Faces - Portraits by Shimrit Yariv

Irit Carmon Popper

Shimrit Yariv uses fashion and art magazines as the starting point for her paintings. Portraits of beautiful young women, symbols of their desirable seductive gaze, as well as portraits of old men with a thoughtful, messianic gaze – a paraphrase on the prophet figure. The portrait traces its roots back to the Roman bust that developed into the depiction of the upper body during the Renaissance and is common to this day. They share detailed realism, individualism and powerful presence. Placed side by side, these post-modern icons to the adoration of beauty, on the one hand, and of thought and wisdom, on the other, attempt to disrupt the familiar opposites; to blur the classic stigmas that differentiate between contempt and purity, between the physical and the metaphysical.

The women depicted are taken from the visual language of icons and objects. The focus on a countenance of sexual ecstasy while simultaneously erasing the image with brushstrokes negates this construction, for the female figure is not passive, but is shown in an active state. Women artists often present the female body, linked throughout Christian patriarchal history to sin and shame, as a correction, with the goal of re-appropriating it and presenting it as they experience it. The ecstatic gaze, which is not necessarily pornographic, as well as the thoughtful philosophical gaze, stare into the distance, not meeting another or itself; an attempt to force upon the spectator a new observation that breaks embedded visual codes. The self-aware female portrait, which dares to return the gaze, stands out compared to the ashamed and embarrassed male gaze, which presents itself under a philosophical pretext of doubtful justification.

The paintings relate to the works of American artist Cindy Sherman (b. 1954) who photographs herself in a range of archetypal female roles taken from sources including magazines, cinema, television, and art. In this way, Sherman criticizes the social roles played by women throughout history. The discussion circles around the ways in which the male gaze fashions a woman's concept of herself. The gap between the knowledge that Sherman is the model for all these figures and their lack of identification as self portraits allows for the gender critique. Yariv also reveals the sources of the portraits as fetishes of beauty and desire thus permitting the critical comment and negating the thought of voyeurism. In both cases, the images challenge the common autobiographical model of female self portraits.

The exhibition's title relates not only to the plural of "face" but also to the term for being placed in front of something, a definition that demands refining and focusing on the reflected image. The double meaning exists in the Hebrew translation of the word "panim" which when read in its singular can mean "interior", for the human face, the external mask, is accepted in parallel to the existence of an internality. The paintings do not depict a specific figure, despite the ability of identification within them, but rather act as the essence of a portrait, as a symbol or icon. Despite the mimetic duplication, each of the portraits has the similarity of a self portrait. Through the figure of the other the artist signifies the figure of the self, and reduces the gap between object and subject. It is also worth considering the Lacanian "mirror stage", which formulates the development of the subject as a dialectic process opposite the figure of the other that is first revealed to a baby when looking in a mirror. The artist deals with the claim that the subjective sense of self is constructed from the identification with figures reflected in the mirror and distances herself from the authentic self, when the painted faces are not in fact her face, but have become the faces of others in which her unique figure is reflected.

Yariv erases and "dirties" the analytic figurative image with expressive brushstrokes and bold paint drips, reminiscent of the violent gestures of the abstract expressionist painter Willem de Kooning (1904-1997). The interpretation of the gestures moves on a scale between concealment and camouflage to pollution and violent injury. In both cases – iconoclasm. The white paint can be read in this double meaning – it acts as a signifier of light, it has connotation of masks, especially ancient Egyptian death masks; the allusion to death is linked to the occupation with memory via bringing the forgotten back and the blurring of the recognized figure. Yariv calls them "memory portraits" through an iconic and archaeological context. In this case, death has a dual appearance – the destruction of the physical existence and acquisition of the transcendental essence. Is she occupied with the mourning of youthful beauty and desire melted by time? Or is charm deceitful and beauty vain?

Irit Carmon Popper