Rodi Bineth and Sheera Weiss. A Conversation with the Artist

Art books seem to be the main objects of your paintings. Was it a conscious decision? How did you reach this decision? Would you define it as an obsession?

It is true; books are intriguing to me both as a subject and as an object. A book for me is a window, or a frame through which I look at the world. Painting books is definitely my obsession. When I enter a library, especially an art library, I feel as if I am an impressionist painter looking for an object to paint. When I buy a book, I choose it mainly according to its exterior look, its cover. My first thought is: “Am I capable of painting this book?”

Books became my main subject matter mainly for biographical reasons. My father was an illustrator and a graphic artist. As a child, I watched him designing the covers and characters of books. It was quite natural for me to attend the “Polygraphique Institute” even though at the same time, between the ages of 14 to 19, I studied with a typical post-impressionist artist, Moses Chazanov. Having finished my studies at the Institute, I worked in Moscow as a graphic designer.

I arrived in Israel when I was 25, and continued illustrating with the same passion. It is in Israel that I studied the etching techniques which I like so much. During all these years in Israel I made only drawings and etchings. In 1978-79, I had a revelation which made me understand that books as objects are more interesting for me than the story they tell.

When I arrived in Paris in 1982, I started to paint again, after a 15 years break. It was a difficult and painful process during which I didn't paint books at all. I wanted to get away from it.

The decision to paint art books was an intuitive decision, like all other decisions in my work. First I paint and only then do I think and reflect about it.


Since you have been painting the same objects for many years, do you feel that your work has evolved and changed over the years? In what way?

Yes, I am certain of that. One should only look at my works today and compare them to the paintings I did 10 or 15 years ago. They portray the same books, on the same shelves; their compositions are quiet similar and yet – they are very different. During the 90’s, I had a dark, heavy phase in my work. Then, in about 2000, my work became brighter and cleaner. Today I find a kind of mysterious charm in that dark phase, but I cannot return to it, since I myself am not the same person, and my technique has changed.

The most significant change in my paintings over the years is that in the past I treated the books as forms, almost abstract volumes. This gradually altered and today I find that my main interest is in the letters and the titles of the books.


In music, repetition is a way of creating rhythm; is rhythm an integral component of your composition?

I very much hope that this is the case. Repetition is an integral part of my work. Again, this is not due to a conscious decision that I made, but rather a part of my temperament.


Calligraphy: you put much emphasis on the titles of the books. Do you consider calligraphy as a graphic component, does it have any further meaning for you?

As I mentioned before, I studied at the Polygraphic Institute, and this was before the age of computers. We studied how to hand- design the letters. For many years after that, I made a living from designing book covers.

Gradually, I arrived at the conclusion that calligraphy has a great importance in a book; it enriches the book from an artistic and sensual aspects. The more paintings of books I make, the more I find that I enjoy painting the titles. In a way, all my previous experience as designer has finally found a suitable application in my work.

Maybe one day, I will arrive to the point in my work where there will remain nothing but calligraphy.


Are you drawn to books as a rectangular form that is constant in all of your works, or is it also the cultural impact of the book that draws your attention?

Both elements are important. First of all, I treat the books as abstract elements, squares or rectangles in the picture frame. Little by little, their content, their titles, or should I say their cultural component becomes more interesting to me. I believe, that in my paintings I tell the stories.


Most of the books you choose to paint are art books, do you feel any kind of identification with the artists represented in the book. Are your paintings in some way a self portrait?

Yes, I feel that my works are a kind of self portrait, which I have been painting over and over for many years now. At the beginning, I hardly ever included the title of the books. I was embarrassed. When you enter a house and you take a look at the library and the books in it, you get an idea of the nature and the interests of the people who live in this house. For this reason, at first unconsciously, I was afraid to expose myself. Later this changed. I decided that if I was going to paint books, I should follow to the end the path which the books dictate.

The choice of the books and the artists who enter my works is not a fortuitous choice, that's for sure. Above all I choose albums and monographs of artists I like. It is my personal library, and hence my relationship with the books is intimate too. It is not as if I am painting someone else's library (although I have done that once or twice). Through these books of art, I carry out a sort of dialogue with the artists, who lived before my time. I could remark that out of all the artists, the one who appears the most is Paul Cezanne. This also is not accidental, for Cezanne is my favorite artist.


Can one define your book compositions as "still life" paintings?

Yes, I consider my compositions as a kind of 'Still Life', but according to the English or Hebrew term 'Still Life' or 'Teva Domem' and not according to the French term 'Nature Morte' (dead nature). If I wasn't afraid of seeming pretentious I would say my compositions are an intellectual 'Still Life'.


You have lived in three countries: Russia, Israel and France. Do you see yourself as a 'Wandering Jew' and does this relate to the choice of painting books, something which has no connection to the geographical environment?

I have never thought of myself in this term, as a 'Wandering Jew', but the more I think of it now, the more it seems appropriate. If books are considered a Jewish symbol, there is a certain reason for that. Even so, I have never tried to make an ideological statement, a Jewish one, in my paintings of books.

It is true that I have moved from country to country with my library and each time I arranged the books on the shelves and started to paint them again. There is something quite comic about this, especially when you think about the fact that my library keeps growing; there is no more room for the books on the shelves, and it is becoming harder and harder to move because of this library.


Rodi Bineth and Sheera Weiss, Tel Aviv, 2008