Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

On Site: Your True Colors

Shlomi Gil

Artist Gil-Ad Stern says you don’t have to draw religious objects to create holy art. It’s about how you view your inner canvas

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

 Mishpacha image

“During the creative process, free of distractions, the artist is in a state of deep contemplation, and he can truly feel Hashem’s embrace. Of course, drawing does not replace avodas Hashem, but it can uplift one’s avodah, because it emanates from the same place in the soul”

E ntering Gil-ad Stern’s Jerusalem art studio, I’m transfixed by a pair of eyes — wise, discerning, and deep — that seem to pop out of the huge canvas standing on the easel. It’s a larger-than-life painting of the gaon and tzaddik, Rav Moshe Shapira ztz”l, one of the greatest thinkers of the generation, and whose portrait has become Stern’s claim to fame.

“I knew Rav Moshe a little, not enough,” says the 35-year-old artist as he examines this master work, a project that eventually brought Rav Moshe into the depths of the artist’s consciousness. “When I started to sketch his likeness, I listened to many of his shiurim in order to get more connected to him. The more I progressed with the painting, the more I felt the loss of his passing, and the more I yearned for what I could have had, if I’d taken the opportunity when it was available. For several weeks, while working on this portrait, I hardly left my studio. I just worked and worked, with Rav Moshe’s voice in the background.”

The portrait was commissioned by one of Rav Moshe’s talmidim. “I was working off several photos, but I decided to base it on a particular photo taken by Rabbi Akiva Tatz. Rav Moshe looks as if he’s on the verge of saying something, and that’s what I tried to convey — that special moment, when he faces a talmid who is anticipating Rav Moshe’s words of Torah and then becomes a vessel to receive and hold them.”

Gil-ad (“Gili”) Stern is philosophical when he discusses his most famous portrait to date. “There’s something otherworldly about our G-d-given ability to preserve a person’s image. I miss Rav Moshe very much, yet through the portrait, I can still stay close.”

A Thousand Words

Gil-ad Stern was born in Baltimore during the year his father, a chemist at the Weizmann Institute in Rechovot, relocated with his family to the US to complete a postdoctorate program. The following year, the family returned to Rechovot, where young Gil-ad attended cheder. When he was 14, he enrolled in Yeshivas Chochmas Shlomo, and then continued on to Yeshivas Bircas Yosef in Bnei Brak.

"I draw without explicitly portraying holiness, but if the artist is connected to holiness, then his art will express that”

“I’ve loved to draw for as long as I can remember,” he says. “When I was three, I’d ask my father to draw me elephants and horses, and after school, we’d sit down and draw together.” During his years in cheder, he always seemed to be sketching something on the side, but by the time he entered yeshivah, he’d decided to put away his pencils and pastels — he was a serious student and didn’t want the distractions.

When he was 18, he left Bnei Brak for Jerusalem and settled into the Mir, but serious drawing still wasn’t on his radar, except for a sketch here and there. Still, one of those drawings from his yeshivah days hangs in his workshop: two fans next to a Borsalino hat box. “There’s something about that picture that just captures the yeshivah experience,” Stern says.

Stern learned in Mir for the next seven years, and then began studying art with the encouragement of Rav Simcha HaKohein Kook, the rav of Rechovot. Today, he makes his parnassah from his art — including studio work and private and group lessons teaching men and bochurim (“You’d be surprised how in-demand my classes are for avreichim. Who would have thought?”) — although he’s strict about keeping his mornings free to learn Torah in the Yad Binyamin Kollel, located in Jerusalem’s Misgav Ladach medical center. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 696)

Related Stories

Leapin’ Lizards

Malky Lowinger

With a playful python around his neck and a smiling iguana in his hand, Shlomo Horowitz is in reptil...

Only One Image

Aryeh Ehrlich

An exclusive conversation with Rav Steinman’s beloved son Rav Shraga Noach Steinman, about the littl...

No Laughing Matter

Barbara Bensoussan

Underneath the shtick, Rabbi Gavriel Friedman (Rav Gav) delivers serious Torah, navigating the moder...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

I Also Read Perfidy
Rabbi Moshe Grylak I read it twice, and both times it kindled my rage
“Reeducate” UK’s Jewish Kids?
Yonoson Rosenblum Orthodox Jews in England face anti-religious agenda
Hold the Phone
Eytan Kobre Phew! Only one quote was something I simply hadn’t said
The Way I See It
Nathan Diament “Engagement with the policy makers is indispensable”
Pot of Gold
Yisroel Besser The Rebbetzin is gone, but the message is alive and well
More Top 5 Shiur Title Techniques
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Aside from the classics, here are five more
Bill of Rights
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman “Whether Avrumi or Allan, whether peyos or blue jeans”
Don’t Thank Me
Jacob L. Freedman “Are you a psychiatrist or a witch doctor?!”
5 Things You Didn’t Know about Shlomo Simcha
Riki Goldstein 600 meals a day for poor people
You Can Always Rely on the Rebbe
Riki Goldstein “The chassan just wouldn’t take no for an answer”
Who Helped Advance These Popular Entertainers?
Riki Goldstein Unsung deeds boosted performers into the limelight
Profession of Perfection
Faigy Peritzman He’s not just an educator; he’s a role model
Summer Clock
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Consistency is key to drama-free bedtime
How Do I Find My Son’s Bashert?
Sara Eisemann “What about this girl made you think of my son?”