Page last updated at 12:25 GMT, Monday, 15 March 2010

Jerusalem Diary: Image of Israel

Dan Reisinger- Israeli designer
Dan Reisinger's work reflected Israel in its early years and helped shape its image abroad

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem


First, a gross generalisation. There is a gap between how Israelis talk about their country and how they treat it.

Israelis are, on the whole, very proud of what bits of lovely landscape their country possesses. But if you happen to visit Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) just after a public holiday, be prepared to wade to the water's edge through a sea of rubbish left on the rocky banks.

Israelis will tell you how small their country is; how the central strip where much of the population lives, is just 16km between the Mediterranean and the West Bank. But that has not stopped successive governments turning that central strip into a scarred patchwork of ugly new towns and teeming highways.

They might argue that Israel is relatively poor, and so suffers from the blights of any similar country. But there are exceptions.

Dan Reisinger
Reisinger designed the logo and posters for the national airline, El Al

Take the architectural triumph of central Tel Aviv. If you walk westwards down one of the big avenues, you have, block by block, a decade by decade exhibition of great apartment design.

And - more to the point of this diary - take the brilliant graphic design that illustrated the first 20 years of Israel's existence. The images shone with optimism and wit.

The evidence is there as you walk from the X-ray machines at Ben Gurion airport to passport control. Along the wall are the Independence Day posters commissioned to mark every anniversary of Israel's 1948 declaration. Most of the first third are good. Most of the last two-thirds are not. So what changed?

Dan Reisinger designed two of the posters in that first third. At the age of 75, he is still pouring out new work.

We met in his expansive study, in a Tel Aviv house that itself is a temple of modernism. Around him were strewn paper models of electric colours and exploding shapes that form the basis of his latest exhibition.

I was fed up with the political greyness and the political stagnation, and all the news full with negativity. I want to do something which makes people smile
Dan Reisinger

Reisinger says that he was formed in part by family lineage (his grandfather painted churches) and in part by family history. Born in Yugoslavia, he lost several members of his family, including his father, during the Holocaust.

"For me, the European events as a child were marked in greyish, brownish, sad colours. When I came to Israel (in 1949) I wanted to use the basic three colours and the secondary colours to symbolise a rebirth."

He designed some of the most memorable images of those early years, such as the logo and posters for the national airline, El Al. It is not putting it too strongly to say that his work did not just reflect the new country, but helped shape its image, both within and abroad.

But Reisinger is reluctant to draw a simple parabola of artistic merit in Israel, where the descent begins as Israel becomes enmeshed, from 1967 onwards, in the occupation.

In his nicotine-flavoured, eastern European accent, he ranges across the blandness of global "mega-agencies", of those who design "with a committee in mind", and the "capitalistic freedom" that leads Israel to copy America, albeit with a lag of about 10 years.

But he also hints at the other facet of their country on which most Israelis agree. The reason he embarked on his latest project, he says, is because "I was fed up with the political greyness and the political stagnation, and all the news full with negativity".

The exhibition is intended to be a manifesto for the recolouring of public space. "We need so much optimism in this country," Reisinger says. "I want to do something which makes people smile."

(Dan Reisinger's new exhibition Around Six Columns/Colour Preformations opens at Ashdod Museum of Art on 20th March 2010.)

Here is a selection of your comments on Tim Franks' diary from Jerusalem.

Israel needs a paint job and Enforced Rubbish laws. Don't even get me started about the drivers!
Caley, Israel(Canadian)

Nice article, but not the message that graphic design there started in 1948. That's when the independence commemoration posters began, but the graphic design in the Hebrew community under the Turkish and British rules flourished. See the Palmach logo and posters. You based your observation based on the poster exhibition at Ben Gurion Airport. Maybe you got tired third of the way.
New York

You are projecting. You see Israel as being immoral after 1967, and it tars your entire view of Israeli culture since that time. The reality is that some of Israel's most beautiful art and music have been created in the 43 years since 1967. The process continues today. The reality is that the 1967 war - a war for survival that was unexpectedly won in only 6 days - brought about the growth of optimism and self-confidence in Israel, convincing Israeli artists to experiment more widely.

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