At the Synagogue
About the Artist:
Yosl Bergner was born in 1920 in Austria, and spent his childhood in Poland. The son of a poet and a singer, Bergner took painting lessons before immigrating to Australia in 1937 as a seventeen year old. He struggled to survive in Australia, undertaking a series of menial jobs while studying painting at the National Gallery Art School, Melbourne. He painted images which were essentially autobiographical, views of a dark, bleak urban environment, inhabited by lonely and dispossessed people, works which inspired many young Melbourne artists during the 1940s. The compassion, humanity and deep sincerity of his art attracted immediate and deep attention. During the second world war Bergner served in the Australian Army Labour Company at Tocumwal 1941-6 and afterwards gained a Commonwealth Rehabilitation Scholarship to return to his studies at the National Gallery Art School. He left Australia in 1948, traveling first to Paris and then to Israel, where he currently lives and works.
Bergner's canvases draw their images from his childhood world, from Yiddish and from the Jewish culture of Poland. Although he did not personally experience the Holocaust, his works are overshadowed by the trauma of the Jewish refugee. Broken furniture and kitchen utensils, clowns, kings and angels, characters from Kafka's stories, children's toys, flowers and pioneers are only part of his wide range of themes.
Bergner has designed scenery and costumes for the Yiddish and Hebrew Theaters, particularly for the plays of Nissim Aloni, and has illustrated many books. The acme of Bergner's paintings is his allegorical works; he uses kitchen tools such as squashed pots, oil lamps, wrecks and cracked jugs and he anthropomorphizes them. These old instruments symbolize distorted and poor world of wars, secrets and darkness.
Bergner participated in the Venice Biennaials in 1956, 1958 and 1962, and at the Sao Paolo Biennial in 1957. In 1980, he was awarded the Israel Prize for Painting.