From the Pavement to the Gallery: Street Art Gets Showcase in Tel Aviv

The 'Inspiration Art Festival' is showing the works of 70 international public artists at the newly renovated Ottoman train station in Tel Aviv.

Victoria Schneider
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Victoria Schneider

Walking through the streets of Tel Aviv can be a culturally enriching experience: Colorful carousel horses have invaded the city walls and other public spaces, accompanied by the message "always keep moving". The horses are the imprints of DEDE, a street artist from Tel Aviv. And along with fellow artists from Philadelphia, Paris, London, Hamburg and Milan, his work is being show at this year's "Inspiration Art Festival" at the newly restored Ottoman era train station in Tel Aviv.

"What inspires you?" is the motto of the exhibition which runs until October 21. Among the displayed objects is the first draft of DEDEs horses, before it made it to the streets. He was 14 when he started decorating walls, a mere "act of vandalism", he says. After finding an aerosol can he went on his first secret mission: breaking into his school to decorate a wall with the solar system, in blue.

A combination board by street artists Mimi the Clown, Stickman and Inspire, at the Inspiration Art Festival in Tel Aviv, October 2010.Credit: Victoria Schneider

"The next day I was amazed seeing about 600 kids looking at what I had done the night before. Then I realized, I can do this!", he says.

"This show is one of the most legal ones we've done so far", says Inspire, an Israel based American graffiti artist, whose mission is to "paint flowers all over the city of Tel Aviv". For growth and change. Since the foundation of "Inspiration Art" four years ago in Jerusalem, abandoned buildings such as the old cinema or the Dolphinarium have served as canvases.

Combination board by Mimi the Clown, Stickman and Inspire
First panel by Drip up Gary, created in a nightly session under a street lamp
Banana gun by Professor Gyro
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Combination board by Mimi the Clown, Stickman and InspireCredit: Victoria Schneider
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First panel by Drip up Gary, created in a nightly session under a street lampCredit: Victoria Schneider
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Banana gun by Professor GyroCredit: Victoria Schneider
Tel Aviv street art exhibit, October 2010

This suited the street artists' usual habit of staying anonymous, although the exhibition was not public. This year is different, not only because the project has extended and turned into a festival, but because the event is accessible for a wider audience, an idea the artists regard as enriching.

"We want people to recognize our work in the streets after they've seen it here", says Inspire. Or, as DEDE puts it: "Sometimes they don't see the art in the streets. We want to create awareness amongst people who don't know."

It is not by chance that the event was founded and set in Israel.

"Look at this", says Inspire, stepping out of the exhibition building and pointing toward what is just a few meters away, separated by a fence: some of Israel's armed forces' artillery and combat vehicles, neatly lined up in a row by the IDF museum - the next-door neighbor of the Tachana.

"This is what we are fighting," says Inspire. "This is here and it will not stop. Public art is our medium to do something against this".

Based in Jerusalem, INSPIRE collective first started as a flickr and blogger community for public artists. Some years ago it moved to Tel Aviv where a range of other events take place annually. The displayed artworks all differ in technique and medium. Mimi the Clown decorates Paris's walls with clowns. ENCORE supplies different cities with his impressive paintings that look so real one could think they are click prints. They are all meticulously painted by hand.

"Encore is the most talented of the artists this year", explains Inspire, "this guy is way ahead of his time."

There are artists from the U.K., South Africa, Italy, Germany and Israel who have created graffitis, prints, installs, tattoos or paintings using old doors, matches, woodglue, ink, and photographs. Some of the panels are individual works, some are combination boards - the result of collaborating artists who each donated one or more pieces of their art in order to create unique collages.

It took six months to plan the event (in the Comfort13). The announcement was made online, the most important communication platform for the community.

"It's a snowball", says Drip Up Gary, an artist from the U.K., about the constant growth of the project. About 40 of the artists handed in their works by folding them and sending them in an envelope by mail. "We don't know if we've set them up correctly", he adds.

Drip up Gary discovered public art only when he got to Israel 14 months ago. "I had always thought I couldn't draw until I got here", he says. Now human bodies (he is a tattoo artitst) and the street are his targets. The latter is his most important stage, although it is often illegal to use it as platform for art – something which he finds quite disturbing: "After all, the streets belong to everybody – so share!"

This opinion is shared by DEDE, one of the few Israeli representatives of the show. To improve his work, DEDE sometimes spents hours standing next to his graffitis, listening to what people say about his efforts. Since his initial piece of art in the school hall (which was erased after just one week), his work has developed. Now he is one of Tel Aviv's liveliest street artists. His recent project, stamping the city with 25 of the colourful carousel horses and their text exemplifies his dedication to combine text and image.

"The horses are moving, but at the same time they are stuck on one spot. It's just like us," he says. The draft he is pointing at has altered since he first made it. With simple draw cuts made of paper. Things have been erased, others added.

"At the end of the day, this is what art is and should be about: change. And life is too."

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