The Artist's Pinch

Yoash Foldesh has created a niche for himself - drawing made-to-order pornographic portraits of artists, businesspeople and any other interested parties

Dafna Arad
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Dafna Arad

If you're willing to pose with a hibiscus flower in place of a sexual organ, or have a lobster dance with you as you strike a pornographic pose - and have that photo tagged on Facebook - you have to pay for it.

Yoash Foldesh approaches a wide drawer in his house, pulls out a tin cylinder, opens it and spills puzzle pieces on a low wooden table. The pieces are large, like those of a puzzle for beginners, greenish and yellowish, and outlined in black. The task of assembling them is performed quietly, with concentration. The red lobster featured in many of Foldesh's pieces splashes in its nearby aquarium.

A portrait of Shir Handelsman. Foldesh charges NIS 78 per piece.Credit: Yoash Foldesh

Foldesh is alarmed for a moment, worried that the puzzle piece with the left nipple is lost, but once it's found the picture comes together: the painted portrait of the director of one of Israel's leading fashion chains, sitting with his pants down in an erotic pose, next to a gaping sink threatening to spray him.

This sort of puzzle is among the items that can be ordered from Foldesh's virtual store, "Matana Nehedara" ("A Wonderful Gift" ). Over the past two years, after he finishes his day job a the new-media firm where he is a partner, he draws portraits at home by order. The message that pops up when you enter his Website helps explain who Foldesh is: "Shalom! I'm a young and handsome Jewish artist. I live in Tel Aviv and make paintings." As far as he's concerned, that's all the clients need to know about him.

Initially, members of Foldesh's close circle of friends were ordering portraits, mainly people in the industry. But soon word spread around. To date, he has drawn portraits of the following people: musician Tomer Sharon; the soloist of the 1980s band Liquid Liquid, Salvatore Principato; a high-tech millionaire who asked to remain anonymous; journalist and editor Nir Bachar; photographer Goni Riskin; artist Shahar (Freddy ) Kislev; artist Hadas Reshef; mathematics professor Zev Levin; artist Yael Bedarshi; singer Shira Z. Carmel; curator Sagi Rafael; and dozens of others. For the most part, the subjects appear nude in domestic settings, with their sexuality taken away from them.

"I like turning women into men, and men into eunuchs," Foldesh, 33, says. "The sexual organs in my paintings have become increasingly smaller, until they turned into a tiny reddish speck of color. When I painted Tomer Sharon, for example, many people claimed I had painted a vagina on him."

Foldesh also addresses the issue of finding art patrons in the postmodern era. "In the past, only rich people could order portraits for themselves," he explains. "I charge NIS 78 per painting - a price that manages to guarantee the seriousness of the customer on the one hand, while on the other hand leaving me the freedom to do what I want. I don't feel a need to satisfy the customer, and I do what I really feel like doing.

"I'm not strong technically, the art usually expresses the way I interact with my clients," he adds. "I speak to them as if I were the receptionist of a large customer service department, with arbitrariness concealed by service."

Second-grade skills

Despite the fact that orders keep coming in, it's apparently not easy to be an entrepreneur slash artist. Foldesh was surprised to discover recently that his paintings had appeared on an international art forum, in a conversation about bad artwork from around the world.

To expand his circle of clients, Foldesh tags the names of his subjects on Facebook. A small percentage of them even use the portrait as their profile picture. The remainder of his clients request that the tagging be stopped, that their names removed, and that the drawings be taken down as well.

Last year, Foldesh displayed selected portraits as part of an exhibit on the exposed walls of Jaffa's Container restaurant. Not all of his subjects agreed to have their images displayed in public.

"I get a lot of negative reactions," he admits. "There were people who flat-out rejected their portrait and never came to pick it up." He hangs those drawings in his living room.

"Overall, most people waive the demand to dictate how they'll look. On the order form you can decide, for an additional NIS 22, whether or not the portrait will be flattering, the number of fingers and sexual organs that will be shown, and whether you'd like to add an accessory from a limited selection of accessories - one of which is a lobster," Foldesh explains. "For someone who wants another addition, the added cost is NIS 33, because I don't want people dictating too much of what will be included in the paintings."

He admits that his painting abilities were honed only up to the level of an 8 year old.

"I stopped painting when I was in second grade," Foldesh says. "One day my mother opened my notebooks and discovered that I wasn't writing anything during the lessons ... I just drew the same picture over and over.

"The picture showed a woman standing and urinating, the urine dripping from her into a small bowl, with drops of it spraying into other bowls, and from there it sprayed out to other bowls - a kind of universe of bowls of urine. I drew it mainly in my mathematics notebooks, because you could play with the squares as though they themselves were drops. They took me to a psychologist and I stopped drawing."

When Foldesh finally took it up again, he did so with great hunger from the very start. He works on several pieces at once, buying new markers and experimenting with them. One of the first images he drew, his self-portrait, hangs in his office above his head: He is drawn with a faded outline, standing in his kitchen next to a yellowish refrigerator, lifting one hand behind his head, with a horrifying red hibiscus flower sticking out from between his legs.

When asked if he has clients sit for him to be drawn, he says, "No, sometimes I don't even know what they look like. I rely on the description they give me, or sometimes pictures that they send me. I weld the client with a pornographic position from my extensive collection of porno images, a combination that works extremely well."

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