A brush with Shtisel’s art master Alex Tubis
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A brush with Shtisel’s art master Alex Tubis

Israel's hit Netflix show features a Charedi protagonist trapped between his faith and his passion for painting. Brigit Grant sits down with the artist behind Akiva's work

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

Alex Tubis with Michael Aloni, with his work Come to me. Stay with me, 2016, in the background.
Alex Tubis with Michael Aloni, with his work Come to me. Stay with me, 2016, in the background.

Among the many extraordinary and touching moments in both series of the Israeli drama, Shtisel, two have stayed with me – and both revolve around Akiva’s art.

Trapped between the rules and dedication  of his faith and the desire to paint, the Charedi protagonist creates two portraits – one of an Orthodox boy with a goldfish, the other of his mother nursing a baby.

Irrespective of the stories that surround them, the paintings are brilliant – and were created by Alex Tubis from Ness Ziona specifically for the show.

Tubis’ work is much sought-after, and the Dan Gallery in Tel Aviv will show it to buyers on request, yet the artist himself, who was born in Russia, is charmingly unassuming and disarmed by any admiration.

“I was always attracted to painting and painters but, in my high school years, my dream was to be a film director,” says Tubis, who cites film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky as his hero.

But, aged 17, he was introduced to the Viennese paintings – Portrait of Prince Philip Prospero by Velazquez and Judith with the Head of Holofernes by Veronese.

The controversial mother portrait shown in Shtisel

“It was like looking at a miracle, touching magic with your bare hands,” he enthuses.

“The impact of the colour, brushwork and image was stronger and more direct than what you see in films, and I knew this was the medium I wanted to use to communicate with the world.”

Tubis painted as much as he could though his army years and then went to the esteemed Bezalel Academy before getting his first solo exhibition in 2007.

“All the paintings for Shtisel were made according to the instructions, which I mainly received from Ori Elon, one of the writers. The goldfish boy was in his mind as some kind of fusion between Manet’s The Fifer and a portrait by Serov, which is shown in Shtisel.

“The mother in the chair with the baby was first drawn from another angle, which made the mother too exposed. So I had to do another in a hurry as the scene was being shot in two days’ time. It was done over one very long and intense night and day.”

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The Boy with the Goldfish is now on the wall of Dikla Barkai, the series producer.

The Boy with  the Goldfish

Tubis, who is married to Shirley and has two children, Elisheva, 11, and Dov, eight, also teaches – and among his pupils counts Michael Aloni.

“He was a very good student and we had a special connection from the start. He told me he understood things about his character after he met me. Michael was also very charmed by painting, which is the most important thing for an artist in my opinion. Also, the technical things 

I explained to him – from how you hold your brush and palette, to how you observe form, colour and reality as a painter, he was able to understand it really fast for a first timer.”

Tubis will have another solo show next year, but the paintings he dedicated to his hero Tarkovsky are at the Dan Gallery. 

“The rest are in my nice and cosy studio, where I like to entertain guests.”

An invite worth accepting.

Boris on Dacha, 2016

 

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