Picture this and that

Illustration Week – offering 79 exhibitions – brings a splash of color to Tel Aviv

WITH YOUR Back to the Sea’ by Ilanit Shamia.  (photo credit: ILANIT SHAMIA)
WITH YOUR Back to the Sea’ by Ilanit Shamia.
(photo credit: ILANIT SHAMIA)
What does the word “illustration” conjure up for you? If you associate the visual discipline with, say, pictures in children’s story books, or comics, and not much more, then you should be right royally disabused of that notion when Illustration Week rolls around next week (November 21-30).
Mind you, we should all know better by now. This will be the sixth edition of the annual festival with a full 79 exhibitions – many offering free entry – strung across Tel Aviv and Jaffa, at all manner of venues, with the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality-supported event hosting works by close to 700 illustrators, designers and other artists.
“Look around you. There are illustrative elements wherever you look!” exclaims Yuval Saar when we meet at a vegan eatery a stone’s throw from Dizengoff Square. “Look, at the bus there. That’s illustration. And on the billboard. It’s everywhere in our lives.”
It is, indeed. Judging by the breadth and sheer number of exhibits that the festival founder artistic director has lined up for the public, there is little you cannot place under the illustration umbrella.
“The field has really taken off in recent years,” Saar notes. “That’s all over the world, not just in Israel.” It seems we are right up there with the best of them. “There are some amazing talents, and there is demand,” he adds.
Saar says the festival is a must for all concerned.
“Illustration Week is almost the only event of its kind in Israel, and there is demand from the field. Without the festival, there wouldn’t be a platform to show these things. There are millions of galleries and museums for painting and sculpture, but there is nothing for works of illustration.”
The Hebrew saying that “the appetite follows the food” applies here.
“If the field didn’t want this, we wouldn’t be able to have this festival,” suggests Saar, adding that the street-level response gives the artists a push in the desired direction. “The illustrators see there is a platform that works well, that grows from year to year, and that encourages them to produce the goods.”
Saar says the public is keen to get an eyeful of the creations too, and there is a growing awareness and appreciations of illustrative works.
“We don’t have someone standing at the entrance of each exhibition space with a tally counter checking exactly how many people come in, but we reckon, in past years when we have had 50 exhibitions, that 50,000 people have been to them.”
Saar also puts the incremental growth in the field down to technology.
“In the digital era, it is much easier for anyone to be an illustrator.”
And you don’t have to be a Picasso to do the business.
“Even someone like me – I don’t know how to illustrate, if I drew an apple or a person, it doesn’t matter what, if I tried to draw by hand it would be catastrophic, but it is a lot easier for me to use computer tools to do that.”
There is an abundance of demand in all walks of life.
“All the computer games, animation, TV shows, that’s all illustration-based. Today there are today so many more opportunities for illustrators to express themselves. In the old days, you’d see illustrations in children’s books, and possibly you’d find a caricature in the newspaper, and in comics. Today, you find illustrations even on your housing tax bill. It’s a much more visual world.”
The variety of exhibitions that will be on display across the length and breadth of Jaffa and Tel Aviv for 10 days is expansive. If you want to get a sound bite handle on festival range, you’d be best advised to pop along to Old Jaffa, where 60 light boxes will be installed along Mazal Dagim St. and Mazal Aryeh St., with tidbits from the cross-urban agenda. They will be on show around the clock. And should you wish to gain a more immersive idea of some of the finer aesthetic details that have been available in these parts over the years, the Old Jaffa Museum will host a layout of silkscreen posters for indie shows in Israel and all over the world, created by Dekel Hevroni over the past decade.
The museum is one of the mainstays of the festival, with a number of exhibitions running there concurrently over the 10 days. Illustration is the most malleable of disciplines, and lends itself to all kinds of subject matter, from the definitively industrial and commercial, to the downright personal.
Orit Arif’s showing goes by the invitingly intimate title of “Shit, I can’t believe this is happening to me,” in which Arif presents a comic strips rogue’s gallery of embarrassing moments from her daily life. Izhar Cohen’s contribution at the same venue, “Intimacy,” offers a glimpse of “the private and the intimate” while “Politically Correct,” over at the Farkash Gallery, offers Aharon Farkash, Lior Peled, and Shmulik Granit the opportunity to unleash their own views of life with absolutely no regard for so-called good taste. And there’s something of the aforementioned elemental illustration format, with an ethnic-cultural slant, over at the Beit HaBe’er Cultural Center, down the road on Salameh Street, where the “Nice to Meet You” layout features work by Israeli-Arab illustrators on original, local, and contemporary Arab children’s literature.
SAAR SAYS the festival has been a long time coming.
“I started out in 2012 with a tiny illustration exhibition,” he recalls. “The idea was to examine how the digital era was impacting on illustrators. Like any curator, I met with artists – at their studios, in their homes, at cafes. I saw their work and we chatted.”
Saar was keen to share his thoughts and experiences, and the thing just snowballed from there.
“I took notes. The one thing that differentiated me from other curators was that I already had Portfolio.”
The latter is an online magazine, established in 2005, in which Saar and other writers ran articles, interviews, reviews and news from the world of design, art and fashion. It was the perfect sounding board for the upshot of Saar’s ongoing encounters with artists.
“Each week I published interviews with two artists and illustrators, and I got to 100 interviews.”
The discourse did not go unnoticed by the professionals in the field.
“It was like a blog, which hadn’t yet happened. Then I put out a request for proposals and I was swamped with works, thousands of them.”
Saar was bowled over.
“I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t accommodate all those works. How many could I show at my little exhibition? 120?”
A more generous platform was clearly the order of the day.
“I contacted museums and galleries, and things started to grow, with no budget at all. Everyone came on board.”
That included the Art Department of the Municipality of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, and so Illustration Week came to be.
“I didn’t really mean for things to get to this stage,” Saar laughs. “If you had told me, seven years ago, ‘Come and out on an event with 80 exhibitions, and you’ll be responsible for the whole thing,’ I would said, ‘No thanks, I have other things to do with my life.’ But, precisely because I didn’t plan on all this happening, that, I think, is why it grew into what we have today.”
WHAT “WE have today” is an impressively broad sweep of events that showcase what the Israeli illustrator community has to the country and also in the global arena. There are Israeli artists doing great work all over the world, including in Hollywood and across Europe. If you’re looking to take in as much of the scene as you can at a single venue, you can get some idea of the breadth of ideas, approaches and styles on offer here by visiting the Mazeh 9 Gallery, the Youth House of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, which also marks the launch of the latest issue of the A5 Magazine, an independent art and design online magazine that also functions as a printed gallery. Each issue features an international array of artists and follows a particular theme. The venture is driven by graphic designers Keren Gafni, Golan Gafni and Tali Green, who say they are “motivated by the desire to create, explore and exhibit, sharing our great love for art and print.” That will come across in the La Culture exhibition on Mazeh Street, which focuses on the topic of Object-Spirit. The mammoth display will incorporate works by 140 artists.
There are also a bunch of solo exhibitions on the Illustration Week agenda, including a one-person offering by Merav Salomon at the P8 Gallery on Hapatish Street in Kiryat Hamelachah. Salomon is a seasoned campaigner who, besides developing her singular aesthetic take as an illustrator and book artist, has helped to nurture several generations of illustrators and designers in her capacity as a teacher, and Head of Illustration Studies at the Department of Visual Communications of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem.
Salomon, apparently, likes to go for detail. Her collection of pictures, called Mausoleum, is the result of several dozen stamps she fashioned herself. “There are 50 stamps, of which around 20 are of women sitting in different positions,” she explains, adding that she took a modular approach to the project.
“There are stamps of torsos, and also 15 stamps of just heads, and I can use them to create a sort of handwriting style by fusing them. That allows me to form surrealistic scenes.”
Judging by some of the specimens I caught, it is a highly effective practical line of creative attack. The presence of human figures is designed as a sort of tribute to dear departed.
“Mausoleum is a sort of monument in someone’s memory, and the main motif of my exhibition is the seated woman. I pile the figures on top of each like plastic garden chairs.”
There is a feminist message to be had in the visual juxtaposition, which also references the titular element.
“I consider the issue of remembrance, through the topic of the mausoleum, which mostly refers to men, and the legacy of the male figure. I look at the status of women in society, their place in history, and the way their support each other. They serve as a sort of pedestal for each other.” That, naturally, suggests the male chauvinist perception of women as a dainty plaything that should be revered and placed on a proverbial pedestal, thereby objectifying her.
Salomon says she is drawn to the seemingly common or garden office stamp device, and also to the components that comprise the aesthetic whole.
“I am interested in the process of deconstruction and reconstruction, and I almost always use the figure of the woman in my work. What I find fascinating about the rubber stamp is that, on the one hand, it is a basic day-to-day industrial object you find in most offices. But it is also a device that is very close to the sphere of printed art works. It fascinates me that something can be so inexpensive and mundane, but there is still a very artistic side to it.”
That comes across in Mausoleum. There is also a playfulness about the showing that the public should also find highly engaging.
There will be plenty to catch across the Tel Aviv-Jaffa metropolitan area that should not only please the idea, and tickle a fancy or two, but may well leave its mark on the way we view our urban surroundings and the world around us as we go about our daily business.
For more information about the exhibitions, workshops, artist sessions and guided tours: www.illustrationweek.co.il/’