Miriam Cabessa

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מרים כבסה

Miriam Cabessa (Born – 1966) is an Israeli-American painter, performance and installation artist.[1] Cabessa was born in Morocco, raised in Israel, and has lived and worked in New York City since 2000. Her slow action painting has been internationally recognized since 1997 when she represented Israel at the Venice Biennale. Over the past two decades, she has abstained from using brushes, opting to make marks with objects and her body. Her imagery ranges from organic to mechanistic with surfaces that are both haptically handmade and digitally serene. Cabessa has shown extensively in the U.S., Europe, and Israel.


Miriam Cabessa was born in 1966 in Casablanca, Morocco. In 1969 she immigrated to Israel together with her family and settled in the city of Tiberias. At the age of thirteen, she moved to Kibbutz Sha'ar Hagolan in the Jordan Valley. She grew up in an artistic home: her father was a jazz trumpeter and her mother ran the “Maskit” shop of Tiberias (a state-owned company promoting locally produced fashion and crafts) and founded a sewing school named after her, the “Helen” School. Cabessa started following private drawing lessons at the age of six and later studied painting at Tel Hai College. She also trained horses at the farm of Kibbutz Sha'ar Hagolan. At seventeen she qualified for a brown belt in karate and worked as a karate coach at Kibbutz Afikim. She was also one of the first windsurfers to windsurf on the Sea of Galilee. She served in the Israeli army in the mid-1980s and moved to Tel Aviv after completing her military service.

In the year 1988, Cabessa studied at the late Kalisher painting school, after which she studied privately with the artist Tamara Rickman for three years. Cabessa went on to study Fine Art at the Midrasha Art School from 1991 to 1993, and Theory and Criticism at Camera Obscura in 1997. Soon after completing her degree at the Midrasha, she was invited to participate in a group exhibition at the Tel Aviv Art Museum curated by Ellen Ginton. She gained public attention in 1993 with her first solo exhibition at Dvir Gallery, where she presented a series of paintings on masonite that laid the foundations for her artistic identity: using houseware items such as mops, garbage cans, plates and drinking glasses, Cabessa devised a unique and innovative technique to create painterly representations of three-dimensional pipes. Although seemingly complex and computer-generated, the works were all handmade by the artist. The gap between these images and their production process aroused much skepticism and wonder. The exhibition's works thrived on the Israeli art market and positioned Cabessa as a promising young artist. In 1995 she became the first winner of the Gottesdiener Prize, sponsored by the Tel Aviv Art Museum and considered as one of the most prestigious prizes for Israeli artists. At the Gottesdiener Prize exhibition she presented paintings on masonite and graphite works on paper. The show was accompanied by a catalog.

In 1997 Cabessa was chosen by Sarah Breitberg-Semel to represent Israel at the Israeli pavilion of the Venice Biennale, together with Israeli artists Sigalit Landau and Yossi Berger. Cabessa exhibited a series of paintings which notably refined and consolidated the artist's pictural language: the presented black-and-white oil paintings on masonite of abstract swirls and stripes confirmed the artist's high degree of artistic precision, virtuosity and control. Whereas her show at Dvir Gallery had demonstrated her immense capacity for imagination, the Biennale exhibition established her abilities for restraint and self-discipline. One of the works in the series is a “30-second painting”, titled after the duration for which Cabessa imprinted her touch on the painting. Plastik Magazine published a reproduction of this work along with an interview of the artist by Reilly Azoulay. The use of performative constraints and self-instructions allows Cabessa to reformulate the painterly act as both process-based and conceptually driven. The “30-second” constraint is borrowed from the military realm; yet the additional instruction to touch the painting's surface with eyes closed serves to turn a masculine principle into a feminine, intimate and sensual act. This will later lead Cabessa to create public painting performances, exposing to the audience the intimacy of her painting process.

In 1998, Cabessa presented “Mummies”, a series of powerful works produced with a cold and hot iron. This series mimics the act of ironing in a seemingly desperate attempt to flatten out the surface of the painting, bringing to mind both modernism and the tradition of flat painting. Cabessa's choice of painting tools is part of a conscious attempt to turn domestic appliances into feminist instruments: she disconnects houseware items from their original function and redefines their purpose within a new and elevated context. Cabessa has thus transformed garbage cans, rags and squeegees into painting tools. In doing so, she is to be associated with feminist artists from the 1980s such as Barbara Krueger, Cindy Sherman and Sherry Levine, who rather than striving to master the act of painting itself have aimed to question how women could enter the male-dominated world of painting. Hence the act of ironing touches upon both personal memories - the smell of ironing in Cabessa's childhood home - and a much wider feminist aspiration: to break through social and gender limitations.

Before her departure to New York, Cabessa exhibited at Dvir Gallery a painting series of imaginary urban landscapes of New York City. She moved to Manhattan in October 1999 and joined the ISCP studio residency program a year later. In 2001 she started working with Stefan Stux Gallery, leading her work to gain a wider exposure on the New York art scene. In 2002, she participated in a group exhibition curated by John Yao at the Maryland Institute College of Art. This led Yao and Cabessa to initiate a close dialogue on Cabessa's work; its mode of action, its pictorial language and its bodily presence. Yao uncovered the femininity in Cabessa's work and the ingenuity with which it evades masculine motion; some aspects of the artist's practice which only grew stronger and sharper over the years. Cabessa began to think of her work in terms of language: she wanted to formulate a unique language of painting movements by tapping into a much wider context. At this stage, personal and spiritual investigations had become more prevalent in her life and work. She became associated with various spiritual groups operating in New York and beyond ("Circle Paintings", a solo exhibition at Alon Segev Gallery in Tel Aviv, 2003). Her work became particularly influenced by Sufi whirling: the loss of orientation and sense of ecstasy that this practice generates allows for a change in consciousness which guided the artist in her painting. Cabessa would walk around the canvas for long hours, retracing a neverending circular motion.

In 2004, Cabessa's painting process was filmed for the first time in a series of five video works, each lasting a few minutes, documenting her painting action from start to finish.

Between 2005 and 2009, Cabessa participated in group exhibitions in the United States and in Europe. In 2008, she exhibited at Slate Gallery a series of 30 paintings entitled "79" and entirely made with oil and gold dust. 79 is the atomic number of the chemical element of gold which pigment Cabessa used in her paintings.

In 2009 she performed for the first time in front of an audience. In a performance called "Slow motion action painting," she painted on a 15-meter-long canvas using a keffiyeh and a tallit (Jewish prayer shawl). The performance was supported by Artis and presented at Pulse Art Fair on its opening day for 12 consecutive hours. In choosing a keffiyeh and a tallit as painting tools, Cabessa neutralized the highly symbolic charge of those traditional garments while simultaneously uniting them into a harmonious form through the act of painting. They give in to each other and follow each other's motion, in a dialogue that is both formal and conceptual.

In 2010, following a deepened spiritual process, Cabessa exhibited a series of works described as “slow-motion action painting” in which she examined the movement generated by meditative and conscious breathing. The resulting paintings present themselves as breathing traces, or seismographs of the body's vibrations. These works have been shown on a number of platforms throughout the world.

In 2012, after eight years during which she was unable to leave the United States (from 2003 to 2012), Cabassa held a performance at Rothschild 69 Gallery in Tel Aviv, for which she invited about 100 guests. “Performance” had two stages: in the first stage, Cabessa reenacted painting actions from her past works, engaging in a kind of live retrospective. In the second stage, she crawled from one side of the five meter-long surface to the other. The crawling action, a unit of time in itself, served to redefine and delineate time. In the same year Cabessa exhibited a series of Circle paintings at the Nye+Brown Gallery in Los Angeles, which specializes in artists from the 1960s. Their interest in Cabessa's work lied in the Pop-Art quality proper to this series of painting.

In 2014, Cabessa presented a solo exhibition at Julie M. Gallery in Tel Aviv. She painted on 50cm wide stickers that ran along all the gallery walls (42 meters), totalling 100 meters of painting. This work was produced in her studio over the length of several months as a stream of consciousness or intuitive writing. The final painting was thus presented just as it was made, without any painting rehearsal or subsequent correction.

In 2015, Cabessa exhibited at the Jenn Singer Gallery in New York. For this painting series, Cabessa laid out books she had read and especially liked onto an oil-covered plywood surface, leaving the imprint of their open pages on the surface and at times even inverted letters from the text. She presented close to fifty paintings bearing the imprints of books by authors such as Nabokov and Kafka, selected from Cabessa's collection of most influential books. The produced images deliberately resemble a series of vaginas: like spread-out legs, the imprints of the open books symbolically serve to feminize the books’ mostly male writers. The surprising aspect of this process consisted in the wide variety of images produced from similar-looking books.

At the beginning of 2017, Cabessa decided to start running a studio in Tel Aviv in parallel to her studio in New York, and it is with a strong sense of nostalgia that she returned to the country and landscapes of her birth. She was invited to work at the Harel printing workshop which had just inaugurated a printing press for formats of 2 meters by 1.40 meters, and on which Cabessa was commissioned to produce a new series of works. She chose to use the printing press as one of her painting tools: the Kinneret print series was produced using the press to spread out color. The press served to produce the paint stain, using a mixture of oil paints and metallic pigments to create images reminiscent of the light reflections and surface changes on the Sea of Galilee. The return to the Sea of Galilee is for Cabessa a return to her childhood years when she used to live in Tiberias and observe for long hours the water's changing surface and reflection. As a windsurfer in her youth, Cabessa had established a deep connection with the lake. About 20 works from this series of monotypes were selected for an exhibition at Harel Gallery.

In 2018, she presented her first collaborative project “Night Painting” at the Uri and Rami Nehoshtan Museum, a contemporary art museum located in Kibbutz Ashdot Yaakov in the Jordan Valley, curated by its director Smadar Keren. The work was created in collaboration with theater director Noam Ben Azar and his group of actors. Over the course of a year, they met for a series of improvisation exercises based on the “Grid technique”. This technique acts as a framework for producing incidental interactions and compositions, and allows the actors to reach a deeper intuitive state from which to draw material for their performance. During the sessions, actors were directed by Ben Azar to move around the space following imaginary vertical and horizontal lines on the canvas, tuning themselves to their own body and feelings while maintaining an acute awareness of others’ movements in the space; during that time Cabessa worked with diluted oil paint on the canvas, alternately adding and subtracting paint. This resulted in a four-hour live performance, video and large-scale painting.

In early 2019, Cabessa created “Living Room”, a temporary painting installation that takes over the living room of an old Brooklyn apartment. The 100-year-old building is set to be renovated in the course of 2019. The piece took eight full days to complete. Cabessa painted over the entire space, including the walls, floor and furniture - lamp, table, chair, couch, etc., using the vibration of her own breath to dictate the rhythm of her brushstrokes. If the painting gesture is usually associated with fast and intuitive movements, in this piece it becomes the result of a very slow and careful observation of the breath. This piece marks the beginning of a new direction in Cabessa's work.

Selected Solo Exhibitions[edit]

  • 2018 - “Night Painting”, Painting and Video, Beit Uri and Rami Nehostan Museum, Ashdot Ya’acov, Israel
  • 2017 - "Illustrated Transitions" Monotypes, Har-el Gallery, Jaffa, Israel
  • 2015 - Hands On, Dryansky Gallery, San Francisco CA
  • 2015 - an•thro•pom•e•try, Jenn Singer Gallery, New York NY
  • 2014 - Painting Installation, Julie M. Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel
  • 2012 – "Variations with Hands" , Performance, Tel Aviv Museum, Tel Aviv, Israel
  • 2012 – Miriam Cabessa / / Performance, Rothschild 69, Tel Aviv, Israel
  • 2011 – "In Her Wake" , Julie M. Gallery [2], Toronto, Canada
  • 2010 – 79, Slate Gallery, Brooklyn, New York
  • 2009 – Slow Motion Action Painting, Performance, Pulse Art Fair, New York
  • 2008 – Marking Time, Lyons Wier Ortt Gallery, New York
  • 2007 – Shelef & Schneidman, Tel Aviv, Israel
  • 2005 – Moti Hasson Gallery, New York
  • 2004 – Pack Gallery, Milan, Italy
  • 2003 – Alon Segev Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel
  • 2001 – New Paintings, Stefan Stux Gallery, Project Room, New York
  • 1999 – Dvir Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel
  • 1999 – Letters, " The Office " Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel
  • 1998 – Coins, Oranim College of Art, Israel
  • 1998 – Installation, Kibbutz Rosh-Ha'nekra, Israel
  • 1998 – Dvir Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel
  • 1997 – Venice Biennale, Israeli Pavilion, Venice, Italy
  • 1996 – The Nathan Gottesdiener Foundation Israeli Art Prize, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel
  • 1996 – Mary Faouzi Gallery, Jaffa, Israel
  • 1995 – Palindrome, Installation at Janco-Dada House, En-Hod, Israel
  • 1995 – New Work, Tel – Hai Gallery, Tel Hai, Israel
  • 1994 – Pyramus and Thisbe, Installation Kibbutz-Nachshon Gallery, Israel
  • 1994 – Dvir Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel

Selected Group Exhibitions[edit]

  • 2017 - “Same Same but Different”, Haaretz collection, Minus1 Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel
  • 2016 - Winter Salon, Jenn Singer Gallery, New York NY
  • 2015 - Stains and Stampings, Sister Gallery, Tel Aviv, and Art Gallery, Nazareth, Israel
  • 2015 - Dinner for Breakfast, Victori and Mo Gallery, Brooklyn NY
  • 2014 - Dynasties, Haifa Museum, Israel
  • 2014 - From The Land of Everywhere, Birnam Wood Galleries, New York NY
  • 2014 – Chicago Triangle, Haifa museum, Israel.
  • 2014 – Broken Beads, Beer-Sheva University, Israel.
  • 2014 – Contemporary Israeli Art, Julie M, Toronto, Canada.
  • 2013 – Passive Aggressive, University Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel
  • 2013 – A Picnic and Smokes, group show curated by Kipton Cronkite from @60, QF Gallery, East Hampton
  • 2012 – The Merry Mummy, Ramat Gan Museum, Israel
  • 2012 – Three people show, Nye+Brown Gallery, LA
  • 2012 – Monkeys Nine People, Tel Aviv, Israel
  • 2012 – Masonite, Sommer Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, Israel
  • 2012 – Take my Breath Away, Julie M Gallery, Toronto, Canada
  • 2011 – Festival of Ideas-performance, The New Museum, New York
  • 2011 – A Group Exhibition, Julie M Gallery, Toronto, Canada
  • 2010 – Balancing act, Hendershot gallery, New York
  • 2010 – Sweet Dreams, Bet Haomanim, Tel Aviv, Israel
  • 2008 – Lyons Weir Ortt Gallery, New York
  • 2008 – Black & White, Slate Gallery, New York
  • 2008 – Timeless: The Art of Drawing, The Morris Museum, New Jersey
  • 2008 – Eventually We'll Die: Young Art In Israel Of The 90's, Herzilya Museum of Contemporary Art, Israel
  • 2007 – Displacements, Ben-Ari Museum of Contemporary Art, Israel
  • 2007 – Promised Land, Ermanno Tedeschi Gallery, Rome, Italy
  • 2007 – Gallery Auction, Vered Gallery, East Hampton, New York
  • 2007 – Of The Painted Image, Jewish Museum of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • 2007 – The Big Show, Silas Marder Gallery, Bridgehampton, New York
  • 2006 – Hybrid Space, Kulture Gardin, New York
  • 2005 – Head Over Hand: Pushing the Limits of Paint, Denise Bibro Fine Art, New York
  • 2005 – Little Red Riding Hood, Art Basel Miami, Dot Fifty One Art Space, Miami, Florida
  • 2005 – On The Mark, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Rhode Island
  • 2005 – Viewfinder, Moti Hasson Gallery, New York
  • 2005 – Dreaming Art Dreaming Reality, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel
  • 2004 – Paintings that Paint Themselves, Kresge Art Museum, East Lansing, Michigan
  • 2004 – Staccato, Jeffrey Coploff Fine Art, New York
  • 2004 – The sun still shines, Pack Gallery, Milan, Italy
  • 2004 – I Want To Take You Higher, McKenzie Gallery, New York
  • 2003 – Momus Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia
  • 2003 – Scope, Armory Show 2003, New York
  • 2003 – Liminal, Hamden Gallery, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts
  • 2002 – Artscape 2002, curated by John Yao, Meyerhoff Gallery, Maryland College of Art, Baltimore
  • 2002 – New York in Texas, New Gallery, Houston, Texas
  • 2002 – Armory Show 2002, Stefan Stux Gallery Booth, New York
  • 2002 – Graham & Sons Gallery, New York
  • 2002 – Mother Tongue, Museum of Art, Ein Harod, Israel
  • 2000 – The Vera & Arturo Schwartz Collection of Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel
  • 2000 – Ladies and Gentlemen, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel
  • 1999 – Liste 99, The Young Art Fair, Sommer Gallery, Basel, Switzerland
  • 1998 – Spring at the End of Summer Young Israeli Art, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel
  • 1998 – Women Artists, Haifa Museum of Art, Haifa, Israel
  • 1997 – The Museum Collection, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel
  • 1996 – Refusalon Gallery, San Francisco, California
  • 1996 – The Vera & Arturo Schwartz Collection of Contemporary Art, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel
  • 1996 – New in the Collection: Prints, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel
  • 1995 – The Ministry of Science and the Arts Prize for a Young Artist, Artist's House Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel
  • 1995 – Blind Spot Test, Pyramid Center for Contemporary Art, Haifa, Israel
  • 1995 – The America-Israel Cultural Foundation Scholarship Recipients, Genia Schreiber University
  • 1995 – Art Gallery, Tel Aviv University, Israel
  • 1994 – 90-70-90, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel
  • 1994 – Along New Lines: Israeli Drawing Today, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel
  • 1994 – Meta-Sex, Mishkan-Le’Omeont Museum of Art & Bat-Yam Museum of Art, Israel
  • 1993 – Subtropical: Between Figural and Abstract, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel


  • 2013 – "Mavirot project" , Comme-il-faut, Tel-Aviv, Israel
  • 2012 – Artist Book, With poet Natan Zach. monotype prints. Gallery Harel, printers & publishers, Tel-Aviv, Israel.

Awards and Scholarships[edit]

  • 2001 - International Studio & Curatorial Program, sponsored by the NY Cultural Corp. Commission
  • 1995 - Ministry of Science and the Arts Prize for Young Artists
  • 1995 - The Nathan Gottesdiener Foundation Israeli Art Prize
  • 1994 - Scholarship from the American-Israeli Cultural Foundation
  • 1990 - Scholarship from the American-Israeli Cultural Foundation

Public Collections[edit]

Knesset of Israel, Jerusalem Israel Museum, Jerusalem Israel Tel Aviv Museum of Art Israel Haifa Museum of Modern Art Israel National Museum of Women in the Arts San Marcos TexasFrederick R Weisman Art foundation Los Angeles CAArtist Pension Trust Organization Washington DC American University Museum Washington DCTexas State University


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