Bright pink salami cold cuts and tiny bottles of liquor make up the face of Boris Yeltsin. Madonna has a red kabbalah string for a mouth; Barbra Streisand a large black microphone for a nose. And Albert Einstein sports a mane of white electrical cables.
Israeli artist Hanoch Piven’s amusing portraits of famous people are assembled from common objects imbued with references that seem both surprising and inevitable.
They include portraits of world leaders, celebrities, historical figures and pop-culture icons, and have been published in The New Yorker, Rolling Stone and Haaretz for more than 20 years. Now Piven’s work is being brought together for the first time, in an exhibition currently at the Skirball Cultural Center.
“Making Faces” includes images of Barack Obama, Golda Meir, Steven Spielberg, Charles Darwin and a never-before-seen portrait of gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, with a slice of American apple pie for his nose. Sixteen large-scale giclee (inkjet) prints will be on display, as well as six original collages that don’t use perishable Piven favorites — such as bananas, doughnuts and chicken legs.
“We strive to make art part of everyday life here at the Skirball,” the museum’s associate curator, Tal Gozani, said. “And that is very much what Hanoch does in his own work and in his workshops, so we knew he was a perfect fit for us.”
Piven conducts art workshops around the world, including at an oncology unit in an Israeli hospital, at a conference with business executives in Greece and for schoolteachers in Barcelona, Spain. The workshops help make art accessible to nonartists of all ages and help people communicate in a nonverbal way.
“This has been useful for people who want to express something that’s difficult for them with words, like people with traumas,” said Piven, who has worked with art therapists in Israel to adapt his workshops from purely recreational to therapeutic.
A 2007 post on his blog, Drawger, titled “Art After Wartime,” describes a therapeutic art workshop he conducted with current and former Israeli soldiers suffering the emotional effects of combat.
“There was a 55-year-old veteran of the Yom Kippur War with PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder] who told me that he had not sat down to do art since kindergarten,”
Piven said in a phone interview from Rome. “The nonjudgmental, fun, relaxing space opens issues up for people without them even knowing it. One of the art therapists once described it as a ‘bungee jump of the subconscious.’ ”
One soldier’s self-portrait, made of a Spider-Man figurine, dish scrubber, pocket watch and cork stoppers, is featured on Piven’s blog. The anonymous soldier wrote: “I was afraid at first to come to the shop, and I guess that it wasn’t easy on anyone, but at the end I was very happy that I came. ... One of the issue[s] that I tried to show [is] that we are not heroes! even not Spiderman! and we all need help in one way or another in our life and we should not be a shame to ask for it!!! Thank you hanoch from all my heart.”
Because of their shared interests, Piven is giving a workshop in Los Angeles on March 15 with Piece by Piece, a nonprofit that hosts art workshops using recyclable materials in underserved communities, teaching participants marketable skills while nurturing creativity and fostering self-confidence.
“Hanoch Piven shares our same philosophy: creating something whole and beautiful from broken pieces — broken hearts, broken families, broken wills,” said Sophie Alpert, the organization’s founder.
Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Jacob Dayan and his wife, Galit, are responsible for bringing Piven to Los Angeles for the Skirball exhibition and the Piece by Piece workshop, one of several the artist will conduct during his visit, including a few at the Skirball for children and adults.
“Hanoch is absolutely huge in Israel,” Jacob Dayan said of his personal friend, noting that some of the artist’s work currently hangs in Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport, and three portraits of Israeli dignitaries are also displayed at the consulate in Los Angeles. Piven has also written and illustrated six children’s books and will be debuting an iPhone collage art application, called Faces IMake, in Los Angeles on March 19.
“He is a unique and engaging artist whose art is interactive and accessible and brilliant,” Dayan said. “In terms of the exhibitions we [the consulate] are doing this year, this is the most outstanding by far.”
“Making Faces” runs through July 11 at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 440-4500.