Such is the confounding world of Guy Yanai, where things live in timeless moments and placeless spaces. Yanai represents mundane objects reduced to bare essences, providing just enough information to retain their identities. Each painting is the visual equivalence of a basic utterance—a phrase, a word, a syllable—removed from context, dislocated and thus free to stand on its own. His scenes feel at once fleeting and etched in stone. Yanai’s “naïve” vision does not abide by hierarchies. His works force us to look at the overlooked: an unoccupied room, a lawn sprinkler, the common houseplant (his favorite subject). On the other hand, his paintings are deliberately constructed, hardly vernacular in the conventional sense of being unartful, haphazardly composed, or simply “found.” Yanai’s goal is not to romanticize or aggrandize the everyday, or to discover breathtaking beauty in the disregarded detail. His over-simplifications preclude such exaltation. Instead, Yanai’s paintings retain the vulnerability of minor things, distilling and amplifying their precariousness. Like vague memories or momentary impressions, his paintings border on the ineffable. They teeter on edges—between figuration and abstraction, real and fake, presence and absence, consequence and insignificance, here and not.
The puzzling seductiveness of Yanai’s work rests on his resolutely un-painterly painterly style. All is schematized into a standard structure of horizontal “stripes,” formed by the mechanistic stroke of his brush across the canvas and the slight buildup of paint above and below each stratum. Scenes are often symmetrically arranged. Hues are saturated, candy-colored, always localized and uniformly applied. Shadows are contained; light neither reflects nor refracts. The result is an underlying geometric order—contrived and all- encompassing—that locks Yanai’s subjects in, rendering the ephemeral oddly rigid, static, solid, impenetrable. Despite the cheery palette and idyllic locales, these paintings evoke a sense of foreboding, of immobility, even as the minute vibrations of the brushstrokes, their imprecise precision, lends a distinctive touch of personality. The fleeting object-moments Yanai captures are vibrant but frozen for eternity, interned in their picture-prisons—alive and dead. -Cary Levine