Painting the words

A veritable jack-of-all-trades, Yair Garbuz presents himself as a teacher, a humorist and an academic – but he’s a painter, first and foremost.

Yair Garbuz (photo credit: RON ARDA)
Yair Garbuz
(photo credit: RON ARDA)
While it may be going a mite too far to call Yair Garbuz an enfant terrible, the 69-year-old artist and writer clearly still has a bee in his bonnet about all sorts of things.
Garbuz is one of our most creative artists and also one of the most opinionated. His work and colorful persona will be celebrated at the forthcoming installment of the Ten Lamillim Laasot Becha (Let the Words Wash Over You) event which will take place at the Mediatheque Center in Holon on October 31. The impressive cross-disciplinary roster of artists on the show program includes leading pop and rock figures such as Ehud Banai, Efrat Ben-Tzur and Shlomi Shaban, as well as satirist and TV personality Yaron London, and Garbuz himself.
In a typically animated interview some years ago, Garbuz talked caustically about the “spiritualism” of people who relocate from urban environments and take up residence on some hilltop in the Galilee.
At the time, he said he couldn’t deal with all that bucolic tranquility.
Today Garbuz divides his time between his home in Ramat Gan and his other home in – yes – a Galilean hilltop community. Sounds like an unlikely about-face for the fiery artist.
“I like spiritualism but I can’t abide the ersatz version. I don’t like cults and I don’t like religions.
I don’t like any form of fanaticism.”
The march of time, it seems, also impacted on his decision to spend half of his time in the countryside.
“I am at an age now when I have less need of social interaction and less professional interaction,” he declares. “You limit the things you engage in to those which are the most important to you, and the most pleasant for you.”
Then again, Garbuz sees the importance of having a physical presence on the scene for young artists looking to move their career along.
“It is almost impossible to develop artistically away from the center of the country. You need to see art.
I am not talking about an individual’s career. You need to sharpen your judgment, and you can only do that by seeing a lot of works by other artists, and by traveling around the world. You also need teachers who pester you and then you pester yourself.”
One of the mentors who “bothered” the young Garbuz was Raffi Lavi.
“He was definitely an influence on me,” says Garbuz. “I say I learned art based on the Stanislavski method. The Stanislavski method in theater is when you get into the character.”
Artists frequently feed off their environment, so it is interesting to see whether the pastoral transition has impacted on Garbuz’s approach to his creative work. “Not that much in fact,” he notes. “I moved to the country as an experienced artist, with mature ideas.
And, anyway, my environment is much wider than the Galilee or Ramat Gan. Also, don’t forget that painting is an autonomous activity.Nothing helps me to paint and nothing interferes with my painting.”
Garbuz, it seems, is blessed with almost superhuman powers of concentration.
“You can bring 40 people to my studio. I won’t be happy with that but it won’t get in my way. Painting is a disease which operates of its own accord.”
At least in one respect the move up north has had a profound effect on Garbuz’s lifestyle.
“Living in the Galilee has had an extraordinary impact on the amount of reading I do,” he notes.
“I need peace and quiet to read. If someone calls me while I’m painting I can hold the phone with one hand and carry on painting with the other. I can divide my attention. But I can’t do that with reading.”
The result of that upturn in reading time spawned a literary work of Garbuz’s own doing, A Home in the Galilee, in which the painter-writer offers his view of contemporary Israeli culture through the prism of the books through which he has ploughed in the last few years.
“My wife came up with the idea for the book. I told her I like to write because it focuses my thinking. I don’t like to write from the graphomania side of things. I like to write because I feel it enables me to achieve a greater degree of precision compared with speaking about things."
“I told my wife I might not ever write another book because I had already written about all the central elements in my life. I write in response to various things. I wrote about my parents in Forever Polish, I wrote about my beloved Paris in a guide about it, I wrote about my Israeliness in Oy My Beloved Country, and I wrote a professional autobiography. So, what did I have left? My wife said that as I read a lot I should write a reading journal. That was a brainwave.”
It is quite rare for an artist who excels in one discipline to be able to express himself so well through a completely different channel. Garbuz says that the two art forms have been intertwined in his creative output for many years.
“I write texts in my paintings, I was a teacher for many years but, more to the point, if you look at painters like Van Gogh or Cezanne, or even [20th century Israeli painter Joseph] Zaritsky, they would take a folding chair, a straw hat and a case and they’d go out to nature and look at a forest or a mountain, or maybe a stream, and they’d paint them out there. I was never a painter like that. I’ve always painted in response to something, starting from words. All my series started with book stores. They were my mountains, or model. When I say ‘book store’ I mean that in the wider sense – the print, photographs, newspapers noticeboards.”
Garbuz’s fascination with books and various texts actually started from a purely visual standpoint.
“I had a brother who was 14 years older than me. He left home when I was still small and I’d go to his room where there was a bookcase, with his books, with glass doors.
I wasn’t allowed to read or even touch the books so my impression of them was purely visual. I saw the books as a picture.”
That forced the youngster to develop a keen sense of imagination which, he says, was also fueled by the lack of opportunity to see the real thing.
“My parents didn’t take me to museums and art galleries when I was a kid, and I am not sure there was much to see in Israel back then, but I listened to radio programs about art and I’d have to use my imagination to visualize the paintings the show presenter talked about. I think that has stood me in good stead.”
For more information about Ten Lamillim Laasot Becha: (03) 502- 1552 and