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Shai Yehezkelli

Shai Yehezkelli

I'm thrilled to share the stunning work of Tel-Aviv-based artist Shai Yehezkelli whose work is currently on display in a solo exhibition "In Praise of Avalanche" at the Tel-Aviv Museum of Art through 25 March 2017. We chat about his practice and his influences, and tongue-in-cheek humor when it comes to painting. Check out more about his work at the links following the interview!

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Hello Shai! First, can you tell me a bit about yourself?

I was born and raised In Jerusalem, and since 2008 I have lived and work in Tel-Aviv. I am a neurotic person; I suffer from anxieties and I have recently changed my smoking habit of 22 years into a vaping habit. I am not sure what's worse.

What first interested you in making art? Do you consider painting to be your primary medium? What do you like most about it?

I started making art pretty late, in my early 20s, when I chose going to art school for rather prosaic reasons. I was always an "artsy" person, but my main passions were literature and music. I think that visual art caught me because it was there at a certain point, and it just grabbed me.

Yes, painting is my primary medium. I think that what I like about it is the same things that made me hate it when I first studied art -- for having this hunch of history on its back, of all the things that have already been done and said within this dumb frame -- that in a sense painting is about dodging the bullets. I like the fact that a painting is forced to be a painting, that it is also defined by its limits, and that a huge part of this practice is to somewhat be able to stretch its limits a bit. I also like pretty colors, I think.

Your current solo exhibition, In Praise of Avalanche, at the Tel-Aviv Museum of Art contains a combination of painted vessels as well as paintings and drawings. Can you tell me more about this exhibition?

This show is a very specific collection of works, mostly from the last two years. For me, it's a documentation, or rather, an index, of a social and political state that incarnates into a mental state. I was interested in creating this symbolic space that reflects on this catastrophic point in time and place. The vessels are a metamorphosis of the pots I've been painting in the last few years. I wanted to create a reverse move in which the vessel that is on the painting surface becomes the surface itself of the painting. So the vessel that once held the image of the vessel is now being held on the vessel, that sorta "came to life." This kinda stuff makes me giggle.

Curator Anat Danon-Sivan describes your work as relating Israeli and Mediterranean aesthetics and "symbols based on religious elements and signifiers of modern painting." Can you explain more about the symbols and marks that you use in your work?

Well, yes. I was always interested in religion and specifically in Judaism. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I was educated in religious schools and grew up as an orthodox. Today I am very far from this environment, yet I am still infatuated with the rituals, and I keep finding its connections to territory that art claims to own in our culture. I like to play with the image of the Shofar, for instance, so that it'll be understood as a pipe, or Tefillin as a modern black square. The aura is the same, the terminology is similar. Yet, art always fails to deliver what religion constantly gains.

What is your process like? How do you get started on a piece, or know when it is complete?

I have completely abandoned any use of found image. I am currently more interested in starting from literally scratch, from a stain of paint or a brush-stroke gesture, and then to see where it takes me. About 60 precent of my work is layers over layers of failed attempts to get somewhere. Every layer leaves something behind and joins the next round. I know when I am done when the painting is not "done" in the sense of closure, but it is exact. It still asks a question, so to speak.

Can you describe your studio?

Filthy/too expansive/too cold in winter and too hot in summer/my favorite place.

What do you consider the best advice you've received so far? 

"You should probably buy an air conditioner for your studio."

What is the most challenging aspect of pursuing art seriously? Have you overcome any obstacles (creatively, professionally) to achieve what you wanted artistically?

Being an artist is an everyday struggle. I think this is true for most artists. It's a financial struggle for those of us who are not backed up with a wealthy family, it's the struggle of being alone (in the broader sense of the word) at the studio, and yes, of course, to keep on doing what fascinates you without being constantly praised and petted. 

What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do? What compels you to keep making?

If someone looks.

Find more information at shai-yehezkelli.com and on Instagram @shai_yehezkelli

All images courtesy of Elad Serig.

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