Gabriella in Wonderland

Artist Gabriella Barouch says Lewis Carroll's masterpiece is her favorite book of all time. Now it's her version of surrealism that's making waves around the world.

Yuval Saar
Yuval Saar
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Yuval Saar
Yuval Saar

For several weeks, the young illustrator Gabriella Barouch wandered the streets of Jerusalem with a sketch pad. Her mission was simple: To pick the 10 most important spots for illustrating and to create a travel journal.

"For an entire month I traveled almost every day from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem," she says. "I made a list of the places I felt I had to document. I walked around and took photographs, but when I came home I felt I didn't have anything to work with. I just didn't have anything to say."

What sort of places?

"The Western Wall and the whole Old City in general. I photographed and photographed and photographed, but I still found I had nothing to work with. I finally went to the Botanical Gardens. It was only there that I was able to start illustrating."

Eventually, other sites joined the Botanical Gardens, such as the Biblical Zoo, the Mishkenot Sha'ananim artists' quarter, the promenade linking Metudela Street and the Valley of the Cross, Liberty Bell Park, and the Old City souk.

"Jerusalem is so loaded with history. Everything there has a story. You'll be sitting on a bench and you have no idea how long it's been there or who sat there before you," Barouch says.

"It was important to me that my illustrations relate to the city free of its human element. Its physicality is amazing. It's one of the most amazing places in Israel, in the world. Many people can't see it because the city is so loaded. I felt it was important to convey how I see it - pure and distilled."

But you can't ignore the people of the city and its problems.

"Yeah, but you also can't ignore the city. It's rare that you stop and say, 'Hey, it's really beautiful here.' It's easy to ignore that. I'm trying to convey the city through my imagination, how I see it. I hope that people who see the illustrations will look at Jerusalem just a little bit differently. When they visit Mishkenot Sha'ananim next, they'll have the image I created in their minds, and that will change their perception of the city, if only a little. In college I lived in Jerusalem for four years, and I loved it. It wasn't cool to say it then, but I really love this city."

Jerusalem Season artist

Barouch, 27, was born in Ashkelon and is a 2011 graduate of the visual communication department at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. She created her travel journal after being selected the Jerusalem Season of Culture artist. In the next few weeks, Barouch will lead tours based on her journal, which starting next week will be sold on several websites taking part in the Jerusalem Season.

Although Barouch finished her studies only a year ago, she has forged a distinctive style of her own, apparent in her final project at Bezalel: She illustrated nine limericks by Edward Lear, a 19th-century artist, illustrator, author and poet.

Barouch reinterpreted the limericks in an original way: She combined surreal and realistic techniques. The result is lyrical and poetic. Her technique incorporates digital computer work with hand painting and illustration.

Over the past year, her illustration projects have included work for several French magazines, an exhibit at Tel Aviv's Pecha Kucha, a calendar for a Danish company, and the album cover for Amir Benayoun's CD "Tree on Water."

She was selected as one of the 51 most talented illustrators of 2011 by CMYK Magazine and took third place in the 2011 Richard Solomon competition for groundbreaking artists. She is currently negotiating with a Parisian agency about publishing a 64-page book to be based on her final project at Bezalel.

"I think Barouch's success stems from her unusual visual and narrative language," says Meirav Solomon, the head of the illustration track at Bezalel's visual communications department. "While her style of illustration is very fashionable - and that's undoubtedly a part of her success - she wouldn't have had such broad and rapid international success had her illustrations not given viewers a full sense of narrative satisfaction. Her work brings together surrealism, understated humor, a dreamy quality, and many decorative elements ....

"The language she creates is a bit mythical, very distinctive and dramatic. It carries the power of symbolism alongside realism, making the story more accessible. Her illustrations are easy to read, but they're not overly literal or obvious. Her language has something very uniform and precise about it, so we tend to believe her," Solomon says.

"Another interesting thing is that if you look at her language you discover that it's really quite kitschy and saccharine, but thanks to the strong presence of design in the illustration .... [and] tension between movement and stasis, drama and stillness, the final result manages to surprise. There's something extravagant in her style."

Yona Wallach and Nine Inch Nails

So what was the source of Barouch's creativity?

"Words are my biggest inspiration, and nonsense in particular. I connect with surrealism, which takes elements from one reality and creates a different world - a new, fascinating reality," she says.

"What more do you need? It's not surprising that 'Alice in Wonderland' is my favorite book of all time. There was a time when I was under the spell of [Israeli poet] Yona Wallach - also [rock bands] Nine Inch Nails and Porcupine Tree. The soundtrack of the movie 'Amelie' was my inspiration for the project at Bezalel."

Have you always illustrated?

"I always loved to make collages. I was in the graphics track in high school, but we used to cut and glue paper of every sort. My mother told me I had to attend Bezalel, but I wanted to be a lawyer. I already started to prep for the standardized tests and was attending a pre-law program. But around that time my grandmother, who was born in Paris, took me on a roots trip to her city of birth. When we got back I realized that I had to go to Bezalel. Those two weeks in France were two weeks of pure, unadulterated culture."

You didn't do any illustrating before Bezalel?

"No. I remember that during the interview I said that I couldn't draw, but I got in. One thing led to another and, voila!, now I illustrate."

When did you realize that illustration was for you?

"At the outset I didn't know what illustration was. For me, illustration meant sitting across from an object and drawing it the best you could. But looking through my portfolio, I realized that it was all illustrations. Even at the end of our second year at school, when we had to choose a specialization, I picked broadcasting because I wanted to do animation like Tim Burton, to create dolls and illustrate them. But two weeks into the program I realized that those software programs weren't for me and I transferred to illustration, where I felt immediately at home."

When did your style emerge?

"When I started the illustration track, I checked out every possible style and technique. I really hadn't made up my mind. I was going through a very hard time in my life, and I was sitting at home making illustrations, out of sadness. I illustrated a bird with hands and got insanely positive responses, unbelievable really, which made me think something was clicking, so I continued using the same technique.

"It seems to have been natural, because I was really doing it for myself, not for school, to unload some of the baggage I was carrying around. Over time, the style became more refined. The more you work, the broader your range. Suddenly you understand how to create a landscape or character, how to compose a scene."

Gabriella Barouch. “Words are my biggest inspiration, and nonsense in particular.”Credit: Daniel Bar-On
A work based on the poetry of Edward Lear.



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