Gilad Efrat's paintings of the Israeli Negev desert (currently on view at Inman Gallery) are monochromatic, much as one assumes the desert itself is. This help accentuate the sense of dryness and barrenness. But it also gives them a feeling of being drawings instead of paintings. We expect paintings to have more color, and we expect drawings to be monochromatic.
Gilad Efrat, Negev III, 2012, oil on linen, 55" x 55"
But this sense that we are looking at a drawing is also a product of Efrat's painting technique.
Gilad Efrat, Tamarisk, 2012, oil on linen, 43.25" x 43.25"
In Tamarisk, we see an image of the eponymous desert bush. But as we look more closely at the canvas, we see this:
Gilad Efrat, Tamarisk (detail), 2012, oil on linen, 43.25" x 43.25"
Efrat lays on thick paint then wipes it away to create the image. This technique reminds me a little of Mark Tansey's technique, but the difference (as I understand it) is that Tansey erases the paint when it is semi-dry. It appears that Efrat removes the paint when it is still wet. But the effect is quite similar--somewhat monochromatic paintings in which the drawing is emphasized.
Gilad Efrat, Tamarisk (Negev), 2012, oil on linen, 43.5" x 43.5"
And it is bravura drawing. That's what catches your eye first. The dense thicket of branches of the tamarisk plant is one of his favorite subjects in this show, and to my eye, it seems like a real drawing challenge. A challenge that Efrat meets handily.
Gilad Efrat, Tamarisk (Negev), 2012, oil on linen, 58.875" x 72.625"
The tamarisk is an old world desert shrub that Efrat undoubtedly saw much of in the Negev, the southern Israeli desert that comprises a little over half of Israel's territory. It is described as a place where Israel puts things that it wants to keep away from the cities--prisons, military bases, etc. About a quarter of the population of the Negev is Bedouin, and their settlements are also one of Efrat's subjects.
Gilad Efrat, Bedouin (Negev), 2012, oil on linen, 37.25" x 63"
He also paints moonscapes. It's not easy to know whether these moon paintings are based on photos from the moon or if they are images of particularly barren spots in the Negev. They have a sharp, airless look that makes them feel moon-like.
Gilad Efrat, Untitled (Moon), 2010, oil on linen, 27.5" x 27.5"
Gilad Efrat, Untitled (Moon), 2011, oil on linen, 27.5" x 27.5"
But they could easily be scenes from the Negev.
We have a tendency to look at Israel through a political lens, and perhaps there is a political interpretation one can make of these paintings. (Some of his earlier work is more obviously political, however.) But I think such an interpretation would be a tortured squeezing of a square peg into a round hole. These are, above all else, pictures. They show us images that Efrat found interesting to paint done in a technique that gives the images a specific feeling. They are very well done, compelling pictures. And that's enough.