As can be seen in this painting, Surrealism served as a source of inspiration for Bergner, though he did not consider himself a surrealist but a lover of stories, and indeed narrative elements appear frequently in his work. He uses the “displacement” element, as the Surrealists did, and that is detaching the figures, objects or landscapes from the logical context and into a poetical-magical climate.
Nissim Aloni noted in 1983 He paints as though to install stabilizers against the turbulence of the dream, and perhaps these stabilizers serve him in time as a touchstone’.
Yosl Bergner was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1920 and grew up in Warsaw, Poland.
With rampant anti-Semitism in Europe, the Freeland League for Jewish Territorial Colonization was formed in the United States in July 1935, to search for a potential Jewish homeland. Soon afterwards a pastoral firm in Australia offered the League about 16,500 square kilometres (6,400 sq mi) in the Kimberleys, stretching from the north of Western Australia into the Northern Territory. As history showed, the plans went nowhere. But for a time, the Australian idea was at least worth considering. Bergner’s father, Melech Ravitch, became involved in a serious investigation of the Kimberley Plan.
In this way the Bergner family moved to Australia. Yosl emigrated to Australia in 1937 and studied in the National Gallery School in Melbourne. During World War II he served for four and a half years in the Australian Army, and later continued his studies at the Art School.
In Melbourne from 1937–48, Bergner befriended many of the local artists who now epitomize modern Australian art: Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, John Perceval and Arthur Boyd. Adrian Lawlor moved with his wife to a cottage at Warrandyte, an outer suburb of Melbourne, where they lived for 30 years. Bergner was a frequent visitor at their Warrandyte home. All the men socialized together. Bergner encouraged them to go beyond their traditional landscape style and introduced a more radical concern for working families, thus having an important impact on Australian art.
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.
He left Australia in 1948 and after two years of traveling and exhibiting in Paris, Montreal and New York City, he settled in Israel. There he designed theatre sets and costumes for the National Theatre of Israel and created accompanying illustrations for the novels and short stories of the Czech writer Franz Kafka. Bergner represented Israel at the Venice Biennales of 1956 and 1958, and was awarded the Israel Prize for Painting in 1980.
Bergner passed away in December of 2016.