Although I’ve never visited Israel, I’ve always been fascinated by the history of its people, perhaps because I have Jewish ancestry myself. The fact that a country founded on not much more than a common ethno-religious identity almost 70 years ago is today one of the most advanced, progressive, secular societies in the world is no small feat.
I knew I wanted to see what kind of artwork this country had to offer. Our search led us to Anna Simkin, who we first got in touch with in October of 2014.
Amongst the numerous works by illustrators from Israel, her style and subject matter immediately stood out as particularly vivid and personal. There seemed to be an enchanting story behind each piece.
The Creation pocket square design that she ultimately made for us is no different and perfectly captures her playful yet spiritual approach. Working with Anna and learning more about her background was a fascinating experience which I would like to share in this interview.
“What is creation? A marvelous point in space and time, from which imagination, action, and the magic of life itself gush infinitely.”
– Anna Simkin
Why did you decide to pursue a career in art? Why did you choose to be an artist?
I love magic and art is full of it. My father used to paint and his love of art, not as a career (he is a physician) but as passion, influenced me deeply.
How would you describe your style/direction?
I think most of people would call it Zentangle. Its essence lies in the symbolism and energy of the finely detailed work. For me, it is religious or visionary art.
What inspires your work?
The subconscious, my feelings, life, religion. Everything, I guess.
What other artists, current or past, have been your biggest influences?
Religious art from any faith is a great influence, folk art, thangka and paubha (Tibetan and Newari paintings), Christian medieval and Renaissance art, tribal painting, etc.
Particular artists I can mention are Savador Dali, René Magritte, Jean Fouquet, Alex Grey, Frida Kahlo, and Gustav Klimt.
Can you describe the brightest moment of your life or career thus far?
I think that art is not a career. It’s a part of life. It’s really difficult for me to find the brightest point. It’s more like a process – when it goes on, it’s good. When it’s stuck, it’s not so good, but it’s probably for a good reason.
Tell us about your personal goals and/or professional plans.
I want to do more, and practice new techniques every time. I want to be able show people my world and make them experience their own.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Free from what?
What are the most interesting (or your personal favorite) places in your city? Tell us about them.
Well, I don’t really have a city. I moved from place to place every few years, so I guess maybe I have few cities.
Ryazan in Russia is where I was born and raised until the age of 11. The Kremlin in Ryazan as well as the old churches, wooden houses, and parks – they all have a soul, a presence, a story, and a mystery to them. It sounds morbid but pre-revolutionary cemeteries in Ryazan are also very interesting places, always colorful and picturesque. As a child I was very influenced by the city’s mystique. Combined with Gogol’s folk stories, visits to relatives in the nearby Unkosovo village, and my mother’s own vivid imagination – you have fertile ground for a magic quest!
Tel Aviv in Israel is where I spent my teenage and most of my adult years. I grew up in suburbs in a town called Bat Yam. It’s situated on the beach of the Mediterranean Sea. Tel Aviv-Jaffa is a city of contradictions, both ancient and modern, a place where you can find hyper secular as well as ultra-orthodox Jews, Muslims, and Christians. They are all there. It’s a city that never stops – always active. I love the street art of Tel Aviv, the majority of it made in the older neighborhoods, built at the end of 19th – beginning of 20th century. These neighborhoods (Neve Tzedek, Kerem HaTeimanim, Bialik, Florentin, Shenkin, Old Jaffa, and more) are home to both young and older artists from every background, field, social movement, and political party. These places are, in my opinion, the heart and the soul of the Tel Aviv area.
Varanasi in India is where I have lived for the past 2-3 years. I just love this place. Varanasi is magic. You have to come and see it to understand. The first few days most people want to run away but when you start to feel and understand it, be careful, you won’t be able to leave anymore. Color, music, religion, spirituality, people from everywhere, and every one of them is on a quest. Full of ancient temples and palaces on the riverbed of Ganga, the mother that takes all sins and filth. It is a city of life and death where everything is mixed in a whirlpool of colors, sounds, and emotions. Just walk on the Ghats and the inner allies of the old city. Get lost there. It is a once in a lifetime experience. Do not forget to meet the local people; they are who make this place what it is.
What do you like best about your city?
All three of my cities are full of magic – the people, the architecture, the atmosphere, the street art.
What does it mean to be an artist in your city?
I never thought of that, I must say…and, well, my art travels with me, I guess.
What, in your opinion, does it mean to be a resident of your city?
I really wish I had a city… and, then again, maybe not.