installation Shots



Studio Conversation between Beno Kalev, Curator/Art Collector, and Haran Kislev, Artist

Beno Kalev: In the spirit of full disclosure, for those reading this interview who may not know you very well, I will say that we have known each other for a while and that I have a lot of appreciation for your work. Now that I have said it, let’s go back to the beginning. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you Haran Kislev?

Haran Kislev: I am a 34-year-old painter, from Kibbutz Be’eri which is located in the Gaza envelope, and the third generation of the kibbutz founders who established it in 1946. I was born in the kibbutz and am still living there with my wife and two small children.

Beno: How is this manifested in your works?

Haran: The place and the surrounding are integral to my work. As corny as it may sound, I think it’s like our mold. In recent years I have been searching for this place and for my boundary and my place within it. In my work, I go back to the notion of holding on to the ground and all that it implies. The indigenous plants, agriculture, crops, smells, neighbors, the border with Gaza, the wars, the land, the mud and the complex “routine.” These are the realities of my life and are always with me. Until recently, I used to go out into the landscape, to photograph and sketch the fragments, which I would then “process” to create an outcome, an image that I would be happy with. Over the past year, I felt that I no longer needed to look at the landscape in order to paint it, I remember it, it is etched in me. I no longer need to go out to nature, I no longer need the physical drawing tools in order to capture moments from the features of the landscape. The border, the “outside,” the “landscape” have grown more fluid, and have been transformed into a personal, subjective and very ambiguous landscape. In fact, to me, these new landscapes that I present in this exhibition feel more imitative than the previous landscapes.

Beno: Allow me to show you an extraordinary piece by Aviva Uri, who stated that she did not need to go out into the landscape in order to paint it. Moreover, she maintained: “The line must not be a contour to describe any object, it has to be it itself, to live its life – the embodiment of the spirit and the inherent power it holds from time immemorial.” Words to live by that I understand you also identify with and which are embodied in your art. But look at this work she did, where it is obvious that she painted Jerusalem – the walls, the Dome of the Rock from observation, but that’s it. Notice all the additions around where she let her imagination run free like only she knew how. And yet, when she walked into her gallery one day before an exhibition, and noticed that I was looking at the piece in a group of works leaning against the wall, she asked what I was looking at so intently. And when she came closer and saw the painting, she got annoyed and said she did not agree to have this piece in the upcoming show. I immediately pulled it out of the pile and told her and the gallery owner that I will solve their problem and buy it, and hurried outside before either one of them will have a change of heart.

Haran: You were lucky. It’s an amazing piece and I can definitely understand it and you. There is something about this work that feels more experimental, more vulnerable compared to other works by Aviva. I can really connect with this vulnerability and simple honesty.

Beno: I know that you think very highly of Aviva, and that you have an ongoing dialogue with her and with other prominent Israeli artists. How do I know? Very simple. Each time I show you a work of art, I see your eyes following every mark or special line in the painting, until you dive into the depth of the painting, because you are accustomed to diving into paintings, the way that you look at a work of art you can tell that you descend into the depths of your soul. And there, at the point when you reach the right balance of mental concentration, you manage to distill the spirit from the clutter of matter and in return is the miracle that manifests as you turn that spirit back into matter –a painting.

Can you talk a bit about how you see your studio and what it signifies and represents for you?

Haran: For me, the studio is a complex world, because it is contradictory. On the one hand, it is a haven. It is a place that protects me and separates me from the world. It is a very revealing and private place. On the other hand, in a way it is the embodiment of freedom and openness. I expect my work to portray my thoughts as honestly as possible. I expect it to present me stripped, without masks. The studio is a place where in the moment that I am there, I am free. There, I try to make works that breathe. To create a product that “breathes independently.” It always feels like a fragile moment that at any second can escape and leave me holding a corpse. In general, I think over the past year I have been more and more interested in questions of life and death, existence and the end.

Beno: What you are saying is very interesting because your words take me back to Marcel Proust, who writes: “Through art alone are we able to emerge from ourselves, to know what another person sees of a universe which is not the same as our own and of which, without art, the landscapes would remain as unknown to us as those that may exist on the moon. Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world only, our own, we see that world multiply itself and we have at our disposal as many worlds as there are original artists, worlds more different one from the other than those which revolve in infinite space, worlds which, centuries after the extinction of the fire from which their light first emanated, whether it is called Rembrandt or Vermeer, send us still each one its special radiance […] In short, this art which is so complicated is in fact the only living art. It alone expresses for others and renders visible to ourselves that life of ours which cannot effectually observe itself and of which the observable manifestations need to be translated and, often, to be read backwards and laboriously deciphered. Our vanity, our passions, our spirit of imitation, our abstract intelligence, our habits have long been at work, and it is the task of art to undo this work of theirs, making us travel back in the direction from which we have come to the depths where what has really existed lies unknown within us.”[1]

What do you say about all this,” Haran?

Haran: Beautiful! I love this and completely agree. Yes, I feel it is my passion. For me, art is a parallel universe that can look, feel, and exist independently and completely. If I can make the viewer pause and marvel for a moment, look, and make a small crack in this existential cynicism of ours, I have made it. If this happens, I am happy.

Beno: Let’s go back to our subject. In the context of your recent work, I would like to know: when you are working in the studio, do you listen to loud psychedelic trance music or to quiet classical music? My money is on the first.

Haran: No and no. Yes, I like upbeat music in high volume, but it’s hard for me to give up on the words. They have such a connecting power. I do listen to loud and fast music, but for me it is background music, simply because the actual artmaking is much stronger. Perhaps I should say that this is not background music but background buffering music.

Beno: I see that you give all the paintings names. Names that are sometimes even a short poem of sorts. Explain the rationale, if there is one. How exactly does it work?

Haran: I think of the two as one. The text and the work. They depend on one another. They are a bit like the path and the destination. Can one be completely detached from the other? I’m not sure. Maybe it is a matter of opinion. In any case, in my mind it feels dependent. I often think of the text as an outline for a piece, like a path for the solution, like a charcoal study for an oil painting. Sometimes it also works the other way around. It happens on its own and I don’t put too much effort or think too hard about it.

Beno: And your works are always oil on canvas?

Haran: Yes and no. They are oil paintings, but hardly any of them are on canvas. Over the years, and especially in the past year, the canvas and I have had trouble getting along. It doesn’t really understand me, and refuses to carry the weight of the paint that I insist to inflict upon it. You can say we are separated. I have moved on to painting on wood constructions that my father builds for me. I treat them before I paint on them, so over time, they can come to terms with the existence of the paint. I had relationship trouble not only with the canvas. In recent years I almost completely stopped painting with paintbrushes. They are too direct and too predictable and they were obvious. And so, at the moment I have also separated myself from them. I work mainly with cookware, gardening tools, various brooms, toilet brushes, etc…

Beno: And those massive frames that you have been using in recent years, are they a part of the work?

Haran: They function in two ways. They protect my works, but mainly they help me conceptually to play with and push the boundaries between painting and the sculptural object. I think of myself as a painter but think of the work as an object. This is somewhat conflicting but I think it is an important tension in my practice and my intention.

Beno: The next question is a little unnecessary, but I will ask it anyway. Are you content when you finish working on a piece, or do you go back sometimes and alter it?

Haran: I hate touching a piece once it’s done. I rarely do. If I have to go back to a piece after it is done, I do it more as a surgeon. As soon as I finish a piece, and it is born as something sustainable I am happy with, as far as I am concerned, I am done with it!

Beno: Thank you Haran, I wish you much success in your solo exhibition: Mud, Land and Tears at Zemack Contemporary Art Gallery.

Haran: Thank you very much.