MONTREAL – Yehouda Chaki has embodied the spirit of Montreal for 50 years, and that’s why those who live here want to see so much of his work.
They’ll have their fill with his his newest solo exhibition blazed across the walls of Galerie de Bellefeuille, 1367 Greene Ave. until July 5, and if that’s not enough, they can stroll through the lobby of the Jewish General Hospital’s (JGH) Pavilion K at 5767 Légaré St. to see his newly hung Mount Moriah holding overhead court between the elevator banks.
Though the two are very different in subject matter, both are celebrations of life.
The gallery shows an exciting array of imaginary landscapes, emotionally inspired by the artist’s experiences. All part of the paintings’ energy are the hot Mediterranean hues of his birthplace in Greece and his stubborn survival of the Holocaust in which he lost all his relatives to the gas chambers.
One can also feel the influence of his arrival in Israel at the age of seven, using art as his initial way to communicate without having mastered Hebrew, and his adoption of Montreal’s joie de vivre in 1962.
Each large work seems to have a hotline to Creation. The artist is not content with depicting what’s nearby, but zooms to the farthest mountain over farmers’ fields, treetops and bodies of water that reflect a confetti of colour.
He develops his aerial landscapes by adding shapes until a crazy-quilt of contrasts mesmerizes the eye.
“These paintings are inspired by the environment and nature,” Chaki says. A work from his series After the Toba River recalls his exhilaration flying in a helicopter over whitewater wilderness in British Columbia.
“I don’t include man-made elements,” says the artist, though at other times he has also painted nudes and expressionist portraits. Nor has he avoided difficult subjects over the years like abortion, Biafra and the nationally exhibited Mi Makir: A Search for the Missing installation that involved a pyre of personal possessions and books surrounded by walls of concentration camp likenesses.
He is not averse either to depicting animals, as he has done with the three giant rams in the JGH triptych textured with real Negev sand mixed into the oils.
Lewis Dobrin knew this would make a fitting tribute to his grandparents Helen and Sam Steinberg, to whom it is dedicated. “My grandfather founded the supermarket chain Steinberg’s, was immersed in his business, but also did community work, and he took on the presidency of the JGH. He loved the hospital, so my family thought it was very appropriate to make the donation of the painting,” says Dobrin, whose involvement in art extends to his becoming chair of the Shaar Hashomayim Congregation art committee.
He’s aware of the many Chakis in public places, like the stained glass collages adorning the tunnel between Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business and the metro.
“The JGH work is large: more than 14 feet long and 7-1/2 feet high, and I wanted it in a highly trafficked place,” Dobrin says.
The rams represent aspects of the goat sacrificed by Abraham in order to spare his son Isaac.
“I used it as a symbol because it’s a beautiful and gentle animal, and it’s got those horns that, as shofarim, were a way of communicating,” Chaki says.
“It’s also the sacrifices we make in life. I’m 76 years old and I enjoy coming to the studio by six every morning to paint. I’ll be painting till the end, and my art is going to go on forever.”
Montrealers and his fans around the world will make it so.
There is the opportunity on June 23 from 3-5 p.m. at Galerie de Bellefeuille to meet the artist and be dazzled by his paintings in person.