The faceless art of Gideon Rubin

In the art of Gideon Rubin (b. Tel Aviv, 1973), memory and identity are intertwined in a game of shapes and shades. The works of this elegant and refined London based artist, which are often created in delicate tones and characterised by a distinctive pictorial style, evoke a sense of familiarity and, at the same time, of mystery. In his paintings, in fact, the faces of his subjects are devoid of distinctive features, thereby leaving room for a personal interpretation on the part of the viewer. With a gaze that embraces the past and the present, Rubin manages to draw our attention to the universal dimension of emotions, inviting us to reflect on their nuances.
We recently encountered his works at Artissima, presented by the Milanese gallery Monica De Carnedas. Today art-frame had the pleasure of interviewing him.

Gideon Rubin – Monica De Cardenas Milano, 2020

First of all, I would like to know more about your personal history: could you please tell me something about it?

I guess the interesting bit is when it all started, when I began painting. It happened on a backpacking trip in South America, more specifically in Salar de Uyuni, a salt desert between Peru and Bolivia. It followed my first hallucinogenic experience, a peyote ‘trip’ in Ecuador. Although art is in my DNA, no one saw that coming, especially me.

Your works are based on emotional themes such as childhood, family and memory. Why are they so important for you?

It’s all there, isn’t it? Somewhat of a scary thought when you become a parent but still, it seems to me that it’s all laid out quite early in our life. It is also a lot to do with my own personal history of course, being Jewish and all, the diaspora. My grandparents coming out of Europe and settling in the Middle East. It’s the story of our contemporary, cultures and life. People migrating, moving, the notion of home, memory. I always found life’s strata so fascinating, layer upon layer, it is our life.

Gideon Rubin – Monica De Cardenas Milano, 2020

Your paintings feel intimate, even if the figures are faceless or back portraits. Looking at them, I feel a sense of familiarity. Is this exactly what you want to trigger with your paintings?

I try and resurrect these images, these characters. It starts by finding an image and taking it apart and then building it up again in paint. In tone. In brushstrokes. They come to life. I want them be recognisable but at the same time to keep my distance… allowing other things to come into play.

How real are the figures you portray?

Very real. They exist to me as real as real people. As real as our documentation of them. As real as our memory, our own history.

Do you remember the very first work you painted?

Yes of course. It was a colonial building in this small town, right outside the salt desert in Bolivia. I was traveling with a dear friend and we were joined by a young woman who was about to start her art studies. She had some watercolours and a sketch book. And I tried using a paint brush for the first time. It was magical. A year later I met her again in NY but to my disappointment she told me the work was lost.

Gideon Rubin – Monica De Cardenas Milano, 2020

What is your greatest inspiration?

I’m a bit of a hoarder, I collect and can’t throw anything. Nothing better than walking through an antique market. I would probably be as happy with an antique shop – preferably with no clients so I can keep everything. Also at the moment I love French cinema.. Eric Romher, Agnes Varda stuff like that. Hong Kong ‘In the mood for Love’ by Wong Kar Wai. And of course so many other artists, musicians, poets. The old masters especially. The Prado, I never really got over that first impression. I’m still in awe.

Today we are very sensitive to topics such as climate change, gender equality and war. In particular, the wars in Ukraine and Israel represent one of the darkest periods of the recent decades. You live and work in London: have you maintained a connection with your homeland? What is the situation of artists in Israel?

I just got back from Israel two weeks ago. It was my first visit since October 7th. It is just so sad. Everywhere… all governed by god and the dead, the living only a distant third. Everyone grieves and no one is able to see and hear the other side. How could art, as a manifestation of life – flourish? There’s just so much sadness on all sides. But art survives. It always does.

Gideon Rubin – Monica De Cardenas Milano, 2020
Francesca De Pra
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