catalog essays

catalog essay from:
Yael Scalia, Recent Work
Rothschild Fine Art
Tel Aviv, Israel
November/December 2009

Stuart Shils on the Work of Yael Scalia

I can still feel the resonance of visual delight from four years ago when I first encountered a painting by Yael Scalia. Stopping unexpectedly in front of the most curious composition, I lingered at the wall where the muted tonal poem hung, asking myself who could have made this painting and why something so small and so unpretentious wouldn’t let go of my eyes. Everything about the image spoke eloquently. Neither superficially deft in execution nor bravura in spirit, it was characterized by a distinctively honest perceptual clarity that was self – effacing yet provocative.

Since then, whenever I travel for teaching, I always take along (among other reproductions both historical and current) a printout of that painting to show students. And no matter where I am or with whom, every single time I’m asked the same three questions: whose painting is that, can I please see it more closely, and why am I not familiar with her work?

Over the last few years I’ve seen much more and have had conversations with Scalia as well, and she continues to make compelling paintings. From the current show, the apparently minimal “House on Rehov Tzfat” is so seemingly retrained in its scope, so limited in quantity of information offered, yet so potent with the context of its internal visual ambitions. It is brief and compelling – a chunk of building, a weird piece of tree, a sliver of sky – not orchestral or ornate, but we are pulled into the spell of recognition.

Scalia understands that the ordinary is anything but that. New to me, the still lives are an enormous surprise and are among my favorites of this collection. “Still Life With Rosebuds” and “Still Life With Coffee Bag and Lemons” read as shrewdly understated complexity and deeply felt mystery. What we are seeing here is not nature per se, but the nature of the painter looking. To paraphrase the words of Paul Valery, Scalia is a painter who has made us feel what she feels before nature, and in painting nature has painted herself.