Graffiti writers in Israel once furtively sprayed anti-establishment messages on city walls under the cover of night.
Now graffiti is called street art, and it is the establishment.
Or in this case, the Patron Tequila liquor company, the Jaffa Port and several other local firms that sponsored an international group of street artists to come to Israel during the Sukkot holiday.
The project, called Patron of Arts, had the eight artists choose from different locations in Jaffa, most of them near the port, and set them up with cranes, paints and brushes for their creations.
At 11 a.m. on Thursday, artistic duo Pichiavo (Pichi and Avo) from Valencia, Spain were finishing up their rendering of ancient Greek poet Anacreon with a bird in his hand, a five-layered painting on a wall overlooking the sea, in hues of pink and violet.
“We tell a lot of mythological stories,” said Pichi, 34, who had a degree in fine arts when he joined Avo, an industrial designer, and embarked on the street art path. “We have a lot of classical themes, and this is a way of expressing it, and for us, it’s also a way to learn.”
The two were still adding layers of color to the painting Thursday while a small crowd stood by, taking photos and quietly watching.
“The people have been great,” said Pichi. “They learn the process from watching, and they’re engaged in the process. It’s a great culture here.”
That kind of interaction is the whole idea behind the project, said Rachel Meijler, a Tel Aviv gallery owner who has been working on the idea for the last two years.
It was Meijler and Frenchman Olivier Paytel, who met and came up with the idea of bringing the group of graffiti artists to Israel, primarily as a way of combating the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
“They have to be really brave to come to Israel, because a lot of their followers are influenced by BDS,” said Meijler. “Instagram is all about how many followers you have, and the moment you are pro-something, you immediately deal with that.”
Bringing the graffiti artists to Israel to create art was a way of circumventing politics, and offering a reason to visit, said Paytel.
“We see it all the time, as gallery owners or collectors,” said Meijler. “The artists have opinions that are not based on real experience and you have to show them the place in a non-political way. We want to show them Israel.”
It took Meijler two years to put the project together — the artists travel constantly, and generally need about a week in one place to create their wall works.
The artists included Cranio from Brazil, who painted blue Indians sailing in a violet-colored sea; a 3D bird by Insane51 from Greece; a black paper airplane flying out of a wall by Nuno Viegas from Portugal and a gray tiger with an electric blue eye, from South African artist Sonny Sundancer.
“This kind of art is really important, and it may bring other artists here,” said Paytel.
The street artworks were created on the worn and sometimes crumbling walls of Jaffa’s port area, where chic coffee shops and ice cream parlors overlook fishing boats and cobblestoned streets.
Meijler said she got lucky when she looked for a location in Tel Aviv, and discovered that the walls of Jaffa port were available, as the port area is due to be renovated in the next two years.