BY DANIEL JOHNSON
JUNE | 2022
Yigal Ozeri is a master photorealist painter living in New York, USA. This 63 year old artist has too many accolades to list, but his reputation speaks for itself, as he has shown work internationally, from Mexico, Spain, China, France, Germany and so many other places. His latest conquest is being part of a massive collection of work in Flint Michigan composed of the finest photorealist painters in the world, both alive and deceased.
Ozeri expresses the grandeur of being included in a collection such as this, “I’m the only artist from the 3rd generation, it starts for Richard Este, Chuck Close, from Bechtle…a lot of different artists, and myself.” In 2023, the collection will be exhibited by the Smithsonian in Washington, and will travel to 15 other museums around the world. Ozeri emphasizes the magnitude of the collection and the utility of offers in bringing photorealism out of the metaphorical shadow cast by pop art. He also expresses his appreciation to Louis K. Meisel for his influence on the industry and the donating of his impressive collection to the Smithsonian.
As exciting as this latest news is for Ozeri, to truly understand the artist behind the art we must go back to the beginning. When Ozeri was 5 years old, he came home crying to his father, and when pressed about the reason for his tears it was revealed that Ozeri had deliberately disobeyed the instruction of his art teacher. From a young age Ozeri was a true artist, constantly challenging the status quo of what would later become his industry. He elaborates on the story, “...it’s a very interesting story, because I came home…my father couldn’t understand why I walked home from kindergarten by myself. He was very worried, and so he took me back to the school to ask what happened,” back when Ozeri was growing up in Israel corporal punishment for children was common place. Though even his father shuttered at the idea of teachers hitting his son’s fingers, especially considering Ozeri’s proclivity for art. Eventually, they took Ozeri to a psychiatrist to further understand what was going on, “The psychiatrist said that the teachers didn’t understand what I was doing. She said, ‘He’s an artist,’ and this is something that artists do all the time.”
Ozeri continues to expound on his father’s positive influence on his education as an artist. He talks about the endless love and support, as well introducing him to the idea of drawing from life, and potentially, an introduction into the world of photorealism. In a time where that kind of support was not ordinary, Ozeri’s father was an outlier, recognizing his son’s talent, “My father never tried to push me to do other things. He said, ‘You should be a painter. If you like that, that’s what you should do.’” Ozeri continued to manifest that same kind of loving support with his own children, like encouraging his son to pursue his own unique interest in soccer. Ozeri hints at his philosophy, relating his own story to that of his son and all those who are born with a drive to do something creative with their lives. His philosophy is that some people are born with innate talent, though talent is only 10% of the equation, and the remaining 90% should be dedicated to hard work.
When asked about being self-taught, Ozeri talks about the progression of his art career. He talks about the short time he was in school in Israel, alluding to how much deeper one goes when developing their skills without outside influences. A defining moment in Ozeri’s career, one that changed his life forever, is when he left Israel he went to Prado to view the Las Meninas by Velázquez. He sat in front of it for over 3 hours, and the only reason he left was because the police were called to remove him. “It was the biggest influence on my art and my life.”
Every artist’s process is unique to them, and for Ozeri, the process done in Las Meninas by Velázquez had a great influence on his work, at least in regards to how quickly he worked between layers. More importantly, Ozeri erases his initial copying of the image he uses for reference, almost completely ignoring the initial layer and working from there. “That is what I changed with photorealism.”
“In my work, I admire women. I give them the main role in society.” Many of Ozeri’s works depict women, pulling on the male gaze, yet, for a different reason. He does this to empower women, and to showcase their strength and beauty. That admiration extends to his daughter Shear. He describes his daughter as a lover of art, a callback to his ideas that interest and talent manifest at a young age, and for his daughter Shear, she immediately fell in love with the art world that her father is part of.
Artist’s work evolves over time, like Picasso’s blue period, Ozeri had a change within his own work. The change in his work was brought about by ideas his daughter posited. For most of his professional career, Ozeri painted women in nature, a concept that elevated women, depicting them in natural environments like the mountains and the woods. But, Shear had another idea that would change the context of her father’s work. Like with pop art, Shear advised her father to paint people living through the current state of affairs and so, Ozeri did just that, painting people on the train, holding onto the railings with paper towels, scared to touch anything due to the pandemic. He also painted a scene expressing the hurt during the black lives matter movement, with many people raising their fists in the air. All of these current works in Ozeri’s collection showcase a moment in human history, one that we won’t soon forget.
With every transition in an artist's career, risk is something that is unavoidable. For Ozeri, the risk that occurred during the several transitions in his art journey was putting strain on his relationships with collectors. Many of those who collected his work for the beginning of his career turned their back on him, disappointed with the switches Ozeri had made. Some of those collectors literally wept in front of his work, longing for that which he used to create. Yet, nothing would sway the artist from his ways, and that same 5 year old kid that refused to follow the rules in art class, is the same artist today willing to sacrifice pandering for authenticity.
Ozeri ends his interview with Tori Indeed on Vibe2Vibe TV as a statement to those artists who claim to be retired. He exclaims, “An artist never retires, when an artist says they’re retiring, it makes me a little crazy…” Ozeri goes on to explain that art is something that is alive and eternal, referencing Da Vinci and saying, “...if you look at Da Vinci’s work it’s as if he painted it yesterday. It’s alive.”