Sabine In Words

The Etchings

I used to walk through Berlin with an etching needle and some sheets of metal in my pocket, and whatever I saw I engraved, directly onto the metal, in dry-point. I did it quickly like snapshots. I could not really see what I was drawing, only the silvery line. I was completely caught in my inspiration, I engraved some lines in rapid speed and could only recognize later on what I had done. In my studio I made prints of it and elaborated them, sometimes coloring them by hand, at other times using sophisticated techniques like aquatint and color-print. Often I was surprised about the result. May be I used that technique because it made all falsification impossible. Drawn so sporadically, my compositions could never be pompous or posed. Engraving in dry-point or etching was a process representing some conflict between the needle and the sheet, some kind of tension, corresponding to the situation in a town split apart.

(Sabine Kahane, 2005)

Pleasures of Printing

I sold the prints in galleries and earned money to support my family. We were both students in these years, we are students until today. Earning money was a second rate question to us, and still is. We bought new colors, new metal sheets and the expensive handmade paper you need for a good print.

I had inherited an old printing press discovered an entire world of possibilities how to work with it. I played with the etching, printing one plate always in different colors, on different papers, never repeating the same kind of effect twice.

People who came to my studio or to one of the galleries where my works were put on sale, liked to choose among the various prints. The size of the etchings was usually small. For the metal sheets had to be small to fit into my handbag. Then the apartments were small in East Berlin, people had no space to hang big canvasses, they were grateful for small pictures. They liked my motifs, too. My orbis pictus was the town as they knew it, damaged by the bombs, ripped apart by the wall, poor and downtrodden, but full of the small pleasures and beauties you find even among ruins.

Trees in Town

There is a lot of conflict in town, and I found it strikingly symbolized by the situation of trees. They can be well treated in parks and greens, they can stand in the middle of a narrow backyard with sooty chimneys or next to a dump and struggle for sheer survival. They can sprout at places not destined for them, they can break the concrete and let it crack and destroy walls or pavements. They are both, victims of the town, and the final victors. For a town given up by man will soon be conquered by trees and plants.

(Sabine Kahane, 2005)

Poplars in a Backyard (Trees in Town)

One day we had a meeting with some managers of a state owned advertising agency that produced propaganda posters, flyers, post cards and things like this. We were expected to sit with them round the conference table and listen to what they had to tell us.

In the middle of the meeting Sabine suddenly jumped up from her chair, went to the window and stared into the courtyard. It was a typical Berlin house of that time, damaged during the war and not completely rebuilt, with gaps and fire walls still smoked and blackened. And in this special backyard there was a group of poplars growing in the narrow space between the walls, filling some gap with its green, strong, high grown foliage. Without saying a word, she took her etching needle out of her handbag and a metal sheet and started engraving. The room fell silent, the men round the table sat baffled. They didn’t want to be ungallant: she was an artist, she was a beautiful young woman. The sharp sound of the needle scratching in the metal was all we could hear.

That went on for some minutes. She drew her lines quickly, in precise moves, then took needle and sheet back to her bag, returned to the table and sat down. She gave us one of her gracious smiles, but it was not a polite one, rather the expression of deep satisfaction: she had caught her picture, had made it eternal, engraved in a sheet of metal…

(Chaim Noll, 2005)


Rome was a sensation to me, from the first moment on. I had been familiar with Ancient history, Greek and Latin literature, with Roman Art of all periods. I knew many of the works of art collected in Rome from reproductions and photography. I also knew Roman history well. The sensation was to find all that still alive. Rome is not at all a stuffy, dusty museum full of artifacts, but a town full of life, and this life is going on within the old palaces, churches, gardens, imperial forums. The works of art are only the scenery of real life, the theater of the real. Like art should be. It is the original, the ancient understanding of art.

Return to Religion

Rome is full of spirituality, and much of that spirituality is expressed in the masses of artifacts the place has produced and accumulated throughout the centuries: paintings, architecture, poetry, music. We spent most of our time studying, going round, visiting sites. I made a lot of sketches, noted down ideas, compositions, faces, figures, landscapes, topographies. We acclimatized, we loved Italy and the Italians. Italy became our European country of adoption. We learned Italian, a wonderful language.

We studied the great Christian culture of Europe at the place where it sprang, and came close to its ideas, but at the same time we started going to synagogue regularly. We walked from our apartment at the Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano to the great Roman synagogue on the Tiber banks and back every shabat. When the Princess Shabat was welcomed in the Lecha Dodi song and the doors towards Jerusalem flung open, we looked on palm trees and a blue Mediterranean sky. It was the right place to feel what Judaism is: a part of the Ancient world, miraculously surviving until today.

About Age and Beginning

My life is not of a kind most Western people dream of: finding the right track in young years and then going on straight, with a steady increase in success. We both had to learn to live with career breaks. We had to develop a capacity of detachment. In a certain sense life is a process of farewell and parting. We had to learn to begin anew. If necessary, out of nothing, with nothing than faith in God. The desert is the symbol of it, that’s why I love to live here.

A Night in Palazzo Farnese

One night we were invited to a reception in the French Embassy in Rome, situated in the famous Palazzo Farnese. We knew the Palazzo Farnese from the outside. Sometimes we used to sit and meet friends just in front of it, in a Caf? in the small lane between Campo de’ Fiori and Piazza Farnese, and looked at its famous face, designed by architect Sangallo, with the two fountains in the piazza, made from pink Egyptian granite stone, taken from the ancient thermal baths of Emperor Caracalla.

We knew the story of Palazzo Farnese in broad outlines: like all important buildings in Rome it had gone through problems and changes of luck. Michelangelo had been the building site manager for a time, at another period Swedish queen Christine had lived in it after her conversion to the Catholic faith under the influence of famous philosopher Descartes. Christine, a high tempered lady, was sometimes short of money, and many stories were told about her capricious life-style. One winter night, it is said, her desperate servants hacked the famous wooden doors of the Palazzo to pieces in gain for firewood, while their mistress gave a glittering party upstairs, in the famous Sala dei Fasti Farnesi.

It was just this famous ballroom where the reception of the French Embassy took place, and it was a winter night, too. On our way to the palazzo we had met John the Bagman, the English town tramp living around there. He was collecting wood for an open fire he wanted to ignite at the Campo de’Fiori. We had exchanged some words about the cold of that night, especially in the draughty lanes around the Campo. The Palazzo Farnese turned out not to be much warmer. The famous ballroom was near freezing point, and we needed two or three glasses of prosecco to feel at ease. There were some people we knew, some journalists from the German papers in Rome, a Swiss lady, a couple from Australia whom we had seen elsewhere before. I remember nothing of the conversation. It was the usual talk foreigners in Rome may have talked since olden times, about the beauty of the town, our original plans to stay only some weeks and Rome’s magic not to let us away.

Sabine did not talk at all. She had discovered some paintings she knew from reproductions, especially the ceiling fresco by Annibale, filling the gallery with its allegoric pictures called Il trionfo dell’amore, The Triumph of Love, showing in marvelous colors and bright detail the Greek deities amusing themselves with erotic loveplay. She had forgotten to bring paper or sketch-pad that night and without hesitation grabbed some of the paper napkins lying at the cold buffet and started scribbling. She filled napkin after napkin with the details she was interested in, anatomic particulars, special gestures, faces of southern beauty caught from the living faces of the Roman models the painters had used. She was totally absorbed in her work, went round and scribbled, from time to time handing out a new napkin to me.

The French Ambassador came to us through the empty ballroom about midnight. We were the last guests, and he wanted to usher us out. He looked at the napkin Sabine was just holding in hand and exclaimed with some surprise: “You are a great artist, Madame, indeed you are!”

“I know, Monsieur”, Sabine said, without looking up, caught by her last sketch. We went down to the piazza and crossed the Campo de’Fiori where John the bagman and other city tramps were sitting around their fire.

One early morning

We came here first time one early morning. There is still an invisible border-line between the Northern part of Israel where about 90% of Israeli populace lives, where the money is and the big cities, and the underdeveloped South with only two or three towns and some scattered settlements in the huge Negev desert. We came here that early morning from the crowded Mediterranean coast and saw the open space and the sun rising over the desert, we saw empty highways, some soldiers driving around in their vehicles, some youngsters praying on a hill top near the road in early morning light, with their prayer shawls fluttering in the breeze, we saw the eagles and vultures on the blue sky and camels standing on top of the dunes like statues.

This morning is for ever unforgettable: the emptiness of the landscape, the courage of the few people living here, the beauty, the hardship, the challenge. I think I understood only here what the sun is and its light, what earth and sky and man. We drove to the burial site of David Ben Gurion, the founder of the new Israeli state who retired to the Negev as an old man and is buried here. His grave is on a plateau from where you look wide into the Biblical Zin desert with its deep ravines and gliding hills, with its golden sand and meandering valleys, with ibexes, lynxes and exotic birds. It is a place on the brink of the real world.

(Sabine Kahane 2005)

Demons in the Desert

In the desert we live with angels and demons. You walk through the sand, suddenly there is a small whirlwind, a sand spout circling around you once or twice and then swirling up to the sky. And you think, you have seen a sand spout and think it once or twice, but when it happens a third time you begin to understand what it really may have been. It was a small child of the desert, still playful and pretty, but one day it will be a fully-grown sandstorm darkening the sky. You will withdraw from it in the shelter of your house, you will go round and close all windows carefully and peer through the shutters and see the air all red and yellow from the sand swirling around and the sun of a spooky blue. And the light coming down on earth from the sun is violet… These are the colors of the desert: incalculable, shocking, colors you have never seen, magic, inspiring.

(Sabine Kahane, interview with Gretel Rieber, Summer 2003)

Here in the Desert

Out here in the desert there is almost no distraction, you can work with unusual concentration. It is what I have always dreamed of. Artistic work of a certain level needs total dedication. I do not work like that every day, there are days when I wait, do some handicraft, repair jewelry, mend a dress. Then the grandchildren can be here and all children of my neighbors, they all may come to visit the new kittens and run around in the garden, it doesn’t mind. I wait and listen. I wait for inspiration, I wait to be called up. We must be ready for the call as our forefather Abraham was, here in the desert. When God called him, he answered: Here I am. And then I start working. I do not care about anything, I do not open the door. I forget the time.

(Sabine Kahane, interview with Gretel Rieber, 2003)


©2008 Benny Kahane, Beer Sheva, Israel