“The ONLY answer is LOVE” ~ Natan Elkanovich
Renowned Contemporary Artist Natan Elkanovich arouses crowds at this year’s ART MIAMI exhibit. Witnessing first-hand the reaction from international buyers at the show, Elkanovich’s pieces are a collector’s slice of heaven that engages the senses. Developing his own 3D technique using pâtissier tools from piping bags and irons to mixers, Elkanovich’s bailiwick of textile application emanates throughout his artwork like a rhapsodic menagerie in a hyper-realistic fantasia of color and 3D illusionary opulence.
The influence of fashion surfaces in his work subconsciously as the gesture of the painting comes to life, much like the performance of a fabric. “It reminds me of the textural qualities you feel when knitting a sweater. Art, just as fashion, should have an experiential journey, and I yearn to translate this into my work”, says Natan.
Elkanovich’s rite of passage from IDF Officer to Academy Award Winner and a prominent global figure in the art scene wasn’t always an easy one, but his unspoken artistic voice carried him through the darkest of times as he continues to be a beacon of light and speak loudly on issues for those who can’t.
Natan began drawing in his early toddler and child developmental years. “You could say I drew before I could talk,” mentions Elkanovich. I may have been two years old or even earlier in age. I remember wanting to paint things that intimidated the people of my culture. We were living in a scary situation – an evil communist regime in which you had to fly by their rules, or you might find yourself in a terrible set of circumstances like my mother did when she was 18 years old. As the saying goes, “And where are you going? Ooh, back to Siberia.”
Between the ages of 18 to 24 years old, Natan’s mother spent a period of her life in a Gulag (Soviet Forced-Labor Camp), comparative to the camps under the Nazi regime that imposed control over others by using the harshest means for discipline and obeyance measures. “This left a traumatic and indelible impact on the way she raised me, frightened and scared about what others heard and witnessed,” says Natan. “Hush-hush, don’t speak too loudly. Don’t say anything too controversial because the neighbors may hear and blow a whistle on you. People get money for that sort of thing.”
When Natan was eight, his father told him the family was leaving Russia to live in Israel.” I didn’t know a thing about the State of Israel or the establishment of it. All I knew was that we were secretive about being Jewish, followed the rituals quietly at home, and celebrated the holidays under the radar. There were no synagogues you went to say prayers at or any comprehension I had about my history or the language.” Although his uncle studied Hebrew at school before Stalin’s leadership over the Soviet Union, his family didn’t speak about these things because children were forbidden to learn anything about Judaism, Christianity, or any other philosophy.
“To conceive that I was going to live in Israel felt like I was going to live on Mars. When I heard the news, I cacophonously leaped into the air with such joy that I thought I could reach the clouds. It was the highest I had ever jumped and the happiest childhood moment.” Anywhere but here, recalls Natan. – “It took us about a year or so to get proper documentation together as Russian Jews at that time were abandoned and exiled from Israel at the beginning of the Zionist movement. My family was lucky enough not to experience the malign influence that Germany had over Russia because of the Molotov Agreement- the non-aggression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union that partitioned Central and Eastern Europe. Ironically enough, my mother’s native tongue is Russian, but I have a heavy Romanian accent.”
Luckily, Natan’s parents were not “industry professionals” who worked under the restraints of the Soviet Union Army. “In this context, our wait for departure was short-lived. Some of our friends and relatives waited up to 15 years to get out.”
“The only way I could express myself was through painting, although my voice was limited to what I could put down onto the canvas, such as trees and houses. These memories have stuck with me and are implanted in my head. I hated it; I wanted to paint something different: silhouettes, a naked body. I was told not to leave the subject bare when painting a body. It was considered improper- Put a dress on her or place a suit on him. Children don’t see this as sexual; they see forms and shapes.” In many ways, the reference to painting subjects and bodies was a crossover from one discipline to another that led to a career in Costume Design in later years.
“My parents vetoed any formal art education and training because they felt it was too dangerous for me to subjectively put myself out into the world. Instead, their wish for me was to become a doctor, engineer, or lawyer to give me the fortitude of a stable and comfortable life.” Nevertheless, Natan wanted to study something other than that. “I looked for another horizon to combine my love of art and humanity. The closest thing that struck a chord for me was fashion, which combines my love of art and people. As a humanist, it was essential for me to stay close to my passions, and soon after that, I went to study fashion design.”
Elkanovich’s switch paid off, and for 25 years, he worked in cinema and television, which decorated him four times with the Israeli Academy Award for Best Costume Design. The versatility of his work made him successful as he thrived in his craft but was authentic to heart; Natan’s affection for painting never strayed as he continued to paint in parallel throughout his fulfilling Costume Design profession until 2017.
The most exciting part of Natan’s illustrious career is when he met his husband Rosario 13 years ago in Israel when he came to dance. Elkanovich describes their meeting as love at first sight. “After one year, Rosario stopped dancing, and we started to work together.” My work included Disney Channel Israel and other shows for youth and the dramatic television series Homeland with episodes filmed in Israel.
“I always wanted to create a style that was identifiable and personal to each character. The process begins with choosing a color, fabric, and silhouette palette. Many times, actors have come up to me to express that my work made them better communicators because they feel the character’s persona. Clothing is one of the most crucial elements of non-communication that influences how you project your body language.”
There’s an interplay between the way Natan approaches Costume Design and the way he approaches the canvas. You can see the nuance in the paintings on how he fuses art and fashion into the conversation of his works. Natan intermediates, “Rosario was a ballet dancer, and the importance of movement in the paintings creates a mood that draws people in. I don’t purposely do this with intention; I simply listen to my own intuition. I’m happy to say that the result of using minimum colors evokes an emotional and visceral response. I’m only the messenger.”
Elkanovich interjects more about his tributes and heroes. “I paint figures and people who I admire and have shaped and influenced my inner world. Some of them are my babysitters, to whom I owe so much gratitude for what they gave to me. Others include Master of Art, my homage to Lichtenstein’s Blonde, Keith Haring, Warhol, Matisse, and comic book heroes who have been my teachers. I like to put my own phrases into pieces.”
“David Bowie escorted the upbringing of my life from 18 until today. He had a profound impact on my creative process. And then there’s Gal Gadot. What an amazing lady! Rosario and I designed clothes for her in her last movie before Wonder Woman. We worked closely with her on set for four months, had a wonderful time, and became great friends. At the end of the shooting, I presented her with a special portrait I had painted for her, and she accepted it with love and posted it on Instagram. I didn’t even ask her to do that; it was thoughtful.”
In recent years, other paintings have included scientists and politicians. In the last five years, Natan has been drawn to anonymous human subjects. “I just walk the street and see what piques my curiosity and projects a feeling that awakens me. I ask their permission to take a photo and then return to my studio to turn it into a painting.”
When asked what human Luxury means to Natan, he replied, “Luxury for me is love of children and family. In my philosophy, I’m a bit of a Buddhist. A lot of tantra and meditation practice goes into my work, as patience is necessary to do what I do. I follow these basic principles: Trust the Universe, Love your Life and Love Yourself. A Rolex watch or a Ferrari doesn’t mean much to me.”
Elkanovich contributes his paintings to noble causes and organizations to raise money for the less fortunate, children, and women in stress and need. “To help break the shackles of despair, suffering, and pain is the least I can do. My name in Hebrew means “he has given,” and “gift from God.” A few years ago, Natan donated 15 paintings to Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center because he felt that it would bring people comfort. “I felt it would be nice to bring people a sense of hope and optimism and, at the very least, add some colors onto the walls. I got so many text messages from people who passed by my paintings, and they let me know how I encouraged them. This is the most altruistic type of salary.”
“I went through a lot in my personal life that most people don’t go through. I’ve seen and witnessed a lot of terrible things, and the currency of what we are facing in these times is horrific. I’m worried about the condition of this world, but humanity and love will prevail. I concentrate on the positive and want to be the VOICE of LIGHT. I’m doing what I can to bring more beauty and compassion. “
Images courtesy of Relevant Communications