When I was choosing pieces for the 2006 Magnes works on paper exhibition “Modernism in Israel,” (2006) I found a theater poster, not in very good condition, by artist Felice Pazner Malkin. It advertises the 1953 Habima production of the play ‘Cruelest of All – the King” and shows a woman with bowed head clutching her red robe about her, hiding her face; the only text is the name of the play and theater.
I became more and more interested in the artist; the internet doesn’t lead to much information about her so I wrote to collectors and curators, interviewed the artist by phone (she lives in Israel), and gradually assembled a file…
The poster is part of our modern and contemporary art collection but it definitely has ephemera credentials. Felice Pazner Malkin told me that posters were an important means of communication during the lean early years in Israel, at the beginning of the nineteen fifties–people walked, rather than driving, to their destinations, past walls and kiosks papered with graphic messages. Theater posters had to convey information quickly to people as they walked by and, of course, didn’t need to outlast the run of the show. Our poster was discovered by a collector in Jerusalem during the 1960s –it hung on an outdoor wall, announcing a performance of the play. Was it was reproduced by Habima for a new production or simply pulled from old stock?– No poster could have lasted for thirteen years out of doors.
A brief biography of the artist: Felice Pazner Malkin, Painter, b. Philadelphia, PA. Lives in Jerusalem – immigrated to Israel in 1949. Studies: the College of Art, Philadelphia; Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Barnes Foundation, Sorbonne, Paris.
She was one of the first designers of modern posters for Habima, the national theater of Israel and for the Inbal Dance Company, – in fact she has been credited with introducing modern theater poster design to Israel . Habima was undergoing enormous change in the early nineteen-fifties – Pazner Malkin called it a revolution – as a new generation of playwrights and directors emerged. Her husband, Yaakov Malkin, was appointed director of repertory for Habima in 1952, and he strongly advocated the production of new Israeli drama. “Cruelest of All – the King” is a play by Israeli dramatist Nissim Aloni whom her husband had championed at the beginning of his career. Felice Pazner Malkin’s first Habima poster was for a Hebrew translation of “Cry, the Beloved Country.” It was one of her favorite designs – here, a figure covers his face with clenched fist. Felice Pazner Malkin compared this to the fist in the Black Panther symbol; she noted that poster icons could be used for other purposes precisely because people saw them daily on the street and were so familiar with them.
This poster, and one for a performance of the Inbal Dance Company, are in the Israel Museum collection:
When I interviewed her about the media, style, content, and function of poster art in connection with the Magnes show, the artist gave me a fascinating personal view of this period in Israeli cultural history.
Pazner Malkin said that mid-twentieth century graphic style was well suited to rapid communication, although before she arrived in Israel the theater world was simply unfamiliar with new design. She hadn’t studied poster design specifically, but learned from many of the artists she admired, like Matisse, who had worked as illustrators.
Sophisticated technology and materials weren’t easily available in Israel at that time either but she took that as a challenge: her medium for this poster – to her, the relatively primitive linocut process in which only two colors (besides the paper color) could be used – were actually its strength. She thought that lithography, a more expensive technique that allows a wide range of colors to be used, actually subtracted from the power of poster design, so its relative inaccessibility hardly mattered.
Another limitation on design that worked to her advantage was the organization of Habima as a cooperative. Everyone, from actors to stagehands, was an equal member of the company, and no one could be individually distinguished on the poster. The hooded actress portrayed there is actually Hanna Rovina, one of Habima’s greatest stars; the drapery concealed her features as well as evoking the biblical setting of the play (Theatre in Israel: A Culmination of Foreign and Native Influences – Shimon Levy.
A counterpoint to Felice Pazner Malkin’s poster is the etching by Miron Sima , an early Israeli modern artist, depicting the young Hanna Rovina in a 1937 Habima production (staged in the theater’s formative years in Russia) of the play “The Dybbuk”. This print hung in the ‘Modernism’ show as well.
More on the artist:
There is a retrospective catalog of her work titled “Felice Pazner Malkin,” published by Ikan Maas Ltd, Jerusalem, 2000. Another Habima poster, for the Kishon play “His Name Goes Before Him”, is illustrated in “1900-2000: One Hundred Years of Israeli Culture” by Ora Ahimeir (Tel Aviv 2000).
Her current involvements include art programs for Israeli and Palestinian children– she spoke with great enthusiasm about the Arab-Jewish Center for Art at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which she founded in 1971. Other projects she created include the Hagefen Center in Haifa whose location was chosen to allow equal access to Jewish and Arab visitors, and “The Arts In Judaism—the First 3000 Years,” a documentary traveling exhibition from Meitar College of Judaism as Culture. She has also been involved in the Haifa Rothschild Center art studio, Hebrew University Buber Institute Arab-Jewish Art Center (both of these projects in the’ 60s and ’70s) and the secular Jewish humanist movement http://www.culturaljudaism.org/ccj/articles/9. She co-authored “Art as Love,” a book on esthetics, with her husband, Yaakov Malkin (Massada Press 1975) and edited Massada Press’s “Lexicon of the Arts” with him. She has also done theater set design and book illustration. Her art has been exhibited widely and is found in public and private collections.
I’m particularly grateful to Gideon Ofrat and Meira Pery Lehman at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where there are 2 posters in the collection, and to David Tartakover, independent curator and researcher of Israeli design, for invaluable information about the artist. Thanks also to Cheryl Snay at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin, where there is one painting by Pazner Malkin – Felice Pazner-Malkin (American, b. 1929) Containers, 1965 dry oils and plastic lacquer on wood, Gift of Mari & James A. Michener. The only other works by her in this country are in private collections.
One of the most exciting parts of my research project was that I was able to arrange for conservation of the poster, done at the paper conservation laboratory of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco by paper conservator Janice Schopfer; the conservation lab kindly documented the treatment process for us. Please click on the link below to see the conservation treatment.