I had been talking with Amikam Toren about making the second exhibition in my gallery project for some months before the Covid crisis. We were going to make a show of seminal works, one from each decade of his career. I have long been an avid admirer of his work and have made a number of exhibitions and international presentations with him at MOT. As his studio is close to my home I continued to pay him regular visits to update myself with the new work. Of all the artists that I have worked with he is, in my view, one of the most important, yet under-valued and as such I have made a special effort to stay in touch with the work, knowing that even into his 70’s his language continues to develop and invent. Toren is an artist’s artist and he is greatly revered by those that have followed his practice over the years, yet although he is in major collections such as Tate he is yet to have the ground-breaking retrospective that his career deserves. I have always been rewarded by visits to his studio, where I have found amazing advances in painting that demand closer attention such as removed thread paintings from the 1970’s. I’m am always intrigued by the new work, but have mainly been concerned with making the historic originality of his back catalogue visible to audiences. The start of this new collaboration was delayed by events and by the nature of my project being slow exhibition making. In that time Amikam started a radical new body of work. As soon as he sent me the images I knew that I would have to reconsider the focus of my presentation. This work had to be shown, it was as exciting and fresh as any of the wonders that I had discovered from Toren’s early output.
Two months before lockdown Toren came to a realisation that his studio, his place of work for a number of decades held the key to an exciting series of new works. Toren has become recognised for his conceptual stripping of the painting process, whereby the materials of painting literally become their own medium, from the original tautological paintings he made in 1979 when he made a painting of a tea pot by grinding the broken remnants of a teapot to make the paint he used to render its form. This major breakthrough informed the rest of his career with many increasingly subtle variations creating a unique body of work. Whilst sweeping his floor in preparation for the day he was drawn to the pile of dust and a new pigment was born of that material collected by time from his studio floor. He made this dust into a paint and on canvas that had also been subjected to the imprint of his feet upon the studio floor he started to make paintings of the floor plans of his studio. Within these plans he allowed his subconscious to occupy the space denoted on the canvas. What Toren creates are perhaps the most subtle and beautiful portraits of an artist’s space that I have seen for some time. Coming at a time when the planet has been in lockdown hiding from a pandemic, makes these paintings even more poignant, though it must be stressed that these paintings were started in the months before many of us had even contemplated being confined to our own personal spaces.
Amikam Toren’s new works are simply called ‘Floor’. They are a concise expression of grounding in space. This is something that artists have had to contemplate for centuries, yet the conceptual project that Toren has been exploring for nearly five decades elevates this question to a higher status. This is great art and it is very rare to discover an artist as genuine as Toren. I will be considering these works for some time as they occupy my own living space and I will try and share my thoughts as they unravel through and around this incredible work.
Amikam Toren (b. 1945, Jerusalem, Israel) has work in the permanent collections of Tate, London; British Arts Council, London; and Vehbi Koç Foundation, Istanbul. His work has been featured in solo exhibitions at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (2013, 1990); Ramat-Gan Museum of Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv (2000); Chisenhale Gallery, London (1991); Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol (1991); Rotterdam Kunststichtung, Rotterdam (1989); ICA, London (1979); and Serpentine Gallery London (1976) as well as galleries in Basel, Berlin, Paris, Cologne and Tel Aviv. Recent group exhibitions include “Unorthodox” at the Jewish Museum, New York (2015); Imago Mundi at Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice (2015); Hite Foundation, Seoul (2013); Whitechapel Gallery, London (2012); Venice Biennale, Venice (2012); and the 4th Guangzhou Triennial, Guangdong Museum of Art (2012). Toren lives and works in London.