By Debby Block
Hanoch Piven is an award-winning illustrator, educator, and advocate of creativity. As part of the celebration of Israel’s 75th birthday, Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte is proud to bring acclaimed Israeli artist, Hanoch Piven, to Charlotte for an artist-in-residence weekend April 28 – May 1 for the entire community. Here is Debby Block’s interview with Hanoch Piven.
Debby Block: Can you tell me about your background?
Hanoch Piven: I was born in Montevideo, Uruguay. I was the youngest of three children and I grew up being called “Ernesto.” As part of an active Zionist family and community, I went to Jewish schools and learned to speak Hebrew. In the early 1970s, Uruguay became a military dictatorship, so when I was eleven years old, my family made Aliyah to Israel.
DB: What was that experience like for you?
HP: Luckily, I was somewhat fluent in Hebrew. This was a time of transformation for me and I focused on fitting into Israeli culture. My name changed to my Hebrew name “Hanoch” and I stopped doing any art. Within 2-3 years, I felt completely Israeli. Only six short years after arriving in Israel, I began serving in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), where I served five years in Intelligence.
DB: What did you do after your time in the IDF?
HP: I went to New York City and studied at the School of Visual Arts. It was at this time, I began to develop my own identity, which was a combination of my South American roots, my Israeli fortitude, and chutzpah, as well as my own personal artistic sensibilities. I began to put together my professional career in New York by creating caricatures, which were published in US magazines.
After ten years in New York, I moved back to Israel. I became well known throughout Israel for my contributions to Haaretz newspaper, two best-selling books, as well as children’s TV shows. Eventually, my work became part of the popular culture in Israel.
DB: Do you think you would have had the same success if you had stayed in the US?
HP: I actually do not think so. In the States, I believe I may have been pigeonholed as an illustrator of children’s books. However, Israel is all about growth, change, and creativity. There is a wonderful creativity that is Israel! Israel has been the perfect fit for my art to expand and grow in all areas. I have been able to apply my art to education, to therapy, to leadership, and to building relationships.
DB: Can you explain a little about your multi-media art for our readers who may not be familiar with the techniques that you use?
HP: I do not draw with pens or with pencils. I create caricatures with everyday objects. Each object is used for a specific reason because each object depicts something about the personality of the person I am portraying.
DB: The tagline on your website is “Art is Play.” Can you talk a little more about your philosophy?
HP: A playful space is a protected space. When we play, we are allowed to behave differently. We can be a different version of ourselves. We can be funny; we can experiment; we can fail; we can be vulnerable. Art space is a place to play and to practice a variety of behaviors, to learn new things, and then to apply these newly learned behaviors to other processes.
DB: I see that you have applied your art method to foster interchange and dialogue between Jews and Arabs in Israel through the organization Seeds of Peace.
HP: Typically, people have preconceived notions about people and things. This is what prejudice is about. Making art is about letting go of those preconceived notions. My workshops are about paying attention and seeing things with new eyes. When you learn to truly pay attention and see what is inside of yourself, you come to appreciate those who are around you as well.
DB: Your new book “Dream Big, Laugh Often and More Advice from the Bible” which came out in March 2023 is quite different from your previous children’s books. What was the inspiration?
HP: It is important to always pay attention and be open to “happy accidents.” A few years ago, I was visiting a summer camp in the Poconos and I met Jewish educator Shira Hecht-Koller. Our relationship and discussions evolved into this new book. Just as art teaches us to be curious, to dream, and to live a meaningful life, “Dream Big, Laugh Often” shows the creative journey of each bible hero. In creating these modern-day Midrash (stories about stories in the Torah), I hope I have provided a relevant entry point into the bible for children and adults.
For more information on Hanoch Piven’s Artist-in-Residence weekend, visit www.jewishcharlotte.org.