Prof. Nurit Govrin

Jacob Porat’s Kafka * 

The paintings of Jacob Porat converse with Kafka on the backdrop of Kafka’shome city – Prague - in a multi-layer “correspondence”. One layer is Porat’s paintings. The second consists of photographed sites in Prague. The third includes pen drawings made by Kafka, and the fourth depicts Kafkaesque situations taken from Kafka’s works. And the fifth layer is that of the viewer, who draws near the paintings to look and reveal the worlds hidden inside, one on top of the other, one coming out of the other. The longer one looks at the paintings, the more details are discovered and layers excavated, the complexity of the worlds depicted proliferates and deepens. The viewers bring themselves to the paintings. However, the more versed they are in Porat’s artistic world, the more real their familiarity with Prague, and the more they feel at home in Kafka’s works, the more responsive they become to the paintings. They can then interpret them by peeling off layer after layer of the open meaning, of a symbol never fully construed.
Jacob Porat is distinguished by his search for different, various forms of expression. The exhibitions he has held throughout the years expose the constant and changing elements of his works in all possible aspects: techniques, compositions, and themes. Although evident in his work, his literary education does not make his paintings an illustration of literary writings. Rather, it serves as the driving force of the painting, an enabler of deeper expression and intricacy of the visual statement. Porat’s paintings have a life of their own, and these lives have been an integral part of his works since he has begun painting to date. His works in general, and “Conversations with Kafka” in particular, strike a correct balance between the “painting instinct”, which is based on intuition and talent and the intellect that is aware of itself and of the literary interpretation of themes. 

Porat’s continuous pursuit is associated with his unsteady, difficult and diverse childhood, his search for Jewish and Israeli identity, his assimilation of past events and family history, as well as of Israeli present and society and his place in them. His standing within several artistic branches – painting, literature, music, and photography – allows him to assemble the special of each, creating a unity of contradictions.

The Kafkaesque figure in Jacob Porat’s series of Kafka paintings stands opposite the closed gate, waiting for it to open. Made of ornate iron or arched stone at the entry to a house or wall, the gate is concrete, realistic, and traceable to specific buildings in Prague. The Kafkaesque figure is part of the gate, swallowed into it, protruding from it or entangled in its twists. However, it is also the metaphorical gate found inside any person as well as in one’s relations with other people and the world. This is a gate, which at the same time blocks the road and a personal gate designated only for the person standing opposite it.

The tall and thin Kafkaesque figure is placed in a huge church space, hovering against colorful vitrage, always conflicting with authority: the Father-God. Yet another extension of the figure is positioned in the space inside a fence-cage, like a culprit in court. This is a conflict between Judaism and Christianity, between man and superior forces that turn a deaf ear, between man and the law enforcing authorities. This conflict is open to additional conflicts and interpretations, which the paintings offer their viewers.

The paintings are a splendid aesthetic expression of a world of nightmares, of frightful dreams becoming concrete, of the encounter between madness and nightmare and the logical, sane, and clear. They manifest art’s exclusive ability to unify conflicts and contradictions, to express lunacy by aesthetic means, and to concurrently depict contradictory situations: terror and beauty, colorful loneliness, styled nightmare, terrestrial hovering, and life growing out of death.

This exhibition is yet another brick in the glorious buildings of paintings inspired by literature and juxtaposing these two realms of art. It is an interpretive, principle confrontation between the worlds of literature and painting, and between the worlds of Kafka and Jacob Porat. However, more than anything else, it is a confrontation with the world of the readers-viewers – their way of deciphering Kafka's works on the background of Prague and their comprehension of Kafka paintings by Jacob Porat.


* From Prof. Nurit Govrin’s address at the opening of “Conversations with Kafka” painting exhibition, Nora Gallery, Jerusalem, 12.5.2001.