The Haim Shiff Prize for Figurative - Realist Art, 2017
Haim Shiff Award
Matan Ben Cnaan (b. 1980) combines figurative language with classical and
contemporary concepts, maintaining boundary-crossing contexts even when
he deals with local light and landscape. Biblical themes are his trigger for charged situations with personal interpretation. Ben Cnaan places these myths in a banal reality, deconstructing them from their heroic representations. In 2015 Ben Cnaan won the National Gallery's BP Portrait Award for his painting Annabelle and Guy (2014).
A Gaze from Within — The Light that Replaces the Halo Engaging with mystical realism, Ben Cnaan’s paintings attest to an obvious effort to depict reality in its entirety, while simultaneously transcending it. One of the artistic motifs he frequently uses to generate this effect is that of light: the blazing light that gleams, emerges, penetrates, and is reflected in the various scenes in his works. “They were astonished by the light in the painting,” he notes in discussing the response of the prize jury at the National Portrait Gallery in London, which awarded his work Annabelle and Guy (2014) First Prize in the museum’s portrait competition. “They didn’t know it was an Israeli artwork and were sure it came from the Midwest, Italy, or Spain. They said: ‘We didn’t think of Israel, and felt there was something behind the painting, that something was happening there, and it gripped us all.”
Indeed, one cannot ignore the light and its dramatic, heavenly, glorious appearance in Ben Cnaan’s works. The presence of the light, which acquires a local quality, is not always contrasted with a dark and dimly lit background, except for the shadows cast by the objects that it illuminates. This unique light manifests itself in various settings. In some cases, it is not the light of warm summer days, which fills the entire space; it more closely resembles the light of gray, rainy winter days, which appears briefly as rays of sunshine bursting through a crack in a dark mass of clouds. These rays create gleaming spots of light on the ground and on the various objects placed upon it, accompanied sometimes by a rainbow. These translucent spots are enhanced by the shades of gray that circumscribe and surround them.
Yossi Yonah, from the catalogue: Matan Ben Cnaan Paintings, 2018. Editor: Emanuela Calò