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Steffa Reis: Celebrating 70 Years of Creation

Steffa Reis in her studio Tel Aviv 2023

Even today, at the golden age of 92, you may find veteran Israeli artist Steffa Reis in her Tel-Aviv studio – painting, retouching, and reflecting, while listening to the sweeping sounds of classical music that are an important guiding dynamic in her work.

Throughout the extensive body of Steffa's work, the Israeli landscape in all its manifestations and varieties affords her a central source of inspiration, a point of departure, and a main subject she has processed in various styles.

She works in painting, drawing, and printing techniques, constantly moving between figuration and abstraction, the expressive and the lyrical, and between monochrome and enhanced coloration. Creating in oil, acrylic, pastels, watercolor, ink, and pencil, she often combines various approaches and techniques in one and the same work.

Born in Berlin in 1931, Steffa fled Nazi Germany as a young child together with her parents, and the family found a haven in England, where she completed her education. In 1957, following her marriage to a doctor, the young couple made aliyah and settled on Kibbutz Ein Harod in Jezreel Valley.

Years later, the Reis family moved to Safed, Upper Galilee, where Steffa established, in 1968, her own studio and gallery in the renowned Artists Colony. She became a member of the Painters and Sculptors Association of Israel and a central figure in the town's cultural scene. In 1980, Steffa opened a second studio in Tel Aviv. Throughout the years, she has held numerous exhibitions in Israel and abroad. Her works are part of public and private collections.

Between Figuration and Abstraction

Steffa dedicated a large group of realistic/schematic works to the various places in which she lived. She has depicted the historical sights of Safed, captured the urban coastal setting of Tel Aviv, and immortalized the lush greenery and wide lawns of Kibbutz Ein Harod and its environment in numerous paintings. 

Ha'emek Landscape 1985 acrylic on canvas 46x65 cm Private Collection

Concurrently, she created abstract landscapes that are rendered in vibrant and autonomous colors, including a group of significant large-scale paintings. Although the painterly syntax is abstract, Steffa's abstraction results from a sensory experience, from a reflexive observation of nature. One may sense, associate, imagine and even discern such elements as air, water, light, shadow, and seasons of the year. Three compositional concepts are clearly apparent in these works: the assembly of large color fields; the all-encompassing amalgam of small color patches; and the array of fragmented geometric forms that recall aerial views.

The "Towards the Horizon" series, which includes paintings and silkscreen prints, conveys a distinctive inclination towards reduction. It presents a development from descriptive works to those in which landscapes have been reduced to two large areas of intense color, almost devoid of visible brushwork, and divided by a thin strip of what may be perceived as structures. No illusion of space or perspective is created – these compositions are intended to be completely flat; although they are clearly drawn from reality, some of them verge on non-representational art.

The defining features of expressive abstract painting are well exemplified in Steffa's art: the creation of a pictorial space in which the painting components – color, line, form, paint, and gesture, their combination and interrelation, become the sole, or the main theme of the work. Tangled layers of lines and color patches, all interwoven with one another and rendered with energetic gestures are the characteristics of this style. These works combine both a spontaneous and a controlled work process and often blend elements of drawing and painting. This signature feature is especially striking in the works Steffa created in oil pastels, which she applied masterfully in a graphic and painterly way, contrasting lines, forms, and stains.

In the early 1990s, Steffa began to work on various sheets of paper she found by chance, among them large, outdated calendars. Their pages became both the physical support and the underlying imagery on which her own painting was superimposed. The page was covered with paint, but not completely – remnants of the formal elements that demarcate time, remained discernible, thus creating a counterpoint between the visible and the partly hidden.

From the outset of her career, Steffa has been acquainted with major art movements, such as French Art Informel, American Abstract Expressionism, and the Lyrical Abstraction of Israel's New Horizons group. Indeed, her motifs and styles sometimes echo those movements and their diverse offshoots; but in fact, she does not really associate herself with any school or trend, forging an individual mode of her own, constantly developing and enhancing its singularity.

Ruth Feldmann is Curator to Steffa Reis

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Abstract with Black 1982 mixed media on paper 70x70 cm Private Collection


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Thursday, 25 July 2024

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