Kneeling To The Madness

Every artist has a different raison d'être. For some it’s pressure from their peers, for others it's the hope that they’ll make money from their craft; for most, however, it’s simply just madness. Israeli artist Roey Heifetz, currently part of the world-renowned Künstlerhaus Bethanien residency, has manifested this lunacy in his latest series of works. Currently on exhibit at the KB, his large drawings hang in the middle of the upstairs gallery, with two pieces also showcased in the main entrance. In contrast to his drawings, which are quite frenetic, the thematic inspiration for this series is based behind something far more conservative. I caught up with Heifetz to discuss the studio practice behind his madness.

The Man Behind The Madness

Walking into Künstlerhaus Bethanien’s sunlit foyer I am initially greeted by two aggressive drawings of a mature and stern woman. I go to investigate the manic illustrations up close and find that whoever made these pieces must have been truly obsessed. Layer upon layer of charcoal, graphite and what appears to be paint are collected on the paper, forcing me to reconsider whether these are drawings or actually hung sculptures. One is a smaller facial portrait, while another is a long landscape of a reclining older female. I recognize these works as pieces by Roey Heifetz, who soon welcomes me. He does not however appear as frazzled and demented as his drawings are; instead, he is stylishly dressed in all red and happily wishes to discuss his art.

We walk up wooden spiraled steps to the KB’s second floor gallery, where we see the main stage for his latest exhibition, The Teacher’s Nap. Hung from the ceiling in a circle facing each other are several long drawings created in the same tumultuous technique. Visitors are welcomed to walk in the middle of them, thereby surrounding themselves in the brooding installation. Each sheet of paper (nearly 6 meters in length) portrays a new character. All of them, however, frame a large portrait of a woman very similar to the drawings downstairs. With her intimidating stare, deep wrinkles and characteristic “beehive” hair cut, one wonders who this individual is.

“The characters are very familiar to me,” Heifetz tells me, “however for this woman, I drew her and she stood there in the studio watching over me. Many of these figures are representations and variations of the same, strong woman”

He explains that she stands for the type of powerful female figure that has resurfaced in his life again and again, citing woman like the late Margaret Thatcher as an example. The type of certitude found in this strong figure is the manifestation of the unconscious overseer in each artists’ studio. Interestingly enough, Heifetz notes how this woman’s fashion (beehive hair cut, large glasses, gaudy make up) were later adopted by the queer community. This development is important for him, referring to how in art history it was the dandy that helped influence art through fashion. “They would take all the money that their parents had just to exist––to do ‘nothingness,” Heifetz​ explains. “Nonetheless they understood something about appearance.”

It’s All In The Details

Heifetz guides me outside the ‘cabinet’ of drawings to show me the back of the works. Because they are lit from inside their congregation, from the back you can truly see the layers at work in the illustrations. On closer examination you can even see the fine details of each portrait: the small strands of hair on the toes or the particular features of an iris. For Heifetz these are the advantages of working on a large scale: he is able to truly investigate and have fun with his characters.

Although his residency at the Künstlerhaus will soon end, Heifetz assures me that his practice in Berlin is far from over. Later this year he will be constructing a small enclosure where he will invite visitors to confess secrets to him. While he is no priest, Heifetz will respond to his confessors with his talents as an artist and draw their portraits. If I have to confess anything, it’s that I’m excited to see an artist explore the limits of charcoal and graphite in an art world obsessed with finding the next new media.

Künstlerhaus Bethanien 
The Teacher's Nap
April 12th – May 5th, 2013
[Baps Estimated Price Range: €2000 – €8000]

Article by James Shaeffer