Yossi Mark | Closer
Curator: Drorit Gur Arie
A chalk inscription on the wall in Yossi Mark's studio reads “There are images I need to complete my own reality.” A line extracted from a book of poems by Jim Morrison, the legendary frontman of the Doors1, it sheds light on the code underlying the work of art: the primal drive striving for visual images; the frequent penetration of reality's corporeal surface which grants meaning and value to existence, and sets Mark's work in motion.
Mark's quiet images are spun through various strata of reality: the visible reality, the state of affairs between the figures (chiefly young women or those whose flesh surrenders the marks of time), and the language exposed as it is applied to the canvas. These are supplemented by ricochets of a distant past, icon fragments from Renaissance painting. Mark opts for figures from his closest immediate circle. Spending prolonged time in their company enables him to capture bare moments of body language and gaze, refining a rare emotional radiation, in which being and essence are assimilated as if they were one.
Sketches, surveying marks, border signs of stain and form, burst forth through translucent layers as work phases revealed to the viewer. Mark anchors at junctions of becoming; he does not conceal the scaffolding of the product before it was finalized, and presents processes of construction and accumulation in search of the essence at the heart of appearance, at the heart of the image. Processes combining content and language, intended to intertwine “vision and the visible, appearance and essence,”2 deviate from the prevalent “realistic” painting, which explores the crust of the surface.
Mark seeks intimacy, not necessarily one which presents the body in all its glory, not that which features the skin interspersed with the ravages of time. There is neither professed eroticism nor worship of the body per se here, but rather—a cold analytical perusal which refines a warm sentiment with a proficient hand. The intimacy is woven with thin, hidden fibers, with gestures of physical and mental proximity among the figures, and between the figures and others.
In Madonna and Child (2010), a child takes refuge at his mother's shoulder in an ostensible posture of natural sweetness, but the mother appears as old as a grandmother whose wrinkled face is furrowed with the insights of life as an archetype of protective compassion. By the same token, the fair-haired child with a white pacifier in his mouth alludes to the Christian son, yet his gaze is devoid of innocence and trust, attesting to disillusionment with reality. A horizontal white stripe cuts the painting in two, distinguishing lower from upper, as it were, the earthly from the heavenly. Mark's sky is not rendered in Renaissance blue and gold; it remains opaque, dark, shattering all thought of unity. Doubt nibbles away.
Mark's ability to encapsulate the intimate closeness and transform it into a charged pictorial reality is also discernible in his treatment of the optical space, in making the closeness of the painted image accessible to the viewer's field of vision, in filtering out excessive detail, and in the color reduction. In Doubt (2014), the bride and groom standing in the foreground seem to fill up the entire pictorial space. Their bodies are close together, engulfed in a warm, unifying light, yet their relationship is unclear, since the picture lacks the festivity and joy one might have expected on such an occasion. Expressive furrows in the man's forehead indicate that he is worried and preoccupied, while his young bride turns an anxious, hesitant gaze at him. Their cheerless expressions are captured by Mark in the decisive moment when they are tense about their shared future.
The reclining women in Mark's paintings are sprawled on the canvas as on a king-sized bed. Silent Dialogue (2012-13) features three: a woman, a cat, and a pillow. The moment of sleep is reserved and static. The monumentalization of intimacy is constructed in a composition with a relief-like character of diagonal cuts, and via the density of volumes. The image's phases of construction remain bare, and are not covered by a processed surface; nevertheless, sleep in the painting appears almost real.
In Night (2012-14), the heavy sculpted body is cast motionless. An animate body presented as a lump of meat takes up the bulk of the surface. The proximity to the image generates an experience of enchantment with the infiltration into the private, vulnerable space where the figure is unaware of its surroundings. At the same time, the body's limpness, its total submission to gravity, elicit disconcerting thoughts about end and desistance.
Refined and demanding, Mark's painting calls for a prolonged, slow, lingering gaze, inviting one to reconsider it. While discussing shreds of naiveté and tender moments of grace, it conveys existential disillusionment. It echoes masterpieces created in distant times and places, yet capable of touching the viewer's spirit here-and-now. It is a near-religious, silent painting, which does not strive for activity, but rather for the power of action innate to its very presence. It inspires the viewer with what Hubert Damisch identified in Piero Della Francesca's Madonna: “a prescience of the obscure connection that this devotional image […] is capable of maintaining with the most archaic strata of his own psychic constitution.”3
Drorit Gur Arie is Director and Chief Curator of Petach Tikva Museum of Art
– April 2015
1. Jim Morrison, “Notebook Poems,” The American Night: The Writings of Jim Morrison, Vol. 2 (New York: Vintage, 1991), p. 118.
2. Claude Lefort, preface to Maurice Merleau-Ponty's Eye and Mind (1961) (free translation).
3. Hubert Damisch, A Childhood Memory by Piero Della Francesca, trans. John Goodman (Stanford, California: Stanford UP, 2007), p. 77.