This fair city of ours, as we all know, has suffered its fair share of doom and gloom over the years, with the ongoing and recurring security situation and the negative fallout for local businesses, particularly in the city center. But next week, and for around three to four months thereafter, there will be some added downtown aesthetics tailor-made to raise a smile, pique some interest and engage the public in the streets of Jerusalem.The initiative in question goes by the name of Viewpoint – Floor Paintings from a Different Angle, and comprises an outdoor exhibition of 3D paintings, most of which are in the process of being created at various vantage points in town.Argentinean-born, Spain-based artist Eduardo Relero, for example, has been hard at work producing an image that appears to have turned a circular flattopped dais outside the Italian synagogue on Hillel Street into a pool of water which contains a couple of slightly grotesque mask-like sections as the water splashes around them, and even seeps through the eye-openings.Meanwhile, over on Ben-Yehuda Street, Yonatan Gal was busying himself with his own fantasy creation which appears to feed off surrealist pioneer Salvador Dali’s iconic painting The Persistence of Memory, which features a number of limp watch faces. And just a couple of hundred meters or so down the road, Italian artist Francesca Arsi was in the early stages of compiling her own illusory offering.Viewpoint producer Nati Mor Gershovich says the alfresco artistic enterprise was spawned in circumstances of a somewhat serendipitous nature.“This festival was born in a really cosmic way, you could say. I like to shatter paradigms, to shake up people’s way of thinking,” she declares, adding that she is both an artist and a highly proactive project initiator. “I am an artist and, a while back, my sister had a store in downtown Jerusalem, which has meanwhile closed – another one that closed – and she asked me to paint on a couple of electricity boxes in front of the store. She said the store was very beautiful but the boxes were ugly, and they needed beautifying.”
Lady Luck showed her hand immediately.“Just then Hillel came into the store – my sister knew him – and she introduced us and she told Hillel that I was an artist and I wanted to do something about the electricity boxes,” continues Mor Gershovich.The Hillel in question was none other than Hillel Shachar, business development manager for the Jerusalem Center Development Company, who responded to the idea with unbridled enthusiasm.“He said ‘we have a budget for this sort of thing’ and that the company wants to spruce up the city center,” she recalls.That started the ball rolling, and a limited street art venture took place last year, with great success. “There was the umbrella installation [on Yoel Salomon Street],” says Shachar. “We wanted to change the concept of the street, at least in the center of town, and we want to make it part of the experience of the visitor’s time in town.”The rooftop umbrella creation certainly did the trick, and provided some valuable financial returns, too.“People enjoyed the street, walked by smiling and surprised in a good way,” Shachar adds. “That makes the street a tourist attraction, which people come to see. While the umbrellas were up, we saw that the businesses along the street increased their takings, compared with other downtown shopping streets, by between 40 percent and 100 percent.”With Shachar’s thumbs-up, Mor Gershovich sprang into action and began looking for a concept that would bring the center of Jerusalem to life for a while. She surfed the Internet for ideas and quickly settled on a form of outdoor art that started life close to 500 years ago – the Madonnari itinerant artists of 16th-century Italy. These were artisans who were hired on a temporary basis to embellish the aesthetics of churches and cathedrals and, once their contracts were up, made a few more pennies by creating sidewalk art in strategic locations, in the hope of being thrown a few coins by churchgoers and people attending local festivals. Fabled 16th-century artist El Greco earned his crust of bread, for a while, as a Madonnaro.Fast-forward over four centuries, and American artist Kurt Wenner and German- born counterpart Manfred Stader initiated a street painting event in Santa Barbara, California, in 1987. And the rest is burgeoning history, and now thriving in Jerusalem. In fact, Mor Gershovich was very keen to get Wenner over here to join Relero, Arsi and Gal, but the logistics proved to be prohibitive. However, Wenner is still contributing to Viewpoint. Several of his works are being reproduced onto a flexible backdrop, which will be affixed to the sidewalk at various spots around town.“I also was a Madonnaro for some time when I was a student in Italy,” says Relero, adding that he was drawn to outdoor work because it provided him with a living while he got on with his studies, but also because it allowed him to go with the flow of his fertile imagination. “I like to create street art because it is unfettered. It is the opposite of museum art. With that you get these guardians of what is considered to be ‘real art.’ That’s not the way it should be. With art you should break through conventions, break out of the fixed boundaries.”The artists lined up for this year’s Viewpoint bash – and Shachar says he is keen for the event to become an annual occurrence – are certainly doing their best to shake things up for the public, Jerusalemites and out-of-towners alike.Mor Gershovich says she is excited about the evolving works of art, which will also be located on Shlomzion Hamalka Street – a map with the positions of the 3D paintings will be distributed to the public next week – and proudly notes that Viewpoint is a unique event. “There is nothing like this anywhere else in the world,” she declares. “You get street art and 3D paintings in different places, but it is always about works in protected spaces, with guards and that sort of thing. Here, the paintings will only be cordoned off during Passover, on the first three or four days. After that they will be completely accessible to anyone. People will be able to walk on them, and have their pictures taken on them.” The works will be around for about another four months after the end of Passover.The latter is certainly a powerful magnet, as the works are particularly photogenic.That, explains Mor Gershovich, is intrinsic to the Viewpoint ethos.“Hillel wanted something that could easily go viral, and you can see the 3D aspect of the paintings easily in photographs. People can then upload them and share them with other people all over the world. That will be great for Jerusalem’s image, too. They say in the Bible, ‘For out of Zion shall go forth the law,” she adds with a laugh.Viewpoint may not be exactly about laying down the law to the rest of the world, but the event could do wonders for the city’s international profile. And, judging by the interest shown by passersby in the sidewalk creations-to-be this week, Mor Gershovich’s and Shachar’s enthusiasm and optimism are not misplaced.