Ruth Kestenbaum Ben-Dov

Paintings and Words

The Last/First Picture


The Last/First Picture, 1990, oil on canvas, 102 X 132 cm

June 18, 2014

My first post, in which I tell about a pivotal painting which helped me decide to become a painter (in the meantime).

I choose to begin writing here with this painting from 1990 because it also represents a beginning of sorts for me. I graduated from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in 1986, and the following years were a time of questioning about my life path, as they must have been for many of my fellow art school graduates. How do I continue painting seriously? How will I make a living while painting, or perhaps from painting? It takes no small measure of persistence, even obstinance, to find the time and space for painting in these early years, to make the commitment to create art even when nobody else is interested (which is true in a way until today).

Untitled, 1990, oil on canvas, 71 X 89 cm

Untitled, 1990, oil on canvas, 71 X 89 cm

I was working on a series portraying landscapes/cityscapes from a car window, where the view of the road ahead meets the view seen from behind in both rear and side-view mirrors. At certain times of day the light and color of each of these views are completely different. Looking back at these paintings I recognize my attraction to working from observation, together with my search for a complex, multi-aspect image. The nature of the subject led me to work on it indirectly, from memory and sketches (the front-seat car easel had yet to be invented).

Untitled, 1990, oil on canvas, 51 X 75 cm

Untitled, 1990, oil on canvas, 51 X 75 cm


One day in the studio, as far as I can remember without planning or thinking ahead, instead of the view from behind I found myself painting a copy of a family photo inside the frame of the rear-view mirror in the painting. It looks like a picture of a Scan0022close and happy family. I knew that this was the last photograph of us together before my mother, Sara Kestenbaum, died. I remembered that the day the photo was taken, the eve of Yom Kippur 1987, she was already very very ill. (The self-portrait in the lower right corner was added later on.) While working that day I had a feeling of discovery, even revelation: I can continue pursuing my interest in perceptual painting and exploring changing light effects, while also delving deeply in other places, deep and sometimes painful ones. And I can tell a story.

When I look at our last family photo, I add: things are not always what they seem. Moving my gaze back to The Last/First Picture (which was untitled until now) from a distance of over fourteen years, yet another thought arises, that an experience or feeling of loss lies (among other things, I quickly add) at the root of the act of painting. Yet in the same breath I remember the pure joy that I felt while working on it. I recall the transformation that the painting underwent as a defining moment in which I realized that I am a painter. With that in mind, though it refers to the last picture, it is also the first one.

Do you have a work that constitutes a personal turning point in your lives as artists?

I invite you to share it (through the comment form below), with a link to the image.


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