Jonathan Gold ‘Grassroots’

Text by Tali Tamir

The painter Jonathan Gold considers himself to be a member of a professional guild of painters, whose members are his colleagues of all times and eras – from the painters of Ancient Egypt, through Renaissance and Baroque Old Masters, to the great masters of 19th century painting – Gustav Courbet, Eugène Delacroix, and Paul Cézanne. Among these, he also includes Yohanan Simon, Siegfried Shalom Sebba, and Aharon Giladi – the 20th century painters of the kibbutz movement. If they all happen to meet in one of their ateliers, in their paint-stained overalls, a paint brush or a palette in hand, he would have taken the opportunity to exchange trade secrets: How do you mix cold wax with dry pigment, what is the right way to prime a canvas, how to properly stretch the canvas on its wood frame, and how to tackle a group composition of multiple figures? Fascinated with the work and preparation process that precede the actual painting just as much as he is with the painted images, Gold understands painting as a spatial action – simultaneously physical and spiritual – that demands training and practice, movement and exertion.

Born in the northern Kibbutz Afek of the Kibbutz Meuhad movement, Gold was raised on the value of daily labor: working in the fields and orchards, washing the floors and cleaning the children’s home, learning early adolescence self-sufficiency, doing repairs and maintenance work in the living spaces and so on. He is very familiar with work tools and the idea of physical labor is ingrained in the collective worldview that was instilled in him from a young age. The work, we should mention, is never done in isolation, but aways alongside other members of the group: every move, action, or deed must relate to the group, share the outcome with it, and take into account their possible emotional and practical impact on it. Expectedly, most of Gold’s paintings depict the actions of a group, group gatherings, or relationships within different groups. The individual’s intimacy with himself vanishes, engulfed by the group, and in its place emerge reciprocal relationships that habitually change directions and targets. Addressing the old guild of painters as another group of belonging, Gold also engages in historical dialogues with past painters, regardless of period, category, or national affiliation. The Cézannesque motif of “bathers”, a group of figures in the landscape, is associated with Simon’s “shower” painting, in which Gold casts contemporary figures, changing gender identity; Sebba’s bucket stands out as a singular attribute, a timeless signifier of labor and work, while Zaritsky’s abstract language serves as the backdrop and the arena in which it all unfolds.

The idea of labor is embodied in Gold’s painting not only in the physical momentum of his technique and the discipline of making his own paints, but also in the images themselves. Far from nostalgic “youth in the kibbutz” paintings in the style of Yohanan Simon, who portrayed orange pickers and hay gatherers, these are contemporary youths who represents odd jobs that support Capitalist everyday life; works that do not require special training and are devoid of class identity: a waiter serving Pasta Bolognese, a temporary house painter holding a bucket of paint, an odd job handyman sanding a shelf, or a girl in blue overalls working next to him. Too young to represent the traditional “working class”, they do not belong to a union that protects their rights, and do not wish to proclaim any particular world view. But they do reflect the current state of young people in today’s world and its economic instability, as parents struggle to provide financial support, young people take odd jobs to make a living. They are in a pre-class state, suspended in a global transient mode, without any ideology. Maybe tomorrow they will become high tech employees – but right now, they are holding a bucket and painting the wall of their rented home. Their power is in their sensual physicality, which replaces clothes with nudity with effortless ease, and with direct, exuberant, sexy vitality. Their ragged work clothes only add to their nonchalant attractiveness. Similarly, Gold, a 50-year-old boy, navigates skilled and poignant figurative painting and virtuous brushwork that creates expanses of luminous dynamic painting. He castigates the group that dictated his life, abuses its committees and the privileges it took on, while also celebrating its accumulative energy and the bursting beauty of youth.