Amid the hustle and bustle of Passover week in Jerusalem when the city is thronging with tourists and traffic jams, an art gallery became a small island of tranquility with a pastoral Scandinavian theme.
The burst of colors the Jerusalem House of Quality collided with the monotone Jerusalem stone and drew the eyes of many passersby through the gallery’s glass doors.
Those who chose to enter and visit the exhibit were probably surprised to meet an unusual figure in the Israeli landscape — a man of impressive stature and northern European features — the artist himself. He spoke English with an unfamiliar accent, but when speaking Hebrew, he conversed like a native Israeli.
Rolf Danielson, born in Sweden, has lived in Israel for 26 years. He is married to Shoshan Danielson and has two children.
Despite his uniqueness in the Israeli landscape, Danielson feels a natural belonging to Israel and a connection to the Jewish people. Before he married Shoshan and before giving his life to Yeshua, he visited Israel often in the 1970s and 80s, studying art at the Avni Institute and exhibiting his works in the galleries of the Hasimta Theater and the Tzavta Theater. In contrast to what many Israeli artists would say, Danielson felt that there were more opportunities for young artists in Israel and an openness to new styles and directions.
“In Sweden, every door would close in front of me,” he said.
Danielson’s connection to Israel continued even during his life in Sweden. He donated the money he earned from the sale of his art at one exhibition to support new immigrants to Israel from the Soviet Union in the immigration waves of the 1990s.
It had been almost a decade since Danielson’s last solo exhibition when Shoshan organized the Yuval exhibition for him in honor of his 60th birthday. Miraculously, there was space in the much sought-after gallery near the Old City despite it usually being booked a year in advance.
The evening of the exhibition’s opening drew guests from near and far including Jews and Arabs, Israelis and tourists from different countries, artists and art lovers, a reflection of how art connects people across cultural boundaries and nourishes the human soul through beauty, nobility and love.
Danielson was present throughout the duration of the exhibit’s opening hours in order to greet visitors and tell them about his work. His style of abstract painting, influenced by modern art, is very unique in its colors and strong, confident lines. Most of his paintings are made in acrylic using a personal technique he developed. The motifs that are prominent and repeated in his paintings are windows, trees, the world of nature and writings with geometrical shapes, familiar elements widely used in art.
But the inspiration for these elements came from Danielson’s acquaintance with God, his word and the wonders of his ways. Danielson was inspired to draw windows because of the book of Daniel tells us that the windows in Daniel’s room were open toward Jerusalem when he knelt three times a day in prayer. Sometimes, the shape of the familiar window is also used in his paintings as a symbol of the Tablets of the Covenant. The tree in his paintings symbolizes the Tree of Life, and the other paintings of nature are expressions of wonder and thanksgiving to God for his creation. The geometric shapes (circle, triangle and square) were inspired by the scriptures and Hebrew script.
KNI visited the exhibition and took the opportunity to speak with Danielson:
How, do you think, a Messianic artist should approach art?
“There are subjects that a Messianic artist cannot ignore, such as the Holocaust. And lately I feel that if I have not painted Yeshua yet, I have missed something. I am now working on a painting of Yeshua, the inspiration of which I received from a painting that is in the Monastery of Santa Katarina in Sinai.”
Should believers be interested in art?
“Believers are normal people and they should be interested in anything significant that exists in the world. As believers, we place great emphasis on music and forget about other arts – painting, literature, theater, opera – all through which we can praise and worship God.”
What are your plans for the future?
“I, of course, will continue to paint and present. I would be happy to return soon to artistic graphics, especially to the etching techniques I learned in my past. I would be happy if a Messianic community would be created that unites the believing artists and gives them a platform to present and bring the Messianic audience closer to art. In 2003 an exhibition of about 30 Messianic artists was held at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel. It was very successful, and I wish we could organize this more often.”
Among his paintings presented at the exhibition were some of special significance to the artist. He happily explained, time and again, to anyone interested in the inspiration behind the paintings:
“The four tablets of the covenant” symbolize the two tablets that Moses broke when the people of Israel made the golden calf and the two new tablets. In this painting we encounter the element of the window and the geometric writing that characterize Danielson’s works.
Danielson’s visit to the Dachau concentration camp gave rise to the painting “Dachau,” which portray the concrete foundations used as huts where the prisoners lived.
In his painting “Electricity,” the artist painted supernatural flashes of light that represent for him the presence of God he saw when he looked at the Western Wall.
The first time that Danielson arrived in Israel he visited Tel Gamliel, which was a small Christian-Jewish kibbutz. The people he met there were his best friends in Israel for many years, and this place had a special meaning for him. It inspired his painting named for the kibbutz itself, “Tel Gamaliel.”
With the caption “and with his stripes we are healed” in the center of the work, the painting “Isaiah 53” attracts the attention of many visitors. It frequently raises the question of why he painted this. Danielson believes God can and wants to heal people. The painting was born when he sprained his foot and remembered this promise of God, prayed for healing and, by the grace of God, he was healed.
Danielson’s works can be viewed by clicking here.
To contact the artist: [email protected]