Yehiam (Life on the Kibbutz) (1951) is part of Yosef Zaritsky’s “Yehiam” series (1949–51) that celebrates the agricultural utopia of the kibbutz, a communal movement that placed Zionist-Socialist, ideologies at its core. A large, light painting, the dense, overlapping brushstrokes of Yehiam (Life on the Kibbutz) draw the eye from its raw burlap edges to the center of the composition. Strokes of bright red, yellow, and green accent the composition’s predominant muted greens and earthy browns. Here, in dynamic gestures, Zaritsky presents impressions of a world of bucolic greenery, gentle movement, and harmonious bodies, both animal and human. Influenced by his sustained practice of painting in watercolors, Zaritsky’s oil painting applies a similarly free-form, painterly approach.
Based in Israel since 1923, when the territory was still Mandatory Palestine under British administration, Zaritsky became a leading figure in the Ofakim Hadashim (New Horizons) group. Established in 1942, the group evolved into a cohesive collective when the state of Israel was founded in 1948. The group’s stylistically diverse artists advocated modernist abstraction and the affirmative role of art in nation-building. Yehiam (Life on the Kibbutz), painted three years after the founding of Israel, ignores specific kibbutz ideologies of family, socialism, labor, Zionism, and religion. Instead, it opens an imaginative window onto the utopian atmosphere itself: both warm and cool, lively and dynamic, deeply connected to nature, inclusive and hopeful.
Yosef Zaritsky was intimately connected with the development of Israeli art. Zaritsky studied at the Akademiya khudozhestv (Academy of Art) in Kiev from 1910 to 1914. During World War I he was drafted into the Russian army, serving from 1915 to 1917. In 1923 he immigrated to Jerusalem, moving with his family to Tel Aviv in the mid-1920s. There he became actively involved in the city’s cultural life, painting the daily lives of the city’s inhabitants, primarily in watercolor. He went to Paris in 1927, where he was inspired by the modernist art he saw. With the New Horizons movement in 1948, Zaritsky and his fellow artists sought to promote progressive Zionist modernism. Beginning in the 1930s, Zaritsky painted hundreds of watercolors of Tel Aviv rooftops. The paintings became increasing abstract and this period proved a turning point for his practice. In 1948, he became the Chairman of the Association of Painters and Sculptors. He showed in the 1948 Venice Biennale. Zaritsky traveled to Europe in the mid-‘50s, where he mounted a solo show at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1955.