From the "Salame 10" MFA exhibition
Eden Bannet: I am not really sure where to start, but this is relevant to your works – one of the sensations I get while looking at your paintings is that you are always in a state of being in “the middle”.
Shai Yehezkelli: In the middle of what?
E.B. In the middle of a sequence, a sort of a continuous present. That sensation is particularly strong now, in the studio, where all the paintings are laid out in array, and I am sitting in the middle of a jumble of images, quotes and references to various artistic languages, periods and cultures. In the same way that the images in the paintings “float” in space, detached, they are also linked to one another, in what might be perceived as an infinite web of possibilities.
S.Y. That is true, and it is also important to me. I am not interested in a serial mechanism or a uniform appearance. But I do not agree with the issue of “infinity”; for me there has to be a backbone that holds everything.
E.B. What holds everything?
S.Y. Although intuition is an important tool for me, at the end of the day, there is a predetermined array that I try not to deviate from. Out of the understanding of what I am interested in, and the circularity of the work in the studio, starting over each time a new forms a framework and demands of me what I am committed to advancing.
E.B. That’s interesting, because usually your paintings give off the feeling that there is no hierarchy, everything can find its way into them. But even when you quote a Modernist grid, copy an etching depicting twelfth century saints, or paint a portrait of Moshe Dayan, eventually it always goes through the initial selection of the images and their connections, through your eyes, your hand and the singularity of your artistic language. Your figure which brings across that diversity is the filter unifying it all. You are not concerned with pretending to be other painters.
S.Y. There's nothing interesting in a quote just for the sake of quoting. For me it has no point. As to your comment on the possibility of each image to be valid – maybe from the viewer’s point of view, but not as far as I am concerned. What doesn’t fall within the framework of what I am dealing with, eventually will not end up as a part of the body of work.
E.B. It seems to me that the feeling of a lack of hierarchy that the works give is related to the issue of flatness and depth. You almost always avoid creating perspective or illusion of depth in the paintings. It all seems to be hovering in the air, or floating on the surface of the painting. It grants the paintings a symbolic status, like icons.
S.Y. I see the illusion of depth as the deception of the painting, and it is one of the things I avoid on purpose. To me, that illusion symbolizes what I find most disturbing in the practice of art – the attempt to create a religious depth, a sort of theology of secular worlds. I suppose that is also what lies at the heart of the love-hate relationship I have with art. Let’s call it the inability to provide what I see as a real lack in our world. To me it is obvious that I am not interested in contributing to that illusion. In that respect, the images I have dealt with in the past year testify to a world that had higher providence or a conviction in absolute wisdom. I am not trying to formulated, recreate or realize that place, but I rather want to point to the absence, among other things, the absence of that particular time in our experience in general and in art in particular.
E.B. Someone who is unfamiliar with your works might perceive your position as totally devoid of joy, but that is not the case. The paintings have desire, lushness and passion; they convey a strong sense of the joy of painting. It seems that despite the intellectual aspect of you work, there is also an authentic expressive aspect, not just an imitation or simulation of expression.
S.Y. It's True. I do suffer from the joy of painting; that is precisely the duality I talked about earlier. I am unable to give up painting and I can not give up artistic creation, because that is the only place where I can express my reservations concerning the artistic creation. I think that without all the aspects that make a paining what it is, I really and honestly would not have been engaged in it. Those reservations allow me to understand where I stand in that game. There are rules and definitions that allow me to position myself.
E.B. It is interesting to posit that set of rules in relation to religion, of all things, that is, in relation to a situation in which some things are allowed and some are forbidden. That set of rules allows an understanding of your place in the world and creates a sense of calm. Outside the internal logic of the creation everything might fall apart again. This leads me to the question, what sort of invitation to you want to extend to the viewer?
S.Y. Before anything else it has to be painting, on the physical and uninformed level. An invitation that will always be based on the world of painting, on the attempt to fracture some small shift of painterly awakening to the right, some sort of wonderment. The ideal case, to me, is that in which the viewer tries to create his own syntax. But without the initial reaction to painting as a painting, all that would be futile as far as I am concerned.