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The Art of Illustration

Riva Pomerantz

There’s a new phenomenon in the world of publishing today, an aesthetic, masterful revolution that began with a brushstroke and exploded in a flash of talent never glimpsed before. Behind it all is a name, Gadi Pollack. Meet the artist whose creations are keeping kids and adults spellbound.

Monday, September 20, 2010

“I started off like all kids, coloring on walls. ‘Difference is, some kids stop; I never did.” This is signature Gadi Pollack, the man behind the paintbrush, whose wit, wisdom, and outstanding talent have raised the bar in Jewish literature to unprecedented heights. He’s honest and forthright. Before we meet for the interview, I am presented with a series of preconditions, including a ban on showing photographs of him and a directive to ensure the finished product features more pictures than text.

“Why don’t you want to be photographed?” I ask on the phone, even before setting foot in the comfortable Pollack dining room in Kiryat Sefer.

“I don’t want to lose my anonymity,” Gadi says simply. 

We sit down at an ornate, wood-inlaid dining room table that looks … vaguely familiar. “You recognize it?” he asks. On second glance, I do. It’s the very table featured in the photographed front flap of his famous Once Upon a Tale series, sans the overlapped international passports and shadowy lighting. “All those passports are authentic; I added the names, each one written in its native language,” Gadi tells me proudly, revealing a lesser-known talent as a master forger.

We begin with the most obvious question: How did he get started in art and illustration? Gadi smiles wryly. “I was born in Odessa, Russia, and my whole family is musicians. There was no question whatsoever in anyone’s mind that I would be a musician too. Everyone played an instrument — trombone, piano, you name it. But I always loved to draw. I studied piano for four years, but at the age of ten I begged my father to let me go to Art school.”

At fifteen, Gadi went to Academia, the equivalent of university, to learn Art. “I wanted to get into Sculpture because that was the only course that didn’t require oil painting and I dislike working with oil. But I didn’t get in to the program so I went back home for a year and apprenticed a famous sculptor. The next year I reapplied and was accepted to Sculpture. I studied there for four years, then did my two years of mandatory army service. When I was conscripted, they lined us all up and the captain said, ‘You’re an artist? Go paint the fence!’ After half a year of training he put me in the army newspaper department, doing graphics.”

After serving in the Russian army, Gadi began working as an artist for an advertising company, but eventually his life path, led him to Israel, where he learned full-time in yeshivah, married, and then decided to begin illustrating books. “I started off by going to [famous illustrator] Yoni Gerstein and asked him to get me some clients, which he did. From there, I met Rabbi Boruch Chait and we started working together,” Gadi remembers. It’s a relatively straightforward story, to be sure, but the Divine Providence is anything but simple. From his very first book, Tell Me What You Think, the name “Gadi Pollack” became synonymous with lifelike, page-turning illustrations, the likes of which had never been glimpsed before in the Torah publishing world.  

 

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