“In all his portraits, it is apparent that Ardon is more interested in rendering spiritual identity rather than merely physical appearance. The subject is never idealized; the emphasis is not on photographic realism but on the sitter’s psychological complexities. By eliminating all irrelevant details, and using bold visual abstractions, Ardon’s self-portraits and portraits are always a passionate, concerned and empathetic commentary upon the innermost feelings of his model.” (Arturo Schwarz, Mordecai Ardon: The Colors of Time, 2003, page 61)
In Cuckoo Clock, Ardon paints a more innocent scene in brighter colors: the young artist drawing; the clock-maker father to his right, represented by the cuckoo clock; the street sign symbolizing a diverging path between them as the child will grow into his own self-realized being.
In Parable of 1 X 1, the artist confronts the universal yearning for answers or solutions to life’s deepest mysteries, symbolized here by a simple geometric equation. Within the glowing hand-mixed colors, deep greens and golds, an existential story unfolds. Ardon, the student, a bit older now, sits at a table, studying the first equation of the Pythagorean multiplication table. A mouse runs across the table, in a path defined by Ardon’s painted shadows, over the unresolved equation and into a mouse-trap. The student’s open right eye follows the mouse’s journey, while his left is covered by his hand – perhaps he doesn’t wish to see the result. “The artist depicts himself as a student. Seated at his desk he faces an insoluble problem, for the answer is a trap (a symbol that appears in several of Ardon’s paintings)” (Michele Vishny, Mordecai Ardon, 1974, p. 34). Arturo Schwarz reflected on the lesson learned from Ardon’s parable in his essay in the catalogue to the 2003 Tel Aviv exhibition, Mordecai Ardon: The Colors of Time. “By not writing the product of this simple arithmetical operation, Ardon might have wished to underscore that the multiplication of man’s efforts to reach perfection is a completely open question and might possibly result also in a dead end. The fact that a mouse – which in Ardon’s symbolic language stands for the persecuted Jew – is heading towards a blind alley where further progress is impossible, might support this interpretation” (p. 62).
In the 1951 self-portraits, the influence of Ardon’s teacher and friend, Paul Klee, is particularly evident – as Ardon describes it, Klee’s ability to “make visible the invisible” (Mordecai Ardon, contribution to “Dialogue III: Jews in the Creative Arts.” Congress Bi-Weekly 24:12, 1962, p. 37). Ardon reveals the mysteries of life in the careful self-exploration of the self-portrait. It is as though the contents of the figure’s mind, visibly cut off by the extreme composition and cropping of his head, are made visible on the table before him.
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