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Contemporary art does not limit artists to traditional media and tools, such as watercolor or oil. Modern artists find new methods and techniques of communicating their messages to the audience. Etty Yaniv is one of such innovational artists. She incorporates unusual materials into her works of art, such as torn paper and plastic trash. This essay will analyze Etty Yaniv’s work Sisyphus from the series Urban Sediments exhibited in Robert L. Ringel Gallery, Stewart Center. Yaniv skillfully combines well-balanced shapes and vibrant textures to make the viewers reflect upon the nature of urban life and its impact both on human psyche and the surrounding environment.
Etty Yaniv’s Sisyphus is quite a large work of art, more than three meters in length. It is divided into three areas of white, black, and blue, but the colors are not homogeneous. The artist used mixed media, like the scraps from her drawings, and it is possible to notice light blue spots on top of the black shape, black areas in the white section, etc. The surface of this art object is not smooth. It is covered in vivid wrinkles and creases. It is quite difficult to tell whether this art work is non-representational or abstract as it may be interpreted in different ways. One may see the black shape as the stone that Sisyphus, a character from ancient Greek mythology, is trying to push to the top of the mountain. Therefore, one may view blue as the mountain and white as the sky. However, at the same time, these shapes may be only abstract shapes that are meant to evoke certain feelings and emotions.
The artist uses large organic shapes with rather rough and deep textures to create certain allusions to the myth about Sisyphus and relate them to different aspects of urban life. There are not many details is this work, an it is best to look at it from a certain distance. The black area close to the center of the work, which, probably, symbolizes the boulder, is the focal point. This part attracts most of the viewer’s attention. As the series Sisyphus belongs to is called Urban Sediments, the artist tried to make the work look like a geological cut of the ground where one may see different layers of rock minerals. The viewer may find it allusive to the impact that cities have on humans and vice versa. In addition, this influence is so strong and profound that it can be measured in layers; and in due time, people become metaphorically covered with layers of urban impacts. Moreover, this metaphor can be interpreted from the ecological perspective, and it is possible to argue that people also leave layers of trash and garbage on the streets of the cities.
The effect from the textures and shapes is intensified via the strong kinetic nature of this work. Yaniv managed to show the movement in Sisyphus, and it is almost visible how the large black stone is moving down the slope of the mountain. At the same time, there is certain inner movement inside the shapes. It can be explained by the play of light and shadow that occurs due to the textured surface of this art work. Sisyphus shows the reality that is, to some extent, distorted by numerous wrinkles. The usage of this method allows the artist to raise important questions about the human impact on the surrounding world that often leads to damaging nature and the environment. The art work may also refer to the influence of cities on the human psyche: they tend to impose a fast pace of life onto people that is often difficult to stand.
The work is well balanced. Yaniv used a rather simple, but, at the same time, sophisticated and elegant, composition that allowed her to create harmonious interrelations between colors, shapes, and textures. As the work is about 20 centimeters thick, it is also possible to argue that the artist managed to achieve a good balance between the surface structure and the depth of the art object. Sisyphus is not a bas-relief, but the wrinkles and creases are quite important for the communication of the intended message. In addition, they create a certain rhythm that is conveyed via the repetition of small wrinkles of paper and plastic pieces of similar coloring.
To conclude, Etty Yaniv’s Sisyphus is a bright example of how contemporary artists understand and evaluate how urban life has significantly changed the humanity and its traditional activities. The artist explores how the cities influence the conscious and subconscious behavior of people and also attracts the audience’s attention to the problems of ecology and environmental protection. Sisyphus proves that a thoughtful and creative approach to using different elements of art and principles of design, such as shapes, texture, light, motion, and balance, can help the author to intensify his message to the audience and make it more dramatic. Yaniv’s work can be compared to the paintings by Mark Rothko, one of the leaders of the American abstract expressionism movement. He also often combined several rectangles of different colors to communicate his messages to the audience. Yaniv used similar methods, although her Sisyphus is more flowing and textured. There are certain similarities between her work and, for instance, Rothko’s No. 9 (Dark Over Light Earth/Violet and Yellow in Rose). In both works of art, the authors focus on contrasting colors to create the mood of uneasiness and thoughtfulness. Despite the fact that these works were created in different periods, they express similar ideas related to the principles and values of the modern individual and society.