Tirtzah Bassel

Artists are always bending the way that we see and interpret things by taking a simple object of our daily life and showing each of us the beauty that is behind it. For the artist, it is that connection with the subject and the material that creates a masterpiece that helps this vision come alive. Brooklyn based artist Tirtzah Bassel has been exploring drawing, painting and installations since her days back in school in Jerusalem and her journey to the United States in 2008. While working on her current installation, Tirtzah gave us the pleasure to talk about her journey and what it means to be an artist.

1) What or who inspired you to want to be an artist?
I remember my first experience with life drawing. It was the summer following my National Service, and my studies at Hebrew University still a couple months away, I decided to take a drawing class. The bulletin board at the Artist House in Jerusalem was covered with fliers for a range of art classes and one of them caught my eye. It had an image of an Old Master drawing and read ‘two instructors and a live model’. As I faced the model for the first time, struggling to control the unruly piece of charcoal, I felt an intense sensation of being fully alive. There was an immediacy and urgency to every mark, like the experience of seeing for the first time. I thought this is what I want to do.

2) What was your creative journey that has brought you to where you are in your career today?
Having grown up in an Orthodox family in Jerusalem, perhaps it is no surprise that in my initial training as an artist I gravitated towards the study of traditional techniques in art. However, I was curious to explore other approaches in my artistic practice. Following my studies I moved to Tel Aviv and became involved with the art scene there. My move to the United States in 2008 was marked by a desire to work in a multi cultural environment and to bring my painting into direct dialog with contemporary concerns. New York has been an incredible source of stimulation and inspiration with its endless stream of art and artists from all backgrounds and approaches. It is a place that continuously challenges me to question the way my art relates to the world, and to define the kind of dialog that I want to create with my work.

3) What do you need as an artist today?
Time and space to work, and an art community to grow with. By this I mean an ongoing connection to people who are invested in and tend to each other’s growth as artists and creative people. Creating and holding a space in which one feels listened to, challenged and supported in taking important risks in one’s work.

4) What creative project are you working on now?
I am working on an installation of paintings titled TSA Chapel that explores the airport as a contemporary symbol of transience and transition. Using the traditional structure of a chapel, each painting in the installation evokes a gesture or movement typically found in an airport: waiting travelers absorbed in their smartphones, a passenger struggling with an unruly piece of luggage, the physical intimacy of a security pat down. A couple of years ago I was randomly selected for what turned out to be a particularly invasive body search at the airport in Beijing. I was struck by the gap between the intimate nature of the physical touch, and it’s utter banality within that context. I also realized that this moment of contact contains within it an entire constellation of relationship to power and space. It induced a whole series of questions: Who occupies this space? How does one maneuver within it? When does a gesture become a provocation, an act of discrimination, a sign of communication, a form of resistance? These questions form the basis of this body of work. The project will be premiering at the LABA Festival this month and I am looking forward to seeing the full dialog take place between the paintings, space and people.

5) Where do you see yourself and your career in 10 years?
I see myself continuing to develop projects that explore the reciprocal relationship between paintings and the space that they inhabit. Whether they be large-scale installations in museums and galleries, or intimately scaled pieces in unconventional spaces, they will continue to grow from a sustained practice of looking and a sensual engagement with
their surroundings.

6) What does it mean to you to be an Israeli artist?
For me, being an Israeli artist means working with a strong sense of urgency in face of an uncertain future. And the chutzpa to go out and do and to believe that it will make a difference in the world.

7) What does it mean to you to have an organization like AICF available in the art world?
The AICF website offers visibility and communication between Israeli artists and the art community. Perhaps beyond creating a sense of support and community among Israeli artists, the challenge here is to build a platform that facilitates real dialog between Israeli artists and the art world at large. To create encounters that go beyond stereotype or the need to represent, by reaching for a more honest, complex and rich exchange.

Tirtzah Bassel