Khen Shish is a fast talker. That is not meant in the derogatory sense. She is not trying to hustle anyone, she is just a bundle of energy who often talks nineteen to the dozen.
That dynamism, naturally, spills out onto the canvas or, in this case, paper when she picks up a paintbrush and the muse hits her. Clearly she was in the zone when she worked on the creations that make up her new exhibition at the Schechter Institute Gallery in Tel Aviv which opened on October 7 and is due to run through December 4.
The show has an intriguing title too – Lucky Chameleon – with the lizard family member making several appearances across the collection, in all sorts of guises and scales of magnitude.
The spread, curated by Drorit Gur Arie, occupies two floors of the building, although the upper level is hosting just a single painting. Then again what the top floor showing lacks in quantity it certainly makes up for in sheer volume. The eponymous exhibit is of gargantuan dimensions, measuring 1.4 meters high and a full 4.5 meters across. There is plenty to look at too. The centerpiece of the acrylic and gold leaf creation is undoubtedly a chameleon but there is an abundance of shapes, objects, decorative elements and visual tidbits to be observed, ingested and digested.
Running your eye over Shish’s offerings you quickly take on board a marked laissez-faire approach to art, and to the method of creating works thereof. There appear to be quite a few hand shapes in and about the more expected – dare one say conventional? – forms and colored sections. And the exhibits come in all sizes and shapes. The lower level display contains quite a few paintings that are on the diminutive side. And there are circular pieces that look a little like plates. “I often just take stuff and run with it,” Shish notes, a little superfluously.
There are several motifs in there – palm trees, creatures of indeterminate appearance which convey an ornithological impression, and some masks. There is a row of circular pieces hung over a shelf, which conjure up a crockery mantelpiece arrangement. And there is something, mid-floor, which looks exactly like a staple museum glass display cabinet.
That showcase layout offers a distilled sense of what Shish is all about. There is something ostensibly slapdash about the five items behind the glass, the largest of which has a roughly manually drawn frame, with equally rudimentary Stars of David at the four corners, and the head of a bird with a ring around it in the middle. There are ink blotches and stains dotted around the paper, and you can just make out part of the artist’s name. What’s that all about? “I don’t really know,” she replies offhandedly. “Maybe I am trying to cover something up, about myself. Maybe I’m not,” she adds with a laugh. Clearly it is up to us, the viewers, to make up our own mind about what Shish puts out for our consumption.
The exhibition blurb notes Shish’s roots in Safed and the mystical side of life there. There are elements in her oeuvre that allude to the use of amulets – hence the show moniker – and references to the kabbalah. That, and a homey ambiance pervade the main display area. “I painted the walls in blue,” she notes. “It brings me back to Tzefat, or maybe Greece, something sacred,” she adds in typically skittish manner. It is a little hard to keep up.
Perhaps it is personal. “There is something in the blue which reminds me of the Old City of Tzefat.” And of somewhere private. “The curator, Drorit, suggested we hang the works lower down on the wall. That feels intimate, like home.”
There is an ebb and flow dynamic to the collection, as the subject matter traverses the boundaries between the concrete and the nebulous. “I actually put a lot of effort into the abstract stuff. There is a lot of abstract art here too,” Shish observes. That is pretty obvious, and you get a rush of vim as you pass by a painting with a figure that looks like a tree, or a thick plume of smoke. Some of Shish’s creations have been identified with Rorschach psychological test imagery. “Yes, I’ve heard that,” she laughs. “Maybe that’s right. I don’t know. Maybe the figure is spitting out fire. There could be a bird in there.” She says she never really knows how something is going to pan out. “I might start out with a human figure and it comes out as a bird.”
There is a generous amount of gold leaf featured in the exhibition. Unsurprisingly, Shish has an ambiguous view of that. “Gold can be regal but it can also be kitsch.” The see-saw sentiment abounds everywhere you look, or think. “These are abstract,” she exclaims, pointing at a couple of small pictures. Then again... “There are figurative elements there too,” she continues. “That could be a chameleon, right?’ It certainly could.
Basically, you just have to go with the flow with Shish’s work, and there are countless hooks, should you discern them. “This is a palm tree, which is sort of about my daughter, Tamar (date),” she smiles. The picture in question is also mottled with gold, brown and reddish dots, in no particular order. There is also a partially obscured Star of David, and a couple of triangular shapes.
Somehow, with Shish, it also seems to make sense. Perhaps it is just the unrestrained outpouring of ideas seasoned with lashings of nervous energy. Naturally, that ethos is front and center in the outsize titular exhibit on the upper level of the building. “You can see it is a chameleon, but it could be all sorts of things,” she notes. Considering the quixotic metamorphic nature of the reptile that is perfectly logical.
True to the artist’s impulsive bent there are slats cut out of the paper which not only imbue the paintings with a third dimension, it also echoes a mask-like work on the ground floor. There are spiral shapes, something that might be a fiery meteor hurtling through space, frenetic references and some neatly oxymoronic floral ornamentation.
Shish never does anything by halves.
Lucky Chameleon closes on December 4.
For more information: https://schechter-gallery.com/