Hairdresser
Artist Roey Heifetz (right) at Ofer Idan’s hair salon in Tel Aviv. Photo by Nir Kafri
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Roey Heifetz
Roey Heifetz's work 'The geography teacher'. Photo by Roey Heifetz

By Ellie Armon Azoulay

Ofer Idan's hair salon in Tel Aviv provides the usual array of services: manicures, eyelash lengthening, applying rhinestones to eyelids, tanning, silicon lip treatments and of course haircuts. Located in the run-down commercial center of the Neveh Eliezer neighborhood, the salon is a simple space, painted gray. Posters depict outrageous hairstyles and a plasma screen broadcasts "Big Brother" non-stop.

In other words, it is not the obvious setting for the opening of an art event. But on the wall of the salon hangs a painting by Roey Heifetz.

The 32-year-old artist is kicking off the series, "A Work a Month" - an initiative of a local communal gallery in Neveh Eliezer. The idea is to bring art to the neighborhood without invading public space, without a carnival atmosphere, but instead to enable artists to work in a more low-key manner.

Heifetz, who grew up in Rehovot, now lives in Tel Aviv and works in a studio in the southern part of the city. At the beauty parlor, he presents a painting of an extroverted and grotesque character - almost a caricature. Her eyes are wide open. It is unclear whether they are glazed over and unfocused, or staring ahead. Her tall hairdo and her clothes make her look almost theatrical. "The geography teacher" is her name.

In this painting, as with other characters in Heifetz's works, there is an emphasis on lavishness - in both his subjects and style. He works very hard on the aesthetic of the subjects of his paintings, spending months on each. When curator Sally Haftel-Naveh asked him to exhibit in this unusual setting, he saw it as a double opportunity: to get out of the studio and to spend time in a hair salon, the closest he has come so far to realizing his longtime dream of becoming a stylist. "I was very excited by that possibility," Heifetz says.

Throughout this month, he will be a guest of the salon on Thursday afternoons, drawing portraits of the neighborhood residents.

"The sketching on site will be quick, primary, and exposed," Haftel-Naveh writes in the text accompanying the project, "as opposed to the methodical work of intensive, detailed, and drawn-out labor that characterizes the work of Heifetz in his closed studio, and will deal with questions of constructing an aesthetic and taste that is both personal and collective."

Heifetz sees it a bit differently. "For my sketches, I must seclude myself in my studio," he says. "I'm nervous about the quick sketches and the work in such an exposed setting. I will be open to the people of the area or to requests, ranging from caricatures to extremely realistic drawings of people. I'm not a virtuoso of such moments; I don't know how to do that."

Heifetz completed his master's degree at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in 2009, and also taught at a special education school. He speaks enthusiastically of the collaboration with the workers at the hair salon, Ofer Idan and Nona Firelli.

"Ofer really welcomed us with open arms," says Heifetz. "Sally and I told him about our intentions, we showed him my sketches, and he got really excited. Nona warned us that this was a tough neighborhood, and it is, but the people who come to the shop and the stories they tell are amazing."

The first event in the series, held last Thursday, took place on the day of the bar mitzvah celebration of a boy from the neighborhood. The salon was absolutely packed, mostly with women from the boy's family, including his grandmother, mother and sister. They all waited their turn for a hair styling and blow-dry.

At first, Heifetz sketched the place and the people there; occasionally he even took photographs and shot video. "The women who come to the shop come from the most exposed and vulnerable place, and in the most cliched way they express the desire to be beautiful, to become a queen. And Ofer does that for them," Heifetz says. The artist gives away his sketches. It's one of the ways he repays the salon for hosting him. (The city is funding the project. )

Every Thursday, Heifetz also invites two people from the local art scene - an artist, gallery owner or art historian - to come for a haircut or nail treatment. "If this project manages to create a dialogue," he says, "it will have been a success."