Conquering China with bright sweetness: The art of Tzvika Horesh

Artist and designer Tzvika Horesh designed an Israeli education center in China, now he means to introduce the Middle Kingdom to his neo-pop artworks.

SUPER BEAR, from the eppy teddy series by Tzvika Horesh. (photo credit: Courtesy)
SUPER BEAR, from the eppy teddy series by Tzvika Horesh.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Wuhan, China may be in the news for some very different reasons, but when Israeli artist and designer Tzvika Horesh thinks of the city at the heart of the coronavirus outbreak, it is with love and enthusiasm for the Israeli education center he designed there.
Horesh did not create the educational philosophy of Hamood (cute in Hebrew). That was carried out by educators from Kaye College in Beersheba. According to their website, the Kaye College team followed the ideas of the late progressive educator Gideon Levine. Born in Wroclaw in 1921, Levine authored a concept of the kindergarten as a “flowing space” in which the qualities demonstrated by each toddler are met by the teacher as opposed to a “top-to-bottom” concept, in which all the toddlers are meant to do something as part of a wider plan, regardless of their preferences.
The unique educational center is not a Jewish school and the Chinese infants are not meant to be taught religious Jewish values. Rather, the school offers a blend of Israeli values, such as creativity and innovation, alongside Jewish values of respecting mutual aid and honoring the family, Dr. Barbie Shapir of Kay College told the Post.
Horesh describes how he suggested special sensors were installed near the play area so when toddlers build sand mountains something unusual happens, such as paint being introduced to their playing zone.
The concept is that the children are taught valuable lessons by Leo the lion, who introduces the toddlers to his master, no other than the famous scientist Albert Einstein, and a series of animals.
Using the familiar cultural convention of the lion being the king of the jungle, each animal has a trait or special gift (the dog, for example, represents the value of friendship) and the children, with the help of the lion, are taught how each member in a group can help the others and be accepted by them.
As a nod to Chinese culture, the lion speaks highly of his master, Albert Einstein, and tells the children he “arrived from Israel to China today in a suitcase.”
“This is absolutely true,” Horesh tells me, “I had a woman knit me a stuffed animal that looks like Leo and I really did take him with me from Israel to China – that was the stuffed animal used to tell the story to the children.”
Leo the lion has a Star of David tied to him, and the ancient Jewish symbol is often used in the design of the materials and the center itself.
Shapir, who developed the educational aspect of Hamood, said she speaks with its Chinese director daily.
“As the children can’t leave their homes [due to coronavirus],” she said, “teachers have video classes so they can stay in touch with the children via phone and send them coloring pages.” Hamood now operates ten such centers and “very much want to promote their brand as Jewish education centers,” she said.
In June, Horesh will return to China to present his works in Shanghai. Among them are The Royal Rabbit and eppy teddy [eppy stands for epidemic] works. Like the teddy bear, the rabbit stands for various things. Erotic energy is one, as the rabbit is a known stand-in for fertility and love, such as in the symbol of the Easter Rabbit. Yet, for Horesh, the rabbit is also the white rabbit that leads Alice in Wonderland to fantastic new landscapes.
HORESH FIRST came to China in 2017 as part of the Ride with the Wind exhibition, shown in Macau and Guangzhou. He presented his art alongside Dudu Gerstein, another successful commercial artist Horesh feels that, like himself, hasn’t gotten his fair shake as far as the art world goes.
“Art has no right to exist if nobody buys it,” Horesh says. “The greatest recognition is to get love, and getting love means to get something material.”
He points out that he had been painting since he was eight years old and sold his paintings since he finished his army service. “I don’t mind getting a sheep for a painting,” he jokes, meaning it doesn’t have to be money. “But it’s important to get something.”
Arguing that it is possible to make objectively good art, Horesh quotes Emmanuel Kant to explain that there are objective reasons why people buy his works and that he works hard to create objects that speak to everyone.
The teddy bear for example, he says, is a cute and soft toy connected to childhood. By creating a massive statue of a teddy bear made from gleaming gold the viewer encounters a surprise. A soft small object had been reintroduced on a much grander scale with all the making of a pop-star, gleaming and shiny. “Even a person who doesn’t want to buy it gets a kick out of it,” he insists.
Horesh also creates brands and spaces for event halls such as Alma Spencer in Tel Aviv. Alma Spencer, like Aunt Jemima, is a work of complete fiction meant to give a unique identity to a product.
Horesh not only designed the space for the hall based on the idea of circular motion – as the character is meant to be a sea-faring cook who finally reached Tel Aviv – he also wrote the texts used by the company.
Aunt Jemima was introduced to the world in a song written by black minstrel Billy Kersands. The song, Old Aunt Jemima, led to the Quaker Oats Company using a visual representation of her since 1893.
“Notice that nowhere do you see Alma Spencer,” Horesh explains. His focus was on her hands as they cook, not on creating a model for the company.
This summer, Horesh will be able to offer visitors in Shanghai a leap with him into the mystery.