From the very first question, Dan Groover seemed to be in his element. Sitting over a steaming box of pizza while surrounded by his pop art canvases, it's easy for me to imagine that that the French-born artist is generally comfortable in the moment. Having lived on three continents during his life, Groover seems to have taken various elements of French, Caribbean and Israeli culture and molded them together into a carefree, relaxed and easygoing persona.
Having spent his childhood in Paris, Groover's artistic roots sprang up from 1980s urban French hip-hop culture. the young Groover found his own unique avenue of expression in painting graffiti on the walls of the metropolis. Painting trains in Paris, he says, were a way of expressing his "right to be there."
Spray-painting parts of the underground transportation system has long been a staple of New York City and a worldwide urban method for gaining street credibility. Groover says the Big Apple is still one of his favorite subjects.
In 1988, after realizing he needed a change, Groover moved to the French West Indies, where he began to paint canvases in addition to walls, a move which he says was aimed to expand the diversity and potential of his art. "I felt the urge to put real content and meaning into those canvas pieces," he says. "What they were lacking in physical size, I wanted to add in content."
During that period, Groover's public appreciation grew and requests began pouring in for commissions. That was "when my career began," he adds. "My search for content started. The art made me begin to explore mythology and historyâ€¦ what's happening around me, in the world; I had no limits at that time." Groover's long and winding spiritual road eventually brought him to German novelist Hermann Hesse's seminal bildungsromanSiddhartha and subsequently on a path to Judaism.
Groover says he found something very strong in Hesse's writing and in the version of human creation that he posits. The book, he explains, "made me question what it means to be a Jewâ€¦ and explore my own roots." At the time, Groover knew very little about Israel, despite having been here several times before on vacation.
Groover finally immigrated to Jerusalem in 1995, a move which sparked a new transition in his life and artistic approach. Upon arriving in Israel, he spent time in several yeshivot, where he hoped to immerse himself in religious studies with the intention of nourishing his spirituality and creativity.
"I wanted to discover Judaism and learn Hebrew," he says. "There was something in the atmosphere that was very appealing to me; and all of the richness of the surroundings; the knowledge - I knew I would use it one day in my art."
Today, Groover's pop art can be described as a trip down memory lane. Many of his canvases are splashed with portraits of past Israeli leaders and popular international musicians. Still, it's Groover's religious themed art which covers the most new ground.
"I do the art for the people," he says - a sentiment which resonated throughout our interview as a goal to make his art accessible and to evoke the viewers's internal inspiration. "The real power of Judaism comes from one's inner power. I believe this power comes out in my pop art and street artâ€¦ I cannot meet the King, but the King can meet my art."
Groover feels that "an artist can really only put out a work that ends in what you see," and he believes that "paintings are only made to be seen."
WHEN ASKED about the deeper meaning of his paintings, Groover becomes tight-lipped. "When I start telling people about the specific meaning of the paintings, I think the observer looks at the painting differently," he asserts. "It's really a shame, because my interpretation brought them somewhere else. I think it's much better not to say anything, especially in pop art; I just say, 'what you see is what you get.'"
Many of Groover's paintings touch upon themes of Jewish faith and iconography. He creates colorful yet serious scenes that indeed have the power to inspire self-reflection and contemplation, leading the viewer to focus with one eye to the past and one eye to the future.
Just like the redemptive themes present in his paintings, Groover aims to maximize his potential future growth and progress. While somewhat coy about his long-term plans, he says he expects do take on more works on walls to escape getting trapped in showing his art only in galleries and exhibitions. He even says there's a novel in the pipeline.
Groover thinks the local art scene "is the result of the 'kibbutz galuyot' culture, where many peoples are coming together in such a small country, creating something strong, with everyone having a big story to tell." The story, he adds, doesn't end with aliya, but, rather, immigration "is their new chapter."
"All of the people creating art in Israel have a real story to tell and something important to say about everyday life - they are telling the everyday story of living in Israel," Groover maintains.
The French artist aims to be among the vanguard of Israelis who are making the transition from "old" to "new" art because, he believes, "there is a very creative force in Israel and the audience is ready."
With regards to his own continued artistic growth and the personal odyssey he broaches in his creations, Groover remains optimistic. "It could be that I will get to a point where I will finish telling the story of my past, but I don't think the time has come yet," he says. "I'm waiting for something to happen."
A selection of Dan Groover's art is currently on display in Jerusalem at the Israel Modern Art Gallery on Rehov Yoel Solomon 11.