ARIK LEVY, POETE TAOÏSTE
by Jérôme Peignot, Writer
Dans le « Jardin arrière » du Palais Impérial à Pékin un espace a été réservé aux philosophes-jardiniers taoïstes. Ces sages professent cette idée que ce ne sont pas les hommes qui créent, mais la nature. Tout ce dont nous sommes capables c’est de l’aider à produire des œuvres qui, sans nous, ne seraient apparues que dans les lieux inconnus de nous, sans que nous ne le sachions jamais. C’est ainsi qu’il y a longtemps de cela, après avoir laissé grandir de quelques dizaines de centimètres deux surgeons de conifères peu écartés l’un de l’autre et les avoir rapprochés, ces hommes ont fait pousser un arbre pourvu de deux troncs avant qu’il ne poursuive son ascension en direction du ciel. Cet arbre, formant avec le sol un triangle botanique, les chinois le tiennent pour le symbole de l’amour. C’est sans doute ainsi que chacun d’eux, souvent très âgé, est placé dans une sorte de sanctuaire conçu à son unique intention.
Si j’évoque ces œuvres des moines taoïstes c’est que, tant par leur conception que par leur réalisation, elles relèvent du même mode de pensée que celui auquel Arik Levy se réfère. Pour lui aussi, prisonnière des miroirs qui recouvrent toutes les faces de ses « Rocks », c’est la nature, et elle seule, qui confère à ces polyèdres en métal inoxydable leur riante splendeur. « Les miroirs feraient bien de réfléchir un peu avant de renvoyer les images. » La phrase de Jean Cocteau est bien tournée mais ce qu’elle insinue est faux. Arik Levy lui répond. En effet, il n’est pas de miroirs qui ne puissent « réfléchir » autant que son Rock. Or, celui-ci confirme ce que nous savons tous, à savoir qu’on ne saurait mieux « réfléchir » qu’en diffusant la beauté. Le rocher tout en miroirs d’Arik ressemble à une météorite tombée du ciel afin de nous alerter sur la somptuosité de la nature qui nous environne. Morcelé comme il l’est, ce rocher miroitant a des allures de joyau. Soit, il recèle un mystère : celui de l’infini. Mais de cet infini-là, Arik nous assure que, de son pouvoir, l’artiste qu’il est, se joue.
Le tour de passe-passe a, déjà, de quoi époustoufler. Mais Levy ne s’en est pas tenu là. Venu du ciel, son Rock en avait, sans aucun doute, beaucoup à nous en dire. C’est ainsi qu’à l’aide de son ordinateur dont il use en virtuose, il s’est mis en demeure, après l’avoir conçu, de décortiquer son Rock. Comme s’il se fut agit de celle d’une bête, il en a d’abord étalé la peau. S’étalait là un miroir polymorphe. Les mille reflets de l’œuvre ne pouvaient être que les feux de la nature, ciel compris bien entendu. L’image qui est alors apparue sur l’ordinateur en fut une que nous aurions été incapables de voir de notre seule rétine. Serait-ce qu’elle nous donnait à voir quelque chose de la face cachée du ciel? Belle, en tous les cas, elle lui servit de schéma pour donner naissance à une nouvelle œuvre. Sous forme d’un luminaire, véritable soleil des profondeurs, cette œuvre, Arik l’a réalisée. Et puis, parce qu’à merveille l’ordinateur accompagne ses rêves, Arik a opté pour le bois ou, plutôt, pour un arbre à cristaux dont, depuis la germination, il nous fait assister à l’harmonieuse croissance. Ainsi, planté en terre, le cristal est redevenu végétal et, le végétal, à nouveau minéral.
Arik Levy aime à parler de « l’écriture » de son œuvre. Dans le livre d’images intitulé Rock qu’il a publié, la dernière page n’est jamais, imprimée, que la photographie d’un véritable rocher. Je lui ai donc fait remarquer que son écriture était palindromique. Il n’en avait pas pris conscience. Preuve qu’une part de son travail s’accomplit hors de son contrôle. C’est là la signature d’un grand talent.
THEY SAY “NATURE IS THE INSPIRATION FOR ALL THINGS”
Christy MacLear, Executive Director of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
This statement is so ubiquitous that nobody questions who “they” are, except to note that they are always correct. Nature is the source inspiration for artistic works, for design innovation, for many of our greatest forms throughout history. Now, however, this statement (or conclusion) can be taken one step farther. Now, nature can be the inspiration of form as well as that form providing a new view of nature.
As examples of form being inspired by nature throughout history, one has to look no farther than your desk, subway or stadium. The base and canopy of a Tiffany lamp resembling a tree. The arches of Parisian subway stops resembling stems of flowers. The technical feat of a stadium in Beijing resembling a birds nest. Even the application of digital wrappers projecting the illusion of water. As technology has crept into our world, the inspiration of nature as form has migrated to one where form then expands to include a near reversal. Nature becomes a part of this form. The form provides a new view of nature.
Arik Levy’s sculptural work represents this new paradigm perfectly. The inspiration of a rock. Solid, consistent, immense – a building block for an empire – a discovery in a forest – the most elementary form which takes us back to our basic self. The form is recognizable but has the added lens of today’s digital age – glistening, smoothed as if by a laser, like a space ship. The beauty is in its absolute reflection of its surroundings. More than a reflection of nature, his sculptures become almost a visual portal into another place. They create an optical illusion of our environment which unlock the questions – what is real in what you see? Could nature be more beautiful in reflection than in reality? Where is the true harmony between man-made and natural? These sculptures require you to walk around them. To experience them from all sides, not only to see the artwork itself, but to experience the nature around you all over again – interpreted in faceted form. Nature envelops you from all sides. Nature has inspired the most basic of Arik’s forms but the most striking aspect of this work is how you experience nature in an entirely new way in and thru this form. The work therefore changes season to season, inspires wonder because of its own beauty and pulls the world just a little closer as if to have art envelop you. Wrapped in nature.
NATURE, MIND, MATERIALS
Charlotte N. Eyerman, PH.D, Art historian, curator, and consultant. Director of FRAME (French Regional American Museum Exchange, a non-profit organization).
“We too—how long we were fool’d!
Now transmuted, we swiftly escape, as Nature escapes;
We are nature—long have we been absent, but now we return;
We become plants, leaves, foliage, roots, bark;
We are bedded in the ground—we are rocks;
We are oaks—we grow in the openings side by side;
We browse—we are two among the wild herds, spontaneous as any;
…We have voided all but freedom, and all but our own joy.”
—from Leaves of Grass, “We two—how long we were fool’d”, Walt Whitman
Arik Levy’s creative mind and impulse are relentless, voracious, driven. His works in metal, wood, drawing, and painting derive inspiration in form and content from nature. The outdoor works cohere with their surroundings while drawing attention to their status as made things, beautiful incursions wrought from raw materials drawn from the earth and transformed. They evoke rocks, trees, monuments of triumphant past eras, resolutely owning the spaces they occupy. Nature is the inspiration, but the artist’s mind reigns supreme. The elegant forms of Levy’s sculptures celebrate and transform the geometry of nature. His outdoor works are simultaneously site specific and universal in their language. They are resolutely here, in a particular place and time and also easily imagined anywhere and everywhere.
Levy’s art, and his approach, defies conventional boundaries. He synthesizes past experience, bridging the worlds of art and design, blurring the distinctions between the purely aesthetic and the gorgeously practical. With a sophisticated knowledge of sculptural traditions, his formal language synthesizes iconic modernism and undeniably current expressions of 21st-century sleekness and complexity.
Levy monumentalizes the organic forms of Brancusi or Arp, extending the biomorphic idea to create large scale works that address the viewer in ways that are equally cerebral and sensuous. His sculptures, installed indoors or out, own the spaces they occupy. They dance in space, thrust upward, explode off the wall, reminding the viewer that to experience sculpture is foremost a bodily experience rather than an optical one.
Optics are in play, however, particularly in the works that employ mirror-like surfaces that reflect the light, the landscape, the surroundings. Levy is a polymath, a hallmark of his work over the past twenty years, and enjoys experimenting with a variety of materials. Sometimes, the media are intentionally close to nature, resulting in a kind of union between form and content, particularly in his works made of wood. In the metal works, nature is at a remove, yet the sinuous forms and subtly complex compositions refer to the world we apprehend when we see trees, rocks, hills.
Levy is like a scientist or a musician, constantly experimenting and exploring variations on a theme. Nature in its myriad forms is a fundamental source of ideas and inspiration, but so too are the possibilities of creativity itself. His extensive body of work suggests a resolute restlessness, a will to overcome the inherent constraints of time and space. Taken individually, the works entice the viewer into a suspended moment of discovery and direct engagement. As a body of work, Levy proposes a universe created of continual exploration and unfolding, sequential experiences. As he produces work, building on the past, his oeuvre presents a kind of archaeology of the creative mind governed by the immutable laws of nature. Arik Levy’s sculptures present a microcosm of life itself: growing, reproducing, evolving, moving. They embody the fundamental contradictions of stasis and dynamism, three-dimensional objects that poetically and defiantly celebrate the freedom and the joy of their creator.
ROCK YOU LIKE A HURRICANE
Arik Levy interviewed by Jérôme Sans, cultural entrepreneur
You are one of the most influential designers of your generation, but you are also a photographer, an artist, a decorator… How would you define yourself?
I do not look for a definition or need any as for myself… the system around us needs one as they are not as flexible as we are today. My practice and research evolve around my different narratives and the worlds I am traveling within. I have started with art and presented my first outdoor sculpture in 1986 in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. By that time, also considering the geographic location I was in, I did not see a way to survive by only practicing art. I needed other sources for my daily existence. Some people go to work in a bar or a restaurant but I chose to turn towards commerce and design and have them become my main sponsors, so as to give myself the time and space to practice my artwork. And I am a very bad decorator.
Despite the diversity of materials and the different means of expression you use, there is an underlying similarity, a so called “Arik Levy’s signature” that exudes from your work. We seem to be looking at a universe rather than single isolated creations... What exactly is the universe of Arik Levy?
My body of work is quite big, but only part of it is exhibited or well known… I work with one definition that wraps many aspects together and my motors are divers: to start with, are the ones I control less, not to say at all, which are my brain and my imagination. I observe a lot and react to what I see at multiple levels. I research at once social codes, psychotherapy and science in relation to nature and super nature… I look way forward, and way backwards, trying to identify the thin connecting lines among these worlds. All the “information” is translated and pro-cessed by my own emotions, feelings and intellect. Having said that, I am not really sure that I can put my finger on one spot, but rather on a multiple network of uncontrolled muscles.
How do you manage the continual back and forth flow between the different worlds of design production and limited editions, between function and non-function within your artistic production?
I have also been working in the world of contemporary dance for the past 20 years creating stage installations… I am one, but multi-faceted… All this is shaped to diffract, like a light would flicker on a multi-faceted prism. I jump from one project to another, from one concept to multiple ideas and realizations. Each and every one of these universes contains a large number of rules and codes where art, in its pure creation phase, has the most freedom of the mind. Nothing is actually ever like what it seems. At the same time all these practices enrich one another, as it can be seen historically since forever. Also, one should not mix the design thinking and the tools. Design has a problem-solving mission whereas art has not, unless the artist decides to go down that path as part of his/her practice.
What does design represent to you? What does it mean to you? Are you still inspired by the idea that design is there to bring better quality to our everyday life? As with, for example, Water=Life, the product that you developed for Omabia?
Where to start?! Design is a big word today and it’s expanding in so many directions… so one cannot relate to it as if it were just one thing. I am passionate about design and its possibilities, its impact on society and on everyday life. The world population is getting older and the average age in 8 years will be over 50 or more. This cannot be ignored anymore and a change has to take place. As a designer I use all the necessary tools to solve issues and create solutions. Water=Life is a clear example of how a poetic metaphor of water and life can be used to incorporate a functional product.
In your opinion, should a design object be available for mass consumption through unlimited production or rather exist in a defined number of editions?
All the answers are good. Every product has its reality, necessity, as well as life span. Some are made for the big distribution and others are not. This issue is normally discussed at the beginning of the design process. In some situations an edition is born of experimentation and a larger audience product is born from an edition. They all have a strategic and economical reason to be.
What does art represent to you?
Total freedom of expression, a virtual and physical place where I can use any tool, feeling, excuse, or impulse to express what I feel. A possibility to look back inside… and think. A way of life, a necessity. A place with more oxygen and a personal problem-solver.
What are your thoughts? What can you say in art that you cannot express in design?
In art I can just go where I want and do not have to relate to any briefs or constraints apart from the ones I give to myself. Also, I do not have to justify and explain: I can express every part of me, or select a new inverted gravity force and displace it. It is like another space... as if it were not in the world, in the real world.
What did your Japanese experience bring to your approach to design?
Japan is wonderful: in 1991, I was lucky enough to be able to spend a few months living and working at Seiko Epson design center in Tokyo and Suwa lake in Nagano and experiencing this culture. It has influenced me as a whole, not only in art or design. I think the biggest influences were the power of silence, simplicity and precision, honesty and the endless admiration and respect for nature and its abilities.
What about your Swiss experience?
When I moved to Switzerland in 1988, I had the intention to enroll in the Fine Arts School but, literally, on my way to Geneva I found out that Art Center Pasadena had installed a branch not too far. It was a great thing as I was looking for a place where I could study in English, since I could not speak French. I have done 98,600 Km on the train, woken up at 5:30 a.m. every day only to be back at 10:00 p.m. or later… it was hard, very hard, like being in the army again.
But why Switzerland? Interesting that you went to Switzerland and ended up in an American school there… Switzerland was a choice I made following my heart at that time… the school was a fresh European branch of a US University, so English was an option. Besides the fact that, like I said, I did not speak French at that time, the Anglo-Saxon mentality is more similar to mine. Furthermore all classes were experimental as it was a school with a new agenda and no inherited planning. So we were experimenting a lot.
Why did you choose to live in France?
After I finished my trip around the world, I returned to Switzerland in the fall of 1991 and realized my first project for contemporary dance at the Grand Théâtre de Genève. Then in April 1992, with my life partner, we decided to move to France as it was more bubbling and I was interested in the possibilities this place offered in regards to art, dance, design and culture in general.
What did you do when you first got there?
In France I first made contacts in the design world and then started as a teacher in a design school… which also solved all my legal paper issues (that was great !). I did not know anyone in France apart from one friend from Tel Aviv, I did not speak French and it was not easy to integrate. I decided to start to speak French the way I could and very quickly I realized that only other foreigners understood me. But things evolved fast and I worked a lot in the international landscape.
What was the first piece you produced?
My first art piece I cannot remember, since it was a very long time ago. Probably the sculpture I made for the group exhibition in 1986 in Israel… I was so busy creating life and survival that it took all my energy. Like I said, I decided to make design my art “sponsor” instead of taking a job in a bar or a restaurant… it was a perfect solution as it produced money, time and space for me to develop my art again and get confident in what I did. Design also gave me the understanding of materials and technics, technology and craft of the best kind as well as a good knowledge in organization and logistics… People always say to me “You are a very punctual artist… the only one we know”.
What was the first design company you had your first collaboration with?
Right after school I worked with Seiko Epson Inc. This experience enriched my spectrum of knowledge. After that, the first important event in my life in Paris was my first exhibition “Light Light” which talked about light as in “light” and light as in “weight”. The exhibition showed many light concepts and light sculptures. It was a sort of “carte blanche” invitation from Jacqueline Frydman, who had seen the potential and sensitivity in my work and provided me with an extraordinary opportunity. After that many collaborations have started.
What are your design references?
My reference is science more than anything else… I do not have a figure that I follow or a mentor that influenced me. I do appreciate many designers that have been paving the road for my generation and brought design to its multiple aspects and to what is happening today. Design is highly depending and directly influenced by economics. The speed at which all is moving today does not leave much space for timeless products beside the classics. I think this is a problem created by the industry and I try to act against it.
With which contemporary artists do you feel a close affinity?
In Israel I was not exposed to art until I was about 17… I had started painting and doing sculpture before that age, but it was all very naïve. One of my girlfriend’s parents was a great collector. At this point I started to get a strong connection to sculpture and paintings... and to Israeli artists like Kadisman, Agam, Tomarkin, Tevet… but Agam was the most attractive for me: what I loved was not necessarily the work itself, but what it made me think and feel… At that time, in the 80s, Vasarely was also one of my favorites: he still is, so in my last exhibition in Tel Aviv, Genetic Intimacy, I incorporated some re-interpreted aspects of what I got from his work. Other artists like Richard Serra, Anselm Kiefer, Ilya Kabakov, Anish Kapoor, Alberto Giacometti, Donald Judd, Damien Hirst, and Franz West are people whose work I have loved to experience, for the quality of the interaction between their work and the environment.
But so many others influence me on a daily basis… I am so exposed all the time and I think we are all influenced one way or the other. What is important is what comes out of my heart and mind, the personal interpretation in itself.
Craters and rocks appear frequently in your work, why? What do these objects mean to you?
It started one day from the most simple action of sculpting… I was alone at the studio during the weekend and I was spending time in the workshop doing things… At one point I took some blocks of foam and started sanding them down. I was not quite thinking, but just doing and I do not really know what was the inspiration either… at the beginning I could not figure out when to stop or continue: it was more like a moment where I could not take anything away anymore and could not add anything to it. It had its proportions and qualities, balance, beauty and absence. Very quickly I understood that these pieces are about what is missing, what I have taken off, Absence.
I called it the “Rock” as it was close to the world of minerals. But it was not even close to a real rock. The first sketch models were black and slowly I moved on to metal and stainless steel that brought in the reflections and constructed a deconstructed image… it was all about its reflection again and the polarity of the piece.
This only represents a part of my work, but it’s true that it definitely got a great exposure and appreciation among the collectors. The second important change was when, in 2005, I was commissioned by Jacqueline Frydman to create a piece for the front courtyard of Passage de Retz in Paris. I changed scale and the piece got big just like Alice in Wonderland after she eats the biscuit. Not long after that, came a second commission, from French collectors Nicolas Libert and Emmanuel Renoird, to create a piece for their park. This was a big step up to verticality for the piece got to be 6m tall. At that point, at the end of the installation (which was an experience in itself) I got the chance to see the real impact of these works. Frydman, Libert and Renoird, as well as other collectors who followed, all turned out to be extremely important in the development of my work. It was the same thing with Johan Bouman and Pieter Franssens and the commission for the first giant RockGrowth: thanks to the trust they had in me and their open spirit, I had a springboard to create these exceptional pieces and I am very grateful to them.
This imperfect geometry and the effects my Rock creates, the discovery of a new work from every angle… the influence of the seasons and the light during the day, make the sculpture transform every second thanks to its morphology.
When did you begin your series of Rock sculptures?
Do you know the work of Chinese artist Zhang Wang, who is well known for his stainless steel rocks, which are exact replicas of scholar rocks?
I do and I like it very much… but it stands on the opposite side of my work and reasoning; what makes it interesting is that they both carry the same name. I hope one day we can exhibit together and juxtapose our respective works. What I make is not a reproduction of nature: my pieces are of a non-existing nature. A new genetic code, a new man-made nature perhaps.
Your Rocks are very stylized… Does this signify that it is the machine, the computer that produces nature?
I am not sure what you mean by “stylized” and I do not really like this expression… It is not what I feel about their signification… for me it is not a futuristic vision of Krypton or the mineral growth in a different chemical composition. But in reference to your question, Jérôme, nowadays the “machine” can also be referred to as “computer” and “computing power”, the micro or nano mechanisms do indeed produce the future nature, the one of man made.
Are you talking about post-human nature or a super-nature artificially generated?
Good question. I think some of the post-human nature will be super-nature artificially generated if it is not already now the case. As post-human nature refers to “human” and super-nature to “nature”, the connection between these two is evident.
How do you produce your Rocks? What is their origin and their story?
When I create a location-specific sculpture it is connected to the location and its characteristics: finding of the visual gravity, the surrounding architecture or the composition of the landscape etc. When it is not site specific, the sculpture is connected to the evolution of my work and to the moment I find myself in, in the narrative’s history line. The proportion and directions of facets are an issue and I first sketch and look for the right proportion and feeling within the piece… it can be very detailed in number of facets or rounded, bulky etc. These decisions are taken along the way until a balance is created. I then often run it with 3D software, send the model to a 3D print to make sure all is correct and right.
Are you considering those prints as pieces? Have you ever shown them?
Yes I do see them as pieces, or at least the ones that I print with this objective… the others are equivalent to a work model or to sketches. But they do carry the same energy of the final artwork. I did already show them and will show some again at the new exhibition in Passage de Retz opening Nov. 20th 2012.
Your Rocks are all made of reflective materials. Is this to harmonize and unite with the surrounding space and then make them disappear?
Yes, because they have a stealthy quality: reflective materials make the piece exist and disappear depending on where we look at it from and the time of the day. It reveals the configuration of an image that may appear real until the moment we see its impossible construction. From that moment on, imperfections become the perfection of the piece.
Almost like the standing man of Giacometti?
I love this, definitely a great energy and strong sense of direction… the fact that it’s not reflective gives it a feeling of being able to absorb the environment around it.
Micro and macro. Sometimes your sculptures are of gigantic dimensions. What is your relationship to scale?
Scale is an important issue that influences the work in its environment; it controls the experience created via the proportion to human, architectural and outdoor scale. I can work in all scales at the same time and the transition from micro to macro and back plays the role of time. I always imagine going into my work, travel in between the layers or be in a giant sculpture. It is a sensation that I like very much. What is most important for me is for the scale to be the most fair in terms of contrast and harmony. I still have not said my last word when it comes to scale!
You use industrial materials like stainless steel or wood… why such a choice?
Most materials around us are industrial… even the clay some use is industrial or industrially made. I use a large spectrum of materials including the one you mentioned but also Corten steel, glass, resin, etc. Outdoors, I love to use stainless steel for the raw quality it has and its characteristics. Especially for outdoors, one must use long life materials and make sure the sculpture will look good all the time. I use Marine Grade stainless steel, which is the highest quality one can find: it has a special color in the reflection and it’s extremely durable. But Corten and regular steel, brass and especially copper are all bringing to the work a different feeling. I recently started to use marble in a more extensive way, as it is beautiful and has a lot of power mixed with romanticism and history. What is interesting to me is not what the material is in itself but in what way I use it and what I ask of it to do for me. This is why, despite many sculptures are made in similar materials, it is what they become in time that gives them their identity and makes them unique.
What relationship do you have with landscape?
The landscape, being it domestic or outdoor, is an integrated part of my work and I am very influenced by the extraordinary magic most landscapes have. Bio mimicry + genetic transformation introduce to my work a fundamental aspect. In landscape I also have the possibility to interact with gravity and space and the proximity of vegetation, trees or large minerals is great. I often think with the heart and feel with the brain. I call emotion’s genetics codes and introduce them in a scientific thinking back into a painting or sculptures. Nature is the real master, the main source of inspiration. Especially with mirror-polished stainless steel sculptures, nature is very present. But when looking at the pieces in the landscape and comparing by juxtaposition the rocks and my Rock, we only get the feeling of looking at a meteorite or something from a different planet and different nature codes. The reflection reacts like a visual kinetic and something that feels like the image is projected onto the sculpture.
More than kinetic, your sculptures are like living bodies, evolving, mirroring their environment, following its seasonal changes?
The connection to the social urban surroundings and codes are an integrated part of my work and when the change in scale happens, it creates a new unexpected balance that intrigues my ideas. Walking into a piece that was just seen as a sculpture at distance or not revealing its penetrating angle is a wonderful feeling. In the case of RockChamber, the sculpture represents the cave of the future history just like what we are. We are the prehistorically people of the future. When future civilizations will find our remains in 100,000 years, they will wonder what we did and what we were like. So this is the contemporary cave of the future.
As in the ContemporaryDomesticConfessional or with your RockChamber piece, your sculptures become domesticated, even at times a habit within themselves. Why?
The domestication is a sign of the animal part of us: pissing in a corner and marking our territory as well as accepting to get to a place that is new and have new boundaries, those of the imagination. I love it when a piece gets appropriated by the public… Another reason why many of my paintings and sculptures do not have a fix position or orientation. One can position or hang the paintings under many angles or upside-down and it still works for me… I provide the multiple hanging points and do not sign in front or aligned to one side. I also have this feeling that when a piece is purchased and placed at home or in a garden people domesticate it. Sometimes it is like a wild animal that needs training and sometime it is a quiet privatization.
Is this your painter’s cave?
You are also a painter… What relationship do you have with painting?
I started to paint when I was about 17 years old. I also mastered the use of airbrush (I just got my compressor out again and am thinking of going back to it)… it had transformed my time. Painting is fear for me, fear of the black hole. I use painting and other means of expression to expose the feelings or thinking I have. It is often seen as part of the sculpture or an explanation for it. Actually sculptures influence the paintings and vice versa. I enjoy painting on wood to have a physical support and presence and use mix media on the same painting: like a photograph that gets worked upon, printed on wood and then I paint over it and create my final work by subtraction. When I look at Bacon or Richter or Freud, all are great for different reasons but they all have a very powerful expression and it is there on the wall, so present. I am also very much interested in the mathematics and optics behind the paintings.
What does painting in the 21st century mean to you?
Interesting question… it is like when my son says that SMS is like speaking. It is a tool. Historically it was a visual communication tool, which the camera has replaced as trace maker for the world. I consider painting also like a wall sculpture or an x-ray to my thoughts. It is still the hardest thing for me and the most frightening to start with. But I wonder if we can only refer today to what is literally painted or to anything that goes on a wall.
Your Mineralized paintings look like panelized visions of reality but are in fact made with acrylic paint on wood, isn’t this a paradox?
It is, these are only using the idea of the pixel but are of totally different geometry… The paradox is that I take these portraits or landscapes of a moving nature and freeze them, mineralize them. To get mineralized is to move back in time or move into the future. Every mineral facet is a section of a log and all together they express the rock growth branches cut of a mineral that becomes a vegetal, germinates and grows. After it gets printed on wood, it closes the circle of the mineral that gets to be a vegetal that gets to be a mineral printed on the vegetal. The presence of the print and painting on the wood is wonderful as it keeps the wood structure visible.
You entitled one of your series LiquidPainting… What do you mean by this?
I am using liquid Corian® (a mineral acrylic base product) that is usually available only in solid. I have acquired the liquid and I am working, painting with it. It is a B component material and the fixing period is very short, around 2-3 minutes, which gives me no time to think, but only time to react. It is put on a thick wooden structure and feels like an object. I love doing them. The paintings look as if they were in a state between solid and liquid, and therefore a projection of a feeling or experience. Another sculpture that refers to this state is SolidLiquid. The round angles of the Rock are also part of this observation of the material in transition.
In transit, does this mean objects that our society leaves in a fragile transitional state?
Well both… the object may be in transit but what I am attracted to, it’s the transitional feeling idea.
Black Holes: around a black hole there is a mathematically defined surface called an “event horizon” that marks the point of no return. Is it called “black” because it absorbs all the light that hits the horizon?
My paintings you mean? They are called IrisBlackHole… and the black comes from its absorbing quality, as you mentioned, but also from the black of the void in the back of the eye. It is like being in the eye looking out through the person or looking in from the outside. The interesting thing about making it, is that I draw them from the inside of the black spot towards the outside, with thousands of wet and dry brush strokes to create this effects: sometimes it takes a few days and many different sizes of brush. So the movement is towards the outside and the energy created is towards the inside.
What is your relationship to color?
For a long time I had the feeling I did not know how to use color, but then I realized that the reflection over the sculpture are the colors I am using. I like rawness and I am a very bad decorator. So when I use color it is to create a relationship to other things, depth or rebound light.
Light seems to be at the center of your work from your Rock sculptures, your paintings, drawings and your light sculptures. What is your relationship to light?
I remember when I was a teen-ager in Israel, we used to run up the hills of Jerusalem to see the sunrise over the city… and then ran back to see the sunset on the sea in Tel Aviv. Also, surfing and getting into the water just before the sun rose was a beautiful sensation, as the light hit the water on a low angle and it visually turned into a solid. Later on, through many years the interest I had in light and lighting was about the magic that light brings to our everyday life. It is about the shadow actually, about revealed architecture and perspective, where spaces open when others are closing as the light moves away. It is also life, energy, warmth and harmony.
Do you consider your drawings to also be a part of your work or are they separate?
Not all of them, but considering the way things are currently documented and all the tools that are used all along the creative process, some drawings may have the energy of a piece.
Are drawings the point of departure for your work?
Mostly… I draw a lot and everywhere… I have notebooks in which I draw when looking for the right solution… I think through drawings. But in many cases I just go and do it in the workshop.
Photography is like drawing with light, is this the reason why you do photography?
Not really, but this remark makes me think about the relationship between the IrisBlackHole paintings and photography… It is hard for me to work with photographers that come to photograph my work, because I have a specific angle in my head and when I take the camera to my hand, it feels as an extension of my vision. I use the camera as a memory stick and a reminder, a flash of a moment but also for its feeling and trace.
How do you approach the photography that you produce?
I am a bad photographer technically… I work with photos to seize a moment or a feeling. It is more like an MRI scan of the body and its state of mind. For some photos, I myself do not consider them as artwork at the moment I take them… only a few years later, it can happen that they might perfectly fit a subject or a specific ambiance I am looking for, and it’s then that they become art.
What is your relationship with imagery?
Image is a window that, when I show it, hopefully allows others to step into it and go a different way. It is also the memory and the trace of my doing.
How do you articulate the expression of the different series of works you have produced (i.e. Wood Cut, Cable, Window, Orchids, Sparkler, DNA, Fear, Bloom…)?
These are subjects of preoccupation for me… They are woven one into the other and grow a fabric of ideas and thoughts. I relate to projects or notions that I place as a subject title for the work I am myself connected to. For example Window is part of Fear that is part of Love Counts, same as Orchid that is the seduction part of this subject. And then they will connect to the sculptures or installations or paintings, like Ax will connect to Fear.
This is a love text:
>Love is important>love makes us do things>
crazy things>love costs>love pays>love builds and breaks>love is fire>love is power>love is danger>
I want to eat love and let love eat me>love gain and loss>I love this chair>I buy because I love it>love is communication, obsession, erection>love is from the sky and from the ground>I believe in love>love has no price>when we love the price is not an issue>with love comes affection>do you love me?>in love you can find fear>the fear from love>the fear for love>seduction is love>do you fear loving>love is duality>love is sex>love makes love making>love creates life creates love>love is a drug>we love being in love>love gets better>I love you>
I feel in love>amour>in the name of love>love is tenderness>in you give, give up, giveaway>love gives you>love is adrenalin>love is a bomber>love is a disaster>love is beautiful>love is devotion> I adore you my love>lovely>love is a liaison>love is gravity>love me> make love to me now>I love kissing you>did you love her>did you love before>love is music>love is harmony>love is a challenge>love is maintained>evol is love backwards>love is violence>love is soft and hard> do you love<
Love attacks when you sleep>love hides>love matters>size matters>love turns my head>my hand>my heart>I do not know if I love>do I love others>I can love again>
How do you work?
Passionately, all the time… and a lot… I work on 200 projects at a time, inside out, one above, one under, I do not sleep much, I dream awake, I project and extrapolate… It is a beautiful madness and mostly I feel before I see. I am more “animal” then “cerebral”. And when I am sure about something, my move is “on” to production mode. Unfortunately it is not always coming out the way I would want it to be or sometimes it is just not good, so it meets the trash.
How does your studio work?
The studio is a wild pressure cooker of all ideas… I travel a lot but I am “emotionally” always present… Everybody is involved: more then half of the team is working on my art pieces, while the other half works on industrial design projects, but they all mix and match. I am pluri-disciplinary and multi-task. But as far as the company goes, we function as any other company, our goal being to keep good faith and spirit, to keep growing and not fall. People in the studio are like my friends, brothers and sisters, guides and supports, counter-balance and reflection. I thank them every day for what they do and for their devotion to my fantasy.
Do you collect works by other creators or designers?
I collect art. A while ago I decided I wanted to experience the position of the collector. I used to have an opinion on this issue but once I started my own collection by literally acquiring a piece, I realized that it is not as easy as we might think. It is demanding and it can be complex, intimidating and intriguing.
You also intervene within other creative fields, for example your collaboration with choreographers. You have designed sets for contemporary dance performances for the Grand Théâtre de Genève. What do these diverse collaborations bring to your design practice? Is this about challenging yourself and your own practice?
No, challenge is not my only motive. I know the dance world quite well and enjoy very much this form of creation… it is maybe the only form of art that incorporates at the same time so many aspects such as body, mind, light, voice, sound, music, text, passion, movement etc. Set design is a place where art and design skills are well mixed. This mixture enriches and gives power to the work. Thanks to set design I also learned a lot about light, timing and tension and how to control it.
Your design creations revolve around intimate themes that you apply in a practical manner for functional purposes. The questions of absence and lack are among those themes. How do you articulate these themes within your realm of design?
In both design and art I work with the issue of absence. Since I like to sculpt from raw, creating by subtraction is a basic principle. Working in the domain of functional art or sculpture-to-use, is a better place to deal with these issues, in comparison to industrial design which has stricter rules. The rock exists thanks to the absence of portions I have taken away.
What is your relationship with luxury brands, and how have you developed your creative process in the past, when you started to work with them?
In today’s world, luxury brands play an important role as they have an open mind towards art and pure creativity. They also have the financial means to motivate and drive this vehicle. They are taking the place of what in the past was the art commission, something that still exists today but in a different scale. I have been commissioned many projects via these brands. Two exhibitions where commissioned by Swarovski Crystal Worlds, a museum-like space, a permanent installation by the Bisazza Foundation and sculpture-to-use by Hennessy. I have learned a lot from these experiences and I am grateful for these opportunities. My gratitude goes to the collectors that have commissioned the sculptures in this book…then to the luxury brands of the collectors’ world.
What is your new imaginary project?
I am in the process of experimenting with an interactive installation that not only gives the possibility to have an experience when in it, but that also provides the collectible information out of which sculptures can be created. These pieces are not the result of the intellectualization of an action, but are the outcome of a movement in space and a reaction to an experience. I would like to see this grow and get to the same dimension as the rest of my work is at the moment. It is connected to the “genetic” transformation I am dealing with and that I look forward to exploring more. What I would love to realize is a Zen garden with my Rocks.