Guy Yanai is a Tel Aviv-based artist whose paintings bear resemblance to his Mediterranean surroundings. His work often depicts, or is inspired by, historical references, places he’s been, plants he’s wandered upon, films he’s seen, or conversations he’s had. In his work, Yanai leaves behind shapes as we know them in favor of something more abstract. On the occasion of his solo show, opening on September 5th at New York Miles Mcnery gallery we sat down with Guy to discuss the origins of creativity, slow movement and his favorite Mediterranean escapes.
At Sand, we’re influenced by Mediterranean culture, values, and aesthetics. How would you describe your connection to this region and its cultural history?
The Mediterranean used to be the center of the world, and was for centuries; Palermo, Syracuse, Jaffa, and so on and so on. There was always conflict and war throughout the region, but in the past hundred-or-so years, this area has had its focus on struggle rather than on becoming the forefront of culture. This is sad for me. There was such luxury here, such opulence. A few months ago, while in Athens, I found it absurd that they use the Euro and we use the Shekel, yet, everything kind of looks the same there as here. If Lebanon, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, and the other countries of this region were to adopt one shared currency and free trade, what would the possibilities of that be? My dream is for this region to once again be the center of the world.
Tell us about your creative process?
The editing of what I paint becomes more and more important. Nothing is harder than to be creative everyday. My work in the past years was focused around deadlines, truthfully.
How do you choose your topics?
I'll tell you what I don't do. My work is not directly about our conflicts with our neighbors, or about any social or other type of "problem". That would be too easy, and frankly boring. There is a curator here who said that an Israeli artist can never paint flowers because he lives in Israel. Oh yeah, well in my previous show in North Carolina and my upcoming show in NYC, I painted flowers.
Does the concept of slow-living find its way into your work at all?
I've always been into the slow food movement from Bra, Italy. They cook slow, but they eat the pasta really fast!. I live fast and slow; both. I’m restless and lazy. I'm a morning person and a late night person. The way I paint is quite obsessive. I can spend twelve hours straight on an area just painting stripe after stripe.
How does it feel keeping alive an old tradition of painting while living in such a digital world?
Nothing will replace painting. The more we progress with digital imaging and online stuff the more art and painting are freed from any real necessity. The novel was never necessary, neither was the opera, neither is poetry. The more painting is completely useless, the better. I love that I am essentially doing something primitive; I take pigment from the earth that has been ground in oil and apply it to a surface.
Sand is obsessed with the psychology of the sense of smell. Can you share with us your favorite smell?
Smell is so important. I've been to Grasse in France; are there any better smells than the ones here? The cyprus trees, eucalyptus trees, the salt. And the pine trees from Haifa (my place of birth). You smell the seasons here.
How do you find ways to slow down while
During the summer, I’m able to slow down. I often go to Sicily. I’m heading there again this summer, just to eat and do nothing in Sicily. I think it will be my fifth or sixth time.
Guy Yanai's upcoming exhibition will be from September 5th to October 5th at the Miles McEnery Gallery at 520 West 21st Street, NY.