Yaacov Agam

The artist's unique geographical creations have made him a leading pioneer of optic and kinetic art.

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Reprinted with permission from the website of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Yaacov Agam is one of the very few living Israeli artists who have attained international status (he is the only Israeli artist included in H. H. Arnason's voluminous "History of Modern Art" and in the recent "Dictionary of Art and Artists," edited by Sir David Piper). As early as the mid-1950s, Agam was considered one of the most important artists of the post-World War II period and a leading pioneer of optic and kinetic art. He is still internationally acknowledged as a major contemporary artist.

Agam (Yaakov Gipstein) was born in 1928 to an Orthodox family in Rishon Lezion in the coastal plain south of Tel Aviv, then a small, semi-rural settlement. His father, Rabbi Yehoshua Gipstein--who devoted his life to Jewish religious learning, meditation, and fasting--refused to register his son in a school, because no place in a religious school was available.…israeli culture quiz

Consequently, the boy grew up without any formal education and almost without the company of other children. At home, however, Agam absorbed the heritage of Jewish spiritual values and thought and was particularly attracted to Jewish mystic lore and kabbalistic studies as practiced by his father, the learned rabbi. Agam considers himself as his spiritual continuant in his devotion to the study of these values. As we shall see, this heritage remained at the core of much of Agam's artistic philosophy throughout his career.

Agam began painting as a self-taught teenager. In 1946, he moved to Jerusalem and studied for about two years at the Bezalel Academy of Art. Following the advice of his teacher, the painter Mordecai Ardon, Agam left Bezalel in 1949 and went to Zurich. The stay in Zurich, although of short duration, constitutes a phase of crucial importance in the formation of his style as well as in that of his artistic theory. For it was in Zurich that the young Agam met three men who left their mark on his art and thought for many years to come.

Three Major Influences

The first of them was Johannes Itten (1888-1967), under whom Agam studied at theKunstgewerbe Schule. Itten, a former teacher at the Weimar Bauhaus and of Ardon, was a renowned theoretician of form and color. In his lessons, Itten advocated the use of pure colors and carefully studied coloristic compositions inspired by constructivist ideas. The rational, quasi-scientific basis of Agam's theoretical approach to the creative process, as well as his constant preference for geometrical forms, pure, bright colors and multi-colored compositions, may thus be traced back to his studies with Itten.

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Avraham Ronen is an Emeritus Professor of the History of Art at Tel Aviv University.

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