Remarks on Rafi Münz's Ceramic Sculpture
Exhibited in the Umm el Fahem Art Gallery

Doron Bar-Adon

Rafi Münz, who comes from the world of painting, has in the middle of the journey of his life also taken on ceramic sculpture.

Ceramic, one of the most ancient natural materials known ever since prehistoric man lit bonfires in his caves, is composed of the four elements: earth and water, fire and air. In the potter's hands the clay is shaped at will – creating either soft and supple organic shapes inspired by nature or turned into cultural or geometric forms both inflexible and tough.
Rafi, coming from painting and armed with a lifetime of experience, creates from the raw material organic forms intermingled with his imageries, his dreams, his fantasies and his ideas all wrapped exceedingly well in his special sense of humor. They waft in a world of their own, creating their own rules, gathering layers of paintings and captions; these cover the shapes and images with brushstrokes both short and long, barbed with pointed captions where the supposedly haphazard painterly ambience appears to correspond with Juan Miró's poesy of logic, with the handwritings and Romanesque wall paintings and with the pre-Columbian sculpture of South America, with the scrolls of the Ethiopians who became Christians, and perhaps actually in effect with Children’s Paintings!

Because within Rafi there still remains a living kicking child, a kind of teller of tongue in cheek stories (à la Aryeh Navon and Avraham Shlonsky in their book Mickey-Who), all he craves for is the world's appreciation for the sense in all his nonsense, as he himself formulates in the motto of the work depicting a branch cut from a tree; titled Thanks of my life (CV) – "Lucky am I to have met the right people to teach me the importance of nonsense
". And Rafi does indeed activate the absurd, the grotesque, the irony, the exaggeration, the (above mentioned) humor, all supposedly devoid of meaning when the ridiculous outshines the sublime and the pathos, thus making a provocative stand against thinking and experience.

The titles of his works in themselves are witness to the immense tension between banality and poesy in his world – Genesis, Remedy Against Global Warming, Faithfulness, Illegal Immigrant, Standard Bearer, Auto Salvation, Meditation, The Messiah's Vehicle, Memorial to the Unknown Builder, Thy Neighbor is Thine Relative, Debka, The Trinity, Nostaljar, The Announcer, A Musical Baby is Born, Mother Tongue, My Neighbor Has Blue Eyes, Watch Dog, Cock on my Back …etc, in the same vein as his fun with wordplay such as the deceptive Give Me a Strong Black one – a sculpture of a small cup of black coffee, with President Obama's face inscribed on it..

It appears that applying paint to canvas no longer presented Rafi with sufficiently exhausting "opposition" and he consequently went over to working with ceramic material entailing a process of complex and skillful technical maturation. This substance is both literally and metaphorically challenging in its fragility, noble in its end result, and withstands the test of time exceedingly well. Nevertheless, Rafi does not feel at all chained to the inflexible and "sacred" rules of the ceramic game and he collates in his sculptures additional materials in the nature of an assemblage (a flag, a life-belt, spectacles, a colorful doll, a rope, plastic decorations and feathers, etc.) as the folk artists used to do in Africa and Australia.

It is worthy of note that the numerous years he spent in the company of his close artist friend, the late Moshe Shek (Juke), working together with Moshe in the latter's workshop in Kibbutz Beit-Nir (i.e. the two together and each one separately) did not influence him to adopt Moshe's inflexible rules of design – the unequivocal geometry, the strict drawing of shapes, the sweeping inspiration of the ancient world of ceramics, etc. Concomitantly with Moshe, Rafi developed his own language despite the seeming similarity – bare yellowish reddish ceramics covered with images and words painted in colors of Engobe. Whereas this has a joint Eastern ambience, Rafi's works emanating chiefly from self-inspirational sources (as against Moshe's inspiration coming from the churn or archaeological vessels) radiate a kind of lyrical carelessness in the spirit of the sculpture of (the above mentioned) Juan Miró or Niki de Saint Phalle – and achieve wholeness through Rafi's personal calligraphic painting which is his outstanding expertise.

Without a doubt, Rafi's numerous declared interests – macrobiotic cooking, astrology, numerology, graphics, calligraphy, Feng Shui, mysticism, animation, organic gardening, food for thought, food for the soul, yearnings for the assiduous balance between the yin and the yang and ecology – are all embedded in the core of the spirit of the ceramic sculpture of Rafi's own creation. He does not apologize for the weirdness of the images in his world but rather creates his sculptures by virtue of a distinguished artistry, as though telling the viewer: take them or forswear, love them or nay, I don't really care, I'll still go my way!

Although ceramic firing methods have completely changed over the past few years and have become much simpler (the outer layer of the kiln chamber is much thinner while the fire, fed with wooden logs, burns for only three-and-a-half hours!) the actual firing still remains a Sisyphean process per se with a touch of mystic feeling about it due to the metamorphosis the material undergoes; this is a task requiring patience, persistence, and obstinacy accompanied by the excitement of a game of chance and humor.

Having been familiar with Rafi and his work for many years I know full well that he also intended and still intends to say something more general about the world, about our world, about art, about himself and about the East.
The first statement is the essence of creative handwork versus the world of industrial design. The second statement is the supposedly careless manner of constructing shapes which is purposely so designed and apparently intended to bestow at first hand a feeling of closeness to primary nature, both the nature of human feeling and the nature of art. It is as though Rafi abandoned and also discarded geometry and its rules, anatomy and its rules, and even the unequivocal reproductive design rules (that star in the "primitive" folk art sculptures or in the sculptures of Brâncuşi), all in favor of a more intimate approach. It could also be his personal-political riposte to the failures occurring in nearby and distant surroundings in all fields of life, chiefly in the local and world field of ecology, which is so near to his heart.
Rafi deals indirectly and only by implication with the Issue of the East, as for instance when he gives his works the titles Nostaljar, My Neighbor Has Blue Eyes, or Debka and principally when he writes texts in Arabic characters, which he integrates freely into his works. The fact that his son went to a bi-lingual Arab-Jewish school leaves no doubt as to his warm feelings toward the East and the solution to life in it, where the human foundation that unites everything dominates his entire thinking and all his works and is so self-evident that the question itself becomes irrelevant.
Therefore, accommodating Rafi's works in the Umm el Fahem art gallery is the natural thing to do and I congratulate Sa’eed Abu Shakra, the gallery director, for embracing this special exhibition and holding it in his gallery.

Mabruk and a warm thanks to Rafi, a hearty thanks to Sa’eed, and a special thanks to David Zundelovitch who designed the exhibition in the most correct and appropriate manner.


May 2011


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