Tsibi Geva: Centripetal, Centrifugal Forces

Tsibi Geva: Centripetal, Centrifugal Forces
David Shapiro

Meyer Schapiro, when asked why James Joyce united the Irish and the Jew in Ulysses, responded that both were indestructible in the fury of history.

This is the sense of everyday heroism and sacred survivalism—neither Geva nor Bloom aspire to martyrdom—that is part of Jewish prudential wisdom.

There is an ardent clarity, even in the darkest symbols—bird, flower, kaffiyeh, chain link, barbed wire—and torn syntax of Geva's strategies. He is a builder, like his architect father, who built a swath of structures even before he had "become an architect.”

Bialik writes an extraordinarily intense essay on the two directions of Jewish life, away and to the sacred center.

This wild oscillation is revelatory of Geva's art, cosmopolitan as Tel Aviv and New York, partly learned from years at our figurative salon, the great Studio School, with its Guston, Feldman, and Schapiro as an indestructible faculty--and yet also the sabra in Tsibi, the student not only of Johns but of the Levantine world, an abstract an iconoclast who assembles with Moslem and Moorish decoration, and bears witness to the struggles of the socialist dream in Kibbutz and the resistance in intifada 1 and 2.

I am looking at a simple, obsessive bird in a black oval—a found object with labels and wit. The bird is our bird, from Manet and Redon through Basquiat and almost early Baselitz.

Suddenly, however, we are disoriented.

These elements do not reduce or exhaust the ghostly charm of this bird, these intent "other flowers”.

The drawing is lyrical, then—cantorial. The modulations are menacing.

The birds are written in the "repetitive” style of a synagogue curtain.

We are going back and forth from the center to the margins of the West, from the sacred dove to a surrealist icon. No solution: polysemy.

One cannot forget the rootedness's of this seeming unfastened vocabulary.

The mixed media reflect the Bialik-like storm between law and story.

The designs are those of a socius at war, and the war is also a taste of the horrors that produced the glory that created the State he both refuses and must claim to represent—such a torn state that his most explicit sign of the Levantine Keffiyeh may be interpreted as fence, hat, Israel, or Palestinian garb.

And the constant pressure to exhaust its antithetical meanings is uncanniness itself.

I see in Geva the modernist sublime in the severe houses of his father—fathers--documents of a sober de Stijl raised in the center itself of Zion.

It reminds one of the meditations of Michal Govrin on the city of Jerusalem, as a woman fought over in every possible physical, shockingly, mortally sexual way. As we look through the "book” of his paternal modernism, we are suddenly aware of the "disasters of war” built into his work, echoes of the competing languages, assemblages of tires and wire that make even Bialik's movements too simple for the tangle that is almost unbearable terror that might be the death of beauty, and yet.

In New York, a blue diamond reiterates pleasurable vertigoes of say Sherrie Levine de-authenticating every resonance.

In Geva's version, one is seeing a tragic wall in front of bloody victims, not passersby.

In a window say of Eisenman, one has the geometric permutations of a slightly maddened minimalism and skeptical, even parodistic extreme.
In Geva's version, windows of tortured, even expressionist lopsidedness become, like Scholem's rare poems, a mystical and severe elegy to the possibilities of a city of refuge, that theme so beloved of Jacques Derrida, another Jewish poet. His windows are occlusions and defenestrations, at once. The videos are vividly vital.

Derrida spoke to me and Govrin of his tormented idea of "prayer without hope”. That topos never haunts me more than when I see Geva's wild, even explosive, explicit imagery—the disasters of faith.

Those who think faith is bland should reread the true ancestors of Geva—Nachman, the tormented Hasid, Benjamin, the masochistic master of aura, and those correspondents, Scholem, Schapiro, Barnett Newman.

All of Geva's work starts to inculcate subtly a still, small angelic voice.
Collage is not for a minor pleasure of the surface.

Geva is dedicated to the mysteries of incalculable depths.

He is aware of art as fearful, fiery, and perilous as presence itself.

When I see this work, I notice its rare syncretism, a stylistic pluralism of contradictions--a numen tremendum but couched in the vocabulary of a modest visionary still searching for the rhetorical zero.

"No beautified truth”, says the Tao. "Presence without shadow”, says a Newman.
In his work I find a haunting deletion, a gigantic story of X, the mystery, a Lurianic combination. The lenient story is there in his hand of cutting and revision.

Halakhic or legal Man is dancing with the Aggadic Person—the story.
Buber says through generations we have lost the place, the fire, the prayer,
but not the story.
Painting is necessary more than existence, because it is our prayer without hope, our cyclotron, our Tower of Babel, and the sole resistance to a final loss of meaning.

Geva by no accident speaks of this prophetic meaninglessness, and I find the zero degree in his work the proper, the anti-sentimental pursuit of what Arthur Cohen and I used to discuss as the Caesura or the Nonsense—his and my formulations.

Like that strange hapax legomena for Chaos, Tohu-wa-bohu, and Geva gives us a very eloquent labyrinth.

Does it signify chaos or is it a very elaborate counter-sublime in which, as Rashi noted, Tohu-wa-bohu may mean astonishment and loneliness?
Geva astonishes and estranges.

So this is the bloody tiling and astonishing discontinuities; these are concealments and revealments indeed.

One can't always sense the horror in Daumier's brutal scenes.

Is it drunkenness or brutality in the Rue Transnonian?
But in the large new paintings of Geva it is clear that he is leaving the

undecidable questions reverently open.

His ochers are stunning, and his trees are a baffling trilingual forest.

He has a multi-foliate game of acrylic coupure, and these permanently parted paintings are the definition of a strength that accompanies fragility.

We return from his abstractions, so-called, to his exploding flowers and trees—only our terrible twentieth and twenty-first centuries could be the site of this collision of gravity, grace, and representation.

There is nothing but hope.
In my box of Geva books, I keep a folded napkin on which he has drawn the boundaries of Israel, a map he says he knows so well.
This map, too, is part of his story of leaving and staying, of housing and refuge, of sacred and secular surface and struggle.
He becomes, like his father, an architect of the Caesura, when the human seems too humiliated to deserve the law. "And each man did what he pleased.”

To Mordechai Omer, Michal Govrin, and Chaim Brezis and in memory of Meyer Schapiro

--David Shapiro

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