I f one of the objectives of an artist is to get members of the public to sit up and take notice then Tzlil Tzemet “No Free Meals” exhibition, currently on display at the Warehouse 2 location in the Jaffa Port, is tailor made to achieve just that.The dozen or so paintings dotted around the cavernous interior of the seaside venue provide for a richly appointed array of shades, hues and textures and, at first glance, appear to be the result of a blatantly insouciant mind-set.But the 25-year-old graduate of the Bezalel School of Art and Design is clearly high talented and blessed with a freely roaming mind and expansive imagination, and she is serious about her art. The subjects of Tzemet’s works I f one of the objectives of an artist is to get members of the public to sit up and take notice then Tzlil Tzemet “No Free Meals” exhibition, currently on display at the Warehouse 2 location in the Jaffa Port, is tailor made to achieve just that.The dozen or so paintings dotted around the cavernous interior of the seaside venue provide for a richly appointed array of shades, hues and textures and, at first glance, appear to be the result of a blatantly insouciant mind-set.But the 25-year-old graduate of the Bezalel School of Art and Design is clearly high talented and blessed with a freely roaming mind and expansive imagination, and she is serious about her art.The subjects of Tzemet’s works appear larger than life, but also very street-level in nature, although some may find the odd painting disturbing. One shows a grown man cradled in the arms of an elderly woman – presumably his mother – and sucking from one of her dangling breasts. The artist calls it “my best work.”Another has a naked man holding a leash tied around the neck of a woman in a similar state of undress, on all fours, facing the skull of a bovine creature. The latter was in the original No Free Meals lineup, but was adjudged to be too offensive.“It is about power struggles, which you get everywhere in life. They censored that one, which is a great shame,” says Tzemet. “I like to leave my characters with weird facial expressions,” explains the artist. “I like to keep people guessing. Anyway, I am happy for people to come and make of my work what they want.”Tzemet likes the go-with-the-flow approach, on both sides. “Yes, people can read into my paintings what they want and I would feel constrained if I had a set agenda and wanted to express a specific neat idea in my work. That’s not my way.”The overriding style of No Free Meals hovers between realism and surrealism, and Tzemet says she was drawn to offbeat subjects, and ways of portraying them, from the word go.“I always created strange things, even in kindergarten. I had a wonderful kindergarten teacher who loved me, and she didn’t mind what I drew. Mind you, I think my drawings bothered some of the other kids, and they’d point at my drawings and then point at me. But I didn’t care. I just did what I felt was right for me.”Tzemet gradually developed her artistic skills, investing in the technical side before producing her first infant surrealistic works. That, for her, was perfectly natural. “If you think about it, kids are exposed to surrealistic characters and work all the time, on TV and on the Internet,” she observes.Tzemet fuels her muses from all kinds of sources, and some of her works are of a fetchingly mundane nature. One has two male characters and two female characters in the foreground, one of whom is the owner of Tzemet’s local grocery store. Realism or, more precisely, reality encroached on Tzemet’s childhood and left some scars which she expresses through her art. The backdrop to the four characters in the aforementioned painting includes a small naked girl who is clearly in great distress and is running away from something with smoke billowing behind her. It does not take a PhD in modern history to immediately identity the girl as one of the iconic figures from the Vietnam War. She is clearly the child depicted in Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-winning shot, taken in 1972, of a bunch of children running away following a napalm attack by the South Vietnamese air force. There are echoes of Tzemet’s own childhood recollections in the work.“I think that harks back to a time when I was traumatized by war,” she recalls. “I did the painting last year but we went through plenty of missile attacks when I lived in Nahariya as a kid.”While a good proportion of the pictures in the exhibition appear to be the product of a highly imaginative mind, Tzemet is clearly grounded in the here and now, and feeds off real characters she encounters in daily life.“This is a picture of a prostitute who lives near a restaurant where I work in Florentin [in south Tel Aviv],” Tzemet explains. “She is scared to leave the house so I try to persuade her to go out, and I bring her food. She is called Sima and she is a sort of local icon.”Despite her close relationship and empathetic feelings towards Sima, Tzemet says it took her a while before she could bring herself to portray her in a painting.“Everyone said I should do a painting of her but, to begin with, she scared me a bit and she has this look of gloom on her face. I didn’t want to show her as a dreary person, so I painted her as a sort of flower power character from the ’60s, surrounded by the joys of Mother Nature.”Tzemet’s work also conveys a sense of the creative process, of the artist having gone through the mill to eke out the end result.“There are times when I look at my paintings and I have a certain reaction to them, and then I’ll look at them again, at some later stage, and I will view them in a completely different way. That applies to finished works and paintings I am working on. I have to put some paintings to one side for a while, and get on with something else, before I can go back to them and complete them. I can leave a painting for a whole year, and then I’ll return to it, and only then will I understand that I couldn’t finish it before because I wasn’t mentally in the right space.”Tzemet is clearly not one to tread the high ground, or to follow convention. So it is a wonder she lasted the full four years of her Bezalel degree program.“I almost left during the first year, but I got into it and I am happy I completed my degree,” she says.While not prone to pulling her punches, she very much wants us to enjoy her work. “I don’t want to scare anyone away, and I hope the colors I use will attract people. I have something to say through my work.”“No Free Meals” closes on February 15.