Adi Puterman, ON THE EVOLUTION OF GRAFFITIGIRL, Graffitigirl Exhibition Catalogue, 2014


Eran Shakine, Untitled 6 (Graffitigirl), 2014, Color print, 36.5x׳27.5

More than a decade ago when the image of Graffitigirl first appeared in Eran Shakine’s work, she could never have predicted the transformations she would undergo until she could grow to be the descendant of one of contemporary art’s founding fathers; Joseph K.’s granddaughter.


Drawn with a black colored oil stick, the image of this young girl presents to its viewer nothing but formalistic essentials; a figure created solely by a black line that defines the human body’s contour. Faceless and devoid of bodily features, absent of details, garments and identity, this mysterious image proves to be a recurring protagonist in Shakine’s artistic portfolio of the last decade.


Graffitigirl first appeared as part of a series of drawings created between 2002-2004; a series of drawings on canvases that present linear human figures with no identifying features apart from the black line defining their human form. Faceless and empty, these figures are interpreted by body language and gesture rather than by particularity and details. The emptiness radiating from these images resonates with the formalistic exploration so prevalent in Shakine’s practice, while directing the viewer towards a universal query that is perhaps more sociological than art- historical. The anonymity, the silence, the uniform form, reveal an intense investigation into the human psyche, and more specifically into the modern concept of singularity. Through these figures, Shakine explores the position of the individual within a collective and raises questions about how to maintain individuality while preforming the roles assigned to us by Western society.

In the next stage of Graffitigirl’s development, Shakine removed the image from the studio and started to apply it on various surfaces in public spaces; building walls and doorways, construction sites, fences, wooden plates, and a variety of found urban debris. Working as a graffiti artist of sorts, Shakine began to imprint his signature—in the form of this image—on Tel Aviv’s urban landscape. Now a part of the city’s visual fabric, disappearing as buildings are demolished and reappearing in alternative locations, Graffitigirl in her current incarnation exceeds formal exploration and highlights social contemplation; here she blossoms into a full bodied social commentary. In taking the image out of the studio and into the street, Shakine plays an artistic move that constructs the girl, physically at least, as an active part of society. That is to say, that in appropriating Street Art practices, Shakine in fact, highlights the issue of individuality, and further enforces it by posing questions about how we, as a collective, render other human beings as visible or invisible.


The move out to the street inevitably led to the image’s current state and latest phase of evolution as Graffitigirl, 2014 (Joseph K.’s Granddaughter). In this work, Shakine brought the image back indoors, but this time onto the gallery walls and with an intellectual wink. In this variation of Graffitigirl, the image is painted on a door (found on one of Shakine’s graffiti excursions) and imported into the gallery space. He then photographed the old decrepit door with the girl’s image and printed it to life-size scale, placing the print on the gallery wall right next to the original door. The juxtaposition of an object and its photographic representation creates a direct association, if not an explicit reference, to Joseph Kosuth’s iconic work One and Three Chairs (1965); an exemplar of conceptual art which is comprised of a chair; a photograph depicting this same chair installed in the room and printed to life-size; and a dictionary definition of the word ‘chair’. Since the photograph depicts the chair exactly as it is installed in the room, the work changes with each installation.


Similar to Kosuth, Shakine juxtaposes the door and its representation—original and reproduction—confronting ideas about artistic production processes; and similar to Kosuth’s chair, which changes every time it is installed, Shakine’s door too, is ever changing, ever evolving. But while Kosuth’s work demonstrates how a concept can remain constant despite the changes in an artwork’s physical elements, Shakine’s work is precisely about the changing of its own elements. The fact that the door will continue to deteriorate with time makes this an artwork that is in constant flux, a living piece if you wish. More so, that the representation of the door will remain the same—as a frozen moment in time- isolates the reproduction from its original. Thus, herein lies the main difference between Shakine and Kosuth; if Kosuth’s work was an attempt to reduce the gap between concept and its realization, Shakine’s work is an effort to create this gap anew and to amplify it by bestowing on it new meanings.


Shakine’s use of a found object as an original and the removal of the door from its natural surroundings grants the work additional layers of meaning, but furthermore it connects the artistic action to the historical evolution of the Graffitigirl. The philosophical elements encompassed in this work bring Shakine’s artistic inquiry one level higher and one step deeper in a discussion that is simultaneously art historical, political and social. The power of this piece lies perhaps in that it refers directly to art history but succeeds in avoiding the historical charge. In addressing pressing social issues, Shakine transforms the work from an historical reference to a comment on contemporaneity.


The artistic processes exemplified by the image of Graffitigirl presents a complex intellectual investigation; in every stage of her life the image goes through an additional formal reduction while it gains additional meaning. From the studio to the street, to a door and back to the gallery space - Graffitigirl maintains her silence, her critical edge. Behind the black, seemingly simple line lies a multiplicity of layers, references, allusions and visual clues that are just waiting to be deciphered.

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Eran Shakine's most recent work is the culmination of a decade of incessant and earnest search for a voice that is at once Israeli, worldly, artistically advanced, informed by many sources - and always his, personally. His new work exhibits the vigor of his youth and the rigor of a master painter. His subtle images, specific references, limited range of colors and rough surfaces create a form of expression both particular and universal, now and eternal, and as far reaching in their implications as the more operatic (dramatic?) work of German painter Anselm Kiefer.

Shakine is primarily a painter, attracted by the richness and versatility of the medium and its considerable history. As with all paintings that work, his resonate with what has come before. In both of the series discussed here, Shakine has chosen to paint in ways that give abstract elements equal weight and voice to images. His subjects are more evocative than descriptive, more like memories than renderings of physical reality. In fact, while it is easy to locate and identify the figures in one series, the landscape elements in the other emerge slowly after considerable looking. Many of the subjects in this exhibition involve his recollection of the beautiful countryside of Israel - and also his experience of it filled with incident, much of it violent. He sees Israel's history personally - through the events of his life - and generalizes from that basis about the human condition, about boundaries, and often about the cause of ethnic conflict: the overwhelming urge to have a place all one's own, and the destruction that can come with this impulse.

Like so many other 20th-century artists, Shakine is fascinated with 
materials - old ones used new ways, new ones freely experimented with. He has concluded, as Marshall McLuhan pointed out, that within media lay inherent messages. Applied one way, a medium such as paint will suggest order and calm, and in another, chaos and violence. Colors. too, have different discernible voices, and scale alone can produce varying responses. Shakine takes full advantage of these factors as we can see in the combination of vocabularies he uses. For Shakine, painting seems to be a way to search for meaning, a kind of existential quest. For example, in one group of paintings, he creates a hazy blue and brown atmosphere and a rough surface in which to shroud androgynous figures, mysteriously intertwined with pod - shaped vessels. We not only recognize pots, but might also see their seed shapes, encasing the body, as symbolic. The story is partly told by our associations with people, gestures, postures, and expressions. The rest of it comes from less clear inferences gathered from beautiful, subtle colors; broken, overlapping and

indistinct lines; and the creases and texture. In any case, musing on what this adds up to, such terms as birth, containment, time, dispassion, absence, and presence come to mind - abstractions that concern our sense of being.

In the paintings with landscapes, Shakine is informed by the spareness of 
traditional Japanese brushwork and also by the content of Chinese landscape painting, in which there can be violence without apocalypse. Nature and civilization seem to be partners with neither the loser despite the greater power of nature. 19th Century American artists - and some Europeans as well - on the other hand, concentrated on the magnificence of nature, and its capacity to overwhelm the pitiable in - roads of humankind. 20th-century western artists have often taken yet another stance: depicting human willingness to destroy others and our habitat, and our considerable success in doing so. Shakine's approach to both painting style and imagery seems to understand the motives behind all of these stances. Buried within the semi-violent atmosphere of greys, blacks and browns are vestiges of landscapes: trees, mountains, skies, clouds, roads, water and stone walls, some of them crumbling. Dark storm clouds or ominous puffs of smoke hover over the land in ways that seem inescapably foreboding. Yet there is substance in their power as much as there is warning. Nature and culture seem in uneasy balance, clashing to be sure, but not without option. Paths remain open in spite of disaster. Stone boundaries articulate edges but not always ends.

Shakine painted these pictures in such a way as to leave traces of a 
working process which seems almost as important to their meanings as the images and colors. For example, a sense of age is underscored by the look of old parchment, encouraged by the creases and wrinkles of the painting's surface, as well as by patches of brown-tinted varnish - the patina of age. The canvases he chose are seamed, and the seams are not only incorporated as compositional elements such as horizon lines but also have symbolic value; they are boundaries stitched together... To make them, Shakine painted layers and layers of black and white paint as well as oil medium mixed with earth-colored pigments, and some powdered metals. He also uses varnish, sometimes applied clear to give a sheen to the surface. He folds the canvases while still wet, letting surfaces dry sticking to each other. When he pulls them apart, the painted surfaces tear at each other, producing much of the observable texture. They are not as rough and craggy as they appear, however. Looking closely, we can see that Shakine has enhanced the depth with illustionistic highlighting and shadows. Because of this kind of detail, the paintings have an impact at a distance and give different information at close range. 

This ability 
to continue feeding the eye and the mind results from Shakine's deep understanding of painting. it is why the paintings are so haunting. Always teetering on the edge of destruction, Eran Shakine's world is one of sensations, feelings, and memories. His images locate us somewhere in the physical world, but our journey through them goes beyond concrete experience. There are truths, we understand, not learned from experience but from spirit, conscience or intuition. Shakine opens doors for us to deal with 

deep spaces in our minds and hearts. 

Philip Yenawine, Director of Education at the "Museum of Modern Art" New York. For almost a decade, Philip Yenawine is a writer and lecturer on modem and contemporary art. 

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Dan Miron, ABOUT THE NEW WORKS BY ERAN SHAKINE, Graffitigirl Exhibition Catalogue, 2014


Eran Shakine, Joseph K.’s Granddaughter, 2014, Found wooden door, graffiti ink, household oil paint, dry pigments, polyurethane varnish.Door 230x80, Canvas 160x130 cm.

Eran Shakine, a mature artist who gracefully and effortlessly navigates different media as well as seemingly different styles and trends, presents in the current exhibition – his sixteenth solo show – four series of new works, each seems to stand by itself, faithful to its own rules of visual representation and highlighting a unique formal-thematic idea.


In the group of sculptures “Giacometti’s Granddaughter as a Supermodel” he addresses the perception of the human body in international modern sculpture. Here Giacometti’s granddaughter is in fact also the great granddaughter of Degas. A clear line connects the girl positioned in different stances with Degas’s sculptures of dancers in their ethereal tutu skirts – after they have undergone the special treatment of Giacomettiesque sculpture, which took away their grace and plump roundness, reduced and flattened them to the brink of two-dimensionality and instilled them with the existential instability so typical of Giacometti’s figures, which brings to mind the biblical verse: “Man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away.” (Psalm, 144:4)


Shakine puts the thin figure in motion, imbues it with renewed tangible physicality and focuses on the certain contrast between the upper body and particularly the face that conveys the youth and blandness of the girl, and the muscular, somewhat distorted legs, that look like the legs of an older woman whose occupation demands that she spends long hours standing, dooms her to a poise and grace that come at a high cost.


In another group of sculptures “The Cottage Cheese Protest”, the threedimensional object serves as an acerbic social comment on the protest movement that was heralded with great noise and a massive media coverage and ended with bruised chairs and zero results. The irony of the series is apparent in the sculptures of open mouths planted in the cheese cups (the same one whose soaring price led to the resentment that sparked the protest). These mouths look like casts in a dentist’s laboratory and bring to mind tooth ache or hunger more than the cheese whose taste the fleshy tongue asks: more! As does the single pink finger, which seems to call: come, join me! It too tells a story of unsatisfied hunger and an unanswered call for a change.The series of photographs “Graffitigirl” presents urban art, which also carries a social significance. The stereotypical figure of the light-footed girl is integrated in increasingly derelict urban backgrounds, until it is reduced to trash heaps and broken objects carelessly discarded.


Shakine virtuously exploits the painterly possibilities embodied in the neglected walls of dirty entrances and stairways, which had not seen a painter’s brush in ages, as well as the contrast between the crisp black line of the graffiti and the faded grey-brown background colors that merge with one another in harmony of peeling plaster and whitewash blackened by the years. He even produces chromatic beauty from this contrast that still maintains the full force of its social meaning. This series of the art of urban deterioration is in many respects the most elaborate of the series featured in the exhibition.


Most moving is the series of portraits painted in traditional technique with oil paints on canvas – the classic technique of portrait painting. The artist painted with sensitivity and love portraits of two of his children, the girl Mika and the boy Adam, while paying particular attention not to the figure in general but rather to the young eyes and awkward stance of children-teenagers who are caught between childhood and adulthood, pretending to be a woman and a man while their mother’s milk is still wet on their lips. The ambivalent state of the painted people is revealed in the best paintings in a certain difference between their two eyes – difference in color and shape, which can be attributed to the direction of the light, but can also be understood as a brilliant marking of the line between the two states – childhood and adulthood – which the painted people are still oscillating between its one side to the other without a final decision.


The viewer observing all these will inevitably wonder what is common to the series that seem so different from one another; in what way do they all carrythe mark of the artist who made them? The answer to these questions will not be given at first glance; yet, a concentrated and extensive observation will inevitably arrive at it. Shakine is revealed in this exhibition as an artist who looks from different viewpoints at man’s place in the physical and social space that surrounds him. He is the poet of man’s unstable, orphaned place in the world. “Giacometti’s Granddaughter” is a supermodel but also a slim and fragile girl, standing on tortured and bent legs propped on heels that are too high and precarious. The bend of these legs, the kneaded materiality of their muscles tells the story of the supermodel’s walk on the runway of an unsympathetic and uncompassionate world; a world of fast consumption devoid of any relation to the consumed object. The broken chairs, still holding the figure of the person thrown off them, and the open mouths of “The Cottage Cheese Protest”, recount a similar human story in a different context, yet not entirely dissimilar. Here too we are faced with an item associated with man, whether in a synecdochical manner (the mouths, the finger) or in a metonymical manner (the chairs) as it takes part in the drama of consumption that eradicates the human. The Graffitigirl is a part of the desolation in which she is revealed, but at the same time she is also the one who wishes to walk away from it in a light step apparent in the graceful sneakers-clad legs. Wishes – but can’t.


From one photograph to the next she seems to be more imprisoned in an aging and worn out world of junk, smaller in the roar of the dumpster, with no chance of leaving it. In a sense it is a poignant icon of Israeli youth. Sensitive of all are the portraits of the children trying to act like adults: the child-girl who covered her face with her mother’s lipstick and makeup, the boy who displays the buds of his beard like a young rooster, attempting –unsuccessfully, to call the rooster’s crow. The sensitive observant father who painted these kids, heart touching in their insecurity of their place and situation in the world, he is the one who created the assembly of works featured in this rich exhibition presented before the viewer.

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Sivan Raveh, THE RABBI GOES TO THE SEA, 2014

Eran Shakine, Untitled 8 (Rabbi Goes Swiming)2014, acrylic on canvas, 140 x 100 cm / 55.1 x 39.3 in

This body of works by Eran Shakine combines two central themes in his work: canonic modern art and the symbols of Israeli Jewry. In the series The Rabbi Goes Swimming these themes undergo formal reduction, which places them in a historical and ideational perspective touching on a broad array of cultural, artistic, and political concerns. The images of the forefathers of modernism, which appeared in a series of paintings from 2008 to 2010, are now replaced by a stylistic signature, a kind of formal trace transposed into the experience of Israeli-Jewish reality. The symbols of Land-of-Israel Jewry also undergo radical reduction: the skullcaps, the candlesticks, and the menorahs now give way to a lone figure, a religious man in hassidic garb carrying two bags in his hands. The Jewish signs undergo yet another transformation, from threedimensional objects to a calligraphic sign. Thus Shakine continues his engagement with the relation between form and word, which in the works of the progenitors of modernism appeared as a title within the body of the painting, while in The Rabbi Goes to the Sea all the paintings are “Untitled.” 

The new connection between the modern visual form and the textual signifier silences the droll layer, which softened the critical dimension of the works of the forefathers of modernism. So in the painting Josef Albers Having a Sunny Side Up (2010), Albers’ stern face, more especially his sharp and caustic look, generate the feeling that he prefers to look out to the viewer rather than at the yellow square set on the plate before him. In the United States, whither he went with his Jewish wife on the rise of the Nazis in 1933, it is served up to him as a fried egg. The yellow square, which is defined without correct perspective foreshortening, forms a stain of color, some sort of disturbance which makes Albers’ punctilious foreignness reverberate. The square recalls “yellow” in Alexander Rodchenko’s series “Last Paintings”; they are the “last” because the utopian society that was to arise on values emanating from the liberty, fraternity and equality of the French Revolution would have no further need for art. All this proceeds in step with the fading of European hegemony across the Atlantic. The pure geometrical form, with its primary values of color, is slashed through and recomposed as a Shield of David and as the generic marker of the defiled, the alien, the separate – of the “Jewish Problem.” Life, as Albers’ heavy body posture confesses, has trounced art. Albers’ body ends at the level of the middle of the ribs, in a straight line reminiscent of countless diner bars all over the United States, yet imparting to it the pose of genuflection at mass. Someone will have to pay for that, or as they say in his adoptive country, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.


Eran Shakine, Josef Albers having a sunny side up, 2010, Oil and oil paintstick on paper, 110 × 70 cm


In The Rabbi Goes to the Sea the general unease in modern culture is augmented by the specific issue of Jewry in modern society, and of ultra-Orthodox Jewry in Israeli reality. The modernist obsession for surface values – line, form, color, for formal “purity” that is attained, or will be attained, only when art manages to sever its connections with things in the world, and above all dependence on the textual source – religious, mythological, literary – makes the calligraphic image of the rabbi look like excess meaning. The aspiration for autonomous visual expression enfolds within itself a yearning for the idea of carnality and for redemption, which run counter to the Jewish world created with a word. At hand is the question whether the idiom of modern painting, abstract painting, is able to encompass the believing Jew without demanding that he shed his identity. Is it really possible, to paraphrase Moses Mendelssohn, to be a Jew at home and a modern outside?



Eran Shakine, Untitled 1 (Rabbi Goes Swimming), 2014, acrylic on canvas, 130 x 100 cm / 51.1 x 39.3 in

“Untitled 1” shows the rupture between the world of the believing Jew and modern reality in clear, formal terms: the rabbi’s sidelocks assume shapes that recall the “black paintings” of Frank Stella (among them Die Fahne Hoch!) and the space between the metaphoric father of the old world and the secular son of the free world seems unbridgeable, as extreme as the opposition of black to white. This transformation is not the outcome of organic development, but an implication of the rupture and the horror that befell Europe in the twentieth century. The array of the lines and the waves in Shakine’s black paintings create at times abstract mazes in which the figure of the rabbi is inescapably trapped. Some of the works indicate a double captivity – once of the body in its ultra-Orthodox dress, and once of its factional belonging. The rabbi’s figure constitutes an otherness, which is perceived in the eyes of the “enlightened” Israeli-Jewish secularity as a historical relic. A kind of distant relative, whose presence jeopardizes its balance of terror against various kinds of otherness – the Muslim other, whose religious belief is classified, for convenience and for political correctness, as “authentic,” and Western otherness, which is imagined as the progressive, liberal horizon.


Another aspect of the friction between the ghetto of the religion of art and the Jewish ghetto is there, in the liminal state of the seashore. The spirit of God hovers over the water, while on the land the Divine Presence appears in sensual layers of paint and erotic formalism. In the middle is the image of the man in black. At the place where the sculpture of the skullcaps in Sabbath Game (2008) created a topography that suggested an affinity between sign and place, between the hilltop youth and the mountains of Judea and Samaria, on the sea basin the foreignness of the rabbi is emphasized even more, as one still wandering in the wilderness. He treads between the colorful thighs of Mother Earth in “Untitled p3” – all that is left of his link to the source of the tangible world is reduced to a black dotted line that gathers in his image. Infiltrated almost against his will into a material reality from which he has been banished by habit, Shakine in his paintings asserts the very quality so offensive to the iconoclasts all through scholarly Western thought: painting is irrevocably carnal; an image of an image, that serves the “lust of the eye,” which is opposed to the spiritual and intellectual passions of the soul.

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Tali Tamir, THE CALLIGRAPHY OF THE BLACK GOAT, On Eran Shakine's Goat paintings


Eran Shakine, Untitled, 2007, oil on linen, 190x170 cm

As someone once wrote, there are images destined to bear upon their shoulders a symbolic burden in human culture. One such is the herd or flock: a collective entity, composed of numerous individuals, which wanders in uniform, consecutive stride, led by its leader - the shepherd. In Western culture, which gave rise to the myth of the individual and the cult of genius, the flock image can be construed as one of submission and being led blindfold, occasionally in perilous directions. But alongside the image of the flock with no will of its own, the herd also exists as pastoral concept of tranquility and loyalty, as symbol of mutual trust between shepherd and flock, and of an idyllic existence in an expanse of soil and rock.ֳ


Over the past twenty years, Eran Shakine has painted flocks of goats within landscapes. Goats, not sheep - black, gaunt, fleet of foot, survivors at all costs. The source of the image is in the Bedouin and their flocks of goats grazing freely on sparsely grassed pastures, unhurriedly dispersing and regrouping again in response to the whistling and enticing grunts uttered by the young shepherd. Shakine encountered them during his military service, a young soldier not yet twenty, who arrogated unto himself the privilege of enjoying an open gaze at the landscape, amazed at its unexpected innocence.

The goats - black, lithe blobs traversing the landscape - were engraved so deep into his memory until they represented to him what the water lilies represented to Claude Monet: grounds for creating a pictorial expanse rich in action globular, rhythmic and colourful. In the course of twenty years or more throughout which the goat motif persistently reappeared on Shakine's canvasses, it was absorbed into the texture of his painting, becoming a kind of "embedded nervous signer"- a sketching element concentrated, swift, sometimes dismembered, that almost forfeited its identity beyond its essence: a physical, kinetic event whose internal rhythm is embedded in the artist's hand, if not his entire body - the calligraphy of the black goat. Shakine creates a delicate balance between the goat's physical mass and its movement in space: while the former is on the verge of disintegration, the latter preserves an ongoing continuity. Shakine's yearslong interest in archeology has been a factor in the amazing affinity with pre-historic cave paintings; but, active at the end of the second millennium and the onset of the third, he paints with a high level of awareness of his cultural and historical situation.


American abstract painting, to which he was exposed during his studies and residence in New York, contributed equally to generating an expanse of physical activity and constructing an  internal calligraphy, as well as the layered archeology of the painting expanse itself.

Shakine works with a high degree of modernist awareness concerning the existential autonomy of his material which, as Amnon Barzel wrote, "is the means and motif of the painting itself." He requires considerable patience to permit his paintings to absorb layers of paint and varnish, and take in a series of pictorial actions, such as smearing, scratching and etching, until he finds them mature enough to be launched into the world. The physical manner of Shakine`s work creates, initially, a kind of "blind painting" which takes form through random intake of actions and touches; but later it displays a sharp visual sensibility transmitting a sense of voluminity and materials, locating them fluently in the painted format.


Over and again, the sight of the goats arises, dispersed across the painting's layered and impregnated expanse. Shakine cannot settle for mere materialism, he requires the appearance of the black, charred calligraphy of those skipping beasts which used to trail the shepherd leading them in pastoral tranquility but nowadays, in the absence of a shepherd, disperse to disintegrate into the background, forfeiting their physical solidity. The goats Shakine now paints possess more violent characteristics, having inevitably imbibed something of the harsh violence of the Israeli reality encompassing his Tel Aviv studio. Their capacity for regrouping is now doubtful, and they transmit a kind of chaos and disarray.

The consistent reappearance of the goat motif in Shakine's work grants an instructive insight into his development as artist: what resembled a landscape painting of an expanse of desert has now been transformed into an internal vision suspended above the expanse of the  painting. That which was initially primal and innocent, has become complex and ambivalent, highly-charged emotionally and pictorially. But to this day Shakine's paintings retain the same ability to connect the infected with the pristine, the natural with the cultivated. The scenes of paintings of blue pools well represents his interest in archeology without losing the erotic naivety; the blue colour of the pool, alluring in its clarity creates an island of delight within the mud-brown structure of crumbling walls.

Shakine is operating simultaneously within pictorial and cultural expanses. But unlike monumental German painting in the manner of Kiefer he harbours no cultural nostalgia, rather; the ability to experience culture in personal intimacy. Once again, the magic spell has worked: the scratched layer which has absorbed countless touches and materials, encounters the clarity of the water which bestows an experience of purification. The reiterated encounter between the infected and the pristine, between the natural and the cultivated, is to be found at the very heart of Shakine's painting, enfolding simultaneously both awareness and innocence.

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