“You did this??”
Upon hearing about our new business initiative – Ben Zion Fine Arts, people kept asking us these questions.
“How did you do this? When did you do this? How did this all come about?”.
We started thinking way back. And realized, it all started Succos time!
But in truth, we realized the process of incubation started long before that.
Engineering is in the blood of my husband’s family. His grandfather was a mechanic in the air force, his father was a structural engineer, and Asher, my husband, spent his whole childhood constructing and de-constructing toys. toys. His choice to become an aeronautical engineer came naturally.
While solving complex damage issues and drafting 3D sketches of airplane repairs, Asher’s head just swirls with potential ideas to build. (He is just finishing a meat smoker he made out of a water geyser and our old oven, previously he built a hydroponic fish tank from common plumbing material, all in our backyard!)
Against the background of my mother, a psychologist and visual artist, and my sister, an architect and school art department director, I forged my way into the web design industry
Coming from a Jewish home, I grew up in a world of art and endless creativity where nothing is a given and experimenting is everything. With the splendid artworks painted all over the walls of the family garage, I knew anything was possible.
I developed my graphic design skills while finishing my college degree in mathematics and computers.
Setting up home
2004 – Love and marriage and aliyah!
In Israel, our furniture, as well as our appliances were all hand-me-downs.
With artworks galore; my mother’s, my sister’s and my own, a touch of colorful paint and a few pieces of old, simple furniture we created a cosy home.
From the start, the furniture had minimalistic lines, and the design was contemporary. The living room appeared much larger than the little room it really was!
One wall stood out. It appeared so naked and so empty.
It needed a center piece, that would liven the place and be the focus of the living room, to add the final touch to the home interior.
And there was one missing element to this Jewish home.
We wanted our home to be complete with pictures of tzadikim and gedolei yisrael!
They had inspired us until now. We wanted their pictures to continue to inspire us and our children in the future.
The Rav and the Succah
2006 – The succah boards had to be painted!
Coming from a home where the walls were just another canvas to be painted, , it was no surprise that the boards of the sukkah would be lavishly decorated by hand.
Succot is the best time of the year!
Each year an additional panel board of the Sukkah was colorfully illustrated. The tradition continues till this day, with each kid in the family being allocated a panel a year to paint. And yes, occasionally we have guest painters too!
Succot was also the time when we redoubled our search for pictures of Rabbonim.
We wanted to find Rabbonim to use in our succah and hoped at the same time to find something to fill the empty space on our living room wall.
Each year we made multiple trips to the Sukkah market in attempt to find a modern rendering of famous Gedolim in line with our contemporary taste. We spent much time desperately looking for visually attractive images that would fit in with our modern design flavor, images to enjoy being surrounded by.
We searched the modern Jewish art and Judaica stores and markets. Many pictures of Rabbonim were available. We bought some, but never used them.
We never found anything that we felt comfortable enough to live with.
Eventually one year I decided we had to do something!
We so wanted Gedolim in our succah…
Just prior to candle lighting erev Sukkos, in a race against time, I opened up Photoshop on my computer and started playing with photos of the Gedolim in a mad attempt to print some images of Rabbonim before the chag began.
I made some changes to the images of Rabbonim, printed some pictures, gave them to Asher, my husband, to hang up in the Sukkah, and ran off to light the candles.
When we sat at the yom tov table that night, I glanced over my shoulders at the pictures of the Rabbonim on our succah wall.
I thought “mmm… wow… that’s actually really nice!”
Our big blank wall
2007 – The wall which stared at us, as we walked into the house, was still blank.
I come from a family of creative beings, didn’t I?
My brain burst with ideas.
After all, every time I got together with my mother, we would rebuild our house, imagine knocking down walls and move rooms, building a new setting, all in fifteen minutes!
The following day we would buy the apartment above us, build stairs to connect our apartment and the apartment above us, change the rooms around… in an instance.
Same went for our present big blank wall.
We would continually brainstorm and discuss different ideas to create Jewish artworks on it.
The materials for the prospective artworks varied. We considered using acrylic (my mother’s art medium of choice), oils and lots of other materials.
For some reason I kept thinking about a modern, abstract, laser cut artwork. A precise, laser metal sheet.
I don’t know where that came from but it kept appearing, again and again.
The first vector file
2013 – Ever wonder what an aeronautical engineer does?
Asher spends most of his days designing custom repairs on the airplane’s very thin sheet metal skin. (Did you know that the skin on many passenger jets can be as thin as just 1mm? No? It scared me silly the first time I heard that too.)
When he heard me talking about the laser cut metal, an idea started forming in his head.
Could our succah Rabbonim pictures be laser cut from sheet metal?? How? What would be needed? What material would be best?
He sat at the computer and opened his CAD programs, and secretly started working on vectors for the Rabbonim to be laser cut.
While on a family trip to South Africa he researched and found a company which did laser cutting and visited it to investigate suitable materials and methods.
He prepared a file according to instructions and sent it for cutting.
One day, still in Johannesburg, Asher disappeared.
He arrived back in the house an hour later with an odd-looking flat piece of metal wrapped with tape.
To my surprise and delight he peeled away the tape, and uncovered the first cutting of our Rabbonim!
Our first major step forward!
Our first laser cutting!
One of our most beloved pictures, which had hung in our Sukka for a few years – a rendering of a famous photo of Rav Shach wearing his tefillin and his iconic yarmulke while learning at a stander, was converted into a vector drawing and laser-cut from stainless steel.
We marvelled at each minor step of the development process, despite the fact that many more troublesome issues came up and had to be dealt with.
Now that we knew we could cut stainless steel with laser; what type of stainless steel should be used?
Mirror? Brushed? 3mm? 5mm?
And what material would the background layer of the cut-out portrait be made of?
Velvet? Wood? Satin? Acrylic?
Black? Colorful? Textured?
Is the content clearly identifiable?
How could we make all the pieces come together to form a contemporary Jewish artwork?
I always listen to my mother, the fine artist (and the psychologist). Her words sounded clearly in my head: “visual problems are solved visually!”
So, we experimented, tried many combinations of materials, one after another. We critically scrutinized, looked and examined each of them. We joined added and discarded.
The results were very clear. We found the answer!!
When the two materials were put together there was no doubt.
The artwork instantaneously came to life and shone clearly back at me, interacting with me as I walked around the room.
We had found our match – we had arrived!
The best combination was brushed stainless steel embedded on a background of black acrylic.
Simplicity and grandeur
Every detail had to be thought out many times.
Design had to be balanced with practicality.
“Form and Function” as they say in art lingo.
Was the artwork to be framed? Left frameless? How would it be hung? What would give it the best design and practicality?
We decided the portrait needed a frame. But which one?
Something that would give definition and grandeur without detracting from the simplicity and focus of the artwork itself (something almost opposite to what most traditional Jewish photos are framed with generally).
We decided on a very thin metal frame in the contrasting colour of the background.
This added the strength, definition and design without detracting from the focus.
It worked perfectly.
(Keep in mind that every design decision came together with finding the correct quality supplier for the job. You would think to find a simple black frame would be easy!
We went through 5 framers, including cutting and assembling the frame ourselves, until we found the right person!)
When we brought it home and hung it on our big blank wall, we knew straight away that this was it.
This was just what we had been looking for all those years.
We finally had a beautiful modern artwork of one of the Gedolei Yisrael.
And we loved it!
We had our first Rav, Rav Shach, on our big wall! Our modern Jewish artwork.
We stared at it constantly.
We loved looking at it from different angles.
We loved touching it.
The contrast was incredible – the simple minimalistic lines of the cold, hard stainless steel against the shiny black acrylic which reflected back at you as you moved across the room.
We positioned it in the middle of our big wall. Leaving space on either side for another two portraits to complete the space.
And so, we started to work on our next artwork. This time Asher chose a much more complex picture – the iconic photo of Rav Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky, the Steipler Gaon – to render.
Despite the fact that this was a much more detailed artwork to produce, the result was stunning! So different to Rav Shach as it was much more detailed and had much more of an acrylic base but stunning. And it took its place on our wall.
And finally, a portrait of Rav Elyashiv was developed to complete the series on our wall. This time differing in that the majority was metal with a small background of acrylic.
The three looked amazing together and finally filled our big blank wall!
Not only that, it brought the gadlus of the gedolim as a feature in our home as well as being an awesome central focus point of modern Jewish art to add to our contemporary interior.
We had finally achieved everything we had set out to achieve some 10 years before!
The result was clearly evident.
Each time I responded to a knock on the door, I saw the eyes of the person wondering away from me as they spoke and focused on the artwork behind me.
“Those are amazing. What are they? Can I touch them? Where did you get them?” kept repeating itself.
They were intrigued. They had never seen anything like it. They wanted to touch it to understand the texture, to feel the contrast between the metal and acrylic. They wanted to see the small pieces up close and resolve how the artwork came together.
Very quickly we understood that not only had we solved a big problem for ourselves, but that many others had the same pain issue – they wanted portraits of gedolim but they couldn’t find something that suited the interior of their homes, but we had just produced a solution that we could share with them!
We decided to test out our theory. We produced a few copies of our artworks and planned a house party.
We went through our phone books and singled out people that we thought would appreciate our art and may have the same problem that we had in finding portraits of gedolim to bring into their modern homes.
We converted our home into a gallery and waited for the night.
The reaction was very interesting. Some people pre-ordered once they heard we were producing as they had already seen them at our house!
On the day of the event, of all the people we called, only 30% arrived.
Everyone who came was mesmerized by the artwork’s beauty and ingenuity. Some husbands and wives argued over which one to take and in their disagreement left with none.
Another couple walked in and bought four! Three for themselves, to complete the wall that they had been searching to fill with Jewish artwork, and a fourth as a present for their father.
We learnt so much from people’s reactions.
We heard about how many people had grappled with this exact issue. They wanted so much to integrate pictures of rabbonim into their modern home but struggled to find ones that would fit.
They wanted to feel comfortable in their home, inspired by a picture of a gadol on their walls.
They wanted to integrate a Rav that they personally connected to into their homes more than anything.
We heard our pain echoed many times by others. We proved that our need was not only our own.
We realized we had a product of superior quality which solved a problem of a specific target market.
We understood we needed to expand our collection, brand ourselves and add a signature to our art.
And thus, Ben Zion Fine Arts was born.