Galia Pasternak

How does a book come into the world?

The book accompanied the exhibition Bell, curated by Tal Yahas at the Haifa Museum of Art in 2008. Work on the book actually began a year earlier, in 2007, when Tal came to my studio and saw these drawings. They were drawings I had made from my imagination and from memory. At the time, I had developed an unhealthy addiction to the photographs I was taking. I drew only from observing something real. I didn’t draw from imagination or emotion. It was a much missing link for me. I sensed that a whole world was waiting to erupt and wasn’t coming out because something in my work process was stuck. I began to draw paranoias, memories and dreams without any pre-determined composition. It’s an emotional place, you have to clear the way for it. You make room, and things come out and the more they come out, the clearer it becomes to you what you are actually working on, and out. At first, as with any emotional therapy a person goes through, what comes up are the traumas, junctures, key moments in life. Freedom allows you to peek into places you aren’t usually allowed to go.

Where were you actually able to enter?

Painting gave me access to places I didn’t know about. It started with Clips and continued with Romantica, a comic book of short stories published in 2014. For example, I was always fascinated by the dynamic between a “john” and a sex worker. I wanted to understand how such a thing happens, so I made myself go there. I tried to imagine from a non-judgmental place how it happens. Or, for example, my mother had a good friend, a pianist, who was murdered in Brussels. These are incidents that didn’t happen to me, but painting allowed me to “go” there—first, as a single frame, and then it beckoned to be a story. The paintings of the “john” and the pianist from Brussels are real stories I know, but other stories came up, many “incidents” I wasn’t personallly familiar with. The book Clips—as the name implies—describes moments, passages, traces of experiences. 

How did this process affect the painting?

I’m the third generation of artists—my grandmother, Rachel Aharonov, was a ceramic artist from Toronto and my mother, Aviva Pasternak, is a hyper-realist painter. In 2000, I studied painting and drawing in the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris. I continued my undergraduate and graduate studies in the Department of Art at Bezalel and the Slade School of Fine Art in London. I also studied with many art teachers. In my previous studio, in the Levinsky neighborhood of Tel Aviv, I had separate rooms for painting and for drawing. For me, there was a dichotomy between the two. The canvas was in the painting room and required a particular conduct and fine-tuning. The drawing room was the fun part of the work, where I go wild, where I am on vacation and everything is beautiful, it all empties out. I kept telling myself that I must forge a meeting between the two in a way that they would harness each other. I tried to bring my drawing methods into painting, like being a sort of silly reporter on canvas. What came out were these wild, sweet and carefree memory paintings, which were shown in the exhibition Tropit. The book Clips includes works on paper from 2006 to 2008, where I drew more and more freely. Every drawing in the book has a story.

You also write. Where does writing enter into it? When did that start?

I write all the time. Everything here is journals—my studio and home are full of them. I started publishing my writing on a blog in 2010. That year I had an exhibition at Noga Gallery, Lillian’s Adventures. Galia Yahav, the renowned Israeli art critic who passed away in 2016, came to the exhibition and wrote a review in Time Out, which I found disappointing and insulting. The blog began as a result of her criticism, which in retrospect wasn’t actually all that terrible. I no longer post on it, but it still exists. It’s called “change Tshirt.” 

I never thought to thank Galia for that, but this happened thanks to her. I was in a spiritually undeveloped and painful place, with harsh feelings towards the art world and life in general. I suffered a lot. I was 32 years old and miserable. I applied for prizes, and every time I wouldn’t win, I’d be depressed for three days. All of that conducting of oneself in the world became heavy and difficult for me. I come from a family of people who don’t ask for help from anyone, and I was very much alone. In the blog, I started making drawings and describing my life, about settling every score. At the beginning of the blog, I stuck to drawing and writing by hand, and later I started typing and writing stories. The blog was active until half a year ago, and it encompasses ten years. It strengthened the element of reporting and recording in my work. When I moved with my family from Tel Aviv to Givatayim, to mycurrent studio, which is one space, the two rooms became one.

What’s the relationship between writing and drawing in your works?

I love comics. Because I didn’t study writing in an orderly way, I have the feeling of having a secret disability. I like to know what I’m talking about, not just doing for doing’s sake or wasting paper. I studied plastic arts and know exactly what I’m doing with that, and when I write or create comics, I work from intuition. However, I won’t go to study writing. I want to write as I draw. After all, you know something in this world, and this knowledge is true and applies to so many subjects. I write things as they are. Like a piece of meat on the butcher’s block. You know I’m a vegan, right?

The book features what you call “memory paintings.” Can you describe a few of them?

My father is a musician, a trombone player in the Philharmonic, who recently retired. When I was a child, it was customary for cute, well-dressed children to present a bouquet of flowers to the soloist at the end of a concert. I was asked to be one. They explained to me that at the applause I was supposed to bring the flowers to the violinist. I went up on stage, looked at the two musicians standing there, and saw that the pianist, who had only accompanied the violinists, was wearing a prettier dress. I decided the flowers should go to her. I went and gave her the flowers. I stood there and the soloist looked at me and began to change colors, the entire crowd in the auditorium shouted “No!” because I was supposed to give them to her. I got so flustered when everyone there was shouting at me that I had made a mistake. I had always trusted my intuition. My gut feeling said: the pianist should get the flowers, not the violinist. I put down the bouquet and ran off the stage. They never asked me to do it again. I was six years old.

Another painting is called “On the Way to a Violin Lesson.” For four years, when I was a girl, my mom dragged me to Givatayim to study the violin. One of the times we drove to class, a bus hit our car from behind. The painting was from my mother’s point of view, with her sitting in the front looking at me in the back seat. Behind my head, you can see the bus approaching the second before the accident. My mother appears in many works; in one I painted her alongside a painter she had studied with in Jerusalem. I imagined they were having an affair. In other paintings, I return to all sorts of dark, depressing places, to fantasies, to absurd realms.

Why did you choose a small format for the book? It’s the size of your palm. What was behind this design choice?

I wanted to make a book that could be carried in a pocket. It’s like a piece of candy. I felt it was much safer for these works, which at the time felt very revealing to me, to appear in an intimate format. The book’s spine is pink, the end sheet and flyleaf have pink stripes, and the title page is also pink.

Why pink?

I was looking for skin color. I love body-color pink. I want you to trust me. I feel that, as an artist, one of my motivations is to create trust between the viewer and me. Pink can do that. It also appears in another of my books, Together We Will Look at the World in the Same Way, which brings together paintings from 2004 to 2018.

Your works have a lot of humor, for example, the way you present the power relationships in the art field.

Art is an instrument I take very seriously, but on the other hand, also poke fun at. I am full of reverence for the medium, for this world and for all the people who taught me and got me to where I am today, and yet I kick them in the face and also fart afterwards. One way for me to deal with being afraid to screw up or feeling uncomfortable, was to try to decipher and chew on the matter, that selling art is a tough business. As soon as money enters the equation, my pulse weakens, I don’t speak that language. I’m no longer represented by a gallery, I need freedom. I can’t have people coming and telling me when and how to work. I make a living from teaching, and the paintings are a bonus. I taught at Bezalel, at Minshar School of Art, at Thelma Yellin, and currently at a school for the arts. Last year I taught a special education class and the students are just diamonds on a platter. Teaching them was very powerful, like a divine experience.

Regarding the experience of teaching art, this year I showed the exhibition The Painting Teacher at the Maya Gallery in Tel Aviv. I wrote in the text: “As the daughter and granddaughter of painting teachers, she was born into this mold. Whoever is born with a brush in her mouth had better pass on her gifts and get on with her life. ‘You won’t make a living from selling,’ the mothers promised her. The prophecy came true.”

What book should we add next to our bookshelf?

Talia Keinan’s artist book. I appreciate the way she approaches the essential in her works. It comes through in her book. I also strive to approach the main thing. It’s a wonderful book, one of the best. She’s an artist I very much believe in. I also keep a special place for the artist books of the amazing Meira Shemesh and the late Alima Rita—what a woman and what humility.

Where can readers buy your book? 


"I love comics. Because I didn’t study writing in an orderly way, I have the feeling of having a secret disability. I like to know what I’m talking about, not just doing for doing’s sake or wasting paper."

"I wanted to make a book that could be carried in a pocket. It’s like a piece of candy."