Israel Through an Artist’s Eyes
By Diane Arieff Zaga,
If you didn’t know that David Rose was one of our priceless assets, proceed to his pen and ink drawings on exhibit at the University of Judaism’s Platt Gallery. A look at this lively body of work suggests that virtually everywhere 20th-century Jewish history was being made, David Rose was there.
Very different in tone, style and intent is the work of 19th-century photographer Félix Bonfils. The Stephen Cohen Gallery presents his fascinating photographs of 19th-century Palestine. Like other commercial photographers working in the Near East during the late 1800s, Bonfils pictures are an outsider’s ethnographic exploration of an exotic culture — its working people, social life, native customs and dress. These views are infused with a recognition of their relation to stories told in the Bible. Bonfils’ small albumen prints, which feature Biblical places and references with an almost abstract quality, convey a strong sense of mystery and timelessness. Solitary figures appear against vast desert landscapes or sitting motionless near the water’s edge. The results are astonishingly beautiful. Both exhibitions open this weekend.
Above, left, David Rose’s illustration of the children’s area of a kibbutz bomb shelter near the Golan Heights, 1972. Below, Félix Bonfils’ “The Dead Sea,” c.1880.In his role as artist-reporter, Rose began early. “When I finished art school,” he told The Journal, “I went to Palestine. This was during the 1930s and I was very interested in the Zionist movement. I tramped around the country with a knapsack on my back. I knew some Hebrew and some Yiddish, and I just went from kibbutz to kibbutz. It was one of the most interesting experiences of my life.” Rose’s work from that time — which depicted the campfire cameraderie, irrigation efforts and other aspects of pioneer life — was widely exhibited. Some of it is on permanent display at the Israel Museum.
The artist’s Platt show, entitled “Celebrating 100 Years of Zionism,” is being sponsored, appropriately enough, by the Consulate General of Israel, but the subject matter in this body of work extends far beyond the life and times of pre-State chalutzim (pioneers). In the decades that followed, Rose continued to document life in modern Israel while on assignment for the Histadrut, the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish National Fund and other organizations. Equally important are Rose’s drawings of Jewish life worldwide: Polish Jewish refugees in Denmark, fleeing German Jews who were turned back at the Swiss frontier and drawings that depicted Nazi concentration camps.
In his six decades as a professional artist, Rose worked for everyone from Israel Bonds to Walt Disney. “The reason my career is strange,” he said, “is that I had to straddle two different directions — commercial art to support my family and fine art to pursue my career.” Disney Studios beckoned Rose shortly after his wanderings through 1930s Palestine, prompting him to move to California. During his four years there he worked on such legendary animated features as “Fantasia,” “Snow White” and “Pinocchio.” During World War II, Rose was assigned to a unit under film director Frank Capra that made films for the U.S. War Department.
After the war, Rose enjoyed a successful commercial art career in film and TV advertising as an illustrator and art director, but he continued to cover dramatic moments in contemporary Jewish history as they unfolded. On assignment to furnish courtroom drawings for Reuters, CNBC and NBC, he attended the trial of the infamous French war criminal Klaus Barbie. “Most of my parents’ family in Poland perished during the Holocaust,” Rose said, “so as these broken people, the survivor witnesses, each took the stand and gave their accounts, there were times I was listening to their testimonies that it so affected me my eyes clouded with tears. I had to stop drawing and wait until I could collect myself. That was the most moving moment I ever had during that kind of work.”
“Félix Bonfils – Views of Palestine c. 1880″ runs from May 30 – July 5 at the Stephen Cohen Gallery, 7358 Beverly Blvd., LA. (213) 937-5525. The David Rose exhibition at UJ’s Platt Gallery runs from June 1-15 with an opening reception on June 5. 15600 Mulholland Dr. in Bel Air. (310) 476-9777, ext. 203.