While most paintings by the Israeli artist Elad Kopler are untitled, his exhibitions have names that hint at the dark symbolism running through his dystopian cityscapes: “No Man’s Land” (2011), “After the Heat Wave” (2009), and “When Despair Becomes Plausible” (2007).
Not that you’d immediately recognize elements of urban life in his work. The paintings are crowded, colorful, and chaotic, their densely layered, fragmented forms challenging to the eye.
The works are largely abstract, save for architectural shapes like domes, pillars, and the angular outlines of buildings or the occasional sign of a natural landscape, from scattered rocks to tree branches to mountains and water.
Some of the buildings are quiet, as if abandoned, while others explode across the canvas in clouds of shattered glass and twisted metal. Either way, the decrepitude is palpable. The absence of human figures only reinforces the sense that we’re peering into some sort of post-apocalyptic scene, the aftermath of a catastrophic event, a city deserted by its people.
Indeed, Kopler assumes the role of futuristic urban archaeologist who documents our lost culture after its destruction. Kopler, in his work, looks back at what’s left. That anxiety-inducing effect stands in stark contrast to formal Romantic landscape painting, a tradition in which the viewer is meant to feel a sense of the sublime while gazing upon a harmonious, awe-inspiring scene.
“I am constantly seeking the delicate balance between the formal language of painting, which refers to a flat surface, and a depiction of a boundless virtual world,” Kopler has said. Unlike in traditional landscape painting, this “movement between a concrete space and an abstract one” allows Kopler to unburden himself from the scientific rules of space and time. Instead, he employs multiple perspectives, building layer upon layer until the canvas achieves a nearly three-dimensional feel.
In Kopler’s practice, the artist is an archaeologist—but so are we, the viewers, as we uncover the layers and try to make sense of their intriguing shapes and forms.