Interview: Artist Guy Yanai
Exploring the painter's processes and travel-driven inspirations
by Ari Samuel
Artist Guy Yanai straddles the fine line between classical painter and contemporary hyphenate. The 35-year-old, Tel Aviv-based artist’s works often depict the whimsical trots of his globe: sailing in the Aeolian Islands off the coast of Italy, bunkering down in the French countryside amidst sun-drenched fauna and terra cotta-roofed houses; or simply harnessing a keen observation and infatuation with the small moments of life that we tend to neglect, but can influence us in a big and prominent way. All of these influences, and more, are deftly enveloped into an original and signature style for which Yanai is known—a style that has garnered the attention of some of the world’s leading art galleries, collectors and fashion brands.
Just this month, Yanai unveiled ANCIENNE RIVE, his debut solo show in New York City at Chelsea's Ameringer McEnery Yohe Gallery—on now through 14 August. As Yanai also readies for group shows at Galerie Derouillon (Paris), Les Gens Heureux (Copenhagen) and an exhibition as both curator and artist at Alon Segev Gallery (Tel Aviv), he spoke with CH about his interests in travel, his creative processes and inspirations, as well as his newly launched art publishing house, Yundler Brondino Verlag, in collaboration with Aurore Chauve.
How do you decide what stories to tell when beginning your process?
Everything starts with sparks with these non-narrative stories. Stories that don't have a beginning, a middle and an end—similar to what Susan Sontag said about Howard Hodgkin’s "emotional situations.” I have no guideline or strict process, but I try to look at life, to always observe, and to be open to the idea of new images.
What medium would you like to work in that you haven't already?
You know painting is something insane, nothing can ever replace painting. And there is nothing like the feeling of applying pigment ground in oil onto a prepared surface. It's archaic, almost primitive. I would like to try time-based medium, but I would need someone to help me.
What part of the world are you interested in exploring? Does traveling to new places inspire ideas for future paintings?
I’ve never been east of Israel... I guess I return to areas that interest me: southern Italy, southern France. All of these travels get infused in the work, whether I aim for it or not. If I could, I would go to Beirut. Hopefully one day Damascus will again return to being a city. I like the idea of the Mediterranean, but not the slow pace of it. I like the in-between of places, airports, busses, taxis, highways, trains—they really interest me.
What books have influenced you most in your creative process?
I think the "Pattern Language" is a very influential book. It was written by Christopher Alexander in the '70s. I bought it by accident in Milan more than 10 years ago. I like Michel Houellebecq—he's a genius. David Foster Wallace. At night I like history books, because they involve facts. The poetry of Paul Celan has influenced me a lot.
What artists are you interested in publishing at Yundler Brondino Verlag?
Yundler Brondino Verlag is such an exciting project. Aurore Chauve, my partner, co-founded it with me. It's the publishing arm of our activities. Aurore is from South of France and is an incredible art director and graphic designer. It was a separate dream for both of us to produce and publish books on art. Simply said: we want to work with the best artists. Artists that really excite us, that really resonate with us, and whose work and method can translate into the book format. A lot of what we will be doing is giving artists total carte blanche—total freedom. Like, "Here is a 100-page book, do whatever your dream is." You want to scribble on one page and leave 99 pages empty? Fine! If we believe in the artist, we will go all the way with their vision.
Images by Ari Samuel