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Selected Works

Jacob El Hanani, Cloud Linescape, 2014

Jacob El Hanani

Cloud Linescape, 2014

Ink on gessoed canvas

15 1/8 x 15 1/4 inches (38.4 x 38.7 cm)

Jacob El Hanani, Alhambra, 2016

Jacob El Hanani

Alhambra, 2016

Ink on paper

25 7/8 x 25 3/4 inches (65.7 x 65.4 cm)

Jacob El Hanani, Vertical = Horizontal, 2007-17

Jacob El Hanani

Vertical = Horizontal, 2007-17

Ink on paper

18 1/8 x 24 inches (46 x 61 cm)

Jacob El Hanani, Gray Skies, 2016

Jacob El Hanani

Gray Skies, 2016

Ink on gessoed canvas

15 1/8 x 15 1/8 inches (38.4 x 38.4 cm)


Press Release

Acquavella Galleries Presents  
Jacob El Hanani Linescape: Four Decades 
On View October 2 -November 17, 2017 
Opening Reception with the Artist: September 27th, 6 – 8pm

Acquavella Galleries is pleased to present their second exhibition of new works by Jacob El Hanani, Jacob El Hanani Linescape: Four Decades, from October 2-November 17, 2017.  Twelve works on canvas will be shown alongside fifteen works on paper.

Since moving to New York in the early 1970s, El Hanani has been meticulously crafting his drawings, fusing the ancient Hebrew tradition of micrography with a contemporary minimalist aesthetic to create his unique body of work.  With thousands of microscopic marks made with a Rapidograph technical pen, the artist creates highly detailed surfaces that need to be seen up close to appreciate their intricate patterns and craftsmanship.  These complex works often draw on personal and historical references, and can take months or even years to complete.

The exhibition title “linescape” references El Hanani’s interpretation of the theme of landscape. Though at first these works appear abstract and indebted to the aesthetic rigors of minimalism, they also subtly evoke the history of landscape painting.  Inspired by Turner’s dramatic sense of light and atmosphere, several of the works are named for the British master, while others draw from Mondrian’s linear grids to achieve a feeling of urban landscape.   

For the artist, these works represent a liberation from his highly detailed and rigidly structured earlier series.  He explains: “For many decades, I was working under a self-imposed austerity, but many artists, as they get older, release themselves and tend to embrace a freer, more lyrical style.  When I start one of these drawings, I don’t know exactly how it will end; they are allowed to evolve on their own.” 

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog including an essay by Raphael Rubinstein. 

Jacob El Hanani (b. 1947) Born in Casablanca and raised in Israel, El Hanani studied at the Avni School of Fine Arts in Tel Aviv and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris before moving to New York in the early 1970s.  His work can be found in the permanent collections of institutions including The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Art, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; The British Museum, London; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Menil Collection, Houston; The Philadelphia Museum of Art; the National Gallery of Art, Washington; and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

El Hanani, Untitled (Mondrian Series)
Critics' Picks: Jacob El Hanani October 2017

By Kaelen Wilson-Goldie


Jacob El Hanani makes minutely detailed, dazzlingly obsessive drawings without the aid of a magnifying glass. Now seventy, he works in ten-minute bursts to avoid damaging his eyes. He spends months, even years, on a single composition. He uses ink on paper or a quill on gessoed canvas. These, at least, are the stable facts of El Hanani’s practice. Everything else about his art dwells in lush and disorienting ambiguity.

Most obvious is the question of where the viewer is meant to stand in relation to El Hanani’s drawings. His second exhibition here covers four decades. The drawings are so faint that they seem like shy living things, lingering between visibility and invisibility, reluctant to fully appear. Thirteen works on canvas line the front gallery. Fifteen smaller works on paper fill the back gallery, all behind glass. You almost have to mash your face into them to understand the extreme precision of El Hanani’s marks.

Drawings such as Untitled (from the Mondrian Series), 2011, and Linescape (from the J.W. Turner Series), 2014–15, demand you do a little dance before them—a few steps back to see formless abstractions, a few steps forward to decipher elaborate city grids and oceanic textures. Born in Casablanca, raised in Tel Aviv, and based in New York since the early 1970s, El Hanani is deeply indebted to the Jewish tradition of micrography. But as his titles suggest, he is also clearly invested in questions of modernism, urban rhythm, and the natural sublime. The best piece in the show, Alhambra, 2016, gives Islamic geometry a minimalist spin. What begins as a question of pure form—the endless possibilities of a steady, hand-drawn line—ends in a dense, fascinating matrix of mixed-up histories, geographies, and cultural movements.

El Hanani, Silver Grey
Art Critical
Review of Jacob El Hanani Linescape: Four Decades at Acquavella Galleries October 2, 2017

By David Cohen

Scriptural injunctions against graven images and puritanical disdain for decoration or ornament for their own sake engendered an ingenious work around from medieval artists: micrography. Miniscule but nonetheless legible script is arranged into otherwise prohibited or discouraged forms, sometimes whimsical, sometimes expressive of the text itself. Fast forward to minimal art and its inherent iconoclasm and Casablanca-born, Israel-raised, Paris-educated, New York-based Jacob El Hanani pulls from his “portable ark of the covenant” (in R. B. Kitaj’s phrase, from First Diasporist Manifesto) the mind bogglingly ethereal feat that is his application of this ancestral technique to a contemporary abstract idiom. These days, however, there is a relative loosening-up of his approach, as the artist acknowledges in titles that evoke landscapes by Turner and cityscapes by Mondrian. As El Hanani explains, “For many decades, I was working under a self-imposed austerity, but many artists, as they get older, release themselves and tend to embrace a freer, more lyrical style.”

El Hanani, Alhambra
Wall Street Journal Magazine
Jacob El Hanani's Drawings Reveal Themselves Like Secrets October 2, 2017

By Lane Florsheim

The artist's new show 'Linescape' opens October 2 at Acquavella Gallery in New York.

Jacob El Hanani's studio is immaculate. The hardwood floors gleam and neat rows of books are stacked along shelves against walls near the entrance. During my visit, he takes out various binders, exhibition catalogs and drawings before returning each to its exact place in a filing cabinet or drawer below one of the two tables where he draws. "It's always like this," he says.

In the context of his work, El Hanani's neatness coheres. From a distance, his pieces look abstract: a hazy gray square on canvas, a roiling atmospheric formation, a collection of intersecting lines. But standing closer one notices that each shape is in turn composed of thousands of tiny lines, made with a quill or a Rapidograph techinical pen. Sometimes El Hanani, who has been called the grandfater of micro-drawing, draws miniscule characters from the Hebrew alphabet, referencing the Judaic tradition of micrography. "Usually, I don't get the 'Wow.' I get the, 'How?'" he explains as I inspect one. It would be easy enough to pass a drawing of his by without noticing the innumerable marks -- they unfold to the viewer like a secret. 

For decades, El Hanani has been driven by the desire to bring drawing to this extreme in an attempt to break the notion that miniature is a small-scale work. "When I moved to New York in the '70s, everything was, My car is bigger than your car and my apartment is bigger than your apartment," he says. "Now it's, My cell phone is smaller than yours. My gadget is smaller than yours. So, the miniaturization of the planet..." he considers. "Well, the Japanese already started that 400 years ago."

The number of hours it takes to achieve the precision found in every centimeter of his work defies today's ethos of efficiency and reverence of technology. Younger viewers, he says, often don't believe the pieces are by hand, or done without the help of an assistant. Later, he mentions he hasn't accomplished all he wants to do, like spending a whole year, uninterrupted, on only one piece. Even though some of his works have taken years, he is always working on a number of drawings.

El Hanani's new show Linescape opens October 2 at Acquavella Galleries in New York and covers nearly forty years of his practice. "I would call myself a line-maker," he says of the show title. "When people say to me, 'What do you do for a living?' I say, 'I make lines' ... Is a line-maker something in football?" he adds, seeming sincere. He categorizes his earlier work as more austere, in keeping with minimalism's de rigeur opposition to figuration in the '70s. He sees his recent pieces, some of which reference Piet Mondrian's grid paintings and J.M.W. Turner's vivid landscapes, as freer.

El Hanani was born in Casablanca and moved to Israel when he was seven, where he was "the artist of the kids," copying the drawings of Albrecht Dürer and Giorgio Morandi. He spent two years at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in his twenties before moving to New York City "for the space." A tthe time, he explains, artists could only get 200 or 300 square feet in Paris for the price of 3,000 in New York. Once in New York City, he eliminated every trace of figuration from his work in 1972 and found his new process demanded 12 hours a day. He worked constantly. "I was able to survive without having a day job. If I sold a drawing, I paid my rent. That generation was really supportive of artist and art."

El Hanani's work develops organically, without subjects in mind, but sometimes he finds personal or historical meaning in a piece after it is complete. He once made a series of drawings that turned out to be gauze fabric and then learned that Gaza is thought to be the origin of gauze. "Gaza was important to me because when I was in the Israeli army, we occupied the West Bank. I've been twice in Gaza," he says. "Unconsciously, I figure, I ended up drawing gauze."

During my visit, El Hanani also shows me the darwings he doesn't exhibit: the sheets he fills with figurative doodles (eight favorites are framed and displayed on the wall) and a binder of his cartoons, explaining that, like Michael Jordan playing golf to unwind, artists relax by making different kinds of art. "My case was being a paparazzi cartoonist quietly in a cocktail when nobody could see me," he says. He shows me the likenesses of Norman Mailer, Henry Kissinger and a young Donald Trump along with many others.

When he opens the drawer to one of his cabinets, revealing a charcoal sketch of a nude model sitting on her knees, he says quickly, "It's not important. Hundreds of artists do that in art school." But then he adds: "However, sixty years from now, my son will be 74. And I'm dead, and if someone says, 'Oh you have a drawing of your father's from 100 years ago?' Suddenly it becomes important for a collector."

"All that we can do is leave the pile slightly higher than what it was. I'll be known for making little, tiny lines," he says. "Period. You cannot achieve a lot in art. You have to make your own contribution."