For five decades, Jacob El Hanani (born 1947) has produced painstakingly detailed pen-and-ink drawings composed of countless microscopic marks woven into all-over abstractions. Often called “the grandfather of micro-drawing,” El Hanani’s works need to be seen up close to appreciate their intricate craftsmanship. From afar, his drawings appear as shimmering abstract squares, but at close range elaborate patterns emerge and the viewer appreciates their profuse, and often nearly unfathomable, level of detail.
Employing a range of forms—from minuscule linear strokes to tiny circles to elegantly written letters of the Hebrew alphabet and densely crosshatched lines—El Hanani’s innumerable marks are fluidly strung and linked into evocative patterns. Despite their apparent abstraction, his drawings are often suggestive of atmospheric landscapes, aerial views or topographical maps, carefully woven textiles, and celestial bodies.
Exactingly made by hand in the unforgiving medium of ink on paper, El Hanani’s drawings are achieved through extraordinary self-discipline. Working without a magnifying glass in ten-minute stints—the artist has to take breaks to rest his eyes—these drawings take months or even years to complete, marking the passage of time and the limits of human endurance. The deliberate slowness of El Hanani’s meditative work strikes a counterpoint to the fast-paced tempo of today’s world; his images require more than a few seconds of our attention for us to marvel at their complexity and the remarkable process of their creation.
El Hanani’s complex works are layered with historical and cultural references reflecting the artist’s varied cultural and personal history. Born in Casablanca, Morocco in 1947, the artist was raised in Israel and studied art in Tel Aviv and Paris before moving to New York in the early 1970s, where he lives and works today. His drawings are rooted in the ancient Hebrew tradition of micrography, a medieval practice dating back to the 9th century in which Jewish scribes used miniature letters to form images or decorative patterns in manuscripts. El Hanani fuses this spiritual tradition with a contemporary Minimalist sensibility—Minimalism was at the height of its influence when he moved to New York and made an indelible impression on the artist. The influence of the artist’s heritage, art history, and contemporary politics also informs his practice.
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