Orly Shalem’s abstract artworks dance in front of your eyes, and if you listen closely you can almost hear music. While some artists only approach a canvas after carefully sketching and planning, Orly turns on music to match her mood and lets the painting come through her like a prophecy. She does not know what she will paint until she is standing opposite the pigment-stained canvas and it feels to her complete. Because of this inspired process there is a mysticism and spirituality that Orly’s paintings impart.
Orly’s paintings have a gentle temperament that encase a frenetic energy. Some of her paintings waltz, prance and sway while other’s parry and thrust and none of them ever let your eyes rest. As a former graphic designer, Orly knows well how to use color to capture a viewer’s attention. She is also a master of texture. For Orly, the paintbrush is only one of many tools, she uses a palette knife and her hands and she sometimes pours and drips her paint, among other methods. Some of her surfaces are scratched or painted over in many layers incorporating an act of destruction into her creation. She inserts her whole body into the production of an artwork; she is an action painter.
Orly is influenced by many figures in art history; the idyllic Monet is one of her favorites but Turner, Rothko and Pollock and those artists’ dark and stormy energies are also evident. Even with Monet, Orly most relates to the later works when Monet was losing his eyesight and the paintings feel blurry. She connects to the abstraction but also to the degeneration of the aging man.
Orly gave up her graphic design business when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in her mid-forties. She was alerted to the disease only because a friend casually suggested she get an exam and by the time she saw the doctor her cancer was already so advanced that it required chemo, surgery and radiation. Though Orly always painted as a hobby, her brush with death gave her what felt like the permission to become a full-time artist. She recognized that the future is uncertain and it is imperative to act on your dreams and the hearts desires in the here and now. Turning to art also helped Orly deal with her physical and emotional pain, spilling onto her canvas all of the complex emotions she experienced as a result of her disease.
After Orly’s journey to recovery, she decided to devote the majority of her time to her art. She completed a degree with honors at Beit Berel College in Art Education. In the years following, she began teaching art to the elderly residents of the nursing home Palace Modi’in, making her artistic knowledge available to them and giving them access to the magic of creativity. This interaction also further deepened her connection to both the healing power of art and the fragility of human existence.
Orly never paints from real life, even her illustrative works are landscapes fabricated in her mind. Her works are purely emotional even when they seem representational. Painting turns her emotions into concrete material and then the viewer must translate them back to the emotional plane. The abstraction of emotion, mediated through paint, leaves room for the viewer to impress on the work their own life experiences.
Orly Shalem's works are on exhibition at the gallery "Hakol Ba'Misgeret" in Shilat (near Modi'in). The exhibition is open following the end of the country wide isolation until Passover 2021.