During the early Middle Ages, the most "prestigious" art form was the icon. Medieval icons generally depicted images of Christian heroes, predominantly figures from the New Testament along with later heroes who in their "heroism" fell victim to the forces of evil and Satan.
In Western Europe, during the early Renaissance the number and influence of icons diminished. Icons, which usually depicted one or more heroes with uniform static features in standard dress, were replaced by dynamic and thematic paintings and frescos with, of course, religious meaning.
In Eastern Europe, especially in the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, the icon with its mystic presence remained at the center. The structure of the paintings as a whole did not change for centuries. This lack of change stemmed from the fact that from its inception the icon had an artificial element, being a non-realistic illustration of the founding fathers of the Church and its heroes. Paralysis of this kind exists, just to name one example, in the artificial language Esperanto which throughout the years has never changed. The icon's various motifs of the icon -- image, composition and background – were repeated for almost a millennium with only minor and almost invisible changes.
So how is it that at the beginning of the third millennium a young artist, a citizen of an old-new country, stages in the heart of Tel Aviv -- a hyper-modern city (or so, at least, would the city like to be portrayed) -- an exhibit which in its title and contents uses a name from such a distant past– "Icon"? What has led Shy Abady to an art form that is over a thousand years old?
A stroll through the streets of the city with Shy Abady leads to many "Hello"s, and "How are you?"s. Short conversations on various topics, all casual though attentive with a penetrating gaze hidden by a charming smile. Abady's exhibits, like strolling with him through town, seem at first like a chat at a street corner with a passerby. And yet, each of his art works, and especially the Icon series, are like the in-depth inspection the artist gives whoever he's talking to: Who is this person? How does he move? What is he saying? Why did he use this word rather than another? What expression does his face convey? More questions and answers…
Shy Abady talks a lot, but really thinks only when he's painting. Once he's finished talking with his subject, the result does not find expression in words in words, but rather in lines, light and shadow, color, an impression becoming more and more detailed leading up to its conclusion: a picture which is the distillation of every piece of precise and concise information about the subject: an icon.
Abadys' paintings are not lively portraits, full of details and anecdotes. His heroes and his acquaintances barely move and hiding behind the paintings are numerous sketches each one penetrating deeper and deeper into the image, studying it, and finally arriving at the point where nothing more can be changed. Not a portrait, but simply an icon, and not one of a holy person as in the past, nor that of the devil, but rather the distillation of a human being, good or evil, seen mercilessly through the eyes of the painter.
In his self-portraits too, the image becomes the subject of close research and analysis, as if the painter was studying a hero outside of the "self". Body parts, facial features and the skull too are not simply "a painting of", but rather bear a general "iconic significance". Neither overburdened with details, nor too specific, these images are highly-concentrated forms evoking a basic experience.
In Abady's paintings there is something sculpture-like, something finite and total and thus perhaps indiscrete, invasive. Iconic. It is from here, perhaps, that we see the start of the icons of the third millennium.
Radu Klaper, poet and writer, the former manager of the Library of Dance at Beit-Ariela. His books include "A Deer's Steps" 1988 (Shufra), "Forbidden Poems" 2003 (Shufra), "Jews against Their Will" 2003 (Shufra)