Orit Ishay – Spotlight Interview

Orit Ishay lives and works in Tel Aviv as an active artist in the media of stills and video photography and as a photography lecturer at the Sapir School of Art. She completed her Bachelor’s degree at the Naggar School of Photography in Jerusalem (cum laude, 2006), and her Master’s degree at Beit Berl College for Art (cum laude, 2012). She has received numerous awards and scholarships for her work, including the Sharett grant from the America-Israel Cultural Foundation. She has exhibited in museums and galleries around the world and her works are included in various museum and private collections.

What or who inspired you to want to be an artist?

It’s not something I’ve ever thought about. I never asked myself that question. Isn’t it something that just appears naturally, complete with two eyes, two ears, a nose, mouth, ten fingers and ten toes?

Perhaps it’s the dense air of culture my mother breathed when my parents lived for a while in Vienna as a part of their journey to Israel, when I was just a tiny peanut.

Maybe it’s my own gaze as a child at my father’s slender hands, like a magician’s, as he made color pencil sketches for neon signs on huge drawing paper. Maybe it was the oil and water color paintings by Gutman, Zaritsky and others, whose landscapes of Israel surrounded me in my parents’ house, who preferred to spend their modest salaries as new immigrants buying another painting over another item of clothing?

Perhaps it was my grandmother’s influence who, ever since I turned four, made sure to spend her meager pension on concert tickets every month for us both, and gave me my great love of classical music? It could be also influence of the walls of the house I grew up in, painted a new hue the first of each month, and it might be because I really wanted to be like the “Photo Dan” photographer, who hid behind a black blanket connected to a wooden box as he took our photographs on the same day of each passing year.

Also, my father had a heavy black camera which I loved dearly, and from the day of my Bat Mitzvah I was allowed to use it, so it enabled me to show others how I viewed the world….

What was your creative journey that has brought you to where you are in your career today?

In the house where I was raised, artists and art were revered. Despite this, and with great irony, it was my father – the person I saw as a kind of artist – who refused to allow me to attend an arts high school. My every attempt and request to study at an arts high school was flatly refused, with the same explanation repeated – “art isn’t a profession, you can’t get anywhere with art”, and “only someone born to artist parents can succeed in art, so you have no chance…” I have no doubt this resistance from home intensified the desire and need to live art, and even succeed, despite not being born to artists…

After my military service, I studied art and art education at Beit Berl College. Near the end of my studies, a health problem prevented me from practicing art for several years. I studied and worked in interior design, a field close to art, and perhaps its own unique art form. In 2000 I started working as a photographer in several leading Israeli journals, including Roim Olam (“Seeing the World”), Masa Acher (“Other Journey”), Nisha (“Niche”) and others. After three years traveling the world as a photographer for various magazines, I went back to school and started all over again. I chose to specialize in stills and video photography at the Musrara School of Photography, Music and New Media in Jerusalem. This school was known for its social agenda and involvement of arts in community activities, and was a singular place at the time.

During my second year of studies at Musrara, a series of my photographs was selected for a solo exhibition at Krakow Photomonth, and a few months later for another solo exhibition at the Anna Akhmatova Museum in St. Petersburg. Those were my first opportunities to exhibit abroad. During my third year of studies, I began concurrent studies for a Bachelor’s degree at the David Yellin Visual Communication Track in Jerusalem. Also during my third and final year at Musrara, the final students’ exhibition was reviewed by representatives of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation. My final exhibition together with some other photography projects were selected for the 2006-07 and 2007-08 Sharett Excellence Grant.

I completed my photography studies at Musrara in 2006 with honors, and my David Yellin degree was also completed with honors in 2007. The recognition of my work strengthened me and motivated me to continue. I was invited to participate in exhibitions and projects in Israel and abroad, and I started teaching a photography class for people with special needs at Musrara, and later also leading a collaborative photography project with Musrara photography students and students from Corcoran in Washington DC. In those years, I also established my own studio, my own little kingdom where I work on days that I don’t teach or photograph outside. In 2010, I chose to study at the Beit Berl College master’s track. I completed my studies there in 2012, with honors, with fresh insights and new thoughts inspired by the wonderful teachers that taught at that program. In recent years I have been teaching photography and conducting a community art course at the Sapir School of Art Academic College in the Negev. I love teaching art students, and I see it as a calling to guide and support students in their art. One could say that the objection I faced to studying art during my adolescence motivated me and still motivates me to learn and try, to create and be thrilled with each new discovery, and to attain achievements in art so that I can set higher goals each day. The great lecturers that have taught me and accompanied me along the way, the awards and scholarships I’ve received, and the recognition I got from the art world – all brought me to where I am today.

What do you need as an artist today?

Support and tailwind, exposure of my work to curators in Israel and around the world, budget for an assistant, a career-development workshop. The general view that active artists “know it all” is fundamentally wrong. I see it as akin to continuing professional training, which aims to hone, refresh, and renew thinking and provide information and meetings between professionals in the field, important things that do not happen to artists alone in their studio day after day.

 What creative project are you working on now?

The Prague City Gallery House of Photography is currently opening a comprehensive solo exhibition of my selected works of the last decade. I am glad to be invited to present there. It happened following my extended stay in Vienna, three years ago, as an Artist in Residence at the Museum Quartier Wien program, after being recommended by the Eikon Wien photography institute.

I am busy these days researching a new photography project that deals with the intricate ties between different well-known figures from the world of politics and art in the days prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. Concurrently, I am completing the editing of a video work, entitled Golden Ring, that I shot with residents of Jerusalem during my stay at the residency program at the Art Cube Artists’ Studios. It is a video with many participants, and, at 30 minutes, the longest I have produced thus far. In it, residents of the city explain their connection to it through a song.

Where do you see yourself and your career in 10 years?

In the same field, with fascinating and innovative works, a groundbreaking career that includes international recognition, enabling me to support myself from art.

What does it mean to you to be an Israeli artist?

The issues I delve into touch on and explore the Israeli essence and identity, the historical, cultural, political, and social factors that make up our identity. My work exposes and unravels Israeliness, both in Israel and elsewhere, in galleries and museums.

What does it mean to you to have an organization like the America-Israel Cultural Foundation supporting Israeli culture in the past 78 years?

The America-Israel Cultural Foundation was the first to believe in me during those first years after my art studies. This kind of acknowledgement and support had enormous impact on my career development, as well as on every artist associated with the Foundation. In addition to this specific assistance, the Foundation meticulously maintains monthly contact with all of its artists, personally embracing each one in its unique fashion, trying to help and promote them even years after their initial acceptance into the AICF family. They help with online advertising of exhibitions and events, and also with events held throughout the globe. The Foundation is both important and precious to me.

Orit Ishay – Spotlight Interview