Issue No 17

What if Eran Shakine Lived and Worked in New York City?

BY Periel Aschenbrand

Born and raised between London and Tel Aviv, which may or may not be relevant, I am totally convinced that Eran Shakine is the Andy Warhol of our generation. Truth be told, I don’t formally know jack shit about art, so what I think may not matter. But then too, I do know a good deal about a lot of other things and I have a pretty damn good eye for what’s real and what’s bullshit. Beyond that, the world seems to be starting to take notice of what I’ve known for years – that Eran Shakine will give you a run for your motherfucking money. (And, no, not because he’s Israeli.)

Shakine may paint famous people, but doesn’t revere fame or fortune. If anything, like any artist worth their salt, he’s skeptical of it. He paints historical figures, such as Gandhi, Hitler or Yitzhak Rabin. He’s painted Rabin going over the notes of his last speech, Picasso “taking a nap” and “washing his brushes,” John Lennon in bed, Marcel Duchamp peeing into a urinal (of course) and another of Duchamp “thinking what to do next.” There is Jackson Pollock “stretching his back after painting #31,” and one of my favorites, Warhol with the text “WHAT IF ANDY WARHOL LIVED AND WORKED IN THE MIDDLE EAST?” scrawled beneath him.

He normalizes our icons and heroes and makes us realize that they really are “just like us.” But unlike the garbage tabloids that show us paparazzi shots of our favorite stars going about their daily business and boasting the same nonsense, Shakine’s renditions remind us of our (and their) humanity.

Much like Shakine himself, his work is so simple and yet so profound. 

At first glance, you might even mistake Eran as just a normal guy. Judging solely by the way he looks, you probably wouldn’t even peg him as an artist. He’s understated and modest looking and when he’s not covered in paint, he really could pass for a hip guy in his forties. It’s nice to see someone who lets his work speak for itself. Which is really interesting given the fact that people like Julian Schnabel feel compelled to walk around in their fucking pyjamas. And his work is interesting in the way that art these days is supposed to be interesting but rarely is—in that it actually makes you think about the world in a different way. Seeing him work is like living through an act of nature like an earthquake or a hurricane—you experience something that shakes you to your very core and changes something fundamental in you. And once you’ve lived it, you can’t unlive it.

If you watch him draw or paint, his work seems to flow out of him effortlessly and as naturally as urine. It’s sort of unnerving, actually. He creates art as casually as some of us brush our teeth. Sometimes it seems as if the oil stick is part of him, like an extra finger. He’s like one of those freaky child prodigies who, at age six, plays Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and acts like it’s no big deal.

And so while he may look unassuming, it doesn’t take long to realize that you are, indeed, dealing with someone who is otherworldly. He can look at something for five seconds and capture it perfectly in just a few lines and by merely flicking his wrist around. And he makes it look so easy. Which is the most annoying part. I don’t know if you have ever been in the presence of sheer genius, but I promise you, that amongst other things, it is really annoying.

Straight from the horse’s mouth, Shakine who is not showing off, says, “I don’t have to actually meet my subjects – I Google them. Sometimes I read texts, on Wikipedia or other texts available on the Net; sometimes books or magazines. At some point I feel I have an image in my head, so I draw it not to forget. No perpetual sketches – straight on canvas. Wikipedia will tell me everything. And if they have a blog, a Facebook or a site, I will know enough to marry them. So I guess you can say my drawings are made up of 50% public relations, 40% gossip, 10% imagination, all mixed with lots of love.”

Joseph Bueys said, "Art is made out of nothing." I'm not sure that's true. I think art is made out of something. It's made of Magic. And I never believed in magic until the first time I saw Eran create masterpiece after masterpiece, literally out of thin air. 

The first time I saw him draw was when he came to New York to be part of an exhibit I had put together about the history of lipstick for the launch of Helmut Red, a lipstick I had developed with Lipstick Queen Poppy King and supermodel Jenny Shimizu. We called the lipstick Helmut Red as an homage to the great photographer Helmut Newton. Part of the impetus for this project was the impact of lipstick on Holocaust survivors, Newton’s strong depictions of women and the fact that he himself was a survivor. Eran, whose parents were also Holocaust survivors was the perfect artist to create drawings to accompany the story. In mere moments, he produced drawing after drawing. One was more powerful than the next. They were so good, that we wound up dedicating an entire room to his work.

The drawings were inspired by this extract, from the diary of Lieutenant Gonin, who was among the first British soldiers to liberate Bergen-Belsen in 1945.

It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived. This was not at all what we men wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don't know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tattooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.