Seeing Negev Through Gilad Efrat's Dramatic Oil Paintings

Gilad Efrat has a tendency to become fixated on a subject matter, as evidenced by previous shows dominated by monkey portraits or paintings of European cities destroyed by bombings. In his third exhibition at Inman Gallery, the Tel Aviv artist returns to a subject matter he has visited several times previously in his work -- Negev.

In his earlier works, Efrat depicted the rocky Israeli desert through renderings of aerial views of archeological sites, as well as paintings of the Ansar detention camp located out in the desert, which is home to, as the artist describes it, "everything [the state] doesn't want near its more populous centers -- trash, prisons, military, and energy installations."

The reason for his fascination is deeply rooted -- it is his homeland. Efrat was born in Beersheba, the Negev's largest city. The desert, which covers more than half of Israel, also provides much painterly inspiration, from the Bedouin settlements to the vast, flat desert views to the tamarisk -- a bush tree that provides protection from the sun and wind. All are subject matter here in the Inman show.

Regardless of topic over the past two decades, Efrat's technique has remained the same. Working off of photographs, he paints oil on linen and then rubs away at the paint, a subtraction technique he's perfected that makes for thick, surprisingly dramatic works. The paintings of the tamarisk, for instance, are thick, wild, tangled messes with shocks of yellow lighting them up. His desert views are moody, contemplative pieces. You can feel the vastness of the inhospitable terrain.

There are three paintings in the show that are rendered in a similar fashion, but instead of the desert, they depict the surface of the moon. These feel as unfamiliar and bare as you'd expect the moon to be -- there are no tamarisk growing wild up here, but only dark shadows and frozen craters. Though for all its foreignness, this land, which is less inhabitable than the driest, rockiest of deserts, is still not unknowable. Efrat's paintings are proof of that.

"Gilad Efrat: Negev" at Inman Gallery, 3901 Main Street, runs now through January 5. For more information, call 713-526-7800 or visit www.inmangallery.com.

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