The Donkey The Material, And The Spirit
“ Ibn Gvirol wrote: “You are one... and all is but one secret... “,
how mysterious is the secret
that defines the barriers of the tongue?...
surely the quality of God and understanding of the poem
will forever demand my total devotion, [...]”1
Text by: Ora Kraus, Curator
Sky, water, light and sand - these are just the visible components of Shimon Pinto’s paintings. Using pastel colors he paints vast
spaces which emphasize the infinite beauty of creation and into which he inserts his own internal world, experimenting with
childhood memories spiced with color. Images unite with thelandscapes of his childhood in Arad and correspond with the
Israeli experience as it appears in his contemporary consciousness. Pinto deals with the dynamics of time and draws a line connecting the past and the present by showing his subject with subtle humor.
The eye, passing over Pinto’s minimalistic paintings, meets silent, light saturated icons. Collected together the works
create a “nuclear melting pot”, charge the space and sketches an autonomous, rational environment in which the viewer is able
to separate the material and spiritual relationships found in the depths of the seemingly simple paintings. There is no specific
story or plot, no tales of suspense. The egalitarianism Pinto uses when dealing with the totality of components in his paintings is
evident. Ultimately, color is the dominant factor, the link which creates the work’s voice and generates their internal, scintillating
light. Pinto makes extensive use of the color white, which, in essence, consists of all colors combined. This is the source of his
richness. White symbolizes tranquility and silence and indicates the emptiness of the canvas. It merges with the basic colors red,
blue and yellow to create the pastel rainbow through which the artist creates his space. The hills, the yellow sands seamlessly
combine with the blue sky to form one, complete expanse.
The scenes are closely connected to the arid desert landscapes of Arad, part of Pinto’s childhood years, that he remembers as a
joyful and beautiful period to be looked back on with deep rooted longing. Often, we tend to refer to our childhood memories as
an open wound that is best forgotten. It is as if these memories are proof that childhood is the source of all our future neuroses.
Some say that the workings of a child’s brain are not sufficiently developed to enable them to understand childhood memories as
we remember them in our adult years. Others say that we create an invented meaning and significance to our past thereby forming
distorted childhood memories. We find no signs of such feelings in Pinto’s work. In fact, the opposite can be said to be true: his
positive portrayal of his past, accompanied with his huge smile and a radiant expression give us the feeling that the view before us
is the pure and undistorted truth. The soft, smooth and expansive yellow dunes appearing in his work give us a perception of a
radiant and all-encompassing memory. The dominant desert landscape theme found in so many of Pinto’s paintings reminds
us of a biblical desert, the place where God revealed Himself to Moses and where the 10 Commandments were handed down
to mankind. Throughout history, the desert has been the place to seek existential answers and the secrets of life, a place for
contemplation and reflection, a place chosen by monks and hermits to escape from surrounding society and evil. Over the
centuries, the vast, open expanses of the desert have served as a refuge for many. We can assume that they heard not only the voice of God but also the internal voice that exists in each of us, should we choose to listen to it.
The donkey, which was an integral part of Pinto’s Arad childhoodand which features in many of his works, relates in a perfectly
natural way to his desert scenes. One of the works shown in the present exhibition shows the profile of a donkey in a sandy
wilderness. Opposite the donkey’s profile we see a reddish box, the contents of which are unknown. It could hold a great secret or a
concealed event that only the donkey is aware of. The viewer has no way of knowing and must make his own judgment.
In another work, the donkey and his shadow appear in the same landscape. The creature holds a paint brush between his teeth, and it is as if he is painting a ship’s sail against the backdrop of a blue sea. Over the years, much has been said of the donkey, used by man as his helper in his daily work: the donkey’s name in Hebrew (Hamor) is reminiscent of the Hebrew word for material (Homer) and is a symbol of materialism and worldliness. The donkey is considered to be a beast with no intelligence but there are those who defend him and claim that he is cleverer than the horse. On his insight as opposed to that of the People of Israel who refuse to see their God biblical prophesies have said that: “The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master’s crib& “ (Isaiah Chapter 1, Verse 3). which include surprising and irrational elements. His works create a continuous dialogue between the material dimension and the boundaries of a dream world and strive to achieve harmonybetween conflicting worlds through the use of subtle humor. The exhibition gradually reveals the spirituality experienced by Pinto in his relationship to the deserts rhythm and open spaces.The blue skies, spread over the entire landscape, symbolize grace and love and, through the painting, are inexorably linked to the golden dunes. If we didn’t know that this is a desert landscape such as those around his childhood home in Arad, then we could imagine the skies to be the sea, the source of life and purity. The exhibition includes paintings and images taken from the Mikva, the Jewish ritual purification pool. This too is a dominant motive in Pinto’s work. According to Pinto, art can be compared to
religion as it enables us to experience the process of cleansing and purification. In his use of the Mikva’s image, Pinto creates a
viable connection between art and faith, a further step towards his choice to live his life according to tradition and to discover and
connect to his roots a process of refection and rebirth that began during a period of prosperity in his life. There is also the belief that the donkey will, in the future, carry the Messiah on his back. In both cases, these seems to be pointing to the donkeys’ significance rather than insignificance. In Pinto’s paintings, the donkey is depicted with positive connotations: it is described in terms of an artist of pure white and reminds us of a noble horse that is loved by all. As for the shadow which appears in the second painting, this is another important component in Pinto’s creations. Often the shadow is shown in a conspicuous manner, emphasizing its being a projection of the object, and enhancing the light by way of contrast.
Another characteristic of this work and many others is its impish humor: the donkey paints sail boats or a game of chess, a ritual
pool whose walls are painted a sweet pink, a bath incongruously placed in the middle of a desert landscape, a hand drawing on the
seat of a pink chair and many other examples. All can be seen as exaggerated components, a revelation which takes the object
from its usual and accepted context. The humor in Pinto’s work is not blunt but rather invites a smile. He seems to define himself
as an artist with a reserved sense of humor. We can also see the relationship between his work and typical surrealistic works which include surprising and irrational elements. His work create a continuous dialogue between the material dimension and the boundaries of a dream world and strive to achieveharmony between conflicting worlds through use of subtle humor.
The exhibition gradually reveals the spirituality experienced by Pinto in his relationship to the deserts rhythm and open spaces. The blu skies,spread over the entire landscape, symbolize grace and love and, through the painting, are inexorably linked to the golden dunes. If we didn't know that this is a desert landscape such as those around his childhood home in Arad, then we could imagine the skies to be the sea, the source of life and purity. The exhibition includes paintings and images taken from the Mikva, the Jewish ritual purification pool. This too is a dominant motive in Pinto's work. According to Pinto, art can be compared to religion as it enables us to experience the process of cleansing and purification. In his use of the Mikva's image, Pinto creates a viable connection between art and faith, a further step towards his choice to live his life according to tradition and discover and connect to his roots a process of refection and rebirth that began during period of prosperity in his life.
In Jewish sources, the water motive is often used in connection with holiness and purity. At the very beginning of creation, God
is identified with water: “... And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). In yet another part of the Bible
reference is made to the purifying nature of water: “Nevertheless a fountain or pit, wherein there is plenty of water, shall be clean...“ (Leviticus 11:36). In the Kabbalah, the Mikva is seen as the “womb of the universe”, the source of all life whose water removes and cancels out all impurity, considered as the “whisper of death”.
Pinto’s pictorial methodology and its content remind us of the poetry of Itamar Yaoz- Keszt in his volume entitled “On Faith and Penance”. Through his poems he describes the great lightand the internal enlightenment that brought him to his religious beliefs. Some of the poems in his collection “The Book of White Light”, deal with enlightenment and its connection to the spiritual world. Yaoz- Keszt describes the long process of building the firm foundation of faith between the real, material world and the spiritual. He compares the work of God to the work of poetry and refers to his writing as a form of prayer in a similar fashion to Pinto who claims that his art is analogous to religion.
In conclusion, we can say that within Pinto’s work we can find many spiritual implications with multilayered significance.
His works, as shown in this exhibition, can be described metaphorically as that large red box described earlier a box, lain
in all its glory in the open countryside, between golden dunes, water and the sky and which conceals a secret within.
“Nature, its manifestations and expressions is the revelation of God. Art is the revelation of man. The artist is the thread that
joins them together, that essential link in the chain, the one who stands between the divine around us and the humanity
of our lives [...] Art which is constantly creating new from the old and the existing, is always at the side of God as his long and
always active arm [...] This is a constant process of creation for which the artist is essential, as without him as executor, the
partnership between the divine creator and the human creator would not be possible or realized.” 2
1 Itamar Yaoz- Keszt, “The Divine Way, The Poetic Way”, The Book of White Light, Aked, Tel Aviv, 2009, P. 22.
2 A discussion between Adi Vaor and Abraham Borg. From: Emil Bilski, Amiti Mendellson, Avigdor Sh’anan (Editors), Lights, Light in Literature, in Meditation and in Art, Am Oved, Tel Aviv, 2005, P.22.