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In the Studio with Yam Shalev

Yam Shalev's paintings explore post-digital pop culture, influenced by the connections that one has with the virtual dimension and the boundaries within. We met with him to tell us more.

When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?

Well, I’m not quite sure if there was a specific moment in which I began to perceive myself as an artist, but just as most painters out there, I remember painting before knowing how to read. I think after my military service I had a period in my life in which I did nothing but paint. During this time I started to work on canvas instead of on papers and it marks the moment I felt like there was nothing else that I could live in peace doing other than art.

Where are you from and what was your upbringing like? How has this impacted your work?

I was born and raised in Israel in a small village called Matan, near Tel Aviv, surrounded by nature and lots of good people, I would say.

I was very hyperactive, was never home and had my first computer when I was 20, which can explain in some ways who I am and how far I am from this “digital type”. Perhaps that’s one of the main reasons why I’m fascinated by exploring the post digital era as I am today. 

Apart from that, all of my family have a connection to the arts, most of them are musicians. All of my mom’s walls are covered by my aunt’s painting from the early 70’s when she was in art school. I guess there are so many things that shape us to the point of who we become, that only referring to memories won’t really do any justice.

Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. Have you gone through the traditional route of art school and what was your experience? 

I think my journey hasn’t been the traditional one that everyone expected from me. Unfortunately I didn’t go to art school due to some financial reasons, I tried but it was too expensive for me back in Israel at the time.

I had my first exhibition in Tel Aviv in 2017, when I was 20 or 21 years old and after that I was invited to exhibit a mural at the urban art week in Berlin in 2018. The small trip I took appeared to become my main focus and my new home.

Before that I interned with the Israeli artist Rami Meiri for a while, I studied from him a lot by observing his way of painting and treating the canvas, which gave me a lot.

Since my first exhibition I’ve been able to exhibit in Israel, Berlin and London and I think I was just sucked into pursuing my career from that point. But now studying is something that really interests me and I’m really considering that.

What’s the message of your work? Are there themes/narratives/purpose? 

I’m not sure if there is a specific message, as much as the theme playing it’s part.

My paintings take everyday situations that we experience in the digital dimension and basically break apart the whole idea of us being within this dimension.

We’re experiencing a whole different world, whilst the only physical part of us is our hands, they represent us and embody our true character, which creates a special relationship between our identity and our hands in the digital dimension.

Some of the situations are ironic, some sad, others sexual; but they testify to the fact that we’re slowly being sucked into this realm, revealing the underlying relationship we have with our hands. They have become the most important and responsible character for us in there.

Where do they come from? How would you describe your aesthetic? 

As a young kid I was always drawing comics and when I grew up I discovered the magic of surrealism, which has influenced me the most.

After receiving digital technology, just like everyone, it had a great impact on me. I think the idea that we are all experiencing what I’ll call “post-digital life”, is the first thing to come, followed by the curiosity and the needs of these ever stretching boundaries. 

The need of a high level aesthetic, just like computer simulated, strong bright colors, sharp figures, and as a post-digital painter, all I’m doing is receiving it and translating it.

Who and what are your greatest influences?

It’s changing all the time. With instagram and other social medias, it’s very easy to find yourself a new favorite artist every week.

I think the ones that have had the strongest impact on me and on my works are Cristina Banban, Alex Gardner, Oli Epp  and René Margritte.

But for the long run I would say that the thing which has influenced me the most is music, those artists, in a way that would be hard to explain with words.

René Magritte, Les Belles Relations, 1967

Are your works planned? What do you want people to take from your work when they view it? Do you have the audience consciously in mind when you are creating?

Every work of mine starts in the sketchbook, sometimes I draw in my phone when I’m out and about, but it has to be tangible in my sketchbook as well in order to define the figures and understand the composition I want to create.

Most of the time I have the viewer in mind in order to make sure that I am challenging him/her as much as I challenge myself. I want the paintings to be processed like a music album and not like a one hit song, so I always make sure that there are things that the viewer will take home and other things that will hit them at first sight and will be clear immediately. 

But mostly to convey that we need to be sober towards the digital dimension and create a mirror for ourselves as a post-digital generation and it’s circumstances

What events in your life have mobilised change in your practise/aesthetic? How has your art evolved? Do you stick to one medium? Do you experiment? Do you see any parameters to your work?

I think one of the biggest changes was when I saw Cristina Banban’s solo show last year. 

First I felt sick to my stomach when the realization hit me of how far off I am from where I want to be. She’s a great inspiration. But right after I got my shit together; I remembered that I was stuck on one painting of hers for more than 20 minute, realizing what strong emotions I want my paintings to leave with the viewer also. This show changed my life in some aspects, I managed to understand how much I want this and everything became clearer.

What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?

Free schedule, good music and good lyrics, inspiring conversations and the city. 

My relationships play a great part too. Talks with my friends and family, sometimes even strangers.

What are your goals for the future? (Projects, collaborations)

Currently I don’t have representation yet, which I think that is the main goal of mine.

I want to target big stages and have the focus to dive into a long series of paintings and to reach more viewers and audiences, setting a foundation. 

There are many good galleries that focus on the post-digital era and it would be amazing to exhibit in one of those.

Hopefully when the whole pandemic is behind us I would love to experience an art residency: I think it would be a life defining experience to create out of the studio environment and to engage with more artists in the process.

How has your art practice been affected by self-isolation?

I have to say that I wasn’t prepared, just like everyone I guess.

I was planning to be part of a group exhibition in Italy which got postponed. There is an open studio week coming up in June, a kind of art festival, I am uncertain if it will take place. 

But in terms of creation, I would say that it is one of my best times on canvas.

Luckily I can continue working as usual and this time in quarantine has proved to be the best time for me to harness the right focus.

Are you creating new work while social distancing?

A lot ! I started a new series two months before quarantine started and I’m quite far ahead in my first schedule. 

How are you staying creative?

Staying involved with the world as much as possible, using social media, keeping in touch with my people or just watching TV.

Everything that can keep me conscious I guess and a lot of music! 

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