The personal art and music of Roee Lavan come to Hutzot Hayotzer

While fully appreciative of how his personal struggle with cancer is inspiring to many, Lavan points to how he was engaged with both the blues and art well before he was diagnosed with GBM two years ago.

PAINTER AND Blues singer Roee Lavan. (photo credit: ELLA FAUST)
PAINTER AND Blues singer Roee Lavan.
(photo credit: ELLA FAUST)
 Rude people sometimes approach blues musician and painter Roee Lavan and ask about the bandages wrapped around his head. “Sometimes they omit even introducing themselves and just pounce with the question,” he shrugs. “What am I going to tell this stranger? That I have Glioblastoma (GBM) [an aggressive form of brain cancer]? “That would probably ruin his whole day,” he laughs, “so I just say that whatever I have, it really is none of their business.”
While fully appreciative of how his personal struggle with cancer is inspiring to many, Lavan points to how he was engaged with both the blues and art well before he was diagnosed with GBM two years ago.
“I first learned about the blues at age 15 when I listened to Eric Clapton’s 1992 Unplugged album,” he told The Jerusalem Post. He is deeply passionate about the blues, having done a cover version to “Say No to the Devil” by Reverend Gary Davis in his 2015 album Black/Big/Cold. This was his second album; his first, A letter from an admirer, was released in 2013. His latest album, Blue Light Project, includes cover versions with Roy Young of “None of Us Are Free” and (with Lior Kabesa) “Where the Blues Begins” originally performed by Buddy Guy and Carlos Santana.
“Our own suffering as Jews is different from the suffering of black people in the US,” he told the Post, “but we Jews identify with it. If we would decide to return to the ghetto we could end up as narcissists or hateful towards other people, even haunted. Yet suffering, if you keep a fair mind about it, knows no genres.”
“I can see how black pain reaches my own life,” he points out, “my parents spoke Moroccan and were told: ‘No, you should only speak in Hebrew.’ Today in Israel things are very different when compared to those days, but maybe I need “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” by Leadbelly to connect with my own pain from a different place.”
When people suffer from brain tumors, the brain does not communicate to them that something might be odd with them. Lavan had a fit of rage which led to him being fired from his job as an art director at a hi-tech firm and he credits his wife for saving his life.
“I thought I was making perfect sense when I was talking but she took me to the doctors and that was my big stroke of good luck,” he said. Following his surgery, he lost weight and felt very weak. At this point, he returned to something he did not do since studying at the Bezalel Academy of Art: figurative realistic painting.
“I began with Gustav Klimt,” he tells me. I suggest that perhaps there was some connection he felt to the fragile, thin bodies Klimt usually shows clothed in colorful fabric. Klimt led him to British artist Francis Bacon. “For me,” Lavan says, “Bacon is the body twisting in agony. I sat on a chair and tried to paint myself as the pope in his 1953 painting Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. Sadly, I could not figure out what I should wear as a Jew so the painting remained unfinished.”
During the upcoming Hutzot Hayotzer international arts festival in Jerusalem, Lavan will be present with reproductions of his oil paintings for members of the public to purchase. His range includes inspiring people from Israeli history like the late Rona Ramon, his father, Ko Phangan and still life.
“The original oil paintings are saved for my kids,” he explains. “During Hutzot Hayotzer I might show up with a guitar and play a few songs while people view my art.”
For those still curious, the bandages are what keeps the wearable, portable cancer-treating Optune in place. Invented by Yoram Palti, the FDA-approved device halts the growth of cancer cells by using electric fields – if it is worn around the patient’s head for a long period of time.
One of the hardest things for Lavan was to give up driving due to his illness. The last time he took the car on the road was to take photographs for a painting that is close to his heart.
“I needed about 220 hours to paint it,” he tells me, “It was Fureidis. There are many opinions concerning this place but I find it beautiful and dared to paint it as I see it.” Fureidis is an Arab town in the North near Haifa and its name is Arabic for paradise.
The Hutzot Hayotzer festival of art and music will be held between August 9-21 at the Sultan’s Pool in Jerusalem. The musicians set to perform during it include Balkan Beat Box, Eviatar Banai and Sarit Hadad, among others.
Paintings and illustrations by Roee Lavan can be seen (and purchased) through his site: His music can be listened to at