The artist with her latest painting: a portrait of her mother and herself.
her newest painting.
On a Saturday afternoon, the traffic passing on a
order and a lack of order."
Another play on the thin line between prose and
painting comes in her series "To learn writing from
trees." This time, it's more personal. The works take
replete with painted photographs of her and her moth-
er. Two colors recur: The wine, a deep purple of lost
innocence, and the milk, the pure white of childhood.
"I relate to the past as something I construct for my-
self," she says. "What kind of girl? Wine or milk?"
Her latest painting has taken two months so far.
She has no other works in progress, concentrating on
one at a time. The piece is a large, classic tableau: a
shelf of bottles on the upper left; a potted plant and
nearby highway is down to a quiet murmur. Ms. David,
42, welcomes a visitor with tea and dates. Like her
you back to childhood, offering a canopy of treetops,
from a flat-on-your-back viewpoint. The paintings also
inset sleeping child in the lower left; a frame of white
Hebrew script in the lower right — all surrounding a
work, she is soft-spoken and intense.
Nina David's work could be called magic realism,
dense and slightly surreal, like the novels of Colom-
bian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Her intricate
canvases are deeply personal and difficult to pene-
trate. But the more you look, the more they reveal.
Her early works are monochromatic. Their images
rely on an underlying structure of raised patterns,
some made of matchsticks, others of cardboard cutouts.
They look like miniature desert scenes — all is the
offer edges of notebook paper and long, scrolling script.
The whole is an attempt to capture a lost memory of
central image of the artist as a girl, in a bathing suit,
standing shyly next to her mother, also in a bathing
what it was like to learn to write, to send you back
suit, seated on a rock at the seashore. The girl's arm
touches her mother in a hint of role reversal. The moth-
same, yet the rolling waves are clearly defined. One,
called "The Alef," (the first letter of the Hebrew al-
Her newest series is titled "Milk or Wine?" The pic-
phabet), is covered in patterns made of tiny cardboard
tures penetrate deeper into Ms. David's personal world,
Nurit David's tidy studio, on the third floor of the Tel
Aviv Artists' Studios, is a wide-open room. Green tree-
tops wave in large glass windows against a brilliant
blue Mediterranean sky. Inside, trees appear over and
over on her canvases. A dozen flowering plants in ter-
ra-cotta pots rest on a table in the strong winter sun-
light. One with red blossoms appears in a corner of
clefs and cutouts of human hands. It's primitive yet
sophisticated, a play on writing. Covering a canvas in
the first Hebrew letter evokes humanity's transition
from cave paintings to the written word.
There's simultaneously what Ms. David calls "an
to first grade.
A later series carries the prose/painting idea even
further. Each painting takes off from one of James
Joyce's short stories. Again, the scenes are painted
skies and trees. But this time, floating objects — like
a pair of socks or a spindle of kite string — tell a tale
of their own, evoking the details of day-to-day life in
er's body curls like a fetus.
The shelf of bottles comes from a decades-old pho-
to of a pharmacy. When she saw the chemist's potions,
she says wryly, "I thought of the story of Frankenstein,
of mixing bottles together to create a man." She mix-
es her own elixirs, building a painted past, creating
her own beasts.