True Colors with Ron Agam

By Sarah Balcombe

Sheltering in place doesn’t seem so bad when you have a studio like Ron Agam. Shelves of iridescent day-glo pigments, large canvases with psychedelic patterns and 3-D painted panels present a colorful background. He wears his colors, too. Pink “glasses of hope” are accessorized by complementary colored beanie hats. Today it’s a slightly more restrained pale grey one, hinting at the weather this mid-April morning. Nevertheless the viewers of this virtual tour are excited. The size of some of his pieces, at “eight or nine feet” is astonishing as is an illuminated bloom, Georgia O’Keefe style, on a glossy black background. “I used to take these photos of flowers as if I was taking portraits,” he announces. From there the conversation turned inwards.     

Commissions from luxury brands such as LVMH had resulted in more commerc-ial attention, but increased stress, resulting in a health crisis. A lengthy recuperation period caused him to reassess his sense of self in relation to that of his celebrity father, Ya’akov Agam, whose art has dominated the Israeli art world for decades. Ron Agam explains, “At that time I was searching for something which would give me comfort”. He found it, recalling a memory of himself at five years old, painting alongside his father. Yet his subsequent decision to shift into painting was not taken lightly. “I never believed that I would ever be a painter.” He equates it to Einstein having a son who suddenly wants to go into physics. “And I was 52, I’m 62 today, it’s like almost a suicidal path in terms of trying to make something out of it.” 

Agam claims his influences derive from Bauhaus artist Josef Albers and the Russian Constructivist Kazimir Malevich. He lists his clients as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, Madonna and the French Ambassador, from whom he received the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor award. He uses his art to try to make peace, to unify nations through a universal art, yet also seems aware of the responsibility of ensuring that his art speaks of himself, not of his father. This is more tricky when it comes to his kinetic art as this is precisely the category which catapulted his father to international fame in Paris in the mid-fifties, alongside artists such as Alexander Calder and Jean Tinguely. 

A huge black and white patterned disc appears to spin as Agam approaches. A hologram starts to move and suddenly this feels even more contemporary. Stripes and swirls suffice, resonating with the TikTok generation and street art aficionados alike. Regarding any success generated by the Agam name, he states, “It may help me a little bit to have the name but at the end of the day you are appreciated for what you do and not for who you are.” Cutting through the styling, the color, the marketing, one very much appreciates this view into his “little universe.” He approaches his art with a sense of urgency and complete dedication, “It is never too late to do something in life. I use this gift of life, I don’t want to see it wasted.” 

His positive courage and successful pivot, is the takeaway message. Reverting to those early passions, memories of that younger self may be just what is needed to navigate a post-pandemic world. Bearing a positive message of retro re-invention, Ron Agam is primed and ready for re-entry. His art with its message of renewal, welcomes in the New Year, with its color, mysticism, light and just enough symbolism.

Author ID: Sarah Balcombe is an architect, artist and founding editor of the arts blog Her artwork can be seen at


Warhol’s America at the Whitney

By Sarah Balcombe

“Everybody has their own America, and then they have the pieces of a fantasy America that they think is out there but they can’t see…And you live in your dream America that you’ve custom-made from art and schmaltz and emotions just as much as you live in your real one.” — Andy Warhol, America, 1985

mustard race riot

Flowers, soup cans and Brillo boxes are most commonly associated with Warhol and it is these ironic silkscreens, paintings and sculptures for which he is best known. Yet it is Warhol’s narrative of modern culture which is truly engaging and paradoxical. A product of the establishment and anti-establishment, Warhol strove to portray celebrity icons, and also those less celebrated.

With his effectual re-posting of Charles Moore’s photograph of Birmingham Alabama’s riots in Mustard Race Riot, 1963 above, his Ladies and Gentlemen series, 1975, below,


featuring trans-rights activists and his Jean-Michel Basquiat collaborations, see Paramount, 1984-5, below, Warhol acknowledged the less acknowledged, and fringe communities whilst continuing a preoccupation with capitalism and Hollywood.



Although Warhol continued to use repetition as an aesthetic device and a commentary on monetary value, he introduced a further element of abstraction, as shown in his Sixty-Three White Mona Lisa’s, 1979, above, a sophisticated adaption of his earlier Thirty Are Better Than One, 1963, below, utilizing pattern and paint to obscure content.


In Camouflage Last Supper 1986, below, 


Warhol similarly obscures another Leonardo da Vinci iconic painting, with the stronger fatigue pattern almost completely overwhelming the content. This obscurification can be seen as a more poignant expression of loss during the height of the AIDS crisis and shows a continuation of his fascination  with pattern, abstraction and material as demonstrated in his experimental Shadow (Diamond Dust) and Oxidation Paintings in the late 1970s. 


Shadow (Diamond Dust), 1979-9, above.

Oxidation Painting, 1978, Gold, metallic, pigment and urine on linen, below.


Visit Andy Warhol- From A to B and Back Again at the Whitney, before its closing on Sunday, to see another side of the artist. His work is so compelling and progressive that it bizarrely renders subsequent works by artists such as YBA’s Damien Hirst obsolete. The post-Warhol detached series of dots, butterflies, formaldehyde sharks and diamond encrusted skulls of the 1990s are a poor substitute to Warhol’s profound, yet obscured, expression of self, both in society and out of it.