Beauty for all, in Rehovot

“It is quite amazing just how many artists we have here.”

A bowl with the Japanese character for harmony (photo credit: STUDIO UGETSU)
A bowl with the Japanese character for harmony
(photo credit: STUDIO UGETSU)
 One might not tend to think of Rehovot as a powerhouse of the national art world but, according to Gali Madhala, the city has a lot to offer when it comes to creative esthetic output.
“It is quite amazing just how many artists we have here,” says Madhala who serves as director of Dundikov House, the local municipal museum.
For the past six years, Madhala has also overseen the annual “Rehovot Artists Open Their Homes” program, with this year’s event taking in the works of no fewer than 28 artists. The roster incorporates a range of disciplines and mindsets, and features such respected members of the artistic community as potter Naomi Gaash, industrial designer and wood artist Yoav Beitner, designer Yelena Zirulnik and ceramics artist Adi Turetzki.
Madhala says the local art scene is thriving, despite the decline in the number of artists involved in the weekend program this year.
“We normally have around 45-50 artists on board, but the drop is only due to technical reasons,” she explains.
“Traditionally we hold the event at this time of the year, but last year it happened in August, so the artists did not have much time to prepare works for the program this time round.”
Pared-down lineup notwithstanding, Madhala expects thousands of visitors to flock to the city from all over the country today and tomorrow for the artists’ studio-based happening. Mention the name Rehovot to the ordinary Yossi or Noa in the street, and the knee-jerk reaction will probably include a reference to the Weizmann Institute of Science, but few from outside the city would probably note the creative talent there.
“That’s probably one of the most important aspects of the weekend,” says Madhala.
“There is a large number of artists here, and we want people to know about that. There is also a wide range of disciplines, not just the regular stuff. There are a lot of jewelry makers in Rehovot, people who work with textiles and doll makers. There is a lot to see here.”
It is, of course, a handy marketing tool for local artisans to strut their stuff.
“This is a special event which has become a tradition,” says Yosefa Haliva, director general of the Municipal Company for Leisure and Sport.
“It takes place every year in early spring and it offers local artists an opportunity to gain exposure and to present their work to the general public, to create a dialogue with the visitors while offering them a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the creative process at their home base.”
Shira Rosen is certainly happy to take part in the occasion.
“I taught literature for 32 years, but I always wanted to get back to painting. By chance I met someone who put me in touch with an intuitive painting group in Rehovot.”
It appears that Rosen also gets some of her muse from her former occupation.
“I draw inspiration from internal dialogue, following a poetry book I wrote called The Mirrors of the Soul. I want to share my works with people out of a sense of love.”
Miho Kataoka Erlich, a repeat participant in the event, draws the inspiration for her ceramic works from an interesting combination of disciplines.
“I did a bachelor’s degree in ceramics in Kyoto University in Japan,” says the 44-year-old artist who was born in Hong Kong, raised in Japan and has been living in Rehovot for the last 17 years.
After gaining her diploma, she developed an interest in a very different avenue of artistic expression.
“I wanted to dance,” she says. It wasn’t even movement art from her own cultural backyard. She went for Indian dance. “That is my core,” she states. “I love dance.”
Erlich and her husband Ze’ev also run a course on Japanese culture and language at Bar-Ilan University.
Still, after moving here, she reverted to making pottery, although that was primarily due to practical reasons.
“I bought equipment and I returned to making ceramics,” she says. “I had moved to a new country and I needed to manage here, and to find a way to make a living.”
Before long, Erlich began churning out all manner of plates, cups, saucers, bowls and other household utensils, but with a distinctly esthetic that fed off her roots heritage.
“I am very influenced by my own culture,” she notes. “When I create vessels I think about Japanese food and Japanese tea.”
That sounds like a very Jewish way of going about things. First you think of what goes into your belly, and only after that the esthetics and practicalities. But, Erlich explains, the Japanese have a very different view of the nourishment-visual synergy and that, in fact, the former drives the latter.
“My work is, of course, greatly influenced by my Japanese background. I take a practical approach to what I make, but the aesthetics are also very important,” she notes.
“Food in Japan is not just about eating and filling your stomach. Aesthetics is, in fact, the most important thing. It is very different from the West, where you have sets of cups, plates and bowls, and they all look the same. They are white. That’s very boring. In Japan, the approach is very different. You have a different vessel for each dish.”
There is also an individuality element.
“In Japan, each utensil is personalized. The father has his own bowl for rice, as does the mother, and the children, and they each have their own chopsticks. So my ceramics feed off the daily routine, the daily use people traditionally make of the vessels.”
That comes through strongly in Erlich’s work. One of the items on her website is a large grey-brown plate with a fetching spiral decoration and wavy edges.
“The protagonist is not my plate, but cooking,” the artist observes. “The harmony with food and surroundings is important for me.”
Naturally, hospitality comes into design mindset, and Erlich’s oeuvre includes teacups that, she says, “are designed to serve to guests.”
Eastern spirituality also informs the way she goes about her business, as demonstrated on a beige bowl with a brown glazed Japanese character on it.
“I made this by thinking it would be used as a rice bowl,” she explains. “The Japanese character on the bowl means ‘harmony’.”
Another, more practical-looking artifact in the Erlich lineup catches the eye. It transpires that the article in question is a suribachi mortar and pestle set.
“This is a traditional bowl to grind sesame, add tofu or cooked vegetable and serve as it is,” says the artist.
As egotistical as it may sound, Erlich creates for primarily herself, although it seems that others are perfectly happy to go with her aesthetic flow.
“I make things that I would like to use in my own home, and people like what I like, so that’s great,” she laughs.
“People come to my studio from all over the country. They like Japanese art.”
By the looks of Erlich’s creations that is not difficult to understand. • “Rehovot Artists Open Their Homes” takes place this Friday, April 8, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and Saturday, April 9, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and 5 to 9 p.m. For more information: