A group of figures wearing medical rescue service vests look at a lying man, their expressions blank. The lying person is one moment below them, and in another painting he hovers in the exact same position - but above them. It is unclear whether he is alive or dead, perhaps at an intermediate stage between the two, and Elkana Levy, the artist behind the works, who are part of the annual "Fresh Paint" artists' fair, is asking himself this question.
Levy, a medic with United Hatzalah, deals with themes of life, faith and death in his works, describing his extreme but rather mundane experiences. In them, he, too, is not quite sure what spiritual place the person physically lying in front of him is.
Levy's work from Fresh Paint Fair,
"I started painting because of traumatic moments of death that I would see and I felt an inner urge to paint them," he says. "I may have done some therapeutic action for myself that helped me, but it was just an inner drive, to describe moments of death that I had in my head. It quickly moved on to painting moments within the world of medics that I encounter or think about. Moments of hope and less hope."
These are also situations that can undermine faith. Even for a religious person like you.
"As far as my faith is concerned, it's not undermining. Perhaps in depth, subconsciously, it touches on points. But it may end up illustrating death to me time and time again, and it becomes part of my routine. I have a piece I call 'space' in which I paint CPR. I'm describing a person there that you don't know if he's next to, underneath or above the light. That's a question I ask myself when I give CPR to a person. Where is he now? Where is his existence? And I'm within breathing distance of him.
"He's in front of me and I touch him, feel every bone in him, and I don't know where he is. It's a harrowing experience. Some describe a situation in which they look down on me. And there are stories of those hovering above you and slowly getting sucked up. Resuscitation and massages are meditative actions that are repeated over and over again, and are accompanied by prayer. I pray during this time that the person will come back, or if he is really old then have a good rest. It may sound morbid, but when you're in the moment, it's very powerful."
An interesting type, Levi, and full of contrasts. A 29-year-old yeshiva graduate who "tries to fulfill most of the laws" and asks questions about God and His existence. "I can understand why it feels like a contrast to people," he says. "A religious man with a kippah and tzitzit who even goes to a yeshiva. I really want to believe in God, but it's a difficult task. Religion is ultimately a sequence of actions that you do. Faith is something emotional over which there is no control. My religion is meant for me to increase faith, I practice the religious lifestyle because I want to believe that it will help me believe."
Levy in "Fresh Paint", Photo: Daniel Hanoch
He came to the art world almost by accident. In the environment in which he grew up, there is no exposure to this kind of culture. And as someone who is now considered a rising force in this professional and expressive field, he himself tries to pass on the knowledge and curiosity he has acquired, and make them accessible to his friends in the yeshiva. "I do art workshops for yeshiva students," he says. "I take them to exhibition openings and conversations with artists in the art field. It is very important for me to bring this visual world into the religious world... A healthy society is one that creates culture. At the moment, I don't see this flourishing in religious society, and that says something. I think, unfortunately, this points to some particular point that religious Zionism needs to pay attention to. There are many groundbreaking religious nationalist singers in Religious Zionism, and there are great writers and poets. And there are also great ones, but they are in a very large minority."
Did you also feel any resistance?
"No, thank God I am in a very healthy yeshiva, and my Rosh Yeshiva really enjoys these workshops. There are also students who decide to go to galleries and museums alone. Exposure to these things is very healthy. They see it as something that really adds to the world."
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