NIKEL, LEA (1918–2005), Israeli painter. Nikel was born in Zhitomir, Ukraine, the daughter of Bat Sheva and Haim Nikelshperg, who immigrated to Ereẓ Israel two years after she was born because of the pogroms. Although she lived in many cities during her lifetime, she identified with Tel Aviv. Nikel can be seen as a self-taught artist. She studied for a short while with the artist Haim Gliksberg and spent some time in the famous studios of Yehezkiel *Streichman and Avigdor *Stematzky. In these studios Nikel was exposed through books and reproductions to the world of modern art, and her decision to travel to Paris matured. Nikel remained in Paris 11 years (1950–61). She was fascinated by the artistic atmosphere there, enjoying the possibility of visiting art museums housing European collections and of considering herself an artist. Nikel's first steps in the abstract style took place in this period. The attraction of the art world and the need to become part of it influenced her mode of wandering from place to place. From the 1970s Nikel lived close to open spaces, near nature, in Moshav Kidron. In 1995 she won the Israel Prize.
Nikel was an independent artist committed to her own style. Despite criticism, she continued to work on her abstract, colorful, and optimistic paintings. Nikel's courage in coping with abstraction was unique in Israel's art world. Art critics labeled her style Lyric Abstraction, a term that came from the New Horizons art group. But Nikel's works took abstraction one step further since she examined formal questions of the abstract without linkage to local places as the other members of the group did.
The main artistic tool in Nikel's paintings is color. She used a wide variety of colorful compositions. They move from figurative dark painting to abstract colorful works during the 1960s in Paris. From geometric compositions with contour lines and muddy color (View from the Window of My Chambre de Bonne: Paris, 1950, Tel Aviv Museum of Art) she turned to a spontaneous turbulent style (Untitled, 1969, Israel Museum, Jerusalem).
In the 1990s her style was still vivid and optimistic, and she was invited to exhibit in very stylish new galleries. Her perception of art as emotional creativity produced nuanced changes and renewal in her painting. Occasionally a new image would appear in some of her paintings and then disappear (Black Butterfly, 1994, Private Collection).
Nikel passed away ten years after a retrospective exhibition of her art was shown at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. During this last decade, being quite elderly and ill, she continued to create in a fresh and vivid style.
M. Segan-Cohen (ed.), Lea Nikel (1995); Y. Fisher (ed.), Lea Nikel – Book (1982).