Yam Shalev is an emerging Israeli artist in his mid-twenties who one day decided to move from Tel Aviv to Berlin to pursue art. NBB Gallery visited him in his cozy studio in Berlin-Hohenschönhausen to talk about his artistic growth and life. Read further to find out why he does not own a laptop and how he preserves memories through art.
Yam welcomed us with what is typical for his newest paintings: Drinks, fresh fruits and croissants put neatly on a coffee table. Painting still-lives with motifs from brunches and picnics has been Yam’s preferred subject these days. If you look around his studio, you can see small still-lives of assembled objects everywhere. Brushes in jars, color tubes, plants, empty bottles, sketchbooks, and color pencils. As if Yam’s studio itself was an incarnation of his canvases. Situated near the former East German State Security Service prison in a block house together with other art spaces, Yam’s studio feels like an oasis in the rather cold environment with a dark past. Thankfully, the studio is well lit from a large window heading the northwest. The space is small but just enough to fit four large canvases, a desk and a sofa with a coffee table.
“I am not a digital guy – I don’t even own a computer,” said Yam when discussing his previous work. Conversely to his art from a few years before, he made a shift from post digital subjects towards the current still-lives. He left painting arms and hands on a gradient pastel background behind. „I don’t want to be a virtuosic artist that repeatedly does the same thing and everyone can predict me for the next four shows. I would get bored.“ Eventually, Yam found more enjoyment in depicting the daily life around him: Meals with family or empty bottles after a party in a shared flat. It felt more authentic to him. What is important for Yam is finding enjoyment and authenticity in his artistic practice and to evolve naturally.
The starting point when working on a canvas is a photograph of the scenery or a sketch of the scene. Yam also works with a vision of a whole exhibition in his mind and chooses his compositions accordingly. Before he starts to paint on the large canvases (sometimes with dimensions over 160 cm x 120 cm), he makes quick color pencil sketches but no studies. The goal is to work intuitively and spontaneously. His paintings are very personal and autobiographical, however he does not hide the fact that in contrast to the original photographs some objects in his paintings were added. For example, adding a bottle of Moët on a brunch table in one of his recent works. “We did not drink Moët that morning. For me it is just there to portray a celebration,” said Yam. Each object carries a meaning, especially cultural or biographical. Be it memories of homeland or of good times with friends. As an artist living abroad, he processes the experience through art. Shakshuka, hummus and challah bread in one of Yam’s recent large format paintings all refer to his Israeli origin. The artist believes that what we eat defines us culturally. The appreciation of culture is one of the reasons why he finds pleasure in depicting table arrangements.
The culturally rich city of Berlin and Yam’s new home inspires many of his compositions as well. Some of his paintings are an evidence of the zeitgeist: A bottle of the current hip natural wine or a book that every artist talks about now made it into Yam’s paintings: The paintings are a polemic about fitting in, about committing to the new customs of his peers. Contrary to the absence of humans in his paintings, the meaning lies surprisingly in the human connections. Still lives might seem as an already saturated genre in photography. However, Yam succeeds to add an autobiographical, culturally significant as well as critical dimensions to his compositions.
All photos: © NBB GALLERY