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
The works in the exhibition are made of acrylic on plastic. The acrylic was not applied directly to the surface. Each section was painted separately on a large nylon sheet, and after drying, it was peeled from the nylon and attached to the plastic. Thus, each painting consists of a combination of hundreds of dried acrylic strokes. It is a method of painting with “dry” acrylic.
Each stem and each leaf previously existed as a separate object. Each part had a separate existence, a thing in itself, and only then was it added to the whole, assimilated into the painting. Even after joining the painting, each part maintains a thin contour around it, a frozen memory of its former independence. Each painting in the exhibition presents a world made up of countless “individual details.”
The stem progresses in a straight line toward the light, to the moment of realization. In stems, life is pushed through a narrow aperture, thrusting forward in a straight line, aspiring to the sun, determined to open up to the world.
Yonatan Zofy’s flowers open and close day in day out. When the sun shines, they glimmer, turn golden, aspiring upward, towards the light. When the moon rises they bow their heads and hide in the dark, occasionally emerging with a faint twinkle.
The crown daisies and groundsels bloomed at the right times of the year around Zofy’s studio in Ramat Gan, resembling yellow suns: the former in mid-spring, and the latter in early winter. They all withered eventually. Zofy waited patiently for them to bloom or dry out, so as to paint and peel them. Inside the narrow studio, the summer sun gradually turned yellow on the plastic, becoming multiple rugs of living or dead crown daisies; while the fog was absorbed in the plastic as grayish azure in which groundsels appear and disappear. Only after an annual cycle in the flowers’ life passed, and a moment after they sprouted again, was his work completed.
In his previous works, Zofy’s point of departure was the technique, which gradually crystallized into an image obeying a predetermined regularity: an intense graphite drawing created waves on paper, transforming it into a compressed pillow; an act of filling squares in shades of gray ultimately materialized into the shape of a fish. In the current works, Zofy performs a reverse move: now, the point of departure is an image. The flowers blooming around his studio are the basis for his technique. The three-dimensional crown daisies and groundsels turn two-dimensional via applications of acrylic paints; they are subsequently peeled off the nylon and return to their three-dimensional state, floating and hovering on the surface, as if they were about to develop roots in the air and climb up.
From a distance, Zofy’s crown daisies and groundsels are almost invisible. They form two uniform fields, each single-colored and one-dimensional: gold and silver, summer and winter, sun and moon. Approaching the work, the stems and petals that Zofy gently peeled from the nylon sheets are revealed in their three dimensions, and the eyes suddenly open.
Text by Noga Litman
Translated by Daria Kassovsky