This Is His Tattoo


A concentrated dose of graffiti seen by Avner Sher, three years ago, on the walls of a public toilet completely revolutionized his concept of art.

Until then for many years his paintings had been composed of colorful compositions in the cubistic spirit. They were a natural tangent to his profession as an architect, planning large-scale, complex projects such as law-courts and shopping malls. It was precisely the walls of those public toilets, where people had left their wild ideas, jokes, obscenities, passionate declarations of love, drawings and protests, that caused Avner Sher to break free of his artistic conservativeness and reveal his dark, intense, subconscious side. The naked walls of the lavatories had absorbed all possible forms of outlet. Behind the locked door, people had allowed themselves to destroy and disfigure without reckoning. They wrote and scratched on the walls, broke off pieces of plaster. And Avner Sher was totally fascinated by the liberated form of expression, the aggression, the desire to destroy, by the emotional striptease. The lavatories seemed to him to be a confessional where the tormented inner soul could be bared. Thus came into being Avner Sher’s (age 51) graffiti, now being shown for the first time at the “Mabat Gallery” in Tel-Aviv. In place of the lavatory walls he uses cork panels glued on to wood. In the studio basement of his home in Caesarea, he departs on spiritual journeys in which he destroys, disfigures, erases – and then creates a new world. The cork panels are his punching bag. He digs into them with nails and screwdrivers, wounding them, then plastering them over, leaving them out in the rain and mud, dipping them onto the reddish earth of Caesarea – and mostly drawing on them with an electric pencil, every line a burn, a singeing into the cork. Like a tattoo.
Avner Sher has complex feelings with regard to tattoos. Behind his façade of successful architect he carries the painful, unresolved burden of the second generation of Holocaust survivors. His parents were refugees from the Dachau death camp and his mother died when he was a child. He grew up with the Holocaust, with people on whose arms the Nazis had tattooed numbers. It is the tattoo that accompanied his childhood and youth, and has become the key to understanding his work. From here too, emerged the style of painting that resembles children’s drawings. A closer look reminds one of ancient oriental art, of unmistakable architectural elements, and reveals evidence of the internet generation.

The most dominant of the paintings is a huge bodyless head, floating weightless in space. It is unclear whether it is the head of a child, of a figure from another planet. Whichever – it arouses no sympathy. It is sullen, angry, or perhaps worried. The eyes, far apart, are marked by dots, spirals or tiny circles. They glare at one with autistic stare. The nose is a long thread, split at the end. The mouth exposes rows of biting teeth.

The predatory head, the malevolent angel, floats over a geometrical stratum that creates an image of a regimented and orderly world. It is composed of a network of triangles and rows of circles and lines. Inside them Avner Sher has created a personal world of his own, inspired by “in the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth” that he quotes in one of his paintings. It is a world densely populated with a private world of dynamic, serial shapes and signs. Plants, animals, symbols and graphic musical notes. They have an innocence and sophistication and they can be classified into different groups: good and bad and the tension that exists between them.