Jerusalem Urban Art - Talpiot

if you did have the misfortune of getting stuck in traffic there you might have found yourself benefiting from an unexpected boon, of having the time to feast your eyes on some attractive art.

Pilpeled uses monochrome designs to achieve powerful dramatic effect. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Pilpeled uses monochrome designs to achieve powerful dramatic effect.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Been over to Talpiot recently? If you have, and it just happened to be a Friday and you needed to get some weekend victuals and other basics in, it is a fair bet you wanted to just get there, finding a parking spot, get the shopping done and hotfoot it back home as fast as you possibly could.
It must be said that Talpiot is not the fairest of districts in this growing city of ours. Then again, if you did have the – not entirely surprising – misfortune of getting stuck in traffic there you might have found yourself benefiting from an unexpected boon, of having the time to feast your eyes on some highly attractive outdoor aesthetics.
The latter refer to 11 (and counting) wall paintings, mostly very generously proportioned, dotted around the district. We are not talking about indiscriminately produced spray can efforts here. They are the result of a premeditated initiative by Ido Levitt, who serves as director of Cultural Infrastructures and Public Domain of Eden, the Jerusalem Center Development Company, a subsidiary of the Jerusalem Development Authority. The idea was to brighten up our time in Talpiot, be that the upshot of an aforementioned shopping jaunt, a more extended weekday breadwinning-based foray or a late evening excursion in pursuit of some quality enter - tainment, such as at the Yellow Submarine on Hare- chavim Street. The project goes by the topically tailored title of “The Walls,” and features creations by a top- notch international roll call of professionals, including from China, Spain, Mexico, Brazil and Israel.
While we’re on the subject of the said music venue, it is more than worthwhile mentioning a gargantuan painting created by the Brothers of Light Israeli sibling duo on the towering side wall of building at 13 Harechavim Street, the ground floor of which houses the Yellow Submarine. If you’re coming from the north, say from Emek Refaim, you chances of catching a glimpse of orange hue-dominated painting are probably quite slim. But if you’re heading north, with the Yellow Submarine on your left, you really can’t miss it. You wouldn’t want to, either.
 Israeli sibling duo Brothers of Light brighten up Harechavim Street with a fantastic array of characters and artifacts that feed off local cultures. Israeli sibling duo Brothers of Light brighten up Harechavim Street with a fantastic array of characters and artifacts that feed off local cultures.
There is plenty to take in. The recurrent motif in all the twosome’s work, in Israel and abroad, is a long- beaked figure which appears in slightly tweaked guises all over the show. The sibling artists, who are otherwise known only as Elna and Gab, have produced a sort of comic-book array of figures with motley Middle Eastern elements. There are a couple of camels in there, naturally complete with the trademark proboscis, the odd palm tree, a keffiyeh-clad man, various vessels that clearly come from this region of the world and a uniquely designed Mifal Hapayis booth which belongs to this neck of the woods. “That’s a real kiosk on Shamai Street [in downtown Jerusalem],” notes Nur Cohen, who serves as artistic director of the alfresco project. “They are Jerusalem artists, and they often feature things from here, and from the Middle East in general. They also have this penguin-like character – they look like that a bit themselves. They always wear hoodies. You never see their faces.”
It is not only an eye-catching work, it is also a fun spread which, should you take the opportunity in your no doubt crowded daily schedule, offers the passerby an entertaining, and even thought-provoking, timeout.
Intriguingly, the painting incorporates the sign of a commercial company, which also operates out of the building. “Yes, that’s part of the thinking behind this project,” Cohen continues. “It is all fused together. Nothing has been shifted around. The artists each came here and got down to creating their paintings as is.”
THAT EXISTENTIAL continuum is discernible not only across the full range of “The Walls” works, it is also the result of the somewhat atypical structural findings in the neighborhood. As much of Talpiot was designated, at the planning stage, as an industrial area, no one paid too much attention to the British Mandate era dictate to encase the architecture in Jerusalem stone. That left an abundance of plain flat walls that make for perfect can- vases for street art.
While there are – let’s err kindly on the side of understatement here – some less than attractive edifices in Talpiot, the same ungainly structures provide the per - fect backdrop for creative and visually pleasing murals. There is added oxymoronic value to the juxtaposition of expertly crafted polychromic portrayals with bare soul- less-looking concrete expanses.
That certainly comes across on the large building at 4 Yad Harutzim Street, which, despite its bleak façade, actually houses a couple of the city’s leading arts facilities – the Sam Spiegel Film School and the School of Visual Theater. Mind you, the florally festooned window boxes on one of the upper floors do go some way to offsetting the predominantly gray dullness of the concrete surfaces, but the pair of “The Walls” works on the facade are in another aesthetic league entirely One of the paintings in question was crafted by Brazilan graffiti artist-illustrator duo Bicicleta Sem Freio which, for a keen biker such as myself, translates into the somewhat disturbing Bicycle Without Brakes. It is an unfettered burst of color, a veritable celebration of all that is bright, rich and joyful. ‘Yes, that’s definitely Brazilian,” says Cohen with a smile. It also follows a different physical format than the other works, which mostly cover the entire surface of their designated spot. “It is the figure itself, without a backdrop,” Cohen notes. “It is very different. That’s the way they work.”
It is also a particularly effective means of, once again, underscoring the striking gulf in appearance between the existing constructed substratum and the artistic add-on. The surrealistic four-story-high character stands proud and tall in a detective-style raincoat on one of two protuberances at the front of the long edifice, that house the stairwells. The idea is clearly not to obscure the architectonic details. Quite the contrary, the multi-hued splash draws attention to the nondescript rectangular windows and the odd structural feature, such as protruding security spotlights, a For Rent sign and the unattractive steps and entrance.
The place where you’d expect to find the head of the “detective” is occupied by some weird-looking foliage, some wild and wacky symbols and two exuberantly exotic birds. “That’s a hoopoe,” explains Alon Speizer. “That’s our national bird, you know, which is why they put it in. It’s a salute to Israel.”
Mexican street artist Smithe One’s work references comic-book design, 1950s graphic and sci-fi movies.Mexican street artist Smithe One’s work references comic-book design, 1950s graphic and sci-fi movies.
SPEIZER’S DAYTIME job is CEO of Eden, and he was very much on board the sprucing-up initiative from the outset. He says Talpiot is the perfect part of Jerusalem to launch “The Walls” venture, both in terms of the structural nature of the place and its quotidian func- tion. “This is the place to come to if you want anything in Jerusalem. You can get practically everything and anything you can think of here. It’s the come-to place, operational difficulties notwithstand- ing. It’s convenient for anyone who, like me, lives in the southwest of the city.”
Things are set to change in the district, with the wall paintings offering a hint of the transformation in the making. “Around six years ago it was decided to take a new approach to Talpiot. The master plan, which will probably take about 15 years to complete, called for a range of functions. That includes residential use, which is currently on the periphery of the district, but I think there will be probably be more residential buildings along the main thoroughfares, too. There will also be plenty of commercial spaces, and also a lot of places of employment.” The latter includes the con- struction of several office blocks. Several are currently under construction on Pierre Koenig Street near the vehicle licensing office. “There will be more restaurants, cultural facilities and leisure venues,” Speizer continues.
He notes that Talpiot is still one of the less expensive parts of Jerusalem, in terms of real-estate prices. “Mind you, prices have gone up a bit, but it is still generally cheaper here. So we have quite a few artist studios here, and we don’t want to lose that, we don’t want the artists, for example, to be priced out of here.” That is a painful moot point. Over the years, large numbers of artists who either originate from Jerusalem or relocated here to attend such educational institutions as Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, or the aforementioned Sam Spiegel Film School, found themselves forced to move, or move back, to Tel Aviv because they simply couldn’t afford to rent studio space here. “We want to develop Talpiot but we don’t want to get into a process of gentrification. We need to ensure there is affordable housing here and that artists can have their studios here.”
Time will tell whether that much-needed state of affairs evolves in Talpiot, but at least for now, the outdoor artistic spread provides welcome respite from the prevailing urban drabness. The building at 4 Yad Harutzim Street also provides a backdrop for a wall painting by the Bro- ken Fingaz Haifa-based art collective. Actually, it’s a wrap- around, spreading across all three outer surfaces of the stairwell, and is awash with all manner of rich hues.
MEANWHILE, THE Pilpeled painting, on Poalei Tzedek Street, is a very different visual kettle of fish. It features a pair of monochrome characters taking a penetrating look at each other. In addition to his murals, Pilpeled has gained fame and financial security with his illustra- tions and his fashion and accessories product lines. Judging by his contribution to “The Walls,” he has a keen grasp of design techniques, and how to achieve a dramatic effect. There is something of the woodcut look about his twosome, and he evidently took the structural backdrop into account.
When it comes to compelling aesthetics, the towering work by Adam Yekutieli, a.k.a. Know Hope, has most beat. His design takes up the entire side of a deserted mill building on Hagalgal Street, and it is very different offering. There is nothing colorful or particular colorful, and it doesn’t immediately grab and demand to be looked at, but it is highly emo- tive effort which resonates strongly with the history of the area. “This building was on the border with Jordan,” Cohen explains. “All the marks you see are holes caused by gunfire.” The sockets gouged out of the crumbling plaster and exposed concrete surface were incorporated into the work by numbering them and providing a legend to one side. All told there are 246 pockmarks in the building, all of which have been given textual life reflecting Know Hope’s thoughts on the history of the building, and the feelings and sentiments relating to the structure of local residents and employees whom the artist consulted in the run-up to the project. The contorted rusted metal window frames serve to augment the dramatic projection of the whole, and the legend makes for intriguing and stimulating reading.
“THE WALLS” seems to be having the desired effect, in respect of appealing to people’s senses, and getting them to take a brief breather as they go about their daily chores, but also with regard to producing a positive knock on aftermath. While we did our rounds through the rainy, and sometimes murky, streets of the industrial heartland of Talpiot I spied the odd independently initiated wall painting. “People saw what we were doing so they added their own, here and there,” says Speizer. “That’s fine, as far as we are concerned. The more the merrier.”
In general, the artists were given carte blanche, although there were a number of provisos. “We respect the artists, of course, but we tell them in advance that we cannot accommodate any content that is offensive,” explains Cohen. “That means there is no politics, violence or sex.”
Cohen says the guideline of project direction was uncompromising quality. “There is a delicate differentiation between decorating a building and creating art. That’s why we insisted on bringing proven artists here. We could have, say, garage owners painting car wrecks with bright colors and that sort of thing, but that was never what we were after.” That also helps to keep things universally relevant. “If you have a store owner painting some- thing in nice colors, that is sort of connected to their business. We wanted to offer quality art for everyone, particularly here in Talpiot.”
All work sketches were submitted for approval ahead of time, both to the municipality’s Sculpture Commit- tee and to all residents and owners of businesses in the vicinity of the work in question. If even one of the latter objected to the design, the artist would have to make the necessary modifications. “We don’t want to upset anyone, or insult anyone’s intelligence, with ‘The Walls,’” says Cohen. “This is about improving the quality of life here.”