Yigal Ozeri. (Courtesy of Flint Institute of Arts)
Yigal Ozeri’s artworks may seem to be photographs but, on closer inspection, they open up a more detailed, intimate emotional perspective of his models.
Israeli artist Yigal Ozeri’s large-scale paintings draw the viewer in with their beauty, detail and sometimes dreamy nature settings. Brush with Reality — the name of the exhibit at the Flint Institute of Arts — is well-chosen.
Ozeri’s artworks may seem to be photographs but, on closer inspection, they open up a more detailed, intimate emotional perspective of his models. Many are beautiful women who revel in their environments — a rainforest, beach, city street. One of their common elements is their self-assertion — “This is me in my place,” they seem to say.
Ozeri is a leading photorealist artist whose works have been exhibited throughout the U.S., Europe, China, Mexico and Israel, where he was born in 1958. His paintings are part of the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Jewish Museum in New York, the Albertina in Vienna, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the Flint Institute of Arts, where his current exhibition will be available through Jan. 2, 2022.
Photorealism is an artistic process in which the artist creates and manipulates digital images from a camera that are then reproduced on paper or canvas, providing the base for painting. Ozeri says that he “recreates the image in the computer to better fit his inner reality” and then paints so that he “erases the photography.”
Ozeri studied art at the Institute of Plastic Arts in Bat Yam from 1977-1980, when he says that most Israeli artists leaned toward abstract art, and portraits were not held in high esteem. He was an important figure in the Israeli art world, founding the Meimad Art School in Tel Aviv, and received the Minister of Education Prize for Young Artists in 1989.
In 1991, Ozeri moved to New York. The art market wasn’t doing well and in contrast to his prominence in Israel, he struggled to find his place. He found a studio near a branch of the Museum of Modern Art and helped co-found an arts complex.
A visit to the Louis K. Meisel Gallery in New York City exposed Ozeri to photorealism for the first time, and he eventually began exploring this hybrid art form. Initially, he used his children as portrait models and then began to focus on women in nature and forests.
According to Ozeri, most photorealist artists paint landscapes and still life paintings, but he chose women because of their beauty and vitality with deep connections to nature. One of his best-known portraits is one of Lizzy Jagger, daughter of Mick Jagger, in which he chose to retain the view of her smoking for its special visual effect.
Untitled: Territory depicts a beautiful Israeli soldier — Shely Ben-Joseph — smiling and luxuriating on a beach. She wears her uniform, and Ozeri admiringly speaks of her role as a supervisor in the army’s cyber defense unit.
Untitled: Territory, 2012, oil on paper, from a private collection
While initially concentrating on portraits of women, his daughter, Shear Ozeri, who works with him, suggested that he consider New York as representing another kind of beauty. He began a series focusing on food vendors and other people on the streets of New York. It was a big change to “paint reality,” he said during a tour of Brush with Reality.
As the place where he spent the developmental years of his art career, Ozari says that New York “defined him as an artist and human.”
The Flint Institute of Arts previously included Ozeri’s work in a 2018 exhibit titled From Lens to Eye to Hand: Photorealism 1969 to Today, which explored the 50-year history of photorealism. “In that show, Yigal Ozeri’s work was part of the section featuring the new generation of photorealists,” Tracee Glab, curator of collections and exhibitions at the Flint Institute of Arts, said.
“Our audience really loved his work, which stood out among the others in the show. In speaking with his dealer Louis Meisel, we were made aware that a retrospective of his works was available. We jumped at the chance to have his work back here, but in a more thorough presentation.”
Brush with Reality will be featured at the Flint Institute of Arts (Flintarts.org) through Jan. 2, 2022. The museum is about a one-hour drive, assuming good weather and traffic conditions, for those living in southeast Oakland County.