With Philistines | Avi Katz
Text for the exhibition “With Philistines”, Jule M. Gallery, Tel-Aviv, 2014
With Philistines (and in the exhibition: Samson [Self-portrait as], and also Self-portrait as a Happy Infiltrator): a declaration of ultimate otherness which is razor sharp and possesses the daring of a liminal painter, but is also crippled and even wide open to interpretation and castrated: the present absence of the beginning of the verse “Let me die”, as well as the echoes of these difficult times (many of the artworks in the exhibition were painted in the anguish of Operation Protective Edge) as well as an alternative reading that invokes the use of “philistine” as a moniker for those who show a crude contempt for intellectual and artistic values. Indeed, Yehezkelli's paintings offer a reversal of hierarchies that presume to distinguish between the proper manners of representation and the demonstrably outsider “bad painting”, which may affiliate him with that “omnivorousness” (to use the term coined by the sociologist Richard Peterson) – the highbrow crowd whose taste tends towards “everything…”
In his new paintings, Shai Yehezkelli continues to consistently develop a visual language of signs, which is multilayered, borrowed, and appropriated (from the The Birds' Head Haggadah to comic books and emoticons, from Stars of David to a cowboy with a cigarette) but also personal, veiled, and enigmatic. The viewer is invited on a journey of revelations that will somehow transform paint stains to shapes (the stain, claims Lacan, marks that which returns to the viewer from the painting, the presence of an object that cannot be seen). The act of painting celebrates a lively freedom of color and shape to the point of “excess” at times, but also presents its faltering and depletion.
In Yehezkelli's “presentation of 'self'” the painting becomes a chaotic container of sorts, into which conscious and subconscious forces are siphoned, in combinations riddled with irony and pathos (as a desperate attempt to produce emotion…). Yehezkelli's characteristic self portraits also have a deceptive nature, and rather than fixating self identity they are an expression of the dissolution of the identification of the “self”. The artist is an “entrepreneur of the self” (in the worlds of Svetlana Alpers). The multitude of self portraits (in the form of “self portrait as…”) expresses the game of changing masks, what marks the presence of the “act”, an “art occurrence” supposedly expropriated from the artist, an act that engenders a split of sorts between the portrait and the self that this portrait was supposed to transmit, and in fact embodies the dimension of failure to transmit the self that perhaps becomes “everyman” and at times “every Jew”…
This time, more than in the last exhibition, this carnivalesque art fair transgresses the boundaries of self that wallows in the pleasures of its despondency. From the introvert self to the world, to zeitgeist painting.
The works' titles do not “speak for themselves” but are a part of integrated art talk. Thus for instance, in the Monument for the Women of Shuja'iyya – a proposal for a monument of sorts, a woman lioness, an upside down IDF helmet that sprouts slivers of light, a noseless smiley, and another smiley that pops up in the layers of paint, winged like an angel of compassion from the top right, palm trees, Gaza-esque Guernicas (the junkyard of the global and Israeli history of art is not unknown to Yehezkelli). And next to it – The Picking of the Flowers – centralization in the hybrid figure and amorphous expansion into heaped chaos of signifiers that have multiple signifies: a bowed palm tree, a map that may also be a prayer shawl (Talit), a construction of an oriental landscape compressed in the left, a comb, an F bottle, and from the fauvist ground of amassed emoticons screams the death toll.
The two paintings of oriental sun, one happy and the other sad, imbue the exhibition space with a sort of atmospheric incense, suns which are eclipses, suns which are eyes, a watercolor pupil as a smiling face that will dissolve into an abstract stain in “sad sun”, where we find a happy palm tree … Onkelos from a bird's eye view that also resembles a palette, more than they exude life, these are disconcerting suns; the optimistic Platonist similitude between the sun and the eye, the metaphorical gaze at the sun as what leads to the purpose of the truth, a sublime step in the philosophical education ladder, is replaced by Georges Bataille who preaches to dare look at the anti-ideal, the dirty, with the blinding black sun, and like in the painting, the suns are also the eyeballs and the liquid is the tearing, the oozing, or the bleeding (this reoccurs in the painting Sunshine and Moisture and Self Portrait with Pogrom).
Pshat & Drash, drowners, a ship of fools, and a sail, a smiley wearing “a painter's hat”, a complicated hand, a floating piece of feces, a bird. An invitation to enter the “Pardes”.
(English translation: Maya Shimony)