Yehouda Chaki’s Painterly Paintings Depict Light on Bodies, Mountains, and Flowers

At Odon Wagner Contemporary, in Toronto, a show of recent work by Yehouda Chaki reveals the broad range of art-historical references in his work. Titled “A Breath of Light,” this new exhibition highlights Chaki’s generous and effusive depiction of light—in landscapes, still lifes, and the human form.

A truly international artist, Yehouda Chaki was born in Athens, Greece, lived for almost two decades in the then newly formed state of Israel, and immigrated to Canada in 1962. His painterly, colorful work is filled with emotion, whether it be a self-portrait, a female nude, or an expansive, mountainous landscape. 

In his atmospheric landscapes, Chaki captures light interacting with a variety of textures and forms, often in grand panoramic views. In Dawn to Dusk 1205, nature’s dominion spreads out below in bright colors that recall Fauvism, which nonetheless describe a realistically recognizable world. The four-panel painting shows an arc of blue and gray mountains in the background, while in the middle- and foreground, a rolling valley opens, dotted with blue-leafed trees leaning over the hills and plains. The interior of the painting glows, as if shining from the middle outward. Another landscape painting, October Light 1305 (2013), presents a similar mountain-lined valley, though this one shows shadows cast from the overhead clouds seen in the distant background.

Many of Chaki’s figurative paintings resemble the loose, abstracted style of Marc Chagall, or the psychological intensity of Chaim Soutine. In Nona 1364-W (2013), a young woman is painted loosely, her curved nude figure juxtaposed with the broad, geometric bench on which she sits. Her tanned skin is outlined in red, matching her hair, lending the picture a sense of drama and lust. Other images pay greater homage to earlier art movements, such as Nona 1345-W (2013), with its hints of Cubism, and Nona 1453-W (2014), which nods to Abstract Expressionism, including Willem de Kooning’s “Woman” series.

Chaki often stages his still-life paintings in front of open windows, with cropped views of the kinds of panoramas visible in his landscapes. The vertical bursts of flowers from vases are thereby contrasted with the abbreviated countryside views. In Window 1491 (2014), the colors are subdued, as if painted on a cloudy day, or at dusk. Conversely, Window 1427 (2014) is brightly lit with rich reds and oranges, as if captured at sunrise or sunset. 

In his vivid, painterly work, Chaki explores the dynamism of light through creative uses of color. He plays with the traditions of painters from throughout the Western world, quoting their ingenuity and adding them to his own to create arresting pictures.


—Stephen Dillon


Yehuda Chaki: A Breath of Light” is on view at Odon Wagner Contemporary, June 11–July 4, 2015.


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