Bianca Eshel-Gershuni

1932Sofia, Bulgaria | 2020Ra’anana, Israel
Bianca Eshel-Gershuni — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Portrait of Bianca Eshel-Gershuni, 1980, Photo Anna Bak

Israeli sculpture, painter and jewellery designer.

Bianca Eshel-Gershuni’s highly diverse practice includes sculpture, painting, assemblages, miniature objects, ceramic works and jewellery, all bound together by a characteristic, rich aesthetic, combining high and low materials and verging on the realms of baroque, kitsch, and Camp. This style, alongside her biographical approach and a feminist perspective, was exceptional among the austere minimalist, conceptual and abstract Israeli art of the 1970 and 1980s.
After studying sculpture and painting at Avni Institute of Art and Design, Tel Aviv in the 1960s, and even though she had no official training in the field, B. Eshel-Gershuni took up jewellery design – an early sign of her rebellious and independent approach. Her eccentric jewellery, which she called “fetishes” or “impossible jewellery”, combine expensive materials such as gold, silver, pearls and jades with plaster, tar and mundane objects including plastic toys. Stemming from a sculptural approach and unorthodox in their aesthetic, size and structure, these jewellery pieces were nonetheless celebrated in the 1977 solo show Bianca Eshel-Gershuni: Jewellery (Israel Museum, Jerusalem), and won many prizes.

A later solo show, Bianka Eshel-Gershuni 1980-1985 (Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 1985) presented B. Eshel-Gershuni’s 1980s shift into sculpture and painting. Like her jewellery, these works include found materials such as fake flowers, synthetic furs and feathers, and often seem like the site of an explosive, dramatic or paganist event. Eastern Orthodox and Christian motifs, such as the cross, repeat in the works, signalling an interest in religious rituals of death and rebirth, alongside issues of gender, femininity, intimacy, fertility and motherhood, as seen in a 1980s series of paintings depicting crucified women.

Another motif B. Eshel-Gershuni repeated is the turtle, which was read as symbolizing a woman carrying the weight of her home on her shoulders, as well as a sign of personal introspection and seclusion. Indeed, B. Eshel-Gershuni’s work, which includes many self-portraits, is charged with autobiographical themes. Her art can be read as a personal mythology reflecting her intermingling of life and art: her second husband was acclaimed artist Moshe Gershuni (1936-2017), and her two sons, Aram (b. 1967) and Uri (b. 1970) Gershuni are also well-known artists. In this regard, two major life crises are often indicated as influential on the artist’s work – the loss of her first husband in a plane crash in 1956, during the Sinai War, and the later separation from her second husband following his coming out as a homosexual.

Towards the end of her life, and as a way of dealing with her deteriorating body, B. Eshel-Gershuni turned to computer painting, using the simple software to produce her extremely sensitive, colourful yet dark aesthetics. Even though B. Eshel-Gershuni held solo shows in major museums and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Israeli Ministry of Culture in 2009, most of her life she remained somewhat marginal; an “artist’s artist”. However, her influence on the local art scene is undeniable. Her unique feminine autobiographical approach, her lustful and unapologetic mixture of techniques, materials and colours, and her postmodernist crossing of disciplines were ahead of her time and are visible in the work of many artists.

Keren Goldberg

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