths and significance," he writes, "how much more so the precision and strength of the framework through which our adult eyes survey the landscape."
The realism of Gad's landscapes involves to a large extent a search for the kind of aspects noted by Schama, and it should be understood in this background. Beyond the desire for a faithful representation, she wraps her valley in a thin membrane, perhaps clouded, perhaps dusty, which lends it the quality of time standing still. Alongside her landscape panoramas she grasps the details of the place as embodying personal and collective memory. From these she emerges to the landscape, and from this returns to the world of nature which composes it, the national microcosm, local and exposed. This is not an ideal, romantic or lofty landscape, and its components do not fit the traditional definition of "still life." In the course of Gad's training as an artist she had much experience with painting in this genre, the realistic description of household still objects such as salt shaker, chair, bookshelf, etc. These were works subject to all the rules of painting aware of its own ability – wonderful precision, precise composition, attention to the play of light and awareness of the hues of shadow. Now, turning her glance to the land below and its characteristics, her eyes wander over a fall of leaves, piles of twigs, a dried, bursting pomegranate, exposed Ficus roots and rock formations, as if searching for something to take hold of. These are revealed as representatives of still (life) landscape, and confer upon the "place" a human and personal scale. It is they that remind us that life is enclosed in it, that in days long past, history happened here, a house, yard, family were established. That today there is a cemetery, tombstones, inscriptions.
Most of the works in Gad's current exhibition are from the series "Four entered an orchard," which she began painting about two years ago. In the Jewish tradition the concept "orchard" is discussed as the text, subtext, hint and secret, whose meanings attest to a gradual process of learning, discovery and exposure. Gad deals with interpretations of the Talmudic concept of "orchard,” and thus she is able to clear pathways to sparks and hints from the legacy of our culture, as well as layers in her own biography. This is the orchard rooted in her memories from childhood visits to Ein Harod, and these are orchard plots not visible on the horizon of her current dwelling place – Pardes Hanna ("Hannah's Orchard"). In the totality of this work, the "Valley of Below" and the "Valley of Above" unite as two complementary entities, bearing the memory of the place and its future, its stories and its silences.