I had the pleasure of interviewing artist Yonat Nitzan-Green this week as she has an art exhibition running at Andover Museum until 9 February. Yonat’s exploration of ‘the material imagination’ is a fascinating theme infusing her work and creative approach. Read on to find out more about the processes behind her work, why Yonat considers art to be an essential part of human experience, and what advice and encouragement she has for other practicing artists.
Yonat, what does being an artist mean to you?
Being human. Open to creativity.
I think life is creative and I’m connecting to life when I make art. Art is my way of communicating with the world. Because art is all encompassing, art is life. You can’t say it’s a practice even, it’s bigger than that. It’s being open to the creative flow of life and then engaging with it. You can find creative flow in every role, cooking, cleaning, helping children with homework, going to the park for a walk, conversation, going for a run, reading a book, teaching, even when you do a mundane job like driving places there are pockets that allow us to link with the creative process and creative element that life is, as well as the things that make us human. Art for me, is being human in that way.
It’s not about holding a paint brush or making a sculpture. It’s about being able to daydream and open up to your imagination. When we are children we do it naturally. For example I remember fennel grew on the mountains and I believed gnomes lived under them. Every time we went for a walk in the mountains as a child I would go have a conversation with the gnomes. “Being an artist” means that I integrate my imagination into my adult life. If I’m just operating on the realm of functional and don’t engage with the creative realm of life I feel like the oxygen is getting less and less and I’m not fully living.
Seeing art as central to the human experience offers a navigation tool that allows all the senses to participate in the experience of being human, we are not only perceiving but also responding.
What does your process look like?
Performative. It doesn’t start on the canvas, it has many starting points. I often take a bedsheet (if i want to analyse it I have an interesting dialogue between wet and and dry, possibly because as a child I wet the bed, so I always notice the interesting dialogue between wet and dry, wet paint and dry chalk.) I take a bedsheet with its traces of family life, I shred it, and then separate the threads. The ritual of dismantling the bedsheets puts me in a state of dreaming and openness. I developed this method through trial and error.
The first layer on the canvas is paint. I don’t use the brush in the common way but I flick the paint to create a spray. Particles of paint. I am embracing the potentials contained within unpredictability.
It’s very slow process and I need the very slow process and the repetitive physical labour. I need it because the way I connect with the creative life is through my body.
So I always place the canvas flat on the floor and I treat it more like a body, something I can pick up. It is a presence. I can dream with it.”
Feminist theorists critique the dominance of the sense of vision. I do too, I always come back to my art language which is a bodily experience that has nothing to do with vision, and everything to do with touch, smell, closeness, distances. I’m not saying the vision isn’t important, its very important, but it’s not the only criteria.
Every time I try to put a painting on the wall, it immediately appeals first to the eyes and then to the brain which starts to think and censor, so I usually get stuck. So I always place the canvas flat on the floor and I treat it more like a body, something I can pick up. It is a presence. I can dream with it, and then I flow. Threads of the bedsheets are very methodically laid over the splattered paint: vertically, horizontally, diagonally, systematically.
My paintings have a dimensionality, they are not flat.
How has your practice evolved over time, and what has been the main driver of that?
My main drive is to communicate with the world and open channels of communication more and more. In order to do so I need to understand myself. Making art is my main tool I use to communicate with myself and the world.
So my practice is about communicating, and developing understanding. Art is a way of sharing my understanding with others. The development of understanding is not static, it is an ongoing thing.
Art helps me to put some kind of order or expression to my experience, even if I don’t understand what it is. My words follow the intuitive doing which comes directly from the senses to the paper from the “not knowing” part of me. Once it’s on the paper I start to name the things I see. Red. Why did I use red? So definitely I would say the world of colour and shape is non-verbal, but once it’s taken form it begins magnetising words, which is our verbal way of understanding. Once you have a better understanding of yourself and try to communicate with others, people can trace something of your experience in the artwork.
Art is my sanctuary, which was something I established early on with the support of my mother. As kibbutz children we were taken to the babies house and then children’s house, not only were we separated from our parents for most of the time it was also the end of privacy. I didn’t even know what privacy was back then, but when I reflect on it, I see that when I hid my paintings under my parents bed – it was because I felt very exposed, and it was a way of protecting my core self from scrutiny. When I was a child and I visited my parents on Saturdays, my mother put paper out for me and I was given space to draw while my family went for a walk. It was a secret. Because as an individual pursuit, that would likely be judged in the kibbutz environment which is all about communal activities. Even today art remains a sanctuary that allows me to nurture, support, and develop an individual thinking mind of my own.
What has worked best for you when it comes to sharing and promoting your work, and why does that suit your personality and practice?
Personal connection works best. It’s also my achilles heel because I find it difficult to take a step forward with confidence.
I do blog, I can control that so I don’t feel overwhelmed by it.
What has been one of your biggest personal challenge as an artist and how did you overcome it?
There are many challenges as an artist, and being a professional its up to you to solve it. I brought a camera but it was new, and I forgot how to use it. Technical challenges are almost daily, but I find ways to solve them.
Getting new confidence with marketing my work is my next challenge.
What decisions, activities or support have made the biggest impact on your professional practice?
Meeting other artists is always a contributing factor. I always learn something from other artists.
Doing my PHD research contributed the most, I can’t put a value on it. Because you are creating a field of research, it allows you to create that field, systematically and continuously for eight years in my case. This field is now something that I can sustain and visit, like a field in the countryside it’s growing all the time, life flourishing there in the nurturing soil.
Maternal subjectivity was the subject of my art-research. It is an obscure definition but the word maternal is intended to replace mother and mothering because these words are problematic and full of stereotypical associations. That’s why maternal is used to refer to the experience of pregnancy, birthing, and mothering. Whereas ‘subjectivity’ is implying the specific elements that you personally are – your individuality, your experiences, what is specific to you personally not to all mothers.
You don’t have to have be a mother to have a connection to maternal subjectivity, we all have a specific subjective relationship to it because we were all born, and have a mother.
We can assess a child’s growth not with a ruler to measure his/her height but a precision of involving all the senses.For me maternal subjectivity and art has become inseparable. Artists can create bridges between all the different fields of research (in the context of maternal subjectivity) . We are needed because we involve all the senses and can become cross-disciplinary. Is that a maternal role? It is for me. That’s my subjectivity.
I don’t see the world the same way as I did before my experiences of being pregnant, birthing, mothering. I don’t need babies and boobs in my paintings for it to be an expression of my maternal subjectivity. The language of my art is built on traces of my own personal experiences of these things and they don’t go away, they have become part of me and my work, as much as my growing up in a kibbutz separated from my parents, and the presence of the israeli-palistinian conflict as a child born in Israel have shaped my personal vision of the world.
I use the word ima (invisible mother artist). It’s a persona. Anybody can implement it, including men. But maternal subjectivity is specifically about the experience of going through or not going through pregnancy, birth and child rearing, and creating a language for our bodily experience of labour, birth, and nurturing.
What achievements as an artist have been the most rewarding or significant?
Completing a doctorate research successfully was the most significant achievement.
Other significant and rewarding achievements include:
- Initiating together with other artist-researchers a research group (PIRG) where we have been inventing and developing collaborative art research methods;
- collaborating with CAS artists at various exhibitions, workshops, symposiums and projects;
- leading CAS’ ‘reading group’; and the anthology project in my role as a CAS research consultant.
Is there anything you want to say about your involvement with CAS as an Associate Artist?
I have been part of CAS since 2013 as a research consultant; and as a resident artist, sharing a studio space with David Dixon at the Chapel. Having a studio contributed significantly to the development of my art. CAS has given me opportunities for group exhibitions, discussions, workshops and projects. It’s been a very positive and stimulating experience of mutual learning and developing.
What have you learned from your career as an artist that you would most like to pass on to other practicing artists?
- Listen to your heart, passions, obsessions, or anything that causes you restlessness.
- Investigate it, strive to understand yourself and your relationships with other people, materials and the world.
- Pursue it no matter what others say or think. With time and experience your tools, skills and critical thinking develop and so does confidence in yourself and your artworks.
What can artists expect from your current exhibition at Andover Museum?
This is a difficult question to answer since expectations are very subjective. I hope that my paintings and drawings give something to different people with different interests.
Art Exhibition ‘Too Much Iron Can Lead To Vision Loss’
@ Andover Museum until 9 February
Museum Opening Times:
Tuesday 10:00 am –5:00 pm
Wednesday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Thursday 1o:00 am –5:00 pm
Friday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Saturday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm