Mahane Yehuda graffiti artist tackles Rosh Hashanah themes
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Signs of the times

Mahane Yehuda graffiti artist tackles Rosh Hashanah themes

Solomon Souza, in his new role as artist-in-residence for The Israel Innovation Fund, puts pomegranates and grapes at the center of his New Year series

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Members of The Israel Innovation Fund, creating original works of art with the help of artist-in-residence, Solomon Souza (Courtesy TIIF)
Members of The Israel Innovation Fund, creating original works of art with the help of artist-in-residence, Solomon Souza (Courtesy TIIF)

There’s a cornucopia of ruby red pomegranates, purple grapes and arched windows in Solomon Souza’s series of Rosh Hashanah images, created by the self-taught artist for The Israel Innovation Fund, the organization that creates cultural programs to showcase Israeli life.

Souza, best known for his spray-painted images of famous Israelis and Jews vividly splayed  on the shutters of Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, has turned to other iconic images in this series, in keeping with the themes of the holiday celebrating the Jewish New Year.

The paintings and prints are on sale as part of the fund’s The Hebrew Wallpaper Project, which aims to connect Israeli artists with new audiences worldwide. The fund created an artist-in-residence program in which it supports an artist and provides a living wage, materials and studio expenses to artists with proven success in Israel. Souza is their first artist-in-residence.

“I can make whatever I want,” said Souza, “and the idea is to make works that are relevant to this time of year.”

The red-and-white Rosh Hashana imagery was made by Souza while living in Jaffa, and evokes the mix of ancient and modern (Courtesy TIIF)

The Rosh Hashana series is all spray-painted, a fitting medium for Souza right now, as “with each release of the spray can, I can release pressure from myself,” said Souza, who is currently between apartments and feeling pressure about his living situation.

Souza said he is currently staying in Safed where his mother lives, surrounded by mountains and trees, and “all those elements and symbols of the season,” he said. “I don’t know why I’m living in Tel Aviv when I could have this.”

This calmer, green-and-red motif draws from Souza’s contemplation of the pomegranate and its process of growth (Courtesy TIIF)

His plan is to produce around ten pieces for the Rosh Hashana series, and several more as Yom Kippur approaches on September 19.

He began the series while still living in Jaffa and points to the flash of ancient stonework alongside the push for modernity and graffiti and new construction.

“I’m not Israeli-born but this is who I am now, this is my identity,” said Souza, who was born in England. “These pieces, every piece of art is a way for me to express myself and everything that’s around me.”

The long, narrow green painting draws from the branches of pomegranate trees.

“There are 613 seeds in a pomegranate, but they have to grow first, they don’t start out with 613, it’s a process of growth,” he said. “If you want to make any progress, you have to grow.”

Shuk Gallery artist Solomon Souza. (Luke Tress/TOI)

The project is part of Souza’s work for the fund as their artist in residence, a position they offered him in May, and with the aim of showcasing Israeli culture.

The fund’s CEO, Adam Scott Bellos, first came across Souza’s work on a finished canvas, as it was carried by a client through the streets of Jerusalem after she’d purchased it.

Souza became known locally through his Mahane Yehuda gallery, an ambitious project that isn’t yet complete, as Souza still has a couple of hundred more shutters to paint.

In the meantime, Souza has been touring through the US and Australia, where he was commissioned to paint large-scale paintings for Jewish schools and other community centers. His largest painting to date was 120 square meters long.

Golda Meir by Solomon Souza. Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem, February 2016. (Renee Ghert-Zand/TOI)

Just to compare, his average Mahane Yehuda shutter is about five to six square meters in size.

All the paintings created for the fund are for sale, and are available as prints on canvas.

“It’s pretty amazing for me,” said Souza. “The fund wanted to do this and I’m their guinea pig.”

There are three sizes for each available Souza print and they retail for $100, $500, and $1,000. “Crowning of the Year,” the tall and narrow piece, is 24×46, 30×60 and 52×100. The wider piece is available in 43×24, 55×30 and 100×55.

The signed prints on canvas are available via inquiry to info@tiif.org.

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