Ronit Levin Delgado is an artist from Tel Aviv, Israel, with international influences. Delgado’s award of a Fulbright scholarship led her to New York City and Delgado earned her MFA from the Montclair Art Institute.
A strange coincidence happened on December 20th, 2017. On December 15th, Delgado held an exhibition of her new paintings of flames and fire at the Hadas Gallery in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, near the Pratt Art School Campus. On the 20th, in a freak accident, another tenant in Delgado’s home apartment burned their building down. This is a strange incidence of life imitating art, and not the other way around.
Delgado’s “smoking hot” series of flame paintings have particular significance in Judaism and religion. In the case of the Sabbath, Jews light candles for dinner every Friday night, and of course Hannukah is “the festival of lights”. Flame is a complex symbol because of its destructive aspect – is combustion is what makes it useful. This fundamental change is why Pre-Socratic philosophers, the Eleusians, were basically obsessed with bread and wine; the idea is change in objects also change the perspective of the person considering those objects. (Hopefully not too literally, as in the case of Delgado’s apartment!) Wine, which makes a person drunk, changes a person’s perspective in that way, and bread starts as wheat and is ground and baked until it’s food. In this way these three symbols also represent civilization, because they take time and cultivation in order to create them and use them effectively. Christianity didn’t get rid of these symbols of wine, bread, and fire, but made them more specifically objects of a specific faith, that is through Jesus Christ (that is, in Christianity one is urged to form her own perspectives). About these paintings, Delgado said, “The lights in the painting created with the act of praying and kissing, thanking and wishing. Light to be enlightened, and which are forever lit in the paintings, creating fire, represent the burning passion and flames which are both necessary to and associate with resistance, as well as the love, dedication and enlightenment that is expressed by the act of kissing.”
Themes of repetition, impressionism, and the self are present in Delgado’s “Moi and I” which is a painting painted with kisses in the form of a self-portrait of an artist doing a kiss. Thus the painting’s title is also a pun on the onomatopoeia, that when people kiss they sometimes say, “Muah!” In Western art, the two most significant paintings dealing with fleeting passion appear in Francisco Hayez’s “The Kiss” (1859) and later Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss (The Lovers)” (1908). Delgado here has subtle references to Jewish philosophy, and if not explicitly, she has kindred spirits with the existentialist philosopher and theologian Martin Buber. He wrote, contrary to other existentialists, the conversations and discussions of people create a more true, more real reality, that after the I and the Thou there is a third entity, called the I-Thou. Whereas certain artists might be caught, trapped in solipsism or lonely individuality – in the Hayez-Klimt work the viewer herself is the objectively trapped person outside of the passionate embrace, here Delgado doesn’t have any question of whether her lover exists, or if she loves him (or her). He does, she does, they do.
This painting also tests the boundaries of painting by making the painting more craft-like. Art critics Michael Fried and Clement Greenberg were interested in pushing the boundaries of paintings-as-paintings (in philosophy: paintings qua paintings). So artists who embraced formalism or post-structuralism were lauded as exemplary of painting and art more generally. Jackson Pollack was considered to be in this category. By using kisses, instead of brushstrokes, Delgado turns the act of painting into a physical testimony to her lover. Painting is a craft like glassblowing and basket weaving, with important differences between the two. Here Delgado willfully bridges that lacuna and while I don’t think this painting is aesthetically her best, I do think this intelligent conceptualism is as good as the greatest painting.
This bridge between painting and craft, and action and image, is part of the reason why Delgado’s performance art is so excellent. Delgado shows the whole story of her art, which may or may not turn out beautiful. In one piece, Delgado goes to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and in a longer documentary, “Project Forgiveness” the artist meets her long lost family in Paraguay. One of my favorite subjects in art is when an artist stops arguing and posturing and makes a work of art, regardless of criticisms, and regardless of whether it persuades the viewer or not. This action makes tearing down or putting up pretenses a completely different game all together. Such actions are especially poignant in Delgado’s 2012 short film, “Holocaust Memorial Day,” where the artist contrasts the solemnity of the Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel versus the absence thereof in the United States. In this film the artist turns off happy-go-lucky American pop music to answer the phone and listen to emergency sirens of the memorial in Israel over the phone. The United States has keen and I think appropriate amounts of grief – the Holocaust museums in New York City and Washington, DC that I’ve been to look the same as Yad Vashem in Israel – but we don’t have emergency sirens. This discrepancy between the willful ignorance and violent painful remembrance makes this piece of art harrowing.
Delgado at a very young age has accomplished a great deal: having earned an MFA, a Fulbright Scholarship, and an apprenticeship with famous Israeli artist Nir Hod. Delgado has led a big life and shows the rewards of daring to think big. Delgado’s works were part of the Hadas Gallery’s winter exhibition and this March 2018 Delgado will be featured at the SPIRIT Art Festival, which is one of the art shows near and around the famous Armory Show, along with the New American Art Dealers (NADA), PAPER Festival, openings in the Chelsea Galleries, among others, which is the most exciting week for arts culture in New York City and quite possibly the entire world.