Cabala Paintings (1982)



Asher Bilu’s aim as an artist is to represent the mystical unknown, to find an order within the chaos of the universe through experimentation and improvisation in both art and music.

“I have chosen to deal with abstraction because for me it provides the freedom to explore the unknown. To paint figuratively is to paint what I already know or have seen before. The language of abstraction is universal (as is the language of music) and can be accessible to anyone who takes the time to see. I want to use this language to express the beauty and the mysteries of our existence in an infinite universe of which we are only a small part. I hope my optimism and love of life will be contagious.”

The titles of the paintings Atzilut, Briah, Yetzirah and Assiah commissioned for the Victorian Arts Centre in 1982 are taken from the mystical Judaic Cabala which attempts to reach God through understanding the universe. “The Cabalists examine creation through the Tree of Life, a hierarchical diagram of the principles working throughout the universe. The Tree of Life demonstrates the flow of forces from the Divine to the lowest world and back. In the physical world there are four states of matter – fire, air, water and earth. In man, there are four states of being – spirit, intellect, emotion and the physical body. Corresponding to these, there are four states in the universe. These are:

  • Atzilut – the World of Emanations
  • Briah – the World of Creations
  • Yetzirah – the World of Formations
  • Assiah – the World of Substance and Action

Atzilut is the realm closest to the Divine, the area of totally pure and mystical experience. Briah is the realm of the archangels, where divine instruction is absorbed and the creative process begins. In Yetzirah the creative process becomes manifest, but without the element of intellectual understanding. Assiah is literally the world we live in, permeated by all the upper worlds. The process of artistic creation can be examined in this context. Original inspiration is divine; it flows when it will, from outside all understanding and control (Atzilut). The inspiration is recognised and a period of inner assimilation begins (Briah), leading to intuitive expression of the idea (Yetzirah) and culminating in the manifest work of art (Assiah).

“Since there is an uninterrupted flow of energy from one realm to the next (and back), a work of art always contains the presence of the Divine, thus making it distinguishable from non-art.”

Asher Bilu was born in Israel in 1936 and arrived in Australia in 1956. An interest in music had provided him with a love of discovery through improvisation, and this he combined with the early influence of the writing and painting of Paul Klee which for Bilu combined the magic of art an life with experimentation and variety of media. During the 1960’s, the philosophical framework of abstraction in Melbourne was built on theories of representing universal spiritual and religious archetypes and analogies for the energy and infinity of the universe. Asher Bilu’s works of this period were heavily textured paintings, absorbing the influence of the Spanish “matter” painters such as Antonio Tapies who incorporated various materials into the painted surface. Bilu experimented with a variety of methods – burning surfaces with blow torches, water effects, and various hand tools, to achieve different surface effects which, with their central molten-like spheres, were seen as symbolic representations of the cosmos. “The cosmos has become,” he said in the early 1960’s, “a reality and awaits the artist who will communicate its full wonder to us.”

Asher Bilu held his first one-person exhibition in 1960, and consolidated his reputation as one of Melbourne’s best Symbolic Abstractionists and as one of the most innovative texturalist painters of the 1960’s with a series of exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne. In 1965, he was awarded the Blake Prize for Religious Art for his painting I Form Light & Create Darkness. During the 1970’s, Asher Bilu began to create low-relief works in which various free-form elements were overlapped, raised and lowered in relation to each other. Although these works were three-dimensional they were placed within a conventional frame attempting to “blur the distinction between painting and sculpture.” The implied cosmic geometry of orbital planetary lines and the crater-like surfaces of Asher Bilu’s paintings in the Victorian Arts Centre are highlighted by an eerie luminescence which evokes a sense of timelessness, of a molten planet which has long since cooled. The circular patterns and lines echo the cyclic rhythms of the universe.

Robert Lindsay, The Art Collections of the Victorian Arts Centre
Published by the Victorian Arts Centre 1992