To a middle-aged American writer raised on movies, television and
Broadway theater, artist Georges Weil comes across as endearingly
English and almost iconically suave, with the urbane mannerisms of film
actor David Niven and the polished voice of stage actor Cyril Richard.
He is also erudite, speaking with what seems to have the ring of
academic expertise in the history of fine art.
“My education?” he asks rhetorically. “Grammar school,” he declares,
with a puff of his cigarette. “I left school at the age of 16 because I
had to. We did not have a wealthy household. I went to a Jewish school,
and Judaism remains very important to me, on many levels. But my formal
education stopped at the age of 16. Everything after that is
Born in Vienna in 1938, Weil arrived in England with his family one
year later, on the very eve of World War II, on the last plane from
Antwerp. He grew up in England, mostly in London.
Weil briefly attended London’s St. Martins School of Art in 1956. “But
I got kicked out, which was, I think, the best thing that ever happened
to me,” he says. “Art schools – not all, but most – tend to train their
students to be put in a kind of box.”
Weil believes that his departure from art school allowed him the
freedom to pursue his own interests and develop his own unique styles.
Among Weil’s works during this early period were bronze portrait
sculptures of David Ben-Gurion and Winston Churchill. He was to return
to this medium again briefly in the 1970s, creating bronze studies of
Churchill, Charles de Gaulle and, last but not least, singer/actor
Sammy Davis Jr., with whom Weil enjoyed “a friendly relationship of
many, many years.”
But Weil’s artistic pursuits largely had to wait until he could come up with enough money to support them.
“I went into the jewelry industry – was actually pushed into the
industry unwillingly – because at that time I wanted to go to art
school instead,” he says.
The artistic impulse within him began to force its way out, however, as
Weil began to design jewelry, using diamonds and precious stones in
much the same way as a painter uses colors. He started a company at the
age of 17 which, 25 years later, was an acknowledged leader in modern
“What was enjoyable about that period was the glamorous side of the
industry, the acquisition of great friends and famous names as
collectors,” he recalls. Among the collectors of Weil’s jewelry
creations were Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Sellers, England’s
Queen Elizabeth, and Hollywood’s queen, Elizabeth Taylor.
Weil also began to create sculpture made of gold, silver and precious
gems, jewelry as objets d’art, which earned him glowing press reviews
that compared his work to that of Cellini and Fabergé. One reviewer
from the Illustrated London News
went so far as to declare, “Fabergé
objets, exquisite as they are, and superb as their workmanship is, are
really no more than expensive toys – Weil’s pieces are works of art.”
Many of Weil’s sculptures in precious metals, like the gold hanukkia
that adorns a corner in his home, depict distinctly Jewish themes.
Weil sold his jewelry studio in 1979 to devote more time to art. He
immigrated to Israel with his family in 1989, leaving behind a famous
name and works exhibited in no less a venue than the British Museum.
“We were lucky Jews, because we came by choice,” he says. “Things were
very, very good in England. There was no reason to move at all. It was
something I wanted to do for a long time… Zionism.”
Since making aliya, Weil has focused on sculpture and painting. Among
his major projects was the creation in 1994 of a five-meter bronze
sculpture of a man blowing a shofar, installed at the entrance to
Herzliya Pituah, near the beach where survivors of the Holocaust landed
“illegally” toward the end of the British Mandate, 1945-1948. A similar
sculpture, made the following year, was installed at Gilelleje,
Denmark, where Danish Jews were spirited safely away in boats to Sweden
during the country’s Nazi occupation.
A VISIT to Weil’s studio provides a glimpse of the diverse array of art
styles, themes and preoccupations that have shaped his painting and
sculpture over the past five decades. More or less “simple” oil on
canvas paintings, like one of Ben-Gurion from 1956, evolve before the
viewer’s eyes into more complex paintings, sculpture, and then blends
of sculpture and painting as three-dimensional sculptures appear on
Surveying the enormous collection of work, one can deduce several
themes that appear to have preoccupied the artist at different periods.
Judaism is a major motif, with several paintings depicting the
Holocaust, and many others representing the tallit
, or prayer shawl.
Horses are portrayed in colorful – sometimes blue – profile in several
Asked, “Why horses,” Weil replies, “I like horses.”
Several frankly erotic studies of the female nude can be seen which,
along with most of Weil’s sculptures and paintings of people, are
headless. Asked why these people are headless, Weil replies, “I really
have no idea.”
Asked about the title of a particular work, Weil replies, “It has no
title. When it needs to have a title, it will have a title. At the
moment, it doesn’t need one.”
At this point, the viewer has learned to shut up, stop asking questions, and look, really look, at the art work.
“I’m not one of those artists who will give you great philosophical
explanations. I don’t have them. The audience must have them,” Weil
The sculptures are made mostly of cardboard, along with everyday things
like coffee cans and the bottoms of plastic Coca-Cola bottles, all
integrated beyond recognition into the finished work. Many of the
paintings are in fact combinations of painting and sculpture, with the
latter standing out in sharp relief from the painted canvas – usually
black and white – to which it is attached. One work in particular
catches the eye, that of a man and woman – headless, as usual –
standing beneath a ruined Greek temple with broken columns that is
somehow suspended in midair.
With the exception of one piece of sculpture – depicting an almost
man in a gas mask – commemorating Israel’s
experience of the Gulf War, the art works seem to come from places in
Weil’s mind, and not as responses to current events.
“I live in my head,” Weil says. “I don’t produce politically motivated
stuff. I’m not a propagandist. I’m in search of an image, all the
In addition to Weil’s focus on painting and sculpture, there are also
the netsuke – tiny, often intricately carved Japanese sculptures of
people or animals, around the size of a matchbox.
Weil explains, “The Japanese are a genius people, but they never
succeeded in inventing a pocket. They walked around in kimonos and,
like everybody else, had to carry things around. They put most things
in the sleeves of the kimono. The little things, like coins or tobacco,
they put in a cloth bag called an inro
, secured by a sting to the
kimono belt or obi
, which was attached at the other end to the
Invented in the 17th century to serve as a counterweight to the cloth
bag, netsuke over time became objets d’art, carved into a variety of
minute sculptures, made from materials like wood, bone and ivory.
“I collect antique Japanese netsuke. Being a sculptor, I said to myself
at a certain point if they could make them, maybe I can make them.
There were no netsuke carving tools here in Israel, so I had to make my
own as I went along,” he says. “Today, netsuke comprise a major body of
my work. In my opinion, the netsuke is one of the world’s highest art
Weil is the only foreigner invited to join the Art Carver Society of
Japan. The induction ceremony nearly broke his legs, he recalls, from
having to sit on the floor with his legs tucked under him for the
duration of the evening-long event.
“I literally could not get up. My knees were locked,” Weil recalls, with laughter.
Describing himself as “the only Jewish, Sabbath observant netsuke
carver in history,” Weil has already had several publicized exhibitions
of his creations in London and Japan, as well as one at the Haifa
Museum in 2002 that was scheduled for six weeks and extended to eight
Weil collects Japanese as well as African art, which he considers to be
“the mother and father of modern art.” “There would be no art nouveau
without Japan,” he says. “No art nouveau means no 20th-century art as
we know it. No Picasso without Africa. No Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
without Africa. No Constantin Brancusi without Africa. And no Van Gogh
without Japan and, for that matter, no Impressionism without Japan.”
Although Weil used to exhibit his work widely and frequently in the
past, the netsuke show in Haifa was one of his few exhibitions in
“Since coming to Israel, I’ve been very, very quiet,” he says.
Weil is, at best, less than enthusiastic about the general art scene in
Israel. “There is good work being done, but in my view an ‘Israeli
school’ has not yet emerged. I think we are behind other, more advanced
art countries like the US, France, Germany, England, where you have
major world figures, both in the past and now. In my view, Israel has
not yet produced a world figure in art. It is very, very hard for a
good or potentially great artist to flourish here in Israel.”
When asked why he thinks this is so, Weil comes up with a surprising answer.
“Art everywhere in the world has got to do with a couple of important
ingredients. Number one: PR. Number two: Great gallery owners. For
example, we can look at the beginnings of the American Abstract
Expressionist school – de Kooning, Pollock and so on. The gallery
owners who took these unknown works – the like of which had not been
produced anywhere else in the world, they had balls. These great
figures would not be great without these great gallery owners,” he
“There are, in my view, no great gallery owners yet in Israel,” Weil
says. “No one yet who will take a risk, who will take a gamble on work
they perceive to be special, who will exhibit it and promote it. Apart
from his work, Jackson Pollock was made by one article in Life
magazine. And Life did the article because they were bombarded by a
gallery owner. Here in Israel, the artist has to employ a PR person.
The gallery owner isn’t involved. The artist is lumbered with the PR
costs. It’s unfortunately a different scene here. And I don’t think
that Israel can become a great art center until people realize that we
need great artists and great gallery owners.”
Despite this assessment, Weil is cautiously optimistic. “These things will come,” he says. “We’re only 60 years old.”
Georges Weil can be contacted by email, firstname.lastname@example.org