An avalanche of art

Jerusalem-born artist Shai Yehezkelli presents his eccentric style of painting infused with personal anecdotes and rich religious imagery.

December 7, 2016 20:59
2 minute read.
Jerusalem-born artist Shai Yehezkelli presents his eccentric style of painting infused with personal

Jerusalem-born artist Shai Yehezkelli presents his eccentric style of painting infused with personal anecdotes and rich religious imagery. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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In his first solo exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, “In Praise of Avalanche,” the Jerusalem-born artist Shai Yehezkelli (b. 1979) presents his eccentric style of Israeli and Mediterranean painting infused with personal anecdotes and rich religious imagery. The exhibition, which is on show through March 25, corresponds to him being awarded the Museum’s 2015 Rappaport Prize for a Young Israeli Artist.

“Shai has received many awards and participated in a significant number of exhibitions. I think his success can be attributed to his truly special, incomparable language of painting that expresses and develops aspects of his personal biography and national identity, filled with irony and self-reflection,” said the exhibition curator, Anat Danon Sivan.

The title of the exhibition, “In Praise of Avalanche,” celebrates imperfection and failure and shows why they are an essential part of the creative process.

“Over the past two years, Yehezkelli has been painting swift etudes on flawed earthenware, replacing the flat surface of the canvas with the defective three-dimensional object, thereby indicating failure as a new point of departure for contemporary painting,” said Suzanne Landau, director and chief curator of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

There are a handful of concepts and images that Yehezkelli continuously addresses in his oeuvre, and the artist often uses bright, traditionally uplifting colors to mask or deflect from the gloomy and woeful underpinnings in his works.

“In many of his works, Shai comically draws the painting itself looming over the head of the painter,” said Sivan. “He investigates the absurd relationship between the painting and the painter, where the artist is left subservient.”

Yehezkelli’s work weaves together a complex set of symbolic signifiers of modern painting with multiple religious elements, while also playfully fluctuating between the abstract and figurative, comic and tragic, and political and theological.

“Visual medieval Christian images and shofar representations hovering over al-Aksa Mosque blend in the paintings, forming a backdrop for the portrait of the artist, grotesquely portrayed as weak and neurotic,” said Landau.

Through the juxtaposition of excerpts of Jewish prayers and motifs, alongside Christian altars and Islamic architecture, Yehezkelli intensifies his evolution of contemporary Israeli art and declares himself as the eternal wanderer.

“The image of the Wandering Jew preoccupies me,” said Yehezkelli.

“The sense of detachment, that there is no solid ground underfoot, and no place to take root. It connects to a global syndrome characterizing the generation of children of immigrants and refugees, not necessarily exclusively Jews.”

From a secular family living in Jerusalem and educated at a religious school nearby, Yehezkelli’s upbringing led to conflicting collective and spiritual identities.

“Religious culture is inherent in my work,” he said.

He was able to channel his exploration and self-expression through art, and earned both a BFA and MFA from Israel’s prestigious Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design.

Among his many self-portraits, Yehezkelli attempts to morph the idea of the “old Jew” with the “new Jew” and in that way connects to Jewish Diaspora identity.

“Many of Yehezkelli’s paintings address the tension and split between form and context – between autonomous forms and differentiated forms – that hold meaning” said Sivan. “His images are always both this and that, in defiance of the laws of logic.”

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