Veteran Jerusalem Artist Paints Small-Town Moments in New Exhibit
Jerusalem-based artist Marek Yanai offers an ode to his city with a collection of oils and watercolors currently on display at Beit Avi Chai in “On the Threshold: Jerusalem in Oil and Watercolor.”
There are, of course, paintings offering views of the Old City, as well as works displaying the golden hue of Jerusalem stone, but they are relatively rare in this exhibition.
Instead, Yanai, 76, a longtime lecturer at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, depicts his personal Jerusalem, which includes building entrances, tables set for breakfast and isolated pines.
The paintings of “On the threshold” are divided into three sections; The main gallery on the first floor of Beit Avi Chai displays Yanai’s oils, then his watercolors on the second floor. A gallery is dedicated solely to his portraits, also in watercolour.
The entire exhibition begins with a colorful abstract work from his studies in Bezalel in the 1960s, “that’s how he started,” said curator Amitai Chasson.
It was only a few years later, while studying in Europe, that Yanai rediscovered realism and the works of the Old Masters, recognizing how much he identified with this form of expression.
The deep, rich oils used in Yanai’s large canvases offer the very essence of this European art, capturing the romanticism of Jerusalem with modern details that offer touches of current life, such as electrical boxes at the entrance of a elegant building, or a timer placed on a breakfast table.
“He forces you to tell a story,” Chasson said, seeing one of the thresholds of Yanai’s building, framed by arched doorways and tiled floors, or gazing at a table set for breakfast – whether in Jerusalem’s upscale Talbieh neighborhood, with a white cloth, teapot, bread and jam, or Yanai’s simple formica table in the Katamonim, with cornflakes, a bowl and a spoon.
“You see how he lives in this town,” Chasson said. “The two very different tables set for breakfast? They are only half a kilometer apart.
As curator, Chasson has added poems about Jerusalem to read between the paintings, including one of his own, reminding viewers of what they are looking at and who else has pondered, while examining those same views.
The Moon Grove
The night a howl
is heard in the heart of Jerusalem
and he who cannot sleep will seek
in the crowded streets.
a defiant jackal walking among us
and it happens that in the Moon Grove
a man sits under the tall pine tree,
a burning bush consumed at his feet
his ember hands and his voice
the voice of the jackal.
(trans. FR 21.11.21)
On the second floor of the Beit Avi Chai exhibit, Yanai’s watercolors appear in relief, with portraits of trees and people, including famous names, students, and beloved friends.
“You have a knack with watercolors,” Chasson said of Yanai’s watercolor skills. Paintings should be completed in about three hours in order to capture the moment without losing color. “You don’t have much time.”
Even so, Yanai pulls it off, whether he’s painting a friend’s living room furnished with an overstuffed flowery sofa and shelves of books, or the familiar facade of the Jerusalem YMCA.
The first watercolor in this part of the exhibition is a view of the simple cement walls of the Kiryat Hayovel buildings in Jerusalem, representing another type of boundary wall.
Yanai has been a student in Jerusalem since immigrating there at age 11 in the late 1950s with his parents from Poland after World War II.
He then graduated from Bezalel and taught the art school’s compulsory basic painting course for decades, guiding students around the city or in his studio in the Talpiot industrial area, located between two branches of the supermarket. discount Rami Levy.
“Its greatest power is that it takes the familiar and shows you how to look at it, from what perspective, what color, it’s a painter’s filter – someone who takes us to another place,” said Chasson said.
“On the Threshold, Jerusalem in Oil and Watercolor” is also available online at the Beit Avi Chai website.