The Jewish Voice, Dec. 26, 1986

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Confronting Yoki Ben-Israel's 'Elements'

By Priscilla W. Siegel

     The chessboard is a metaphor for the world, with life in the universe dependent upon an intricate system of checks and balances. This is the most salient statement in Yoki Ben-Israel's ceramic on wood relief mural "Elements" recently presented by the artist to the University of Delaware.

     The mural, 7' x 9', has been an ongoing two-year project, designed and built in the Delaware artist's home basement studio. The size and weight of the mural necessitated its production in sections, so the artist, herself, was not really sure what the final effect of the composition would be. When the four sections were assembled and installed, Yoki was pleased and relieved.   "I was so happy because I was afraid that it might not come together the way I imagined." Installed in the Rodney Room of the   Perkins Student Center of the University of Delaware campus, the mural has a brilliant, magical quality which reflects, among her other interests, the artist's interest in the surreal.

     In planning her design for the mural, Yoki's objective was to create a work of art appropriate to the language of a University community. "Elements" refers, on one level, to the periodic table of chemical elements, the symbols of which are hand built, red glazed relief ceramic sculptures affixed to a chessboard of black, white, and gradations of gray ceramic tiles. Yellow and black clay chessboard with the chesspieces share the chemical symbols. The wood background painted in shades of blue ranging from almost pure white to deep marine blue reminds us of the universal elements of water, air and earth (fire is alluded to by the red chemical symbols). Languorously floating fish which merge with crumpled cloud reliefs surround the hard reality of the chessboard world. A pale blue-gray floating city interlocks with the chessboard, a device which functions as an intermediary between the heavenly and earthly realms. The hard-edged ceramic tile chessboard contrasts with, and balances the effect of the softly floating forms of fish and clouds. This play

between the realms of water/air and earth, between dream and reality gives the entire composition a surreal quality.

     This is a complex and subtle work of art lending itself to multi-levels of interpretation, and the artist's sensitivity to this aspect of her work is reflected in her own response to my question about a specific meaning to the mural. "I prefer," she said, "that each person read individual interpretations into it. That is what I enjoy." But she conceded that the statement which best fits the underlying philosophy of her composition is from Huxley's A Liberal Education, "The chess-board is the world, the pieces are the phenomena of the universe, the rules of the game are ... the laws of Nature ... "

     It is well worth a special trip to the University of Delaware campus to confront and contemplate Yoki Ben-Israel's "Elements." It is a visual joy and an intellectual challenge.