from figurative to abstract – my path

I have started painting in the year 1995, as an art student in Bezalel. I had no idea I was going to be an artist, nor a painter. Yet, as a child I would love writing stories to paintings hanging in our house, and as an adult I studied history of art at the Tel Aviv university and felt a great pleasure being in the dark room where slides, usually in couples, juxtaposed, were shown on the white screen. The tender sound of the silde carousel turning  was something I was familiar with from early childhood – slides from family tours and parents’ trip abroad were a part of familial evenings back in the early 70’s.

Back to the first year in Bezalel – as a ceramic student I learned throwing pots on the wheel. Before studying I was certain I was going to be a ceramist. (again – that was something I realized long after studying history of art and french language and literature and even continuing to masters in history of art.) As a young (not young in age, I was then 28 already!) first year student I found myself making pots and then spending more time and satisfaction in painting on them. They were mere canvas to me…At that time, I had a very good friend that studied with me in the ceramics department – Asya Lukin. I talked to her about how I would love to paint and thanks to her support  I made my first steps in oil painting. She encouraged me to learn with  Dedi Ben Shaul, with whom I found a common language – Dedi too was a potter. He generously  welcomed me to his packed courses. I learned to paint from observation at models, at still life. In a way, I was also absorbing from him – for years to come – important tools for teaching painting. It is not painting that he taught, rather –  the possibility for one to paint. There was no right or wrong, but a journey to walk within yourself. Since that year, 2005, I had different teachers and different painting series – they all had in common painting from observation. In 2007 I opened an art studio in Rishpon. My students are witnesses to the changes I encounter as a painter. As a young teacher I guided them to paint not even from photographs! They could only paint still life, interior, model or landscape – only what was physically in front of them. After long and lonely years of painting I felt around 2009, 9 years after graduating the Bezalel Academy,  that I was at a dead end. I refused to go along the same path! Was I doomed to paint myself in the mirror? pots on a table? armchairs and models? Short trials of painting outdoors were pure disaster for me, so much to prepare in advance, people passing by and calling “hey! wouldn’t you like to paint me?”, it’s too hot, it’s too cold – all that ended in me starting painting from photos. In 2010 I had a solo exhibition of mainly seascpaes, in 2011 an exhibition of the Written Doe. Lately, I have abandoned the animals and started inventing my own abstract* landscapes.

For the first time as a painter I am fascinated with so many new feelings and thoughts:

1. No more struggle

When copying a subject matter – be it a vase, a portait or a photo of a doe – there was always a struggle between myself and the canvas. A “third-party” struggle. The questions “does it already look like?”, “why doesn’t it still look like?” always frustrated me. In a way, I now realize that the well defined objects – doe, monkey – stood like a fence between me and my canvas.

2. No more “what am I going to paint today?”

The horrifying question has disappeared altogether. No more “what” no more “where on the canvas” – I paint, I work in a direct way, no more boundaries between the brush, the colour and the canvas.

3. the 7 year old test

My most sincere and straightforward critics are always my sons (now 7 and 14 years old). The answer for “did I succeed in painting a monkey?”  was always very obvious for them, much more than it was for me.  Surprisingly, now that I show my 7 year old an abstract* painting he tells me stories about the animals and the waterfalls he sees there!


*Note on the term “abstract” in relation to my latest works:

I disagree totally to that term in relation to those paintings, but I haven’t yet found a better one. The reasons for them not being abstract:

1. There is a clear one way to hang them/look at them. They would look upside down or wrongly hung otherwise.

2. They are cleary landscapes, not people nor still life.


Paintings that are “self-contained”

There is this style of painting that I name “self-contained”. It includes paintings in which you encounter no struggle, no hesitation by the artist. Those are paintings created by artists who paint in the same manner for years, without challenging themselves, as if a challenge, a risk, could threaten their success as artists. 

I have once heard an artist declaring during a gallery talk that he doesn’t paint in large scale because he doesn’t know how to do it. I was tempted to ask him – don’t you ever get out of your comfort zone? Of course I said nothing to him, but I felt sorry and sad about that young artist. For me a day in the studio without a step out of the comfort zone  is a day wasted.  

When I enter a gallery or an exhibition hall with a paintings’ exhibition, I immediately know if the artist was bored while painting or was he taking risks, and therefore surprising himself with every work. It shows. 

When a student comes up to me and decalres that he “doesn’t have a distinguished style” I say – good for you. Now you know your paintings are not “self-contained”.

Teaching painting

paintings by Shay
paintings by Shay, one of my students

I can teach you composition rules

I can teach you the colour basics

I can teach you how to handle the paint, knife and brushes

But don’t ask me to teach you how to paint, because I can’t

Nor can I tell you what to paint

But be sure, you can paint, you can draw

It is a matter of your willingness, interest and practice

Talent does not make an artist, effort does