Talya Shalit: You have an exhibition coming up at the gallery. What are you working on right now?
Ester Schneider: I've been working on a sculpture over the last few days- I'm using a wood lathe to create columns, like little totem poles; they will stand in the center of the space, and I will stretch strings adorned with fringes between them. These totems have been a part of my work for a long time as images in paintings or as stencils. Inside them are ovaries, faces in profile, breasts. The totems will act as the support for a structure holding itself up on this kind of "legs,'' some of which will form a staircase of high-heeled shoes, and others will stand on a broom. It will be a semi-transparent but enveloping space inside the gallery.
Temperance, 2022, mixed media installation, 210X210X137 cm. Photo: Liat Elbling
T.S: The entire exhibition revolves around a center that emerges, unfolds, and sends tendrils in all directions.Could you tell me about this thing that begins in the middle and expands outward?
E.S: I've noticed that I have many symmetrical paintings – with a center that unfolds in two directions [For example, "Fountain," the series of mixed-technique paintings on paper presented in a group exhibition at the Lobby Gallery, curated by Orit Mor (2022), in which two brush strokes were painted in a shape reminiscent of a fountain, a palm tree, or the female reproductive organs. The two separate strokes run tangentially along the central axis of the painting before diverging in opposite directions. (T.S.) This time, the divergence will occur in four directions - the four corners of the gallery.
Fountain (Pelvis), 2022, Mixed media on paper, 120X190 cm. Photos: Yigal Pardo
T.S: So, from a material perspective, there will also be a sense of unfolding from the center; that is, a central sculpture installation that expands to works on canvas and paper?
E.S: Yes, exactly.
T.S: How is the way you think about sculpture similar or different from your pictorial thinking? Are they connected? What comes first?
E.S: My interest always comes from within the world of painting, and through it, I see and identify exterior images that resonate with or suit the medium. In the same way, these fringes are both hair and brushstrokes, and I couldn't tell you which had come first.
These trees, for example –called ruderal or nitrophilicplants, grow in carbon-rich soils such as construction sites and trash heaps. It's fascinating to watch how an area is being destroyed and rebuilt. I track all kinds of plants and trees - I admire their shapes, their behavior - and I try to trace their growth and branching, and then I often recreate it in the studio - sometimes from memory. Or, this plant, for example, I brought with me to the studio. These plants were born initially within my paintings or doodles, and I'd searched for them outside. The way I paint them is related to a world of images I use in other paintings - the branches are both Menorah branches and candlesticks. Even the high-heeled-shoe steps you saw at the beginning were born from a drawing that obviously came out of some hidden visual memory.
T.S: Between Judaism and my Russian heritage, I do see something very Israeli. Even these plants, or your interest in the vegetation on the route from Kiryat Shalom - it really belongs here. These are the plants of a place.
E.S: As an artist, I've almost always lived on the city's outskirts, but now my studio is in Jaffa. The area where I live in Kiryat Shalom towards Jaffa is an area that is constantly changing and being built, and they suddenly grow all at once on such hard ground. It's pretty spectacular to me to see the shapes that are created. It's really fascinating, like a wall of plants that appears all at once. I actually imagined an entire wall of this Ricinus Communis (castor oil plant) in the gallery.
T.S.: I like the sculptural quality of this format. Could you tell me something about it?
E.S.: You just love the body, Talya! This vertical format is more or less the size of the plant. Such a strange format that does not take anyone into account. I like large and elongated formats - body/lamp, there is something very loose in them - surviving, opening up, humane.
T.S.: What technique did you use?
E.S.: Watercolors - I make a puddle and merge different types of colors, and they are free in their behavior.
T.S: And their coloring, precisely when the thing is almost dead, is very luminous.
Temperance, 2022, Installation view at RawArt Gallery. Photo: Liat Elbling
T.S.: How do you begin a painting?
E.S.: I made this painting, for example, thanks to a yoga practice. Something about this pose was interesting to me - the arms and legs grounded through the four points of contact with the floor. You are supposed to look at your navel. It's a position that took me a while to get used to, there is a feeling of a purifying current, like a river of debris that flows from me and away and turns into a carpet that passes under this structure, and you can observe it in silence.
And even when you take the 'downward dog' pose, you are indeed diving into a pool.
Downward Facing Dog, 2022, ink and watercolors on canvas, 180X200 cm. photo: Liat Elbling
T.S.: The debris, the beauty, the seduction, and the disgust are all reflected in your works, like the hair that keeps appearing in the works as a passionate and seductive element but also beastly and gruesome.
E.S.: Hair is a wild element, the direct continuation of the paintbrush; hairbrush, head of hair - it turns into smoke or feathers that grow in a man's mustache. Hair is also a kind of river.
T.S.: Will it be hung without a frame?
E.S.: Yes. I understood clearly this time that I didn't want frames anymore. In the previous exhibition, all the works were very compressed, and this time I wanted to free the canvases.
T.S.: You also have an immense wealth of frames within the paintings - borders, framed objects, gates, and oval mirrors.
E.S.: It allows me some painterly illumination of repressed qualities that are usually overlooked. The rectangle or square is an artificial derivative of reality.
Our field of vision is like an ellipse, so maybe we don't need that artificiality of the outer frame. And every painting has its own frame, a gate, a window, the edge of a carpet, nighttime.
Night Sights, 2022. ink and watercolors on canvas, 200X200 cm. photo: Liat Elbling
T.S.: When you paint, do you think of the works as a system that works together as an exhibition? Do you develop a body of work as a center that expands sideways or is it more like work-that-begets-work, and the story tells itself?
E.S.: I find myself not being so sure, in a state of not knowing. I trust the accumulation that gives rise to some theme being formed. I understand it now a little more, thanks to the sculpture. I think this exhibition was organized in relation to the sculpture.
T.S.: Is the studio a secular or sacred space for you?
E.W.: There is an integration of both, but yes, it is a sacred, distinct space. You put everything in there, but then there is an ability to process freely without finding immediate understanding, but to be in the moment with whatever comes up. That's why my exhibitions tend not to be pre-planned; instead, I live with what is there and wait to see what will grow from it. A bit like the planning of a garden. I have preparations but no master plan.
T.S.: You know what you sow but don't know what will grow.
E.S.: Yes, I hope, I pray.
Seas Level, 2022, Mixed media on paper, 100X100 cm. photo: Liat Elbling
T.S.: Jewish mysticism, Persian miniatures, Russian modernism, and Israeli painting. When you look at your sources of inspiration, if I go back to the water imagery - do you draw from these wells or swim in them?
E.S.: Such a beautiful question! Probably both, swimming and drawing, like Baron Munchausen and the pond or Joseph in the well - the absurdity of being in it allowing one to come out of it.
I am interested in ancient cultures and how we can encounter this history in today's painting, which sends out roots somewhere.
I often get caught up in a particular moment in an ancient painting. I'm looking for the reason, the why? That is to say, although it exists somewhere in the past, the central axis intersects my own. That's why I feel like I can send my canvases or this network to that place.
T.S.: Even within the paintings, you use different grids/intersecting lines and how they create/break apart the image.
E.S.: I tend to use broken or seemingly unrelated iconic configurations. A multi-layered painting can fluctuate between myth and reality. Through this network, I try to weave the tension between images that arise from different symbolic fields.
T.S.: The images hold possibilities for different forms of humor, subtle and refined, and various incarnations of language and thought. In my eyes, this kind of humor is the most Jewish thing in the paintings, like the Hasidic quibbles or wordplay and interpretations.
E.S.: It's true, it's true. It's beautiful. It's like inside jokes I have with myself, and then I draw - the disruptions and the play. It is essential for me that the works capture all kinds of people - both children and adults - and not appeal only to connoisseurs and not only in a popular way. So I enjoy it that way. I amuse myself with the transitions, the layers. A painting can be anything: a drama, a game, sacredness, and all kinds of things.
Origin, ink and watercolors on canvas, 200X200 cm. photo: Liat Elbling