In this age of ever-increasing specialization all sorts of new professional titles keep cropping up, but “Ze’evologist” is surely one of a kind. It is an epithet which Nissim “Nusko” Hizkiyahu proudly touts. Hizkiyahu is a stalwart of the burgeoning Israeli caricature scene, and is also the man behind two exhibitions of works by Ze’ev Farkash currently running at the Israeli Cartoon Museum in Holon – Ze’ev and the Dove, and In the Eyes of Ze’ev.
“Zeev was my ultimate mentor,” states Hizkiyahu, who curated Ze’ev and the Dove.
“I learned so much from him.” In the Eyes of Ze’ev was curated by Liat Margalit.
Ze’ev – he was universally known by his given name – was one of the pioneers of the art of caricature and cartoon drawing, not to mention book illustration, in this part of the world. Like several of his professional cohorts – including fellow iconic caricaturist Kariel Gardosh, better known as Dosh, and Ephraim Kishon, arguably our most celebrated writer – Ze’ev was of Hungarian pedigree.
The iconic caricaturist and Hizkiyahu share more than artistic skill and an eye for telling a story with as few details as possible.
Neither was considered a star student at school. Ze’ev actually started making a few pennies – or fillérs – while he was still at school, drawing caricatures of his classmates for money, when he was only 12. His art teacher, however, was somewhat less than impressed and did not foresee a bright artistic future for the youngster. That might have had something to do with the fact that Ze’ev was color blind.
Hizkiyahu was not exactly top of his class either, but Ze’ev helped, unwittingly, in that department.
“Every week Ze’ev had caricatures across an entire page, and that’s how I learned, as a boy, about history, civil studies and politics,” recalls the 52-year-old. “There were all sorts of concepts in the caricatures which I didn’t know – things like democracy, how a country is governed, the meaning of words like ‘demonstrations’ or ‘coup d’état’ – the sorts of things that don’t particularly interest a 13-year-old boy.
“And I learned things about geography, because Zeev would draw about things happening all over the world. I’d see he’d draw something about an event in Russia or France or China, and I’d run to an atlas to see where that was. It was a great way to learn.”
Gradually, the youngster became enchanted by the minimalist pictorial vehicle of expression.
“I was drawn into the language,” he recalls. “I saw that you could tell a whole load of things by drawing just a few lines, and you could get people to smile, too.”
More than anything, says Hizkiyahu, Ze’ev was a dab hand at faces.
“What really grabbed me was that he was so good at portraits. Using just a few lines, he did all the world leaders, like [US secretary of state Henry] Kissinger, [US president Jimmy] Carter and Golda [Meir], [Israeli foreign minister] Yigal Alon and [Shimon] Peres. That was it for me, I was hooked.”
But it wasn’t only by proxy that Hizkiyahu got some remedial study help from the great caricaturist. Besides producing incisive cartoon works Ze’ev was also known for helping the next generation or two along, and Hizkiyahu was one of the many who got a helping hand.
“He nurtured lots and lots of young caricaturists and cartoonists, which we called ‘the Ze’ev youth,’” notes Hizkiyahu. “He was one of a kind, in many ways.”
Rather than making do with just cutting out and collecting Ze’ev’s caricatures and cartoons, Hizkiyahu took the proactive route.
“I wrote him a letter – I must have been about thirteen and a half. I was very shy and I was sure he wouldn’t reply, but he did. I was so excited when I got a letter back from him. He suggested we meet up at Café Tamar [on Tel Aviv’s Sheinkin Street] – that was his regular hangout.”
It was an encounter that was to change Hizkiyahu’s life.
“I was so excited to meet him, but I thought that maybe he would be a bit cold and aloof, but he was so warm and friendly.
He didn’t talk down to me at all, even though I was just a kid.”
There is certainly no one better qualified that Hizkiyahu to curate the two current exhibitions.
“I have my own ‘Ze’ev archives,’” he declares. “I have every single page of caricatures he did for the Haaretz newspaper, from the first one he did, in 1963, till the last one in 1990.”
Ze’ev’s work also graced the pages of Ma’ariv, as well as numerous top publications across the world, such as The New York Times, Le Monde, Time, Newsweek and Der Spiegel. There was also official recognition of his contribution to our understanding of daily life here, in the form of the Sokolov Prize for journalism, and also the 1993 Israel Prize. In an interview at the time, Ze’ev said he was most proud of the latter award because it had been given to him in the field of journalism, rather than art.
The Ze’ev and the Dove show features portraits of two of our best known prime ministers, David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin, who are portrayed in Ze’ev’s inimitable style. The 30 sketches and drawings were made from the 1960s to the 1980s and encapsulate the artist’s singular approach to the concept of the political caricature.
Ze’ev suffered some tragic hardships in his life, including his time in Dachau concentration camp, and the death of his son in an army accident.
“Even so he was such a sunny, optimistic person,” says Hizkiyahu. “He was a genius and a delight.”The Ze’ev and the Dove, and In the Eyes of Ze’ev exhibitions run until September 28. For more information: (03) 652-1849 and www.cartoon.org.il.