Moshe Castel was born in 1909 in Jerusalem, into a Castilian Sephardic family resident in Palestine for five centuries. From 1922 to 1925, he studied at Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts. From 1927-40, he attended the Académie Julien and École du Louvre in Paris. His subjects and technique reflected those of Jewish artists of the School of Paris. In 1940, he settled in Safed. He won the Dizengoff Prize in 1946. In 1948, he moved to Tel Aviv where he became one of the founders of the New Horizons group. In 1952, he visited Paris and New York, returning the following year to Israel, where he moved from expressionism to abstraction, using local antiquities (steles, inscriptions, and ancient manuscripts) as inspirations for imaginary relief elements resembling Hebrew and Arabic. In 1955, he completed large murals for Hotel Acadia in Herzliya, Israel, and El-Al Airlines, plus the Rockefeller Center, New York. He visited Spain in 1963 and completed a mural for the Knesset in 1966. From 1970-71, he worked on murals for the ceremonial hall of the presidential mansion in Jerusalem.
If Castel’s painting assumes the appearance of the rocks and earth of his country, of lava blacks, desert pinks, green and ochre cliffs, it is because he mixed with the colored pigments fine dust with irreducible grains and in particular basalt. His colors are inspired as well as physically and spiritually nourished by this mineral base but in blends and proportions so subtle that the canvas preserves all its suppleness and its lightness. It is not a wall which one bumps up against and whose ruin or deterioration the painter makes the most of. It is not a blocked horizon, but rather a precious, refined panel of which the mat dust absorbs the sun and which half-opens on a mysterious beyond. As it occupies only a part of the canvas, it stands out like tall cliffs; or else its middle shows a wound or a crater whose edges open like lips and which reveal the central fire, the entrails of the earth or of the flesh, the blackness of the abyss. This is not Trompe-l’oeil, but a real painting in relief which evokes a progression and defines a difficult and sinuous conquest. On these great uplifted tablets, like those of the Law, are written characters which we cannot read literally but which we recognize in our spirit as coming from a time immemorial which belongs to us all. This imaginary and symbolic writing which could be that of humanity’s most ancient laws as well as of our present travails offers a strong lacework and special rhythms. It creates a sense of strangeness, of adventure and yet it is wholly imbued with wisdom and hope. It is a hallmark engraved in the matter, magic flowering, conquest in the realm of the absolute.