Shay Kun’s Painted Landscapes Capture the Ephemerality of Memory

Israeli-born artist Shay Kun creates paintings that portray windows bespeckled with the shimmering droplets and streams of water that rain leaves behind. Delving into perception and memory, the artist presents images that are familiar—like the view from behind a windshield of a car while driving on a nondescript highway in the rain—and prompt nostalgia through his photorealistic precision. “The recurring theme of these raindrop paintings is the clarity of the water, the path the water has travelled to its location, and the nostalgia such images invoke,” Kun has said. “These images fade into the distance and become part of our memories. I am trying to capture how distorted our memories of these events are. The reality as it happens—looking out of a window on a rainy day—is never remembered exactly as it was.” These works took the fore Bill Lowe Gallery last month in “Corners of Our Mind.”

Kun is inspired by the detailed landscape paintings of the American West by Thomas Cole of the Hudson River School. He typically creates idyllic, naturalistic landscapes incorporating unusual people or objects like acrobats, soldiers, or race cars. These visual disruptions are meant to be absurd or even surreal. “I don’t paint from real life. Everything is artificial,” he once said. “I’m not one of those painters sitting in Central Park, overwhelmed by what’s in front of me. I like things that have been thoroughly chewed already; reproduced a hundred times.”

Hot-air balloons are featured in Kun’s “Lift Off” series, the significance of which can be traced back to his childhood; Kun’s parents carried a set of carved toys modeled after hot air balloons to Israel after escaping the Holocaust. In Outlander (2012), four multi-color hot air balloons float above bright green, lush trees and water delicately tinged by the sun.

The paintings in Kun’s teardrop series don’t incorporate as many pastiche elements, but they are grounded by the same question: When does reality end and fantasy begin? Sometimes we’re drawn to things and we don’t know why; we’ll gaze at them, trying to figure out what’s out of place. Colors are impossibly vivid or objects are off-kilter. And as much as Kun’s teardrop paintings look real, they are structurally imperfect. Kun plays with scale in order to subtly manipulate his painted reality. The raindrops and shadows can’t exist in real life as they do in his work, so Kun continues to remind us that nothing is exactly as we remember it.

—Melissa Smith

Discover more artists at Bill Lowe Gallery. 

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