Project 89
                                                             Daphne Leighton
                                          Unknown familiar land


In her first solo exhibition, Daphne Leighton is showing two series of paintings: the first, earlier series is of cars and parking lots; the second of figures. The two series are very different yet have much in common.
The perspective in the car paintings is that of a spectator looking down at a distant, uninhabited spaceu. Even if people do appear they are impersonal, remote, at a random moment by a garage or on their way to their cars from the supermarketv. The paintings resemble an arena where cars play games or perform a static dance. Thus cars - whose essence is movement - appear as stationary objects without drivers in a moment before or after. The relationships between the cars themselves and with the surrounding space are what create the alienated, urban drama. The cars become like actors, metonymies for people. Some of the paintings in this series depict the marks that the cars have left behind them: where they had stood, the asphalt is dry while around we can see signs of rainw. The empty, silent cars and the traces of their absence give the feeling of a distant point of view – a memory, perhaps, of loneliness and alienation.
The style of these paintings is like a restrained expressionism. The paint is sometimes applied with free brushstrokes and is sometimes flat. Photographs have clearly been used as source material; this is particularly apparent in the cut off compositions. The Talpiot industrial zone is recognisable in the paintings but also becomes an anonymous “anywhere.”
While the first series works on feelings of distance and uninvolvement, the second series draws us closer to the drama itself and to the figure and its world – to men and women. A nude woman stands in a cold, alienated scene of metal pipes and corrugated iron in one paintingx; in another a portrait of a woman is blurred and stainedy while male figures look like soldiers with guns in transitory surroundingsz. These figures indicate the scene of the struggle and suggest a sense of terror, fear and estrangement. A naked figure in a neglected, threatening urban environment brings to mind Pamela Levy’s paintings of the Intifada, though there the figures are children rather than women. In both the paintings of male figures, we see them from behind{; this only intensifies the sense of threat and uncertainty. The women, by contrast, face us - exposed and vulnerable.
The sites of these events which remain mute and silenced in the first series, become a dramatic outcry in the second. Here the setting does not create a sense of space but serves as an atmospheric frame for the figures that occupy a large part of the painting. But this frame, like the spaces in the first series, also bespeaks godforsakenness: the backwaters of the city. The style of the paintings in this series is explosive, blatant and expressive. The brushstrokes are freer than in the car paintings.
The painting which links the two series is one which depicts a gaping hole in a wall leading to an unidentified, dark space in a forsaken area|. Here the drama is restrained and created by figures of children painted as graffiti on the wall. Next to the gaping hole we can see a stain suggesting the shadow of a man. One of the graffiti figures recalls the English children’s game ‘hangman’. None of the figures is whole. On the other side of the wall is a child’s drawing of a house with a path leading to the hole in the wall. The painting works on the contrast between the world of childhood reflected in children’s drawings, and the threatening, harsh space depicted and is suggestive of violence against children.
One atypical painting in the exhibition is “figure in the wind”}- a man against a background of red corrugated iron. Here the male figure is not threatening: we have a frontal view of him and can see that his expression is open and smiling. The background suggests the gaping spaces of the previous paintings but as opposed to their open gaps, this surface is closed - perhaps symbolising reparation. Figure and background are bound together by swipes of paint which, while they invade the face, do not disturb its expression. A hint of possible solace?
Daphne Leighton succeeds in articulating threatening distance in a manner which is expressive but both sophisticated and subtle. The car paintings evoke in some way the distance and alienation in the paintings of Edward Hopper. In relation to the cars, it is also interesting to look at the work of Dirk Skreber, a German artist who paints toy-like cars from a bird’s-eye view. But what is special in Daphne Leighton’s paintings is the profound search for the human beyond the feelings of alienation and emptiness. This is what gives her paintings their warmth and their poetic qualities.
Orna Millo

Daphne Leighton was born in England in 1945 and has lived in Jerusalem for many years. She studied English Literature at the Hebrew University and taught for ten years in the English Department. Since 1999 she has been studying drawing and painting with Orna Millo and has furthered her studies of art in Italy and St Ives, England. In 2002 she took part in a group exhibition in the “Office in Tel Aviv gallery”.
* Numbers indicate painting in the catalogue.

I am looking down from the studio window at the parking lot and the garages opposite, at the way the different coloured cars define the space. I take my camera and wait till the scene seems ‚right’ and then, with the lens, define it further. Fix it. What makes it right and right for what? I take a canvas and in the course of the painting relationships are clarified. But why cars when I do not even drive? And why do people sometimes walk into the painting when I have sworn to avoid them? Does the space enclose them or do they compose the murky ground and the messy buildings?
I had been framing images of corrugated iron, peeling walls, dirty broken windows for some time before I ever touched paint eight years ago. And now, when I return to those photos, past and present coexist and change one another. The unpeopled photos demand human presence but fail to define who or why, so that I must hunt to find the image which looks right but only leaves me with further questions.
Despite many years of teaching English literature and writing poetry, I do not feel able to put into words the content of my paintings. In fact, what draws me to paint is its wordlessness: when I paint my mind is full of questions about colour, composition and brushstrokes. Perhaps it is this concentration on the materiality of painting which frees unnamed feelings and thoughts to find their place on the canvas.
Daphne Leighton

3 Shlomo Hamelech St. (backyard), Tel Aviv. Tel/fax: 03-5254191
Gallery hours: Tues. 11 a.m.-1 p.m., 5 p.m.-7 p.m.; Wed., Thurs. 5 p.m.-7 p.m.; Fri., Sat. 11 a.m.-1 p.m.