Eran Shakine: Painter, illustrator, sculptor

One of his sculptures, which is six meters high, used to stand in the center of Budapest, Hungary, where Shakine’s mother was born.

 ERAN SHAKINE: Adores creating public art.  (photo credit: Shay Kedem)
ERAN SHAKINE: Adores creating public art.
(photo credit: Shay Kedem)

“For quite a while now, no new genius artists have made an appearance,” says painter and sculptor Eran Shakine, as I wander through his studio on the second floor of a commercial building. 

“As artists, the only thing we can do today is take elements from existing works and try to piece them back together in a new way. When we do this with full, intuitive honesty, then a new work of art is created that can stimulate viewers to see reality a little differently. Culture is made up of thin layers of artwork, which are sometimes so thin that they are barely noticeable, and yet each layer changes and enriches our world.”

In Shakine’s studio, we stand and gaze up at a few tall statues he’s made out of bronze. “In an effort to make a statement about modern culture, I took properties I saw in sculptures made by Alberto Giacometti, and I integrated them into my sculptures to show walking movements from the world of modeling,” Shakine explains. 

“So, on the one hand, I’ve included elements from Giacometti, who was a pure and tormented artist who died in his leaky studio in Paris in the 1930s, despite the fact that bundles of cash were found under his mattress, and on the other hand, there is the supermodel figure, which symbolizes today’s consumer culture.”

Shakine, who grew up in Jaffa, is the son of artist Esther Shakine and Shimon Shakine, who is an author. One of his sculptures, which is six meters high, used to stand in the center of Budapest, Hungary, where Shakine’s mother was born. The statue was supposed to remain at the site for only a few weeks, but the deputy mayor adored it, and so in the end it remained there for a few years. Shakine did the metal casting in a small foundry located 40 minutes by train from Warsaw. From there, it was transported in a large truck to a location between the Széchenyi Chain Bridge and the Four Seasons Hotel. 

 AT WORK: ‘When you open yourself up to the world around you, the ideas come to you.’ (credit: Jakob van Vliet) AT WORK: ‘When you open yourself up to the world around you, the ideas come to you.’ (credit: Jakob van Vliet)

“I especially adore creating a work of public art,” Shakine said enthusiastically, “and watching it become part of the social fabric of the city in which it has been placed. We need to experience art as part of our daily routine, not just see it locked away inside museums. That’s why I also love performing and painting live in front of an audience in public spaces, so that they can be involved in the process.” 

Shakine is immersed in his art 24/7, and never stops being amazed by the art-making process. “One of my favorite creations of this sort is a billboard in Munich that the municipality had commissioned me to make,” Shakine recalls. “It was a drawing of two characters, one on each side of the sign. On one side, the character was saying, ‘Everybody loves me, but they don’t know it yet,’ and the character on the other side was saying, ‘Everybody loves me, but I don’t know it yet.’ It took me five hours to complete each side. 

“This project focuses on identity and the foreignness of immigrants, and it was important to me that residents would witness its creation, since in my opinion, this enables the viewer to connect with the work of art.”

A number of statues that Shakine sculpted are currently on display in European cities, such as Warsaw and Amsterdam, as well as in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. One statue is on Rothschild Avenue in Tel Aviv, in front of the ZOA House. “I was delighted when I saw that someone had painted graffiti on the statue,” Shakine says, “since that means it’s become a fundamental part of the city.” Shakine’s statue in Warsaw was commissioned by the same businessman who built the tallest tower in the EU in the center of the city. 

“One day, I found myself wandering around Warsaw, with no real plan for the day,” Shakine recalls. “And then, suddenly, I found myself in a huge open plaza. I saw a young woman standing there in the pouring rain, without an umbrella, gazing out across the plaza at a young man who seemed to be looking back at her. I ran back to the hotel, took out a sheet of paper and sketched a scene with one figure staring across at another figure. I took a photograph of the drawing with my phone and immediately sent it to the person who had commissioned my work. He loved the idea of a sculpture that deals with the complexity of the marital relationship.”

The final product was a 20-meter-long structure, which is currently standing in the center of Warsaw. The statues were placed on a wooden beam that’s powered by a motor hidden underneath the ground, which moves the beam up and down. At noon, the beam is straight, and so the two statues are at the same height. “Not long after the statues were placed in the square, a few people who work in a building overlooking the plaza told me that when they see only the statue of the man from their window, they know it’s time to go home,” Shakine describes excitedly. “A few years later, at one of my exhibitions, a shy couple approached me and told me that the statue in Warsaw had become a popular meeting place for couples.”

Where do you get the ideas for your artwork?

“When you truly open yourself up to the world around you, the ideas come to you. Nowadays, we are bombarded with visual images, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate one from another. On the one hand, we are living in a world of abundance, but on the other hand, people are constantly documenting their lives minute by minute, without ever taking a step back and letting themselves experience the present and observe their surroundings with their own eyes, and not through a screen. 

“Our mind and memory are not affected by experiences in the same way when we view images on a screen. Instead of becoming deeply embedded in our minds, these images get stored somewhere up there in the cloud.”

Another series of paintings that Shakine has been working on for a few years features faceless characters. “I feel that the modern harried lifestyle people are living in has weakened our ability to observe other’s faces, and perhaps our own faces, too.” In 2008, Shakine exhibited Sabbath Match, for which he created objects used in Jewish rituals. This exhibition was called by the magazine Artforum as one of the most important exhibitions of the year, and over the years, Shakine has won a number of awards and grants. 

Shakine began drawing when he was a young child, and held his first solo exhibition at the Givon Gallery at the age of 19, which put him on the cover of the now-defunct local Tel Aviv weekly Ha’ir. At the time, he was the youngest known artist to receive a salary from a gallery in Israel. 

His works have been exhibited in numerous museums in Israel and around the world, including in permanent collections at the British Museum in London; Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany; the Tel Aviv Museum of Art; the Israel Museum; the Herzliya Museum and the Mishkan Museum of Art in Kibbutz Ein Harod. 

Shakine has shown his works in more than 20 international art fairs, including in Hong Kong, Miami and New York, and participated in successful solo exhibitions that drew hundreds of thousands of visitors in New York, London, Paris, Brussels, Munich and Tel Aviv. Moreover, Shakine has published three books, and two new art books are scheduled to reach the public later this year. 

An especially successful series of work created by Shakine titled A Muslim, a Christian and a Jew has been traveling another around the world for a few years, although it has not yet made its way to Israel. The series contains paintings and drawings that depict the theological, philosophical and social journey of an outwardly indistinguishable trio. The exhibition was first shown at the Jewish Museum in Berlin in 2016, then at the Jewish Museum in Munich in 2018, at a museum in Amsterdam in 2019, and will soon be making its way to Toronto. The Amsterdam Municipality recently placed a statue of the three figures in the heart of its Red Light District. 

“When I was a kid growing up in Jaffa, I would often play soccer at the neighborhood field with all the Jewish, Muslim and Christian kids who lived there,” Shakine recalls. “However, I studied in a high school for the arts in north Tel Aviv, and when I would invite school friends home, they would feel extremely uncomfortable playing soccer with my Muslim and Christian friends from the neighborhood. 

“They didn’t grow up in a mixed environment like I had, and they had a hard time breaking free from this stereotypical consciousness and relaxing among kids who were different from them. The contrast of these two perceptions that were so different from each other is still so deeply ingrained in me, which I express in the works shown in this exhibition, the name of which sounds like the beginning of a joke.”

The 60-year-old Shakine was married to actor Maya Kadishman, the daughter of Menashe Kadishman, and together they have three children. Because of the pandemic, exhibitions that had been planned to open in Hong Kong, Singapore and Toronto were postponed or canceled. 

“When COVID-19 hit, I was newly divorced and living with a new partner – Adi, 34 – in Tel Aviv. We were living in a studio apartment on the northern side of Jaffa, and we decided that we’d stay there to ride out the pandemic together. During my daily walks with my dog, I began looking around me at all the shops and restaurants that had been shuttered due to the lockdown, which led me to create a new series of drawings. 

“Adi and I became very close within a short period of time, I guess because we were living in this little bubble that consisted of just the two of us, despite the age gap – either I’m very childish, or she’s very mature. The quiet in the neighborhood during the lockdown reminded me of my childhood, when it was forbidden to make any noise between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., and everyone would go home and rest. 

“When I was a kid, I would spend lots of time thinking, looking around me and drawing, so I was never bored,” Shakine continues. “Nowadays, no one just hangs out thinking about things and looking around them. When I’m sitting in my studio, I try to be as honest with myself as I can. When I begin a new series of drawings, I try not to let my thoughts get in my way. I create at least 15 or 20 drawings before I go back and look over everything and think about where my ideas originated. 

“It’s also really important to know when to stop working on each drawing, since when an artist looks at something they’ve created, we always have a feeling that it’s not perfect, that it’s not 100% complete. What helps me figure out when to stop is I think to myself, have I put enough out here for the viewer to have an idea what’s going on, but not too much, so that they can complete the work of art on their own.”

Art has become commercialized. How do you feel about that?

“Some people view art as an investment. Recently, an art collector who came into my studio used the term, ‘park your money in art.’ I don’t have any issues with this phenomenon, since the more artworks that are sold, means more art is being created – so long as the sale is not the sole purpose for its creation. Art enriches our lives. 

“When I was young and didn’t have much money, I would always be preparing myself to switch to teaching art so that I could pay my bills. And then each year, I would sell a drawing or a statue, which would keep me afloat for a while.”

Have you experienced jealousy among painters?

“[The public is] not proud enough of our work, which means that we’re not given access to national resources. Artists are not held with much esteem, compared with Torah study, for example. But I don’t feel like creating art is any less important for society. I’d love to found an art kollel, so that we artists could be eligible for government subsidies, too. And yet, throughout history, artworks that have been commissioned by ruling powers were, for the most part, failures.”

What’s it like being an Israeli exhibiting around the globe?

“It’s hard to make people understand that just because I’m from Israel, that doesn’t mean that I agree with the politics of my country. Art is not like sports, for example, and our role is not to represent our country or some organization. Artists must remain as true to themselves as they can.”

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on a new project that incorporates works from A Muslim, a Christian and a Jew, which will also be made into an NFT in cooperation with SCRT Labs, as well as a book of some of my newest drawings with art curator Ory Dessau. And lastly, Adi and I are working on a joint art project.” 

Translated by Hannah Hochner.