The children of the Yarden kindergarten in Tel Aviv received a visit from renowned Brazilian-born neo-pop artist Romero Britto on Thursday.

The children, familiar with Britto and his colorful and vibrant artwork thanks to their teacher Rachel Zchariah’s appreciation of it, lined up to have their portraits drawn and signed by the Miami-based artist.

Britto arrived in Israel two days ago to take part in a coexistence workshop organized by the Peres Center for Peace, which brought together Israeli girls from Kiryat Malachi and Palestinian girls from Jericho. The girls took part in a workshop with Britto at the Peres Center’s new building in Jaffa, where they learned techniques and created joint posters.

The visit to the kindergarten was a last-minute addition to the artist’s itinerary, after the tour coordinator learned of Zchariah’s love for Britto’s work.

“I first encountered his art when I was in Miami on vacation. My husband and I walked into his gallery, and I immediately connected with his paintings, Only an artist with a child’s soul could create art like that,” said Zchariah. “His art is so simple and colorful, so accessible, that I automatically thought it would be great to put up on the walls of the kindergarten.”

Since that time, her kindergarten class has morphed into a veritable Britto gallery. Zchariah prints off copies of Britto’s paintings and has the children color them in as they see fit. They are so familiar with his work that many of them already know how to copy his signature.

Zchariah said the artist had become so popular among the teachers, children and parents that Britto-themed birthday parties had sprouted up.

When the artist entered the classroom, he was greeted by a practiced chorus of “Good morning Romero, we are happy to see you,” after which the children sang him a song in Hebrew.

He then sat down at one of the knee-high tables and began patiently drawing the children’s portraits.

“I wish I could do things like that more often,” he said after leaving the kindergarten. “I’m used to speaking to art students, but it’s different with such young children.”

This was Britto’s first visit to Israel. The artist said he had been pleasantly surprised to learn that the image of the country presented in the news was not at all reflective of reality.

“I have done a lot of work with the Jewish community in Miami and always said I should come, but this is the first time,” said Britto, adding, “In Israel you see a great mixture of past and present, and I hope that there will also be a great future.”

Britto said he was happy to be taking part in the work of the Peres Center, which he said played an important role in improving people’s lives. He added that he tried to instill a message of happiness and optimism in all of his paintings.

“At the end of the day, we all want peace,” he said.

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