An Email Interview with Yonatan BeckerJune 30, 2021

LV: Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview! How did you get started as an artist? How did your journey as an artist begin?

YB: I always painted as a child with my father. We would paint and listen to classical music. In High School I would walk around with my sketchbook and draw people. I used to go to a private painting class and it was the most important thing to me.
In 2009 I went to the Jerusalem Studio School landscape marathon in Jerusalem. The teachers were Israel Hershberg and Ken Kewely. I was very moved while painting landscapes from looking with a palette knife. I still paint with a knife and usually without brushes. Teachers can help you start but actually you really need to find yourself. To discover your language and how you translate your experience into painting.
I loved making many copies after the old masters, because the gap you fell between who you are and them forces you to make up a new language.
After studying in the JSS I went to New York and met Lennart Anderson in his last months. He was already very tired but kept on painting and spoke enthusiastically about Degas and Titian. He told me I’m a landscape painter. And there is something true about that. I look at things as a landscape. Everything has a place in the composition. I see things as flat tones like in nature.

LV: The paintings of people with miniature people on top of their heads-- they are fascinating! Can you tell me about these?

YB: The paintings of a portrait with a body on top of their head are part of a series of paintings I made with industrial oil paints, black and white on paper ( later I also had a red). I didn't paint them from direct observation. I painted them rather from drawings I did from the imagination , from photographs, and after the old masters (like Velasquez, Titian, and El Greco). I also thought a lot about Georges Rouault. The figure on the head is like an alternative ego . The portrait is like a mask. I was thinking about African sculptures I saw in Jerusalem and Paris.
The industrial oil paint dries fast and creates a heavy layer of paint. I tried solving the tonality and composition out of my imagination. The character of the synthetic oil helps to create edges like painting with a heavy medium with resin. After you scrape it, it looks like a monotype. I loved it but later moved to acrylic.

LV: I've noticed that some of your work involves making copies from the masters. Can you talk about how these copies impact your work?

YB: I always loved making copies as a child and as an adult. In New York I painted a portrait of Velasquez in the Hispanic museum in Harlem. I make lots of drawings after the old masters— I turn them into my own. Sometimes I see in them many hidden jokes and eroticisms. The old masters have many comic secrets. The secret of the old masters is humour. I turn the drawings into short animations in order to see what could happen with the composition, what would I change. Maybe I should enlarge the figures or the space. Maybe you can change the direction the figures are moving toward. Behind the composition there is a lot of movement. In Poussin when a woman is raising her hand your eye follows her hand. Sometimes I paint in the studio the composition from memory.

LV: Your subject matter is so varied yet maintains a common thread of thought. It's interesting how you paint an erotic scene and then a calm day at the beach in a sort of similar manner. Can you talk a little bit about how you choose a motif?

YB: Usually I paint landscapes from observation. After painting a lot outside I feel purified from thoughts and I start having ideas about figures and composition. Eventually I want to find the harmony between nature and my imagination. I started taking drawings with me to the landscape and I used the motif as reference for the colors.

I choose a motif that attracts me . In Piero there are people with a tree growing on top of their head. In Picasso you will have a door above a head of a woman. Surprising geometrical connections move me a lot. I think of things as drawings. But in the end it all connects. I have actually a big dream…like a woman in Titian she would press her hand toward the sky... in Balthus you can find it too. Different archetypes of art are moving toward and connect with each other, and I want to be part of it.

LV: I remember talking to you a while back about how you paint with acrylics and plaster. Can you talk a little bit about that process?

YB: A few years ago I traveled to Greece to paint in Lesvos, its small Greek island that used to be the center of the archaic Greek world with Sappho.
It’s there where I moved to paint with acrylic— many years I painted with oil and chalk.
The white in acrylic is too transparent and you need to have something to give it more body. With plaster it dries faster and with matteness. You can create heavy layers with it and draw on it after it dries. Its more of an additive process.
In Lesvos there are small special churches made from local colored rocks. You can feel how you can build a church from simple stones. Like a Greek vase that has just a few colors. When you use just a few colors the relationship between them is more closely knit. They form a stronger bond.
I think also about Sienese painting and how from just a few local pigments in tempera the old masters managed to discover so much.

LV: What are you working on right now?

YB: I usually work at the same time on different paintings. I paint still lifes from looking, it helps me a lot in my process and daily coping. I make self portraits and invite friends to sit for me. I look at paintings of the old masters and imagine what they would be like today and I solve it by looking.

LV: What is a typical day in the studio like for you?

YB: Many times when it doesn’t rain as often now, I go to a deserted beach on the edge of the city. I need to be alone and get away. It’s a time of inspiration and many things are revealed to me. I have many small paintings but I'm starting to make bigger ones and grow in size. I keep on discovering my surface, what works for me.

I paint with a wood box on my knees, I bring with me a canvas mounted on wood or cardboard and I mix acrylic with plaster. I paint with a palette knife without brushes.
In the landscape I try to go to the same place every time, to the same motif and try to say something painterly, something different each time.
The paintings reveal my feelings but in the motif itself there is something physical that goes beyond personal feelings.

Going out to the landscape gives a sense of urgency and freedom. That I want to keep and bring with me to the studio. But really the deserted beach is also my studio..

In the studio I also enlarge some of the landscapes/ studies where I can develop them according to my feelings.

I usually arrive in the studio after making a landscape painting. In the studio I make still lifes, portraits, and paintings after the old masters.
I try to be in the studio every day for many hours. I try to do what I can, and be in the studio as much as possible.

LV: What artists have you been looking at lately?

YB: Lately I went back to look and be excited about Vuillard and Bob Thompson.
I love the drawings of Walter Sickert of Paris. It moves me to look at the city and make drawings from looking.
I love the drawings of de Stael , he made them with a black marker when he traveled in Sicily and later he came back to Provence and turned them into paintings.
I look at drawings and comics of Balthus that he did when he was a child. He has a comic strip about a cat getting lost. Cats are always lost like painting. But you can rediscover them.
Balthus has a series of drawings about Wuthering Heights. It moves me and connects me to whats real about painting.
Vuillard's early paintings of women with decorative dresses- I look at him all the time. His woman are always sitting with their back to the viewer and there is something mysterious about it.
In the center of Tel Aviv there is a big painting in an entrance to a lobby. It’s a painting by Susan Wilson who is a great English painter. She has so much freedom to make different kinds of spots. She has a very rich language of painting. She is very inspiring for me.
I look at imaginative painters like Kevin Paulsen and Scott Daniel Allison on Instagram.
I also love Pasolini Arabian nights and Medea.