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Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010

Elisha Ben-Yitzhak: ‘Art Is My Life’

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Painter Elisha Ben-Yitzhak, raised in a farming community in Israel, began his art training in the 1960s. After milking cows in the morning, he would travel two hours by bus to Tel Aviv to study at the Avni Art Institute. Thus began Ben-Yitzhak’s many productive years as an artist. In 1985, however, Ben-Yitzhak came to Milwaukee to pursue American citizenship and another career. Following a long absence from painting, the artistic impulse re-emerged in 2006. Once again, Ben-Yitzhak attained world acclaim—he recently returned from the 2009 Florence Biennale art show in Italy.

How were you chosen to exhibit at the 2009 Florence Biennale?

This Biennale began in 1997 and a group of international judges decided to invite me the year before. A whole year I worked on this with 77 artists from the United States, the largest contingency. There were 800 artists from 80 countries in Florence. It lasted nine days and I took my two daughters. When I returned I was so inspired I painted a picture, My Song.

Did your upbringing create challenges to your art career?

I had incredible challenges as an artist. I was born on a farm and there was resentment toward artists. They said I needed to work in the fields and milk cows. The community doesn’t let me paint and I am so depressed. But then I go to Tel Aviv, and they give me a little room, a studio to paint at the academy. And I just painted and painted. Then in the 1980s I was sent to Milwaukee, to educate the Midwest on Israeli culture and politics. So I came with only $250 in my pocket. I started a travel business, married my wife, Merle, and I quit painting for 21 years. Then, in 2006 I painted again… the art just exploded.

Are there more exhibitions for you in 2010?

Yes, I’ll be in a famous catalog, The International Contemporary Masters, from the show at the Southern Nevada Museum of Fine Art in April 2010. I’ll be exhibiting the picture I painted after the Biennale. Also, the artists from Florence had a meeting and wanted a show in America. The NY Arts magazine also owns a gallery, Broadway Gallery in SoHo. On Sept. 16, 2010, we’ll be opening the U.S. Biennial Artists show. Fifty artists will be opening in New York. Then I’m waiting four more years to work and I hope to exhibit all over the world when I retire.

What does beginning to paint again after all this time mean to you?

The art is my life and my life is my art. There’s nothing more important in my life. Artists have to be free, not think about what people will say or if they will buy their art.

You must let your emotions out and go free. That’s the way I live my life. Art is expressing your emotions.

For more information, visit www.elishasart.com.

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