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April 15, 2022

Acquisition: Orit Hofshi

Orit Hofshi, 'Time...thou ceaseless lackey to eternity'

Orit Hofshi    
Time...thou ceaseless lackey to eternity, 2017
woodcut and rubbing with colored pencil and grease pencil additions on four sheets of handmade Kozo and Abaca paper
image and sheet (each approx.): 201.8 x 102.8 cm (79 7/16 x 40 1/2 in.)
overall (approx.): 203.2 x 421.64 cm (80 x 166 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund

The daughter of Jewish refugees from Czechoslovakia, Israeli artist Orit Hofshi (b. 1959) has gained increasing attention in recent years for her compelling, monumental works combining woodcut printing, drawing, and at times incorporating the carved woodblocks themselves. The history and founding of Israel and its ongoing conflicts with Palestine have informed her evocative, often desolate landscapes that explore universal themes of migration, displacement, and the toll that human "civilization" has taken on the land. The National Gallery has acquired Time… thou ceaseless lackey to eternity (2018), one of her largest polyptychs. Considered by the artist to be one of her masterworks, this is the first work by Hofshi to enter the National Gallery's collection.

Comprised of four panels, this landscape setting is littered with structural remains and rocky outcroppings, navigated by near life-size figures. Implied forces of human and natural destruction as well as evolutionary changes over time coexist in this haunting vista that alludes to the romantic sublime, underscored by disquiet in the lack of specificity of location and timeframe. The figures appear as wanderers or vagabonds, relatively calm, even stoic, and somewhat detached from their surroundings, as if taking stock of circumstances along a journey or in the aftermath of a catastrophic event. There is also an autobiographical element to this work: the synagogue in the far-left panel represents a temple that was destroyed in the anti-Semitic rioting in Czechoslovakia where her parents once lived. The self-portrait figure in the foreground confronts the viewer with Hofshi's forceful gaze, compelling us to share in her role as witness to the consequences when we lose sight of our shared humanity and respect for the natural world that sustains us.

The emotional tensions between figures and setting—aimlessness, resignation, resilience, introspection, and expectation—are heightened by Hofshi’s technique that can be described as expressionist, tempered by realist elements. Her vigorously gouged woodcut line lends an urgency to her forms. Her varied approach to transferring ink from the woodblock by printing, rubbing, and offsetting, adding drawn elements, combining, and reusing woodblocks, and delineating interlocking forms by color all play into the sense of alienation and displacement and complex relationships within and between humankind and the natural world. Hofshi writes: "The landscapes are typically proposed as places, occupied and unoccupied, touched, and untouched, rarely fully committed in a specific context. In such dramatic natural contexts, I find an emphasized sense of evolution, time, and struggles, not only as records of natural phenomenon, but also as reflections of human history."

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