“This is how things are with me. Every painting has a story.”
Yosl Bergner was born in Vienna, Austria in 1920 and spent his childhood in Warsaw, Poland. The son of the Yiddish poet Melech Ravitch, he took painting lessons before emigrating to Australia in 1937. While there, he continued his studies at the National Gallery Art School in Melbourne. Bergner’s father was part of a group called the Freeland League for Jewish Territorial Colonization who believed they could create a Jewish safe haven in Australia. Bergner may not have been prepared for the plight of many struggling Australians. Yet he felt a strong connection between the suffering of people everywhere, whether they were the Jews that he remembered from Europe, landless blacks in the heart of Australia or hungry children in inner urban Melbourne. Bergner served four years in the Australian army in WWII. He left Australia in 1948 and after two years of traveling and exhibiting in Paris, Montreal and New York, he settled in Israel. He lived in Safed until moving to Tel Aviv in 1957 where he currently lives and works. Bergner’s canvases draw their images from his childhood world, from Yiddish and from the Jewish culture of Poland. Although he did not personally experience the Holocaust, his works are overshadowed by the trauma of the Jewish refugee. Broken furniture and kitchen utensils, clowns, kings and angels, characters from Kafka’s stories, children’s toys, flowers and pioneers are only part of his wide range of themes. These old instruments symbolize the distorted and poor world of wars, secrets and darkness. Although he generally paints Jewish themes, Bergner is sensitive to the plight of all suffering people and transmits that compassion in his work. Yosl Bergner’s allegorical paintings are a tribute to his Zionistic upbringing and sensitivity to the dangers and destruction that consumed the Jewish people during the Second World War. Bergner participated in the Venice Biennials in 1956, 1958 and 1962, and at the Sao Paolo Biennial in 1957. In 1980, he was awarded the Israel Prize for Painting. Yosl Bergner passed away on January 18, 2017 at the age of 96.