In July artist Felice Pazner Malkin died at 93 in relative anonymity. Many Israelis know her name because of her husband, Yaakov Malkin, a writer, educator and founder of Tel Aviv University's film and television department. The couple also had two well-known children: Irad Malkin, a history professor at TAU, and Rabbi Sivan Malkin Maas, an Israel Prize winner for history.
A perusal of Pazner Malkin’s works reveals that she was a marvelous painter; her portraits were full of color, expression, emotion and depth. But like many female painters her age, she isn't a part of the canon, doesn’t appear in important art books and isn't familiar to most curators.
Pazner Malkin was born in Philadelphia and immigrated to Israel in 1949. Her first studio was in Jerusalem, where she painted and illustrated books and posters. In 1950 she married Malkin, with whom she spent a year in Paris, where she studied at the Sorbonne. Later they moved to Washington and there too she painted. After the family’s return to Israel from the United States, they lived in Tel Aviv.
In 1953 she displayed her first solo exhibition at Mikra Studio on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv. She also took part in exhibitions at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and created Israel’s first illustrated theater posters for the Habima, Cameri, Ohel and Hamatateh theaters and the Inbal Dance Theater.
Pazner Malkin brought a new style to the design of posters in Israel. “She was a pioneer in the 1950s, when she designed exceptional posters for the theater,” says Irad Malkin. “Until then they looked like colored bereavement notices.”
In 1953 Uri Avnery, the editor of the weekly news magazine Haolam Hazeh, wrote that Pazner Malkin had created “one of the hottest posters ever to attract the eye of the Israeli viewer.” It was a red poster, with a black figure stretching out her hand in an outcry, for the play “Cry, the Beloved Country.” Avnery also invited her to illustrate the cover of Haolam Hazeh featuring Egyptian President Mohamed Naguib.
For an exhibition in 1966 at the Chemerinsky Art Gallery on Gordon Street, she wrote in the text that accompanied the exhibition: “I don’t think that I belong to a school. Every school has its own generalization. And generalization is the complete opposite of the personal perspective. A school has an ideal, a vision of an ideal painting. Seeing is a matter of the present. Not to repeat what is well known, but to look at the world until discovering that it is all inclusive – from the static movement up to the realism of the imagination.”
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Between her trips abroad to paint and study, Pazner Malkin lived in Haifa. During those years she continued to display her work at solo and group exhibitions. In Haifa she was a founder of Beit Rothschild on Mount Carmel and founded the school of arts there. She was also a co-founder of the Arab-Jewish cultural center Beit Hagefen. In 1971 she moved to Jerusalem, where she established and directed the Jewish-Arab Arts Center for Hebrew University’s Buber Institute.
She created three projects there with her husband; the first was a lexicon of the arts, while the second saw paintings of hers included in Yaakov Malkin’s plays "Jonah Jones" and "Song of Songs.” The third, his book “Art as Love,” includes Pazner Malkin's illustrations from over two and a half decades.
Most of the illustrations and drawings are very delicate fine-line drawings that portray a woman’s face or the body of a nude woman. As the book puts it, “The words ‘art’ and ‘love’ are not concepts that can be defined or understood in the abstract. Love in intimate relations and in the life of art is ‘knowledge’ in the ancient Hebrew sense of this word. The experience of love as an experience of faith cannot be fully analyzed using means that ignore the unique nature of the loving and beloved personality.”
Her website felicemalkin.com includes texts that she wrote about painting and art. “Abstract art? Figurative art?” she asked in one piece. “I find these terms to be an obstacle to understanding art without their contributing to any enrichment. I understood reality clothed in a ‘figurative’ form, to use a common term, but the fact is, that says very little. Abstract art is the final point of a process of abstraction, and in that sense every good painting is ‘abstract.’”
In 2019 a Pazner Malkin exhibition was displayed in Detroit at the Wasserman Projects, which specialize in pioneering modern art. That was her last exhibition. “In recent decades nobody took any interest in her, one reason being that she wasn’t a part of any clique,” said Irad. “On the day she died, after years of silence from curators and galleries, she received a phone call from the Wasserman gallery, informing her that there was great interest in the paintings and that they had chosen nine for a new group exhibition that will take place soon.”