The keen mind of Eran Shakine

Q & A with well known Tel Aviv based artist whose artwork is well known worldwide.

Eran Shakine (photo credit: Zvika Roitman, Avshalom Sassoni)
Eran Shakine
(photo credit: Zvika Roitman, Avshalom Sassoni)
Artist Eran Shakine was born in Israel in 1962. In 1980-84 he studied art at the WIZO Art School. In 1987-1992 he lived in New York, where he worked as assistant to artist Karl Appel.
Shakine now lives and works in Tel Aviv. His artwork is well known worldwide. He currently has an exhibition at the Zemack Gallery in Tel Aviv.
What is on your artistic agenda at present?
In the last few years I’ve been interested in the progress of how cultural heroes are created, as well as historical figures, such as Gandhi, Hitler or Yitzhak Rabin. (I did a painting of Rabin going over the notes of his last speech). I have started with art icons like Picasso, Van Gogh, Giacometti.
All our heroes throughout history have been depicted by other people, historians or writers of their time or later times. Who knows why Van Gogh cut his ear off? Was it because of a love affair or a fight with Gauguin? Or maybe he painted himself with a bandage so it would look more interesting.
When Lucian Freud painted David Hockney and Hockney was doing his portrait, could they see beyond their feelings toward each other? Is it important to us as viewers? Would Hockney portray Lucian differently after he heard that Lucian’s painting of him was selling for more? There is a real person out there that I feel for. Is it important to portray him as he really is?
Do you think these questions are the effect of post-modernity?
One doesn’t know the truth anymore; all the information is heavily Photoshopped.
These days, we Google. Before we meet someone, we Google them to know who he is. And then, after the meeting, we Google to see how it went. This is how we have our first impression. People who see my work say, ‘Wow, you really captured the person; it looks just like him.’ This is a great compliment, but I think to myself, they don’t really know this person. We all have our information from the same source.
What inspires you when choosing your subjects?
I don’t have to actually meet my subjects – I Google them. Sometimes I read texts, on Wikipedia or other texts available on the Net; sometimes books or magazines.
At some point I feel I have an image in my head, so I draw it not to forget. No perpetual sketches – straight on canvas. Wikipedia will tell me everything. And if they have a blog, a Facebook or a site, I will know enough to marry them. So I guess you can say my drawings are made up of 50% public relations, 40% gossip, 10% imagination, all mixed with lots of love.

How would you define yourself, generically?
I consider myself to be the best example of myself. That is, the culture that I come from, which is Greco Roman, Western or something like that. I don’t try to learn more about the persons I choose to paint. I reflect on them as any other. Not to ‘expose them’ or the truth. All of them are creative people, which I feel part of. I don’t think that the ‘high’ they feel when they succeed is different from mine when I succeed or that their anxieties when they fail are different from mine.
Can you describe your work process?
My research is done through my eyes, but my resources come from the media. I have some cultural heroes, persons whom I feel close to. Then I look at images available on the Net. I feel close to them as if they belong to my family, a distant uncle or a brother who is living in another country.

Culture seems to have a prominent place in your work. What about personal history?
In all my artworks, I look at how our culture is made. In my exhibitions “Sabbath Match” (Tel Aviv, 2008) and “Minimal Contradictions” (Brussels, 2010), I was trying to portray the cultural tension between the religious and the non-religious in Israel. The centerpiece of this exhibition was a football made of black and white skullcaps.
At the Pulse art fair 2011 (in L.A. and Miami), I was exhibiting a cast bronze two-meter high sculpture at the Zemack Gallery called Giacometti’s Granddaughter as a Supermodel. It is a sculpture about culture and beauty My shrink (if I had one) would probably say it all comes from my family history.
Both my parents lost their families in the Holocaust. I have seen blurred black-andwhite photographs of some of them. About most of them, like my grandmother and grandfather from my mother’s side, there is no information at all, not even stories.
My mother lost both her parents when she was four or five years old and never spoke of them. So maybe it is my imaginary family that I’m adopting to myself.

What are some of your favorite artists or works of art?
My favorite painting, well I have few. One that stays in my head is Giacometti Wandering the Streets of Paris with All His Sculptures in His Coat Pockets , 2009. He is one of the giants of 20th-century art. At his most venerable, he was wandering the streets like a nomad. On Amazon. com, I read this review of the book Alberto Giacometti in Post-war Paris by Michael Peppiatt: “The sculptor-painter spent the duration of World War II languishing in his native Switzerland, modeling plaster figures so profoundly attenuated that when he returned to a liberated Paris, he was able to smuggle three years’ of work in matchboxes in his jacket pocket.”
I don’t really care if it was so. And I don’t think I have seen this actual book. But this was enough to trigger this image in my mind. As artists, we are all nomads, having our creations in our jacket pocket or on a disc on key, wandering the streets of our own culture.
Another one of my favorites is Picasso Working on a Bust of a Woman (Marie Therese). The relationship of Picasso with his women is one of the most overrated enigmas created by the media and gossip.
Is it the muse and the creator type story, or was it a series of different types of abuse? It works on so many levels. In this painting, the art created looks more real than the artist.
My next favorite is Valentino, where the fashion designer is portrayed trying on one of his creations. I wonder how much the creation is part of the creator. How much is it influenced by market desires, economic decisions and trends? This dilemma is very evident in the world of fashion.