Found objects find their way into Israeli artists caricatures

In Hanoch Piven’s world, cut-up strips of 35mm film make up Steven Spielberg’s beard. Allen Greenspan’s nose is a neon pink computer mouse. And Boris Yeltsin’s cheeks are round slices of salami.

Piven’s dimensional caricatures of politicians and pop icons created through found objects have been seen on the pages of American, European and Israeli publications such as Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and Haaretz daily since 1992.

“I look for objects that look like the person but that also have meaning,” explains the Uruguay-born, New York-schooled Israeli illustrator in a phone interview from his home in Barcelona, Spain. He will give a talk in Hebrew at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco on Wednesday, Sept. 8, sponsored by the Consulate General of Israel and the Israel Center. The following day he’ll be speaking at San Jose State University.

Piven’s work has won him several awards, most notably a Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators of New York in 1994.

Currently he is working on a portrait of Brian Wilson for L.A. Magazine. After studying the ex-Beach Boy, Piven then begins to draw quick sketches of Wilson, trying to familiarize himself with his face.

And then the hunt begins.

“I will go to record stores. Anywhere there is ’60s paraphernalia or something about California. Flea markets. If you go to the right places, you will stumble on the right objects.

“It is a good metaphor for creative work in general,” he explains. “You need to help it happen but it often happens by chance or accident. You have to have the intuition to go to the right places and then you will find the objects that work.”

But at this point, Piven’s work is far from being done. In his admittedly messy studio he begins what he calls “drawing with objects” — combining his sketches with found items to assemble what will not only resemble the subject but also take a critical stance.

“A certain detachment is always healthy when your work is based on being critical. A good caricature needs to be angry at times. I can’t think about what is going to happen if the person will be hurt or offended.”

Piven’s work, which can be seen on his Web site at, has roused global interest, albeit for different reasons. In the United States where, he claims, the market is so specified, his work is well known but only among a community of fellow designers and illustrators. However, in Israel his work is more recognized by the general public.

“In the U.S. an illustrator is an illustrator only,” he says. But in Israel, recognition of his work has provided opportunities for him in different fields, such as movies or theater.

Having been raised in a small Jewish community in Latin America and immigrating to Israel at age 11, Piven has found that the cultural differences don’t stop there.

“The work I create for Israel is more emotionally charged for me than the work I create for the U.S. The work comes much more from the gut. There is more pain, caution and an emphasis on trying to be exact. In America there is always the feeling that things are larger, and just another caricature in another magazine matters less.”

Piven has published several children’s books, including “The Perfect Purple Feather” (“Notza Sgula”) and “What Presidents are Made of.” Additionally, in recent years he has traveled around the world conducting arts workshops for children and those with disabilities.

Recently he taught a workshop in Israel to teenagers, many of whom were living on the streets or struggling with drug problems.

“When I arrived there the kids didn’t know my work. It was amazing how they connect to it. Even the toughest kids felt that there was an end goal, such as creating a horse from toothbrushes.”

His work with children is a source of satisfaction for Piven.

“They may not understand the concept, but they like the idea of somebody having a sweet potato for a nose,” he laughs. “They can come up with many ideas for why someone has a sweet potato for a nose.”

Hanoch Piven will give a talk at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 8, at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California St. Tickets: $5-7. Information: (415) 512-6424. He will speak at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 9, at the Shrunkenheadman Club, San Jose State University. Free. Information: Ravit Caspi, (415) 844-7504.