When two worlds collide

Although now outwardly secular, Israeli street artist Shin Lamed still feels that being brought up in a religious community continues to influence his life and work.

July 9, 2013 21:31
The art of Shin Lamed

The art of Shin Lamed 370. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Shin Lamed is an intriguing professional moniker, and one which the eponymous artist is not willing to offload in favor of his real name. He is, however, perfectly happy to explain the backdrop to the titular smokescreen.

“I was in Brooklyn when I was a kid and I saw the Shell gasoline company emblem and I really liked it,” says the 24- year-old Herzliya resident. (The Hebrew letters “shin” and “lamed,” when juxtaposed, can indeed be pronounced “shell”). “I want people to focus on my work, and not on my name,” the artist continues. “I also don’t like my photograph to run in the media because this is all about what I create, not about me.”

The public will get a chance to view what Shin Lamed is capable of at his “My Yearning Soul” exhibition which opens at the South Tel Aviv Gallery on Ha’aliyah Street this Thursday (July 11) and will run until the end of the month.

Shin Lamed has lined up a bunch of eye-catching works that should get the public wondering about both the subject matter and the medium he used for his creations.

Many of the two-dimensional items that will be on display at the gallery depict characters which appear to come straight out of Mea She’arim – not exactly foreign territory for Shin Lamed.

The artist comes from a hassidic background and was brought up by his father, immersed in the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the customs of the Chabad community. Although now outwardly secular Shin Lamed’s formative early years continue to inform his life and his work.

In addition to the shtetl lifestyle-oriented figures, when viewing Shin Lamed’s art you are immediately struck by two basic elements, one being the fact that all the works are monochromic.

Shin Lamed says he has always had a natural inclination to use black in his work.

“My mother says that, even when I was very small – I was only one or two years old – she’d bring me a whole box of different colored crayons, but that I would only use the black one,” the artist recalls.

As he relates his tale, you get the sense that much of the religious fervor of Shin Lamed’s childhood appears to be now coursing through his approach to his art.

He talks nineteen to the dozen, about his work and his life, as if almost incapable of controlling his passion for both. “I am a very obsessive person. I am constantly searching, and if I don’t find what I am looking for I go out of my mind. When you realize that the most important thing in your life, above absolutely anything else, is your creativity, you can go mad if you don’t find what you are searching for,” he states.

Shin Lamed’s mother reacted as most parents would and, worried there might be a serious problem with her son, took the toddler off for a medical. The doctor examined the boy and informed his mother that the junior patient was not color blind, but evidently just liked black.

“At some stage I started using black ink,” Shin Lamed explains. “I liked graffiti, and to mess around with letters and I also learned Torah-scroll writing. So I used a lot of black ink. It was also cheap, and all I needed was the ink and a pen nib.”

The artist’s “black period” continued unabated, and even intensified. But Shin Lamed eventually realized a change of tack, if not color, was in order. “When I was in my teens, I spent hours upon hours filling in large expanses with black ink and, one day, I thought I must be crazy.” It was then that the youngster espied a treasure at the Vans clothing store where he worked in New York. “There was a roll of vinyl material in a corner, which quickly disappeared to my apartment,” he recalls. And the rest is history.

As the visitors to the South Tel Aviv Gallery later this week will note, the second predominant element of Shin Lamed’s works is the abundant use of vinyl cutouts.

Yes, that is the stuff which has been used to make long-playing records for over a century, but we are not talking about the rigid, disc-shaped form of the material here.

This was an epiphanous stage of Shin Lamed’s artistic evolution. “For a start it was black, which I found exciting, but I wondered why no other artist worked with vinyl,” he recalls. He soon discovered that the material offered a singular advantage.

“With paper cuts you have to keep everything joined up, otherwise the whole thing will collapse. But with vinyl, you have this backing paper, so you cut out shapes and they don’t have to be connected. They just stay where they are, stuck to the paper. That gave me a lot of freedom to work the way I wanted.”

Artists by definition have to question the world around them. In that respect, Shin Lamed says he got the best possible education, if only by default, from an early age.

“My father came from an ultra-Orthodox background, my mother came from a totally irreligious background, although she became religious when she married my father. And there is a national religious element in my family, so I grew up in a world of possibilities. My parents divorced when I was seven, and that also added breadth to my world.”

Many children, presumably, might have been thrown into confusion by such fragmentation of the very core of their existence.

“That was my world, and that was what I saw,” states Shin Lamed unceremoniously.

“After my parents divorced I spent half the week with my mother, who is much less religious, and things began opening up for me.”

In addition to the vinyl cutout works, “My Yearning Soul” also features a number of sculpted vinyl figures of a young boy holding a Torah scroll, which will be on sale. “There’s a picture of me with my father, holding a small sefer torah, you know, the sort for kids. The figure of the boy is really me,” Shin Lamed explains. “It all goes back to that.”

For more information about My Yearning Soul: (054) 552-2698 and (054) 239-7979.

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