Hands on art

Rachel Yedid’s ‘Prelude feminin’ exhibition depicts women in all sorts of poses exuding powerful sensuality.

Painter Rachel Yedid 521 (photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi)
Painter Rachel Yedid 521
(photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi)
Artists often talk about connecting with their muse and how their physical surroundings can often prompt the arrival of the necessary source of inspiration.
French-born Jerusalemite Rachel Yedid certainly found a suitable place to create the paintings currently on display in her “Prelude feminin” (Women’s Preludes) exhibition at the Jerusalem Cinematheque.
The show, which is supported by the Romain Gary French Cultural Center, comprises 22 acrylic and oil paintings. They all display sumptuous colors and project various degrees of light, some of which appear to put out an impressive level of wattage. All except one are painted on a black background, including one work which is entirely black, punctuated by sweeping and sometimes frenetic black brushwork, with the physically and semantically contrasting addition of three Hebrew letters in gold that spell “Or” (light). All the other paintings depict women in all sorts of poses and exude powerful sensuality, if not sexuality.
The temporary incubator for the works in the exhibition was an abandoned house in the center of Jerusalem.
“I can’t tell you exactly where it is,” says Yedid conspiratorially, “but I knew as soon as I found it that it would make a wonderful place in which to paint. There is so much light there.”
The exhibition includes a film, produced by Richard Gordon and directed by Sébastien Lefebvre, that offers further insight into the process of creating the paintings.
As she worked, Yedid gradually began to explore her new surroundings. She found papers, including love letters, bills and notebooks, and realized she had stumbled across the home of a legendary painter.
“I saw the name of Miron Sima, but it took me a while to understand that he had lived there,” Yedid recounts.
Sima was a Russian-born painter who won acclaim in his native country and subsequently in Germany before moving to Palestine with the rise of Hitler to power in 1933. He quickly made a name for himself here as something of a rebel, preferring to portray refugees rather than subscribe to the iconic artistic ethos of the time.
Sima died in 1999 at the age of 97, but Yedid says she felt his presence as she produced the paintings for the exhibition.
“It was as if he was watching me and approving what I was doing and creating in his home,” says Yedid. “I felt that he had opened the doors to his home for me.”
The result of Sima’s posthumous largesse is a stunning exhibition that was unveiled in Paris in the summer and is scheduled for a showing in Belgium in early 2012.
“All the models are dancers and musicians,” explains Yedid. And, indeed, one part of the exhibition space on the opening night had a piece by Mozart as a musical backdrop.
“Music is very important to me,” states Yedid, which, with a conductor father and a cellist mother – not to mention being a hand at classical piano herself – is not too surprising. “Music is an ever-present part of what I do. I don’t think I could paint without it.”
The choice of musical substratum at the exhibition was pretty self-realizing, too. “Mozart has been a fantasy of mine since I was very young. I always dreamt I’d meet him one day and that we’d do something together.”
With such a definitive familial background, young Yedid was expected to follow in her parents’ footsteps, but she broke the mold.
“Music was the compulsory thing to do, so I escaped into painting,” she declares. “I was expected to take part in competitions and practice religiously, but that had a negative impact on my enjoyment of piano and music. I still play, but I keep it free and fun and improvise with it. Mozart is very hard for me, so I play his music when there’s no one around to hear me. I like Bach. That calms me.”
When Yedid took the bold step of enrolling at an art school in France, her parents were somewhat skeptical about her ability to make a go of it, but with “Prelude feminin” doing well here and on the European circuit, she clearly proved them wrong.
Yedid made aliya about 10 years ago and began exploring the possibilities of taking her craft further in her new country. She found a suitable educational vehicle at The School of Visual Theater in Talpiot.
“I really enjoyed studying there,” she says. “It released all sorts of things inside me. I studied art, painting, theater, directing and directing through painting. It was fascinating to look at art in the very restricted format of a painting and to take it into the widest possible visual context. I think you can see theatrical figures in my paintings.
There is a lot of theater in them.”
Yedid says she likes to observe how viewers relate to her work.
“A few days ago I sat here [at the Cinematheque], incognito and with sunglasses on, and listened to people talking about the pictures.
It was fascinating to listen to them. Different people, naturally, bring their own understanding and baggage to what I do. And that is fine.”
Like or dislike, it is hard to imagine anyone just passing by Yedid’s paintings. There is a palpable sense of unbridled energy that pours out of her canvases, and many of her subjects appear to be on the verge of some powerful sensual or sensory discovery as one might experience when listening to a particularly captivating piece of music.
“For me, painting with music is often like having an intellectual orgasm,” declares Yedid. “It starts from the edges of my toes and rises up like ants and becomes stronger until it reaches the area of the brain.”
Hands, across a wide spectrum of grace and coarseness, are also an important corporeal component of the works in the exhibition, as one might expect of a painter with a strong interest in the piano.
However, Yedid would like viewers to go beyond the visual aesthetics alone.
“The fingertips are our emotional point of contact with everything happening around us,” says Yedid, “but it bothers me when people relate to my art in a figurative sense. I would hope that my art takes people to a more surrealistic place within themselves.”
Even so, Yedid also conveys that idea of a tangible interface between artist and creation to her own young students.
“I teach children, and I tell them to take a paintbrush or a pencil or their finger and touch their bare forearm with the point. Then I tell them that the paper feels exactly what they feel. That’s what I try to feel when I paint.”
The “Prelude feminin” exhibition runs at the Jerusalem Cinematheque until October 30. For more information: www.jer-cin.org.il.