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Shemi, Yehi'el


SHEMI, YEHI'EL (1922–2003), Israeli sculptor. Shemi was born to Esther and Moshe Stizberg, who immigrated to Ereẓ Israel in 1923 and settled in Haifa. Until the age of 13 Shemi was educated in a religious manner at home, as well as at the Neẓaḥ Israel school. After he was no longer observant, Shemi studied at the Reali High School and joined the Maḥanot ha-Olim youth organization. Shemi was an autodidact. All his artistic education was limited to a few painting classes under the instruction of Prof. Paul Konrad Hoenich of the Technion.

From 1939 on Shemi lived and worked in kibbutz Kabri. Through the art seminars that he organized in the kibbutz during the 1950s, he came in contact with many Israeli artists. He was one of the members of the New Horizons group, and his first steel sculptures were exhibited there. For a short while Shemi went abroad for a stay in the United States and in Paris. His meetings with world-famous sculptors influenced his own evolution. In 1986 Shemi was awarded the Israel Prize for art. Shemi's artistic style changed over time from figurative to abstract. The sculptures he created in the 1940s were carved in stone; some of them were lost when kibbutz Beit ha-Aravah was abandoned in May 1948. The works usually described human figures, usually monumentally and with rough texture (for example, Father and Son, 1954, kibbutz Ḥukkuk).

In the 1950s Shemi turned to working with iron. This transformation was not simply technical but also an open expression of a change in his point of view. The significance deriving from the change was Shemi's entrance into the modern world of sculpture. The impulse to work with additional techniques can be attributed to the modernist spirit in art that expressed swiftness, spontaneity, and an untraditional attitude. Soon afterward his technique changed and Shemi turned to the abstract, which is another modernist characteristic. His first large public assignment was created in this style, namely, the sculpture he erected for the Tenth Anniversary Exhibition in Jerusalem (1958, still standing in front of Binyanei ha-Ummah, Jerusalem). Later Shemi received many invitations from all over the country to create public sculptures, some of them as monuments.

Shemi worked with other types of materials, such as wood, torn iron, and concrete. One of his unique creations integrating art with architecture was his work at the Jerusalem Theater (1971). The geometric forms of the sculpture, as well as the bare concrete, were part of Shemi's art language. The huge size of this project and the fact that it was displayed as sculpture and not as a monument was significant for the artist.


A. Baruch, Yehiel Shemi: Secular Sculpture (1988); M. Sgan-Cohen (ed.), Yehiel Shemi (1997).

[Ronit Steinberg (2nd ed.)]

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