Zely Smekhov, the Artist

About the Artist

Zely Smekhov - a brief biography

1939 - Zely Smekhov was born in Moscow, in the family of Lev Smekhov - a well-known Russian graphic artist who worked with many leading publishing houses. At an early age, observing his father's work, he began transferring his earliest impressions of life onto paper with the aid of pencils and brushes.

1950-1957 - studies at an artistic middle school in Moscow. A hand-drawn slideshow for children, which Zely had managed to complete before his graduation, became his first valuable experience of drawing and creating arrangements not "from life", but from his own creative imagination.

1958-1964 - studies at the Surikov Arts Institute in Moscow, receiving a graphic artist's diploma.

1966-1968 - works at the Master's Graphic Arts Studio at the Academy of Arts of the USSR, under the direction Y. A. Kibrik, a fellow of the Academy.

1971 - becomes a member of the Union of Artists of the USSR.

1991 - immigrates to Israel.
Becomes a member of the International Association of Art, UNESCO.
First solo exhibition at the Zionist Confederation house (Jerusalem).

1992 - solo exhibitions at YMCA and at the Zionist Confederation house (both in Jerusalem).

1994-1995 - solo exhibitions at YMCA and at the "HaBustan" gallery (both in Jerusalem).

1992 - to the present day - participates in group exhibitions in various cities in Israel.
Collaborates with the Temple Institute in Jerusalem. Produces a series of paintings devoted to the First and Second Temple periods, which have been exhibited at the Institute museum. Many of the paintings have been reproduced in the Institute's publications - prayer books and works on the history of the Temple.
The publication of a Hebrew-language edition of the "Song of Songs" (by the "Beit-Alpha" publishing house), for which a series of etchings have been made. 120 copies of the book have been published, with 100 copies printed on paper, and 20 copies printed on parchment. The calligraphic type and design have been created by David Moss, an American calligrapher and artist.
Illustrating a series of books on Jewish history (by the "Machanaim" publishing house, Jerusalem) and designing an edition of the Torah for children (by the "Pistopany" publishing house, New York - Jerusalem). Producing series of works entitled "Masks", "Dances", and others.
Throughout his artistic career, he has tried to avoid confining himself to any single technique or genre. He has produced paintings and easel graphic works, contributing to the fields of etching, linoleum engraving, and lithography. Zely Smekhov's works are exhibited in Russian museums and in private collections in Russia, Canada, the UK, the US, and in Israel.


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"Looking back over the road which I have traveled through art, I can confirm the following lines from one of Georgi Ivanov's poems: "and to the crowd that is clamoring for novelty, he says: 'there is no novelty, there is moderation". In other words, there is no need to strive for innovation for the sake of an ill-conceived notion of progress. One has to adhere to a moral and artistic standard - only then can an artwork acquire a modern meaning and arouse a genuine response in the spectator's mind.
I began drawing back when I was a kid, watching the work of my father, who was also an artist. He worked constantly, with no days off. To this day, I have preserved a similar attitude toward the profession that I'd chosen so early in life.
At the arts school and at the Surikov Institute, I was taught to carefully examine reality; I was instructed in the arts of drawing, painting, and creating arrangements; there, I acquired the skills of classical art.
Obviously, during the Soviet era my artistic work had two goals: earning money, and expressing my soul. More often than not, these two goals were in conflict.
However, even when I was busy creating slideshows and designing festive decorations for my city, I tried to learn the artistic lessons that would eventually help me during the creation of original works. Without trying to limit myself to a single genre or style, I also mastered the arts of etching, lithography, and linoleum engraving.
Even before leaving the USSR, I began working on a large-scale series named "The Apocalypse", which was supposed to reflect the things I felt at that time. The world that I'd been used to was crumbling, to be replaced by some new forms of human existence. The allegorical horses were literally galloping through the dark space of everyday life, trying to break into the light of new life. I was far from convinced that my artistic metaphors would be understood by everyone. Nevertheless, I hoped that the spectators would sense the complexity of the historical moment in which they lived.
Jerusalem, where I settled after moving to Israel, has become a new source of creative inspiration for me. My interests in painting are not limited to urban landscapes and scenes of everyday life; I'm also interested in portraits.
A large cycle of my works is dedicated to the First and Second Temple periods in Jerusalem. I have to say that, as a non-historian, it was hard for me to "get into" such a complicated subject. However, since I've been fortunate enough to touch it, I consider it a true success. You acquire a completely new perspective on current events, grasping their inner meaning, in addition to the outer shell.
After thinking about the reality that surrounds me in Israel, I've come to the realization that I'd like to describe these events in the language of artistic allegory. The aspects that concern me - the struggle between beauty and ugliness, love and hate - are reflected in the series entitled "Jesters and Masks" and "Dances", which engage in a kind of game with the spectator. Ultimately, these artworks are meant to make him meditate on his own role in a constantly changing world.
Unexpectedly, the theme of "The Apocalypse" has resurfaced in my recent work. This time, my work is intended to reflect not a struggle between worlds, but a clash of worldviews, together with the resulting conformism of the ordinary members of society. Nowadays, it is not the "horses" galloping through a fiery space, but the "herds of sheep" obediently following their shepherd, who represent the greatest threat to human civilization.
As an artist, my only weapon against this new "invasion" is the beauty of the human spirit. This is my interpretation of the central message of the "Song of Songs", and I've made a series of etchings for a deluxe edition of this Biblical book.
If I were to engage the spectators in person, this is what I'd tell them:
I'm not trying to make you laugh,
I'm not trying to fool you,
I'm not trying to annoy you,
But only to make you slightly perplexed.
Sometimes, not everything is obvious and clear,
Not everything is bleak, either.
I depict only that which I want to depict, but, more often -
I stay silent.
I stay silent, because I don't like the so-called collectivism, which is commonly accompanied by empty verbiage. In most cases, there is no need to proclaim anything, no need to be amazed or try to shock.
Besides, I'm not particularly concerned about the race with time, about "innovative" schools and all sorts of "isms". For, as our Holy Scriptures proclaim, "the thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done".
Art will exist as long as "the eye is not satisfied with seeing". Therefore, my motto is: "create, and let others create".
The artist's major challenges are: the quest for proportion and the proper relationship between form and content. These are the criteria that guide me - and will continue to guide me - in my work".
Zely Smekhov

ЗЕЛИЙ СМЕХОВ, художник
            Copyright © Zely Smekhov