For years, YoHana Bat Adam didn’t call herself an artist. She jumped from one financially sustainable job to the next, from cleaning houses to working in a hair salon. “I was in survivor mode,” she says. But around eight to ten years ago, she can’t quite recall, Bat Adam decided to turn her love of art into a lifestyle. “One day, after doing so many things, I kind of realized, that’s it, from today I am an artist,” she says. “I’m an artist because an artist is a state. It’s a state of being creative, being connected to the higher in you and manifesting yourself as you truly are in the moment.” Her career began with an artistic kite shop along the beach in Hertzliya, Israel and, after experiments with media from aerial design to sculpting, her art blossomed into the variety of work she creates today in her studio near Nevada City, California, including colorful paintings on canvas, silk, and wood.
Bat Adam calls herself the “heartist,” a label that she feels embodies the message behind her art. She hopes her work will inspire viewers to soul-search, to “go to their hearts and be present to what they see.” For Bat Adam, “art is kind of a silent language of the heart” and should inspire personal introspection. She finds this inward focus to be lacking in much of modern art, which, in her opinion, is primarily based on shock value. Citing an example, an installation of four cars hanging from the ceiling at MOMA, Bat Adam says, “I’ll remember it, but what did it add to my emotional ability to be in contact with myself? What did it really create? It’s a sensation of the mind, not the depth of the heart.”
To Bat Adam, inspiring people to look inward through her paintings isn’t just about helping individuals, it’s her way of alleviating the chaos she perceives in modern society. She believes that encouraging each person to undertake his or her own internal work is “the only way to save the world.” According to Bat Adam, over the years, people have become increasingly disconnected from their emotions, causing struggle and confusion. As a result, people blame “the other,” whoever the other might be in their minds, for these repercussions, causing interpersonal conflict. Art, however, can inspire people to reconnect with their true selves, making the ultimate role of the artist “to bring islands of sanity to such a confused world,” she says.
A student of multiple esoteric teachings, Bat Adam draws her artistic inspiration from a variety of movements. For Bat Adam, her art is partly a reflection of her spiritual journey “on the path of my awakening to my heart, to the god in me.” This journey took Bat Adam to Osho’s Ashram in Puna, India on her way back from the Bangkok Kite Festival in 1996. There, she spent a week engaged in meditation, later inspiring her practice of Vipassana, a Buddhist meditation method, which she has engaged in since 1999. Bat Adam also enthusiastically studies Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition. On her website, she writes, “I realize that the esoteric message is the same in every tradition, whether it’s the Kabbalah, Sufism, Christianity, the Fourth Way, Buddhism or any other.” A combination of these teachings continues to profoundly influence her work.
Recently, Bat Adam finds herself exploring the Bible through her art, painting Jewish symbols and Biblical stories. Her relationship with Jewish texts, however, has not always been easy. Having grown up in Israel since the age of one, Bat Adam resented the seemingly manipulative role the Rabbinate played in government, influencing her view of Judaism. “I had a lot of problems with the Bible,” Bat Adam says. “I was never Jewish per se from a traditional, religious, Orthodox understanding. None of the above.” But over time, Bat Adam came to terms with Israel’s religious communities and chose to “decode” the Bible for herself, creating an interpretation she describes in her book Consciously Loving My Neighbor as Myself. In it, she includes eleven illustrations of biblical stories and concepts intended to “open the door to another Bible, a Bible that you didn’t know before, a Bible that no one taught you in school, a Bible that is friendly, that gives you so much information about your personal growth,” she says.
While working on Biblical themed pieces, Bat Adam tries to imagine herself as the characters she depicts, an experience she finds interesting and often challenging. “Every painting has to be emotionally experienced, not just talked about,” she says. Bat Adam particularly wrestled with depicting the binding of Isaac, the story in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son. “I want to feel what does it mean to sacrifice your son. How is it possible? I asked myself on a daily basis, why do I need to sacrifice? What do I need in order to sacrifice my son? What do You mean?” For Bat Adam, this painting was a turning point in her artwork, challenging her to deeply engage with the biblical subjects in her paintings.
Currently, Bat Adam is working on a painting inspired by the Ten Commandments. She began thinking about the topic for a Ten Commandments themed exhibition for the London School for Jewish Studies and has since created two paintings depicting the commandments to “honor your mother and father” and to “have no other gods but Me,” featured in her book. Now Bat Adam hopes to paint the Ten Commandments in a more general sense, focusing on what she sees as their overarching, universalistic message rather than the individual laws. “The inner meaning of the Ten Commandments is really just be present to your heart and to your higher senses and that’s it,” she says. “When you’re really fulfilling the Ten Commandments, there are no divisions between anything. There’s no Jewish, no Christian, no Muslim, nothing. You’re just in a place, in a state of being. Everyone is welcome to your heart.” After recently painting a piece on the incident of the Golden Calf, in which the Jewish people committed idolatry, stalling their reception of the Ten Commandments, Bat Adam feels like painting the Ten Commandments is a natural progression. As a series, she hopes her current work will convey that “you need to make a mistake, you need to go out of the Garden of Eden, you need to what they call ‘sin’ – what they call ‘fall’ – in order to get up,” she says. “That’s the only way I know how to learn.”