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From light sculptures to silk-printing: Showcasing Israel's top artisans

Young Israeli artists are winning international awards, and a new book shows why

    Watchmaker Itay Noy at work in his Old Jaffa workshop
    Watchmaker Itay Noy at work in his Old Jaffa workshop Photo: Baruch Rafic

    Israeli craftsmanship has long been in the spotlight, thanks to Ron Arad’s radical curvy furniture designs and Alber Elbaz’s silky silhouettes for French fashion house, Lanvin as its former artistic director.

    Young Israeli artists are winning international awards, and Tel Aviv design graduate Noa Raviv featured in last year’s blockbuster exhibition, Manus x Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology, at the Met Museum’s Costume Institute, with her exuberant 3D printed dresses appearing alongside Karl Lagerfeld’s handmade couture for Chanel, and Prada’s plastic paillettes, among others.

    Now a new book, Artisans of Israel, by Lynn Holstein, showcases 40 of the country’s top craftsmen, working in watchmaking, jewellery, ceramics, glass, textiles, paper and more. If you’re looking for very special Chanukah gifts, it’ll give you a lot of ideas.

    Photo: Baruch Rafic

    Ayala Serfaty’s organic light sculptures have been on display in prestigious galleries including London’s Design Museum and the Pompidou Centre in Paris, whilst Israeli-Druze Rami Tereef mixes old and new technology with his flat, solar powered motor boat with table, grill and fridge. Rising star, Moshe Roas, 36, is based in coastal Kibbutz Palmachim. His experimental dissolving fabric designs have won fans including Donna Karan.

    A desire for innovation is the common driver, says Holstein. Once Israeli artisans have learned traditional skills, she says, “they often set off in startling new directions.”

    Unlikely materials are used such as concrete in jewellery or precious metals coated with military Teflon. Techniques are mashed up, so metal stools are made with basketry methods. Judaica items, from spice boxes to the yad used for reading from the Torah, evolve too with modern intricate patterns and dazzling semi-precious stones like lapis lazuli.

    Woodturner Maia Halter, 33, looks for defects in the wood as she works and often finds this becomes the most beautiful part of the bowl. “Sometimes suddenly I see something that surprises me like something a little bit twisted which is better than the initial idea, so I work as things arise and change the form or material,” she says.

    “Being from Israel helps, because it is unique,” says watchmaker, Itay Noy, 45, from his Old Jaffa workshop, where he designs limited edition watches, making the dials and cases using Swiss watch movements which he adapts to his needs as well as assembling the watches and making the leather straps. “I’m the only one who makes watches in Israel. Some think Swiss watches are the only ones and 99 per cent of the watch industry is mass produced,” he adds.

    It’s important to add Jewish references too, Noy continues. “Not for religious reasons but for tradition, because as a creator I try to deal with my point of view and life I see around me.” His Duality collection features an enamel painted dial which can be reversed. One side is “very busy” for week days, he says, the other is quieter for Shabbat. Next year he plans to create a watch featuring a moving moon to “coincide with the Jewish lunar calendar so the moving position of the moon will be seen every day as the month counter.”

    Photo: Baruch Rafic

    Noy is not alone in riffing on Jewish traditions. Modi’in based, Simone Solomon, 49, makes porcelain Judaica pieces from mezzuzot to Pesach plates, and also creates tiny porcelain houses open at the back for votive candles. These are meant to be lit simultaneously by people across cities, countries and continents. “It’s absolutely taken from the Friday night tradition of lighting candles,” she says, “but more than this as it reminds us of people living in the shtetls and Chagall pictures and realising the communication in those days are not the same today but our need to be together is.”

    Roas has a more spiritual take. His deconstructed fabrics with sand and glass powder or brass with enamel are inspired by Kabbalistic notions of life and death and what happens to the human soul or material soul when it dies. “I use the acid to eat the cotton,” he says of the silk printing technique which he created, “so where the cotton isn’t printed the acid heats it and the fabric becomes lacy.”

    With its forests, beaches, desert and more, the diverse landscape is a rich resource. Negev based, Nuni Yavnai uses local materials like the banana tree branches and parts of the carob tree to weave her colourful baskets into unusual shapes like cats’ heads. And woodcarver, Eli Avisera evokes the distinctive geometric stones of his Jerusalem hometown on the edges of his plates.

    ‘Artisans of Israel: Transcending Tradition’ is published by Arnoldsche

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