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 www.manhattanmodernist.com. Her artwork can be seen at www.sarahbalcombe.com.