Yankel was born under a lucky star in the passage Dantzig in la Ruche, Paris, and followed in the footsteps of his father, the painter Michel Kikoïne.
He grew up in a children’s paradise, among the great artists of the Paris School: Chagall, Soutine, Krémègne, Idenbaum, etc. Later on, having become a painter himself, he would repeatedly paint pictures of la Ruche.
Yankel and his parents survived the global crisis of 1929-30 by discovering a painting by the Douanier Rousseau called “Soir de Carnaval”.
The “Salon des Echanges” which had just been inaugurated, allowed artists to wait for the better days to come.
In 1940, Yankel and his family fled to Toulouse, where they stayed until the defeat of Nazi Germany.
When the liberation arrived, they escaped to North Africa. There he met the painter Artistide Caillaud who he took to Djerba (Tunisia) during the famous pilgrimage.
Later on, he went off to Sudan (Mali) to work as a geologist, his first profession. In Gao he met Jean Paul Sartre who steered him towards his real vocation. Sartre dedicated his book on Baudelaire to Yankel: “Le choix que l’homme fait s’identifie à sa destinée”. (“The choice a man makes determines his destiny”).
Yankel really started his painting career in 1954 when he exhibited his work at the Galerie Drouant-David. He won several painting prizes in quick succession, including the prestigious Prix de la Société des Amateurs d’Art, after being awarded the Prix Fénéon.
At this time, he was painting in an abstract expressionism style and may have been influenced by Rouault, Soutine and Egon Schiele.
He participated in all the important Salons and represented France at the Sao-Paulo Biennale.
Following this, he led a group of artist friends at the Salon “Comparaisons” for several years, which took place at the Grand Palais.
In 1968, by luck (or necessity), he was suddenly catapulted to the Ecole des Beaux Arts, having been elected by the student body of one of the painting workshops. He was to stay there as a lecturer for 17 years, alongside César, Pingier and Olivier Debré.
Yankel continues to exhibit around the world – Tokyo, New York, Tel Aviv and even in Tahiti at the Musée Gauguin. In fact, it is thanks to this latest, far-flung getaway that he landed in Easter Island where he dreamt of ending his days.
Once back, he set himself up in a magnificent workshop facing the Parc Montsouris where he used to live with the aviator Mermoz. He established a relationship with the Galerie Yoshia which remained faithful to him for 30 years.
He spends his summers in the village of Labeaume, in the Ardèche, where he is starting a second career as a sculptor. At the same time, he has discovered his talent as an autobiographer and has published several memoires.
This lifetime devotion to Art will be reviewed by two eminent art historians: Pierre Restany and Xuriguera.
Through his travels in Africa, he discovered Negro Art which he still collects. In the same way, he remains passionate about Naive Art and “Raw” Art which he shares with students at the Beaux Arts.
Like his “New Realism” artist friends who used unstuck posters to reinvent them in their own work, Yankel uses his own rough drafts and torn-up notes to renew his artistic expression.
For Yankel, painting has always been and still remains in his old age “a surreal and entertaining therapy”.