Painting his path

Artist Ben Simon has made many stops along the way to Jerusalem – and he is here to stay

Ben simon 370 (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Ben simon 370
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
These are exciting times for Jerusalemite Ben Simon, 39, who made aliya from Long Island in 2005. He’s getting married soon and he’s also launching “DigiBen,” his on-line company for marketing the unique digital artworks which he has made very much his own – sunny, brightly-colored pictures of landscapes and nature which are in some ways traditional yet at the same time super-contemporary, true 21st-century art.
Initially he came to visit his sister who lived here and was getting married in Israel.
“My first feeling was how terrific it is here and that if I came I would be going back to my roots,” he says. “I decided that as I have a career that travels well I could easily settle in Israel, but I had no idea of the market.”
He’s always been an artist and has studied art history and fine arts at university in New York, but he worked as a house painter and carpenter to help pay for his art studies and has been working in both fields ever since.
“To paint and develop takes time and there’s a certain maturity involved,” he says. “I never felt I could become an artist the minute I came out of art school. I think it takes a long time to develop a style of one’s own, and I felt I wasn’t yet articulate about what I wanted to say.”
He also didn’t want to use up his creative talents working in graphic design, so getting down to the nitty-gritty of painting houses seemed the solution, and he was able to carve out a niche for himself as a reliable, Anglo, religiously observant worker who could be entrusted with the keys and relied on to do a good job. The flyers he stuck up around the neighborhood he was living in near Emek Refaim Street soon yielded results.
“There was a lot to learn and I did have some fashlot [disasters] at the beginning,” he says. “Most Jerusalem apartments have walls covered in sid [lime wash] and it took a few attempts before I discovered that the paint peels off this surface. And many of the materials are different. But it served the purpose as I needed to earn a living quickly.”
He didn’t have a car at the time and one of his first jobs was quite a long way from home, in Mevaseret Zion.
“I had to get there on a bus with all my equipment – imagine trying to transport a five-gallon can of paint in a suitcase,” he says, able to laugh about it now.
In Jerusalem he got around mostly on a bicycle, which was also not simple, but somehow he managed to complete his jobs to the satisfaction of everybody.
The work enabled him to carry on with his art and he was quickly recognized here, exhibiting in several galleries in Jerusalem and becoming a member of the Art Association of Israel.
His talent was also recognized in New York where he had held several exhibitions and in London at the Jewish museum there.
For DigiBen he took the simplest of programs, Microsoft Paint, to create what he calls his “loud happy landscapes.”
It was quite a departure for him to be creating art by computer as he had always preferred the conventional method, having a need to touch the canvas and the finished product.
The scenes are printed on high-quality canvas then stretched on wood, and he uses a special ink which cannot fade, with a 100-year guarantee. They are available in various sizes and a very large picture can be bought for about NIS 550, while smaller ones come at under NIS 200.
Among the many compliments he has received for his art, the most frequent is that they are in a style never seen before.
“This is a huge compliment for an artist,” he says.
Socially, he says he fell into an Anglo crowd in Jerusalem, as there are so many other new immigrants from the same background and they automatically group together. He was introduced to his fiancée, Rotem, through one of his friends. She lives in Rishon Lezion and runs a web start-up which involves story-telling and entertaining for young children.
“She’s always been someone who loves to write stories,” he says.
After the wedding this month, which his family from the United States will attend, he and Rotem will live in Jerusalem and she will commute to her Rishon office once a week.
Now that he lives here, he feels that he has a responsibility to contribute to society in some way.
“In a way I see my art as a form of ‘tikkun olam’ [making the world a better place]” he says. “By my art I add something to creation that wasn’t there before, so one looks at nature in a new way.”
On his website he sums it up poetically.
“At every station I passed in my life – and there have been quite a few from New York where I grew up to Jerusalem where I live now – I have tried to listen to and recreate the beauty of nature,” he writes.