When looking at the paintings of Guy Yanai (1977, Haifa, Israel) a sense of recognition is perceptible. His subjects are extremely common, depicting still lifes of plants, living rooms, suburban architecture and sailing boats. He plays with simplified forms, uses vibrant colours and minimalizes depth. Structured in meticulously layered horizontal rectangular blocks or stripes, the linearly style of Yanai characterizes his works. Influenced in content and colour palette by modern cinema and a variety of notable artists of the 20th century as Henri Matisse, David Hockney or Philip Guston, Yanai borrows, appropriates easily from and is in awe and even confused (all simultaneously) by European visual culture and its rich heritage. This is reflected in ‘Calm European’, Yanai’s first solo exhibition at Flatland Gallery.
The gallery presents a selection of 12 new paintings especially produced for this show in which the spirit of his art historical predecessors, in particular Hockney, and his forging of a new personal language continue to breathe. With 1982 (2017) he reinterprets a 1982 gouache of the British artist, Studio Hollywood Hills House. The Israeli artist increases the size of his version, a transcription of a space where he has never been. Paired with another interior of the same size, this second work Interior With Yellow Hula Hoop (2017) depicts Yanai’s own living room where his children often watch television. His interior is only known intimately, the other through cognitive thought. Yet, in Hockney’s interior the feeling of familiarity is strongly present resulting in a sense of appropriation. However, Yanai attempts to create both works in the same manner and with the same kind of objective fierceness. Therefore everything could be exchangeable. In this way the line between public and private, known and unknown, imaginable and reality, is thin. The interiors could be anywhere, evoking placeless rather than homey association. On the edge of figuration and abstraction, Yanai, with his interplay of colours and forms, accomplishes to elicit placeless and timelessness, allowing the viewer to easily identify himself/herself with the artist’s imagery.
The title of the show ‘Calm European’ finds its ‘beginnings’ in the concept of placeless. Growing up in Israel (to grandparents who escaped from Germany, Poland and Syria) for the first part of his childhood and later on in the United States, Yanai is familiarized with appropriating different cultures and traditions. The show illustrates his relationship with Europe and his affinity with its cultural history. Stating to never become a calm European himself, the artist regards the different populations in Europe as calm and serene. To him the image of being a European is that of many generations staying at the same place, practicing the same language, and being well acquainted with the same culture. Envying on one side the rootedness and tradition of the continent, he, as wandering artist and uprooted man, sometimes even repulses the same elements he envies, a constant conflict and contradictory sentiment.
With ‘Calm European’ Yanai follows the philosopher and writer Jean-Bertrand Pontalis’ ahistorical autobiography Love of Beginnings (1993) and the concept of what Pontalis called ‘holes’, the process of evading set formats and linear structure. This way of thinking opens up new beginnings and new opportunities. ‘Calm European’ can be perceived as the reflexion of this vision, an optimistic and open attitude for observation and interpretation while still considering our own stance towards our visual culture and identity.
Guy Yanai was born in 1977 Haifa, Israel and lives and works in Tel Aviv. He grew up in Boston and attended Parsons The New School for Design, The New York Studio School (both New York), Pont Aven School of Art, Pont-Aven, France, and received a BFA in 2000 from Hampshire College, Amherst, MA. He has exhibited internationally in a number of institutions and galleries and has received special grants. Solo shows included ‘Ordinary Things’, Haifa Museum of Art, Haifa, Israel (2015); ‘Battle, Therapy, Living Room’, The Velan Center for Contemporary Art, Turin (2013); and solo shows at Alon Segev Gallery, Tel Aviv. He exhibited at the Armory Show and Frieze Art Fair New York (both 2016) and will be present at this year’s Art Brussels and Art Cologne. In 2015 Artnet named Guy Yanai one of the 50 most exciting artists in Europe today.