Bezalel (Lilik) Schatz (1912 – 1978) Bezalel (nicknamed “Lilik”) Schatz was an Israeli artist, son of Boris Schatz, founder of the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts in Jerusalem.
Born in 1912 to Boris Schatz, and his wife Olga, an art critic. From an early age, he demonstrated considerable talent for gymnastics and music, but especially for art. He grew up in a home in which artists were a constant presence, he was introduced to Israel’s most prominent leaders, and the first public exhibition of his artwork coincided with his Bar Mitzvah celebration. He attended the Gymnasia in Jerusalem and at age 14 completed his studies at the Bezalel School.
In 1930, Bezalel joined his father on a fundraising tour of Europe and the United States, where they also exhibited their artwork and that of Bezalel students. Following his father’s death in 1932, Bezalel left Israel for a period of about two decades. He spent the first four years studying at the Grand Chaumiere Academy in Paris. There, given the fairly conservative artistic views he had acquired at home and school – where modernism was denounced – he had to pave his own way as an artist among his peers.
Between 1937 and 1951, Bezalel resided in the U.S. Near the end of WWII, he worked in a California shipyard, and it was there he met his future wife, Louise. He was also introduced to the novelist Henry Miller in California, and their friendship blossomed into a creative collaboration. The artist May Ray recorded his observations about the two, noting that “I have never encountered such smooth cooperation…” Bezalel produced silkscreen prints for Miller’s novel, Into the Night Life, an innovation for both the art and publishing worlds. In Florence, New Mexico, New York, San Francisco, and other locations, Bezalel exhibited his own work and participated in group shows with some of the greatest artists of his era – Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, and Kokoschka.
Bezalel and Louise married in 1948 and moved to Israel three years later, taking residence in the Schatz house in Jerusalem. Despite his long absence from Israel and his conceptual conflicts with artists there, Bezalel mounted several exhibitions and represented his native country abroad – in Germany and at Venice’s 1954 Biennale, for example. Together with Louise and his sister, Zohara, he established the arts and crafts workshop, “Yad.” Objects created there today are displayed and sold in a small building on the grounds of the family home on Bezalel Street in Jerusalem. When the Ein Hod artists’ village was founded in 1953, Bezalel and Louise moved to a home designed for them there by Israeli architect David Reznik. The couple melded easily into the village’s Bohemian artistic life, which resembled the lifestyle they had adopted in California.
Bezalel was an easy-going, congenial man of whom Henry Miller remarked, “Bezalel is an incorrigible optimist, the greatest optimist I ever met.” After his return to Israel, Bezalel’s most pleasurable moments were in the company of his small family and most intimate friends. He also continued to correspond with his friends in the U.S. He refrained from expressing his intellectual insights, either verbally or in writing, and never attempted to justify his work in any way. He was a productive artist and craftsman – vigorous, sensitive, and curious – and he contributed significantly to Israel’s aesthetic environment and art. His inspiration flowed from many different sources, from primitive tribes, to Biblical tales, Western art, the nature and history of Israel, and the symbols of his homeland that had also inspired his father.
Bezalel’s art work exemplified many different techniques. His early works adhered to the realistic/academic style he learned at the Bezalel art school. Later, his development was influenced by abstract art. His works included sketches, prints, reliefs, copper engravings, applied art, graphic art, ceramics, and Judaica. In the last decade of his life, his major artistic endeavor was mural design. Among his public works were artwork for ships owned by the Israeli company Zim, the gates at the entrance to the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, and a fence in the courtyard area of the Western Wall.
Bezalel died in Jerusalem in 1978.