The Golden Age - Icons by Daniel Chahana Levensohn 2006

"I had in mind the balance between the classic and the modern, between there and here, between the heavy burden of European-Christian history, and Israeli-Tel Avivian lightness; between the art there and the art here, between the significance and weight of tradition and geography"(S. A.)

Shy Abady's exhibit presents realistic portraits of the artist and of people from his close environment by using the Christian icon as his model, a model that assigns to the chosen figure divine attributes, mysticism, glory, splendor and holiness.

The icons' series began in 2000 during Abady's stay at the artists' center the Cité in the heart of Paris, where he was exposed to the hidden treasures of Christian art. The Cité is located near a monastery and a church, both belonging to the "Fraternité Monastique de Jerusalem" Order. Shortly after his arrival at the Cite, Abady visited the monastery, was taken by its visual charm and began paying regular visits to the place. The mass that took place every evening, the ambiance, the costumes, the art on the walls and the music created a spiritual atmosphere and an aesthetic richness. The drawings, sculptures and icons, marked by the ravages of the ages, told a story of artistic times and languages. Added to the wealth and power of the ecclesiastical experience was "The Parisian experience." The Louvre located within a short walking distance and the frequent visits there, the environs and the gardens rich with figurative sculptures – all these combined gave rise to a longing for an aesthetic and plastic tradition different from the Israeli one.

His residency at the Cite and disengagement from daily Tel-Avivian life and local conventions allowed Abady to form a different perspective. In the first stage, this perspective, gave birth to self-portraits, whole, semi, and close up, using a sketch-like technique. Abady's work start with sketches on paper which are then processed using gold paints and layers of lacquer, creating glazes and transparencies that give his works their antiquated appearance. The drawings are glued to wooden surfaces of various sizes and thicknesses, and are occasionally placed into a wooden box giving them the character of an object. In Abady's work one can detect an affinity to historical artistic continuity grounded in conceptions of classic art, which include the worship of beauty, and specifically of masculine beauty. The gold art works strive for harmony and unity, but not exclusively so. They also contain that local ascetic element as well.

"It is hard to pinpoint the exact moment in which the decision to work with gold emerged. It seemed like it happened out of a natural dynamic and a response to the surroundings, but that very same excitement was simultaneously both enveloping and suffocating; Paris with its historical weight and artificial beauty created a yearning for an open, simple and airy space." ( S.A.)

From the outset, Abady knew that gold, both as a color and as a substance, was alien to the Israeli setting. Nevertheless, the decision to use it almost obsessively had already been made, feeling as if he was transgressing the boundaries of local aesthetic values. As a graduate of the Midrasha Art College at the end of the 80s and early 90s, Abady had experienced the nearly absolute hegemony of materially impoverished minimalist art and conceptual art which, in his opinion, limited and castrated the artistic landscape. The license he appropriated for himself to use and cling to such a visual artistic medium was an extension of his need for change and freedom. As one of those trend setters who determine our consumption habits and "the new wave…", Abady opens up ways of seeing things that are not new but are often forgotten, and relate to art as an unlimited space which encompasses within it all the different variations between the classic and the modern, the figurative and the conceptual and abstract, and stimulate a lively dialogue between them.

Upon his return to Israel, Abady began drawing and painting his friends whose facial features had a touch of the medieval about them: Torsten, Lior, Radu, Evyatar, Tsachi…. in a realistic, almost academic style, paying attention to details and qualities in each and every image. By using simple and clean lines together with the golden background and layers of gold he created a contemporary icon.

The choice of known figures as modelers and prolonged working sessions in their company combined with deep observation in an attempt to capture their inner essence is akin to the science of physiognomy developed in the Renaissance. This science was dedicated to the study of the face. The researchers who specialized in this field strove to determine whether the facial features looking out from an image can tell us something about its nature and whether there is a way to identify certain qualities about a person by his facial features. In his drawings Abady has created a synthesis between the intuitive perception he uses to examine his images, and the iconic style which elevated them to the status of "holy figures".

Thus, the icons drawn by Abady show us not only an exterior view but also, and in particular, Abady's ability to perceive the personality, character, emotions and uniqueness of the people surrounding him. Abady "reads" the figure in front of him and using just a few lines is able to transfer the person's essence to paper, thus integrating the modern icon with the ancient icon which served as a simple external symbol aimed at communicating a short and clear message without the use of written or oral language.

The golden paint decorating Abady's portraits create an ambivalent attitude. On the one hand, they present the image through close observation of the figure's character, essence and features, while on the other hand they are cut off from present reality due to their spiritual deification. This double viewpoint creates an oxymoron that emerges from the tension between the here and now and a yearning for something ancient and eternal, which this exhibition presents.

Daniel Cahana-Levinzon, curator, September, 2006

* "The Golden Age" is the name of a era which marked the cultural blossoming of Spanish Jewry, from the ninth through the thirteenth centuries. In the modern era this term is used to signify particularly successful and significant periods. Throughout history eras were named from the historical perspective of the generations that followed. The one exception to this was the Renaissance whose uniqueness is the very grounds for its exceptionality. The people of the period were aware of the changes that they themselves were undertaking, thus validating the revival of ancient times.