Mira Hermoni-Levine

Mira Hermoni-Levine

Born in Tel-Aviv in 1948 to two Holocaust survivors, Mira Hermoni-Levine was raised in an atmosphere of mystery and silence. Among people hoping to build a new Israel, there was little tolerance for Diaspora suffering. Hermoni-Levine remembers, “I was six years old and they never answered my questions. They decorated me with a velvet dress, a bow in my hair, white stockings and lacquer shoes for the Sabbath. They spoiled me and demanded that I finish all the food on my plate. I had to be a Diaspora Jew at home and an Israeli outside. I felt that I had to hide my background and the Russian language that was spoken in my house. A whole generation did not give support to my family, and did not understand what was happening to us. Nobody clarified to me the mystery of blue numbers tattooed on arms.”

Named “Mira” after a child her father lost in the Holocaust, and the artist began to internalize the identity of the deceased sister she replaced. This duality is perhaps best articulated in the following exchange from a 1996 interview with art critic Haim Maor for the Israeli newspaper Davar:

Maor: “Who is the girl who keeps reappearing in your paintings?”

Hermoni-Levine: “It’s an image with a double identity: Mira-one and Mira-two. Mira-one was killed in the Holocaust with her brother Osia. Her father, who was also my father, tried to resurrect his life in Israel and gave life to me, Mira-two. I was the replacement child. My mother came to Israel in 1933, the first “seagull” of the family, but the rest didn’t make it. They were murdered and buried in one big hole.”

Hermoni-Levine left a career in biochemistry to paint in 1974, shortly after her first husband, Oded Hermoni, a captain in the tank corps, was killed in the Yom Kippur War. Her only son, also named Oded, was born nine days after his father’s death.

A Girl |1995

From Exhibition in Yad-Labanim museum, Petah Tikva, 1996

Using only a palette knife, Hermoni-Levine sculpts each organic, earth-ground pigment, first adding and then scraping away tones and impastos. This tedious process of covering and uncovering mirrors the experiments of a scientist in a laboratory and represents an ongoing attempt at historical discovery. “The palette knife becomes a surgical knife by which I dig and befriend what I find underneath,” Hermoni-Levine explains. “It is an exploration in the living flesh, gentle but not sterile. It exposes innermost contamination.”

Eerie blacks, sepias and umbers surround innocent child subjects, who simultaneously wear the pallor of isolation and the glow of hope. Dull skin pigments reflect the static history found in photographs.