Israeli artist creates delicate portraits for first Bay Area show

Israeli artist Gabriel Klasmer has exhibited his work all over the world, from Brussels to Brazil.

He is an accomplished artist who has created large sculptures, detailed drawings and thick-stroked monochrome paintings for a bevy of solo and group exhibits, and has worked as a lecturer at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and a tutor at London’s Royal College of Art.

Aklasmer, gabriel

Gabriel Klasmer

But he’s never shown his art in the Bay Area. Until now.

The 59-year-old Klasmer’s first-ever local show, “Parzoufot,” is on display through May 30, at the Stephen Wirtz Gallery, 49 Geary St., San Francisco.

The exhibit came to San Francisco largely due to the efforts of Israeli curator Marie Shek. Shek — the wife of Danny Shek, the former consul general of the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco — is a friend of Klasmer’s and an avid art enthusiast.

While her husband was consul general, from 1997 to 2000, Marie Shek was appointed San Francisco’s cultural attaché for Israel and worked with a number of galleries in the Bay Area to include Israeli art. Back in Israel, she’s worked as a guide in the Israel Museum’s youth wing, an art historian and a curator of more than 15 exhibits in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

It was Shek who first hooked up the Stephen Wirtz Gallery with Klasmer’s work.

Aklasmer

Israeli painter Gabriel Klasmer’s series of paintings will be at the Stephen Wirtz Gallery through May.

Currently shuttling her life between Tel Aviv and Paris, Shek says she decided to return briefly to San Francisco for this exhibit because of her love for the city, the gallery and the artist.

“I believe very much in [Klasmer’s] talent,” Shek says. “[He] has a magical, almost spiritual touch.”

Klasmer’s San Francisco show is a long time in the making.

When his parents immigrated to pre-state Israel from Germany in 1933, they brought with them everything they could, including a vast appreciation for the arts.

This appreciation was bestowed upon young Gabriel as he grew up in 1950s Jerusalem. His family often took in local museums, concerts and galleries — and the shelves were lined with books.

In his 20s, the artist boomeranged back and forth between the U.K. and Israel, attending art school in Europe, then returning to his home country to work as an art lecturer. Eventually he settled into life in London with his wife and three children, one of whom is now a professional photographer.

Holed up in his London studio this past year, Klasmer began working on what would eventually become “Parzoufot” (Hebrew slang for mocking someone with a silly face). He created a series of 16 paintings of varied sizes featuring slightly distorted female faces.

Klasmer dubbed his exhibit “Parzoufot” because of the paintings’ effect on him. While working, he would often stare into the faces in his paintings so intensely that they would almost appear to be laughing at him, he says with a chuckle.

“I just keep staring at the faces I paint,” he explains. “It is very difficult for me to achieve a painting I really like, so it slowly drives me nuts. Damn these faces!”

The monochrome faces Klasmer creates are figments of his imagination — never a particular woman, but often a conglomeration of women he’s seen.

Using an oversized brush, Klasmer paints with sweeping vertical and horizontal strokes to create the slightly fuzzy effect of the image. He uses silver aluminum paint so the faces reflect light and have a sense of depth. The end result is an image that looks different depending on where the light hits it and where the viewer stands.

Shek likens the female faces in Klasmer’s paintings to “sand in the wind” because of their delicate nature and the perception of movement.

“The faces almost seem to change,” she says. “It feels like a real, tactile image, but one that can also subtly fade into a memory.”

Gabriel Klasmer’s “Parzoufot” is on display through May 30 at the Stephen Wirtz Gallery, 49 Geary St., S.F. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. For more information, call (415) 433-6879.