“Noe Valley, 2015” by Shalom Flash — painting of a row of colorful SF houses under a clear sky
“Noe Valley, 2015” by Shalom Flash

From Israel to S.F., a palette of vistas by ‘accidental’ painter

When you ask Shalom Flash about his paintings, he laughs slightly and then corrects you. He isn’t painting; he’s color-reading.

“It’s all just spots of color,” Flash says about his prolific body of work, a portion of which is currently hanging at the Jewish Community Library in San Francisco. “I work outside. I look intensely. Then I mix colors on my palette, and I start putting spots of color on the canvas. Then I change it and I push it again. And again. And if the light changes, I stop and come back the next day.”

His newest body of work, “From Rehovot and San Francisco,” is currently on exhibit at the Jewish Community Library in San Francisco through April 23. An opening reception was held last week.

The paintings offer a sampling of realist landscapes, painted in the plein air style, in varying media and sizes. Blurring the line between “landscape” and “cityscape,” the small and unassuming paintings offer beautiful views of street corners, bushy vistas and rolling urban metropolises. San Francisco skies smear heavily over the slow curve of a road in Noe Valley, next to the gentle sunset of a Jaffa townscape.

“Shalom got in touch with us last year, while he was living in San Francisco with his daughter, and I was very struck by his work,” says Elayne Grossbard, the library’s guest curator for art exhibits. “The attention he pays to presence in his work is so specific and rare. And we loved that he was making paintings of our home here in San Francisco and his home in Israel.”

Though he calls Israel his home, Flash spends ample time in San Francisco — especially since his daughter, who lives here, recently had a child. When he visits the Bay Area, he spends his afternoons strolling different areas — such as Noe Valley or “the Dish” in Palo Alto — with his easel and paints, setting up when the light hits just right. Though he found the light to be similar to the Rehovot area, he was surprised by the Bay Area’s abundance of colorful houses.

“Noe Valley, 2016” by Shalom Flash — telephone poles, a partly cloudy sky, looking down on an SF neighborhood
“Noe Valley, 2016” by Shalom Flash

“I was joking with someone and said, ‘It looks like there is a law here that if you paint your house, you can’t have it be the same color as your neighbor,” Flash says. “I never saw anything like that.”

After visiting his Flash’s studio and doing some research, Grossbard decided to work with Flash to put a show together that featured landscapes from the two countries hanging side by side.

Canvases of all shapes and sizes adorn the walls of the library, each offering small moments of color, landscape and beauty.

Small paintings of Tirat Shalom (a neighborhood in the central Israeli city of Ness Ziona), Netzer Sereni (a kibbutz in central Israel) and Jaffa (in the southern part of Tel Aviv) hang in a row next to some urban street scenes of San Francisco. On the back wall hang two long panels depicting the cloudy skies of San Francisco as they sweep over the multi-colored houses, buildings and, in the distance, a long bridge.

Flash grew up in Israel, and says he started painting accidentally. His interest in art began only in his early 20s, during his post-army backpacking travels.

“One day [in London] my friend dropped me at the Tate gallery” he recalls. “I went in and was really shocked. It was my first time ever in an art museum, as far as I remember. There was a show there, ‘From Picasso to [Roy] Lichtenstein’ — and I didn’t know that name. I remember thinking it was a country,”

After that, he spent the rest of his travels going from museum to museum. Though he was on track to study physics and engineering in Tel Aviv, he decided instead, to move to London and study art. A few years later, he moved with his wife to Boston and completed his master degree at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, where he was exposed to American philosophies of painting and sculpture — and ultimately developed his unique approach to painting, which he calls “perceptual realism.”

His art practice has remained consistent since graduating in 1984. He drives around, trunk full of of oils and turpentine, looking for the right light, the right framing. When he finds it, he sets up his easel, unpacks his palette, spreads out his paints … and looks.

“I can work for months and months on some paintings. Others only take a few hours. It depends on how fast the light changes,” Flash says. “I call it color-reading. You look at the real world, you mix your palette, and then you put it on the canvas. The visual is a very strong power and through art, you can develop that power, your spirit, your ability to live.”

From Rehovot and San Francisco: Paintings by Shalom Flash,” on exhibit through April 23 at the Jewish Community Library, 1835 Ellis St., S.F.

Hannah Rubin

Hannah Rubin is a writer at J. She can be reached at hannah@jweekly.com.