Ambience to order

Efrat Ilan is enjoying her new career as a painter, and she's making affordable original pieces in the process.

On the first floor of the upscale Design Center in Bnei Brak, Efrat Ilan is putting the finishing touches on her innovative new art gallery. Two painters are smoothing stucco onto a long wall where three new paintings will soon hang, and a smiling young saleswoman is standing behind a shiny desk in the middle of the showroom. Decorated with plush furniture, chic glass light fixtures and frieze carpets, the gallery exhibits sample rooms of a home to give buyers ideas for their own interior designs. "The unique thing about my work is that people can choose between either buying a piece of art that is already finished, or they can place an order for the exact design, size and number of paintings they want," Ilan says as we tour the gallery. In the Japanese corner, the darker-toned furniture is lower to the ground and one of her paintings has red Japanese characters that mean love and happiness. Another piece of her work includes two slim figures with outstretched arms intertwining on a gray background. Ilan describes her style as "ambiance art," which varies from abstract tableaus with geometric shapes to more realist-like pieces with tribal undertones. She works with oil, acrylic and mixed media on canvases and says her inspiration comes largely from an interior muse. "I am constantly putting out new collections and trying new things," she says. The most recent experiment includes working with glass, mirrors, wood, flowers, candles, newspaper and just about anything else. One thing that does remain the same is a focus on clean, clear lines. She says that her paintings are never cluttered. Rather, "they are light and bright." Strongly influenced by the simple principles of modern living touted by feng shui advocates, Ilan tries to create paintings that will harmonize the elements of a room by bringing together shapes, images and colors. "This is a new concept in art that allows people to order exactly what they want for their home," she says, pointing to a piece called "Cadoor Ha'esh" (Ball of Fire). Although each work is unique because it is hand-painted, Ilan does repeat certain patterns and themes in her work depending upon what is most popular with clients. THE IDEA to create an art gallery where people could personalize their purchases came to her about six years ago, after moving from central Israel to Kibbutz Hazorea, near Emek Israel. Born in Holon, Ilan studied economics and accounting and holds a master's degree in business management; still, her true passion remained painting. "I always loved to paint, but it was a hobby for me, something I did on the side for friends and family. When I started living closer to nature, something opened up in me and I decided to change careers." At the time, Ilan had been working in business for over 10 years. On the kibbutz, she began to paint more and more and realized that the reaction to her work was overwhelmingly positive. "People really liked what I was doing, and I decided to try and sell my work and see how it goes." She started selling her work in malls across the country and at various festivals. Five years ago, she opened her first gallery on the kibbutz. Although things were going relatively well, Ilan says that having a gallery in the Design Center in the central region has made a tremendous difference, because it's more accessible. "I work with a lot of interior designers and in the past, they would have to come to the kibbutz to place orders. Now, it's easy for everyone to come to the gallery, look at my artwork and then place an order for exactly what they want." A MOTHER of four, Ilan spends most of her time painting on the kibbutz. She hires professional interior designers to work in the gallery and help clients decide what will best suit their needs. "People are tired of the old posters and stock paintings. They want unique, hand-painted things that are full of color and happiness and brighten up a room." One of the most attractive parts about ordering a painting, aside from the fact that you can get exactly what you want, is the price. "This isn't the Mona Lisa or high art. These paintings are not masterpieces that cost tens of thousands of dollars. Offices can buy them and stay within their budgets, and I have a lot of young couples who can also afford them." The price is the same whether one purchases a painting that is already completed or places a personal order, and it never takes longer than one month to receive a painting. In December, she opened her first art gallery in the United States in central Los Angeles. Ilan credits her supportive husband for helping her succeed. She is proud of the fact that while she was starting a new career, she had three of her four children. "It's important for women to realize that you don't have to choose. You can do both." In March and April, Ilan is participating in an exhibition in the Ramat Aviv mall, where people will also be able to place personal orders with professional interior designers. "I think what people like about this is that I paint their dreams for them. And for me, being able to make a living from my passion is a dream come true."