(August 6, 2019 / Israel Hayom) Israeli conceptual artist and sculptor Benny Katz is excited about a trip he plans to take to Aspen, Colorado, later this year. Katz is eager to see the Rocky Mountains, but he also wants to visit Forré Fine Art Contemporary Gallery, where his latest work has been on display since June.
Katz opens the door to the studio he rents in a quiet moshav near Ness Ziona in central Israel, offering a peek at a sculpture in progress—a stylized, tailless buck deer, which for now he is calling “Male.”
Sometimes, Katz says, his ideas crystallize as he plays with the materials. Other times, he starts with an idea, and then embarks on a long process of trying to express that idea.
“It’s a process of finding solutions to express the idea that’s in my head,” Katz says. “It’s much harder to try to express something I can picture in my mind than it is to start working on something and not know what it will become.”
When he starts with a specific idea, the first thing he does is make rough sketches. “I have to,” he says. “It’s the way to get closest to or uncover the vague impressions in my head.”
Then he uses a computer program to turn the sketch into a clean illustration. Finally, he carves the components out of Styrofoam and covers each with air-dry clay, which he sands until it attains the texture of smooth plaster. For the sculptures that have a few parts, he uses thin metal rods to attach the various sections. He taught himself to spot-weld.
Katz makes up to nine editions of a piece. He recreates the prototype using ancient molding and casting techniques, but with modern materials—bubblegum pink silicon and epoxy clay, a material he likes because it’s both lightweight and strong.
Katz was born in Sao Paolo, Brazil. In 1978, when he was five, his family left Brazil, which was still under a military dictatorship. Both of his parents are of Polish Jewish descent; his father’s family arrived in South America before World War II, and his mother’s father survived the Holocaust in Europe.
After a year in Ashkelon, his family moved to Kibbutz HaMa’apil in northern Israel. He remembers watching his father, an avid amateur artist, draw. As a child, Katz also loved drawing (“designing,” he stresses) sneakers and cars, which he would imagine jumping off the paper and taking shape. After his compulsory military service, he studied graphic design, but the confines of a career in graphic design were not for him.
However, his graphics training is very much present in his recent work, which is characterized by clean lines, curves and a mostly primary palette—red, blue, yellow and black—offset by touches of bright green or orange. And, while he no longer spends his time sketching out designs for cars, Katz uses automotive paint on his sculptures due to its durability.
The pieces on show in Aspen, which are part of a new direction his art has taken in the past four years, are a departure from his earlier work. In 2013, Katz had a solo show in Tel Aviv. Most of the pieces he showed—a real-size life preserver made out of concrete and rebar; a chain of wooden rafts loaded with packing crates; a photo-realistic cantaloupe with slices cut out that don’t quite fit back in, which Katz says represents an immigrant’s sense of incompleteness—explored themes of otherness, confusion and alienation.
After the 2013 show, Katz felt he had closed a circle and done as much conceptual work as he wanted to. His new work focuses on form, line and color. And wit: “Arnold” portrays a fleshed-out stick-figure bodybuilder with both arms raised in a flex, while “Atlas” takes the burden of the globe off the mythical figure’s back and halves it. Others are more purely abstract. In a few sculptural strokes, “Performance” (which was snatched up two weeks after being uncrated at Forre Fine Arts) perfectly conveys a lone performer on stage.
For now, Katz is pleased to have his work in the spotlight while he keeps busy in the studio.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.