Guy Yanai is an Israeli painter living and working in Tel Aviv. His work often depicts everyday objects and places using vibrant colors and simple shapes. Like snapshots of memories, the paintings feel familiar and yet detached from reality, bridging a wonderful divide between then and now.
Where are you from?
I was born in Haifa, in the north of Israel. I have lived in Boston, New York City, Amherst. I’ve been living in Tel Aviv for the past fifteen years.
How do you feel about Tel Aviv?
Tel Aviv is the freest city I know. It’s just a free place. It is compact and approachable. The tomatoes are really good. It is usually hot. I like having my studio in Tel Aviv.
Is Tel Aviv a source of inspiration for you? How so?
Of course it is. The vegetation of this area is my favorite. It’s the only Mediterranean city I know that has a fast pace. I love the Mediterranean, but sometimes the slow pace can drive me crazy; like in south Italy, everything is always closed. Here there is a ferocious pace. The strange relationships here, the architecture, this sense of controlled chaos, it calms me.
How would you characterize your painting style?
My painting style, well, I try not to have one. I always continue to look and to change. Only donkeys never change. I guess now I’m interested in things resonating, like having an image burnt in peoples’ heads. Something deviously simple.
What inspires you?
Everything! What not! Less painting now though, I only return to the masters, the early renaissance painters, Philip Guston, Alex Katz. I like books, reading, films, bad TV. Coffee, music. Good chairs. A nice tree!
Your paintings are supremely colorful, why do you use the colors you do?
They choose themselves.
Can you walk us through your process? Do you map out your paintings before you start? Do you use any digital media or all traditional?
Well, I never just do one painting. I work in groups on themes or loose “ideas.” I grab a lot of sources and pictures and then some kind of spark happens. Slowly I know what I want to paint, what will hold an image. The painting itself is really very simple, just my hand, brushes, linen. I’m really into good supplies.
Your artwork seems to have both a sense of happiness and also a little loneliness. I sort of see city suburbs this way – a mood that I think comes through your paintings – green and manicured and lavish, but also empty. Do you agree? How do you describe it?
About a year ago I said: “Sad things in happy colors.” So yes, the color can be a decoy for the real “intention.” There are rarely figures in the work, and if so, only part of a figure, and rarely a real “place.” The images can be really anywhere, and nowhere simultaneously. Maybe I shouldn’t articulate too much about this.
As a painter, you get to blur the lines between real and make believe – do you do this? How and why?
I get to lie all day long, to change things, to make them how I want them and how I wish they were. What a dream! Every artist does this. Beautiful lies!
What does a typical day in your life look like?
Well, I wake up and check my iphone for as long as I can. Then I get dressed, have a coffee, granola with fruit. I’ll get to my studio around 9:30. Usually Hagar, my studio manager, is already there. We talk. I try to avoid actually painting for as long as I can. By 11:00 I am of course painting. I’ll usually stop working and go back home around 6:30 or 7:00 at night. Then its just dinner with a friend: good vegetables, tehina, zucchini, then some bad TV and books. That’s it. And before I sleep, I check my iphone again.
Can you tell us a bit about your project “DIARY?”
Diary was an incredible project. I got to make all the work for it in a residency in Italy called Villa Lena. It’s basically a group of ten paintings. The whole project was shown in Paris in Galerie Derouillon. The Gallery and Villa Lena published a great catalogue as well, with texts by Barbara Sirieix and Timothee Chaillou. The whole thing was really nice, and it’s probably the only show I’ve done that wasn’t painted in my Tel Aviv studio. It’s a real intimate project.
I loved the pieces you did in the Band of Outsiders collection last year – how did that come about?
I think that Scott Sternberg saw some work at an art fair in LA. He emailed me and that was it, really simple I guess.
What’s coming up next for you?
Well, a bunch. I’m curating a show in Tel Aviv called Words Without Letters. It will be at Alon Segev Gallery with Ted Gahl, Ridley Howard, Avner BenGal, and Gideon Rubin. Group shows in Paris and Copenhagen. Fairs in Chicago and Paris. A show in Haifa Museum. Also, Aurore Chauve and I have a new publishing company that we run, Yundler Brondino Verlag, so expect a lot of exciting things from that as well.
Describe yourself in three words.
Impatient. Impractical. Irreconcilable.
Describe your art in three words.
Cognitive. Non-Cognitive. Weighted.