By Peter Frank

As human apprehension becomes more and more rooted in virtuality, actual experience – the physical presence, the immediacy, the vividness, the heft – of things becomes exotic. But it does not stop being necessary. Our need (or certainly our awareness of our need) to witness material, shape, even color as substance, rather than just as image, heightens, focuses into a persistent (if ill-expressed) appetite. As it becomes rarer, sensual stimulus grows dearer. This, as much as anything, fuels both broad interest in and invested discourse about contemporary art; while exploiting digital means, artists refuse to abandon material, and their audience clings to what they fashion in space as well as on screen. Art is now valued as much as anything for simply being there.

Yoella Razili’s work capitalizes directly on this digital-age hunger, feeding it with a fervid, if carefully gauged, emphasis on physically expressed shape, hue, and texture. Razili’s work determines the point at which painting becomes sculpture, object becomes form, functionality dissolves into aesthetic presence. Her work defines reality as somatic, not just conceptual. In this regard, Razili in fact maintains a tradition of haptic presence, of self-possessed thingness, established by such postwar artists as Antoní Tapiés, Lucio Fontana, Cy Twombly, Donald Judd, and Richard Tuttle, and expanded after the 1960s by artists working in locations as diverse as southern California, where Razili now resides, and Israel, where she was born.

This tendency in recent art has been identified, for obvious reasons, as “material abstraction.” It is not really abstract, however, certainly not in Razili’s hands – although one could argue that her frequent incorporation of found objects into her formations abstracts the function out of those objects, “purifying” them for the purpose of revealing structure and building out formal appearance. The poetics of association exploited by so many assemblagists give way in Razili’s art to a poetics of the actual, or, if you would, the “real” (as the term was arrogated a half-century ago by minimalists who argued that pictorial depiction, rather than their obdurate and un-allusive objects, were the true “abstractions”). For the sake of historically framed recognition, however, the label “material abstraction” remains handy.

What distinguishes Razili’s work among the many oeuvres comprising “material abstraction” is its presumption of abstraction – and, more significantly, its exploration of material not quite for its own sake but for its sensuous qualities. Rather than further subjecting her components, found or fashioned, to natural transformative processes, Razili builds and composes them with the delicacy and discretion of a traditional ceramist or woodworker. Indeed, even as her practice may relate to assemblage or to process art, she is arguably closer in attitude and, ultimately, aesthetic to traditional craft artisans. She works strategically with natural conditions, weathered materials and granular surfaces, inexact contours and awkward conjunctures, intervening to wrest harmony from so many seemingly mismatched phenomena. Razili intervenes with a touch calibrated to the needs of the individual work.

Sometimes light, sometimes forceful, sometimes glancing, sometimes dogged, sometimes humorous, sometimes tender, Yoella Razili’s touch willfully organizes the devices she has fabricated and gathered into larger, if still intimate, devices whose purpose is self-evident – they are clearly “art” – but whose presence, even at their seemingly clumsiest, is mysterious, inexplicable at some level because they manage to be substantive and invisible, nearly hidden but evocatively present, at the same time. Theirs is a magic not of the everyday, but of the everyday once removed. Even as it brings us back out of the virtual world, Razili’s actuality plays with expectations.

Los Angeles June 2014