A few years ago, I left a hole in a painting; exposed canvas, non-painting at the very heart of the pictorial domain. The painting started filling with other holes, which over time turned into images: a rock, necklace, bone, sun moon and stars, a flame and a scorched hole with thick smoke rising from it. The painted flame wished to burn the painting and so I lit a fire, this time a real one, and with a lit candle burnt holes through the canvas. I had no idea that the holes I was burning will blur the line between life and painting, opening a space between reality and illusion. Was I playing with fire? Was I provoking the void?
The burnt holes became flowers and eggs, complete with snakes, spiders, and insects that crawled out of them. As I lay underneath the canvas and burned holes in it, sooty figures started to take shape: donkeys, rabbits, tigers, fish and birds, animals painted with flames. The new guests populated and animated the painting, floating as smoke without a place, space or time. The painting was their world. But I was not satisfied with the abstract space, I was looking for something else. I sought a place to be in, a ground on which I can put my feet, real life.
I mix Prussian blue with some black, creating a deep, dark and infinite space. Here I will find what I am looking for. I struggle to see in this darkness, my eyes cannot tell dark purple from black, I light a candle. Herons, cranes, and ducks flock to the canvas, asking me to draw a small lake for them to stay and wade through the water, after all, they are waterfowl. But all that flows from my brush is muddy turpentine, greenish brown puddles. This is not exactly the ground I am looking for, but I guess it will have to do.
Cockroaches, cobwebs, and insects fill the empty space, running along the ropes, eating the paint and leaving the canvas, eating the canvas and leaving holes to remember them by. The cockroaches get everywhere, inside the painting and on the frame, greeting me in the stairwell each morning, smiling at me upside down and wiggling a tentacle. At night, I catch one of them on my toothbrush and another swimming in the sink. Pigeons find refuge in the space under the tiled roof, building nests on my windowsill, laying eggs from which chirping chicks hatch and wake me up at dawn. They enter through the windows, leaving droppings everywhere and then cannot find their way out.
Did the pigeons and cockroaches come through the hole I have left in the painting and reached my home? Did I create them in matter and paint and turned them into flesh and blood, feathers and tentacles? Should I have exercised more caution with the power of the brush and paint? Exhausted and at my wits’ end with the chaos in my home, realization dawned on me: That is exactly what I have been looking for. The life that teems under the tiled roof set my imagination ablaze, and I do not stop painting: Cockroaches in the bathroom and in the kitchen, climbing on me at night, pigeons laying eggs on my head. There is a party on the roof, the pigeons are drunk on vodka and wine, the cockroaches breakdance, blasting tracks by Fatboy Slim at full volume. “Enough! Keep it down!” I yell, but they cannot hear me. Either way, I do not dare go up on the roof. Maybe if I stop drawing birds they will disappear from my life? I erase them from the paintings, covering them with layers of paint. If painting has the power to conjure, then surely it also has the ability to banish. And maybe also the other way around?
I called Igor over to seal the openings in the roof. He promised he will chase away the pigeons but I heard them dying over two weeks. I called Oshri the exterminator, who climbed down the roof horrified, swearing to never come back. In the morning I arrived at my studio to discover that insects have eaten my paintings. They settled for the layer of paint, leaving white holes in the surface of the painting, exposing the canvas. What a beautiful image! After all, I invented it.
Noga Gallery of Contemporary Art
Text editing: Mei-Tal Nadler | English translation: Maya Shimony