"Fauna & Flora" | Ktzia Alon (2012)

"With a steady hand Ronit Shalem creates works portraying a world filled with wild animals. Shalem builds her entire “Fauna and Flora” world out of formal and colorful surfaces made of vibrant and diverse geometrical ornamental patterns of dense horizontal and vertical lines, sloping lines, dots and leaves. The combination of these elements creates a backdrop for the central compositional subject – a figurative animal drawn in the same style. The composition is created from multiple small elements, each tended to with immaculate care. The tension between the numerous lines and the subjects adheres the form and the content of the works together.


The repetitive stylized elements sharply contrast with the vitality of the animal subjects of Shalem’s works. The strict execution produces an illusion of texture without actually branching out into the world of three dimensional drawings, and a jittering sensation of motion born not from an attempt to mimic reality but from the fracturing of a surface. The bursting vibrant colors of these textures are supplemented by monochromatic dark outlines, simultaneously evoking feelings of both warmth and remoteness, creating scenes that seem to have been frozen in time.


Shalem’s imagery draws on several cultural realms. The works inkling of ancient mythology (she-wolf with infants, a reminder of the story of Romulus and Remus) and echoes with primordial themes, reminiscent of Aboriginal drawings and shaman costumes. Shalem boldly weaves together motifs from classic Middle Eastern Arabesque patterns, Egyptian hieroglyphs, South American drawings, diagrams of Persian rugs and Indian sculptures.


Shalem entwines contemporary and classic forms in order to create tension in her works. She does not replicate her subjects, but rather creates a post-modern interpretation emphasizing the inherent flatness of the panels of wood, canvas, and paper she paints on.  From afar, the works resemble pixilated computer images or industrial textile prints. Only closer inspection reveals them as meticulous and arduous stroke work.


Sigmund Freud, in his 1913 book “Totem and Taboo”, viewed totems as the fulcrum of Animistic religions, marking the dawn of human civilization. The totemic elements in Shalem’s works refer to contemporary, ecological, reflexive totems. Her drawings are neither naive nor primitive nor of a romanticizing nature. Instead, they are sober reflections from an objective viewpoint. And yet, they allude at the yearning to be part of the natural world – as hinted in the painting entitled “Self Portrait”.  Shalem does not hesitate to explore highly emotional topics: the fallen stag lying on the ground, a dark shadow crossing its visage hinting of its imminent death; a snake ready to strike at an unsuspecting bird; and a vast bird of prey swooping at its target.  Alongside these, there are fictional animals that connote to the realm of possibilities between the reflective reality and imagination.


Shalem is influenced by artists such as the American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, the Austrian Friedensreich Hundertwasser, and the 19th century painter Henri Rousseau. She assimilated their affinity to nature, the use of colorful surfaces contrasted by highly stylized lines. Above all, her work shows that she mastered the art of depicting a dense fabric of teeming darkness camouflaged under a colorful and vivacious veneer". 


Written by: Ktzia Alon