Back in 2009, I was working with a person who owned a jewelry store in Meah She’arim. At the time, we were working on some ideas of reproducing my art in giclee – printing pastel painting scans onto canvas, and adding paint into them for a higher value.
Well, I’ll say I’ve experimented with different ways of selling my art, but I am happy that this venue didn’t work out. It didn’t feel authentic and I did not want to market myself in such a way.
Anyway, he asked if I would make a pastel painting of his wedding. First of all, I don’t really like working from photographs, and second – there are so many people in the background – overload!
Long story short, I ended up doing it anyway, and here is the result:
There is no particular order or logic to these pictures. Nor is there a development, necessarily. Some of them were an attempt to get back to pastel landscaping, after a few years without, and some were just for fun, and one of them – by commission. Sadly, lots of my charcoal works have been damages by water, and this are decorated with mold – but that does add to the beauty of the work (if not the smell).
Pharaoh dreamed, and behold, he was standing on (or: by) the Nile, (Gen. 41:1)
He fell asleep and dreamed a second time: Seven ears of grain, solid and healthy, grew on a single stalk. But close behind them sprouted seven ears, thin and scorched by the east wind. And the thin ears swallowed up the seven solid and full ears. Then Pharaoh awoke: it was a dream! (ibid 5-7)
Ok. We know the story. These dreams were foretelling of the seven years of plenty, and then of famine, that were to come. Joseph interprets these dreams, and then rises to power, helping Egypt prepare for the inevitable famine.
What caught my attention was the imagery: Ears of wheat swallowing a stalk of wheat. Wow. How does that happen? I mean, sure, it’s a dream, but still, I couldn’t quite imagine how wheat does that?
And then I had a bizarre idea. In 2014, I was doing a weekly Parasha drawing for my middle school students, as a way to engage them in discussion about the Parasha. I would typically try to draw something which doesn’t often get attention. An example would be Joseph’s dreams – which are very popular, versus Pharaoh’s dreams, which aren’t often illustrated. But how to illustrate this idea? What came to my mind was Disney’s Fantasia. Just imagine – a dreamlike reality in which inanimate things come to life with the right music, and then act in strange ways. If Hippopotami can dance and Brooms can carry water, why can’t ears of wheat be threatening and devouring? So I don’t have music, and I don’t have the means to illustrate this as a video clip (which I would love to, one day!), but I had my pastels, so I got busy!
This was my initial sketch for a future drawing:
It has been three years, and I decided it is time to act. I’ve been spending considerable time studying about ancient Egypt, and was inspired to paint this idea in a Papyrus-like imagery. I even bought papyrus, but by the time the order arrived, I had invested significant time into this sketch, so the Papyrus will have to wait for a future painting.
This painting will include hieroglyphs which tell the story, and I have posted that on my Instagram feed a few weeks ago. Below are a couple pictures of where the painting is holding as of now. It will be painted in watercolor, and BE”H will be part of a series of Parasha related paintings, which I do hope to exhibit in the future.
In the drawing, I had to tone down the Fantasia style dancing of the ears, to make it resemble a Papyrus painting, while gently stretching the borders of that style. Notice that the ears are hinting at being three dimensional, and Pharaoh is standing on the Nile, as some of commentators take the verse to mean. It is a dream, so why not?
However, after completing this, I feel that it is still not so clear that Pharaoh is on the Nile. To make it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt, I added some of the reeds and lotus flowers behind him, adding as well to the natural borders of the painting.
This post is in honor of the current weekly Torah portions, and my favorite Biblical character – Yosef!
(For the general public, I will call him Joseph, henceforth).
My hero, Joseph the Dreamer. Beloved of his father, hated by his brothers, and oh, so romantic. Sold by his brothers – only to rise to the top of Egypt and meet his brothers again – and try to bond with them, once again. Yet this post is not about Joseph the Dreamer, nor the Seeker of Brotherhood, but about dreams per se. Joseph is part of a new saga in the development of the Genesis narrative: The Saga of Dreams.
Up to this point in the narrative, Biblical characters are driven by conviction and purpose, perhaps even vision or revelation (which could have occurred in a dream). Seekers and fighters, yes, but not dreamers.
From here on, we hear about several dreams: Jacob’s Ladder, and later a bizarre dream relating to the strange goat-sheet breeding episode. Joseph dreams time and again, and then becomes an interpreter of several critical dreams.
On his way northeast, Jacob makes a rest stop in Beit-El (Bethel), and in his slumber he has a defining dream – one which speaks of history (taking for granted Midrashic and Kabbalistic interpretations), the rise and fall of the Great Empires of the world, and his place in the scheme of things. But it is also a dream in which he sees himself from the outside.
He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it.
And G-d was standing beside him and He said, “I am G-d, the Lord of your father Abraham and the Lord of Isaac: the ground on which you are lying I will assign to you and to your offspring. (Gen 28:12-13)
Jacob – dreaming – seeing himself from the outside. Out of body experience? Freudian analyses, anyone?
This images speak strongly to me of a delving into the experience of consciousness itself, and the matter of the subconscious. Several contemporary ideas come to my mind. One of them is the 1990 film Jacob’s Ladder. Not an easy movie to watch, but it has a poignant interpretation of a ladder: Constant, repetitive awakening from a nightmare. Once awake, it was clear that the previous experience was, indeed, a dream. But then he wakes up again, and again, and again.
The main source of inspiration for my drawing (though poorly represented) is KurtGödel‘s incompleteness theorems. The ladder could thus represent an infinite climb to higher orders of truth, or reality, from which the lower levels can be better understood. Kabalistically, this would work well with various interpretations of Jacob’s attributes, as well as his connection to Truth and Beauty.
I tried to express, in the least, the idea of a ladder which takes us outside of the confinements of the parochial. A vision which takes us outside of the planet and into the stars.
The next drawing is about starts. And the sun, and the moon. And sheathes. Josephs’ two defining dreams, both a premonition of his greatness, and the cause of his alienation from his brothers:
His brothers answered, “Do you mean to reign over us? Do you mean to rule over us?” And they hated him even more for his talk about his dreams. (Gen. 37:8)
All that didn’t end well for Joseph.
Joseph was driven by his dreams. And dreams indeed helped him rise from the depths of despair to the top of the world.
These illustrations are part of a series of kids’ books illustrations I was working on with musician and author Yerucham Levi. Sadly, it never took off. They are illustrations for a Hebrew poem called “Thunder and Lightening“. Since I made these, over a decade ago, I lost the original poem. I do hope to retrieve them upon my next visit to Jerusalem.
The basic idea of the poem is that the thunder and lightening are roaring, scaring away everyone. Weeping clouds, angry clouds, roaring clouds (thus I anthropomorphized them). But then the child, who is watching this, reproofs the clouds, the thunder and the lightening, for they are scaring away everyone – even the stars!
Illustration with mixed media: Indian ink, gauche and aquarelle. Some of them were inspired by Where the Wild Things Are, a wonderful children’s book by Maurice Sendak. See if you can guess which?
All off these images are copyright to Nachliel Selavan. The concept for the poem is copyright to Yerucham Levi.
בדיוק בזמן לקראת החורף
האיורים הללו הם חלק מסדרה של איורים לספרי ילדים שהכנתי בשיתוף עם המוזיקאי והסופר ירוחם לוי. לצערי, הסידרה לא יצאה לאור. לחיבור קוראים ״ברקים ורעמים״ (כל הזכויות שמורות לירוחם לוי). מאז שאיירתי אותם לפני למעלה מעשור, איבדתי את הטקסט המקורי. אני מקווה למצוא אותו בביקורי הבא בירושלים
הרעיון הכללי של החיבור הוא שהברקים והרעמים בוכים, מיללים, זועפים ושואגים (הלכך האנשתי אותם), ומפחידים את כולם. הילד, שמבונן בכל זה, יוצא וצועק על העננים, כי הם מפחידים את כולם – אפילו את הכוכבים
צוייר בעזרת דיו, אקוורל וגואש. חלק מהאיורים בהשראת ״ארץ יצורי הפרא״, ספר ילדים נפלא מאת מוריס סנדק. התוכלו לזהות אילו מתוכם?ח
על הזכויות על האיורים שמורות לנחליאל שה-לבן, וכל הזכויות על הרעיון של החיבור, שמורות לירוחם לוי
So if you’ve spend any significant time in the Old City of Jerusalem, you should know who “Cowboy” is, AKA “Zadi Nati” or simply: Nati Charles, the Prince of Tales.
Uncle Nati and Babi Irma, of blessed memory, have been part of my life since I was very young. It started with a connection to my father who made an accidental phone call around 1979. Since then, we’ve been close. Nati, who was a WWII Pilot, also taught me fencing, knife throwing, and all about the Masai. He is one of the coolest people you will meet.
So Uncle Nati and his wife, Nechama, asked me to paint an “Ein Gedi” style mural in their bedroom. It took me half a year to complete it, mostly because I was very busy. I took two days to do the first part, and left it in reasonably presentable fashion for the next six months or so. Below are some highlights form the process, from beginning to end.
The fun part in day 2 was that my first cousin was spending the summer at my parents’ home. He was looking for something to do so I put him to work, Karate Kid style. “Paint the fence: up – down!” even though what comes to mind for all of us is “Wax on, wax off!” You can hover over the collage images to see individual captions:
End of day 1
Reminds me of Karate Kid: “Paint the fence, up – down!”
Cousin helping out
End of day 2
Finishing touches: The Gazelle
Signed it by the stairs
Finally, we can relax!
Almost as if I was in Ein Gedi
At the end of day 2, it was basically done, I thought. But there was a whole area behind the entrance door which was left blank. Nati and Nechama could not decide what they wanted on it. Meanwhile, they decided they want to have a gazelle, to give the authentic Ein Gedi look. I was in college, hard pressed finding time to work on any painting, all the more so a mural. But you know, it’s Uncle Nati!
Finally, I got my act together and added that cute little gazelle, and it was done! The sad part is that because of the shape of the bedroom and the lighting, it was very hard to get an angle on the entire wall. So you are seeing it in fragments. But if you want to see it for yourself, you’ll have to visit Nati and Nechama, in the old city. But be warned, you might be pampered.
The lions of jerusalem. I was their caretaker, or “apotropus”, as I liked to say, for five years. That’s a joke that you’ll get when you know the talmudic adage “there is no apotropus for arayot“.
How did I get started? Well, these lions were a big deal, back in 2002. Not unlike the Chicago cows in 1999 (I happened to be there), a large amount of standing or sitting lions were decorating Jerusalem, each individually painted. Here is an article I found about it.
While you may spot the occasional lion still hanging around, they have been mostly bought and moved. Two of them were bought by a Mr. and Mrs. Hakimian from Jerusalem, and placed on Misgav Ladakh st. in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, Jerusalem. When in the Jewish Quarter, they are on the right hand side before you descend the main staircase to the Western Wall, or the Kotel.
They were placed there, facing the mount of olives, where Mrs. Hakimian’s sister, Mrs. Makovsky, is buried. Her sister loved children, and Mrs. Hakimian wanted to honor her sister’s legacy and place something for children to play with. However, there is a lot of wear and tear from tourists – young and old – touching and climbing the lions. So there is a municipality contractual agreement with Mrs. Hakimian that she is responsible for the upkeep and “well being” of the lions.
As it turns out, Mrs. Hakimian was friendly with the grandmother of my classmate, Yonatan. Yonatan asked me if I’d be interested in a painting job, since there current painter and “lion caretaker” was on maternity leave. I took the job, thinking it was just a painting job. Little did I know…
As an artist, I do get interesting jobs, which go beyond the occasional mural and construction work. This one involved learning which paints to use to withstand the weather, and wear and tear, the occasional car backing into the lions and smashing off a piece, and sadly enough, vandalism. I’ve had to deal with several of those, many times over. I got better over the years. One morning, for example, I strolled by the lions to see how they are doing, and I saw this:
That is no accident. Somebody intentionally destroyed it. For what purpose? Why? I do not know. And as you can see, this is after I already fixed it once. I learned how to use epoxy, a special type of clay that comes in two colors. When you mix the two, they form a putty that hardens like rock within an hour, and an be sanded down and perfected to make up the broken pieces. Below is an example of a facial reconstruction, before the epoxy is dry and ready to sand down and repaint.
There are so many good stories that come with painting the lions. When I actually paint them, I have to close the area off, finding police fences and tape that will keep people out. The hundreds of tourists that stop by often stop to look, talk about Jerusalem and its connection to Lions – the symbol of the tribe of Judah, in which Jerusalem is located – and many times I’ve had fascinating conversations. I learned, for example, that “Assad” is Arabic for lion, el’malik el-hayatna – king of the animals.
Sometimes it gets crazy. Once, as I was actively painting the back of the lion, some children approached out of curiosity. This happens a lot. But they usually have the common sense to stay behind the tape, or not to touch. One kid, however, decided to start climbing up the lion, while I was painting the very place he was trying to put his hands to climb. What would you do? Well, I kept painting, right over his hand. That got his attention, and a good laugh from his siblings, as it turns out.
Now here is the difficult part: The paint can take 6-12 hours to dry. What’s the problem? Well, people’s curiosity and desire to climb the lions. So I had to be very, very clear that the paint was wet, and shouldn’t be touched. I placed three police metal fences round the lions, with tape surrounding it, and a “wet paint – don’t touch” sign in three languages. Next morning, when I came to survey the lions, I found that the signs and fences have been moved, probably because they were in the way of the person who wanted to sit on the lions. As annoyed as I was, I was happy to see that their jeans were well imprinted on the damp paint. I hope they were expensive!
Anyway, those lovely five years were over, when I moved to New York in the summer of 2013. I did my final job, and passed the torch to a local artist. And with this I will end. Though I was required to stick to the classic lion colors – with some artistic license – I never went overboard. The frequency of having to upkeep and paint made it worthwhile to stick with a simple, clean coating, nothing complicated. The new artist, however, has taken the liberty to experiment with the lions. I’ve been getting the periodic update of Purim costumes, Pesach “crossing the sea” paintings on them, and lots more. Fascinating, though not my taste.
On my last visit in July 2016, I came to say hello to my lions. I hope they still recognize me!
הרב יואל טייטלבוים (י”ז בטבתתרמ”ז, 13 בינואר1887 – כ”ו באבתשל”ט, 19 באוגוסט1979; כונה “ר’ יואליש”), היה מייסדה ואדמו”רה הראשון של חסידות סאטמר. הוא מילא תפקיד מרכזי בשיקום העולם החסידי לאחר מלחמת העולם השנייה, והנהיג קו שמרני ובדלני שדחה את המודרנה. בין היתר נודע כמתנגד קיצוני ובלתי-מתפשר של הציונות ואגודת ישראל. ידוע כבעל “ויואל משה” וה”דברי יואל” על שם ספריו.
את הציור הזה ציירתי כך לא מכרתי. לצערי, הוא נהרס בגשם…
Joel Teitelbaum (13 January 1887 – 19 August 1979) was the founder and first Grand Rebbe of the Satmar dynasty. A major figure in the postwar renaissance of Hasidism, he espoused a strictly conservative and isolationist line, rejecting modernity. Teitelbaum was a fierce opponent of Zionism, which he decried as inherently heretical.
This picture was not sold, and was unfortunately ruined in the rain.