He paints the town red and
…green and blue

The Jerusalem Post, January 1993 / Penny Starr

Rami Meiri is the artist responsible for the trompe l'oeil outdoor murals that have been turning heads in Tel Aviv. The 35-years old artist says he enjoys the outdoor art because he likes the feeling that he's making people happy

Rami Meiri is the artist responsible for the trompe l'oeil outdoor murals that have been turning heads in Tel Aviv. The 35-years old artist says he enjoys the outdoor art because he likes the feeling that he's making people happy.

Rami Meiri's painting on the ceiling of the former Under the Nose coffee shop is bewitched. When the cafe on the corner of Ben-Yehuda and Arlozorov streets in Tel-Aviv changed hands, the new owners used at least 10 coats of painting to try and cover the trompe l'oeil figures peering down at the customers. The pigment, which Meiri was sent by a friend in Bolivia, is so strong that it shows through everything. "It's witches' paint", says the blue-eyed, bearded Meiri, still amazed at the power of his magic colors. "In the end the new owners had to build a whole new ceiling out of wood" Meiri, 35 and newly married, usually manages to make his pictures last without his witches' paint. Which is a good thing, since he works on all kinds of different surface- glass, iron, wood, concrete- and most of his painting is outdoors. He got the idea of painting outdoor murals while he was a student at Tel Aviv's Avni School of Art. At that time, 11 years ago, he had already covered the door of his studio near the seashore and was looking for a new "canvas". I've only been graffitied on once, a big black spray, almost immediately after I finished the Sheraton beach wall. Since then, no one has damaged any of my works," Meiri says proudly. Although he already had the sketches of sunbathers in deck chairs or sprawled on the sand, the beach wall took him a whole winter to finish. "It's hard work, but you do it for the public," he says with enthusiasm. "I was working with the people, and every day I'd have strollers come by specially to say 'Good morning' and see how it was going. I like the feeling that I'm making people happy." Since then, the Tel-Aviv Municipality has been pleased to offer him some of the city's bleak spots. The black and white face that appears to burst through the wall of the Max Fein School on the corner of Derech Hashalom and Derech Petah Tikva is a Tel-Aviv landmark – and also the image on Meiri's calling card. It was painted two and a half years ago. Meiri explains that the face of the grinning man pulling his cheeks and holding a baby's bottle is one he saw in Brazil during Carnival in 1988. "I wanted something striking," he says, "because the wall's in an industrial area that has a flat feeling until you pass the man. At first he's scary and then he's funny. Officers coming from the nearby military –government complex used to look at me suspiciously and ask what I was doing." The Tel Aviv native loves his hometown, but isn't blind to its shortcomings. "Tel Aviv is an ugly city, but you can do something with every corner". The reputation of the painter, whose more conventional canvass are on display in a Manhattan gallery, has grown because of his outdoor art. When asked to paint a wall belonging to the Jorden River Hotel in Tiberias, he was given a suite to himself and was waited on during his stay "I felt like a local star, with the waiters coming down with food on trays as I worked on the arches, "he says. "The arches" are on the stone wall running the length of the hotel. They depict the architectural development of arches from the 12th century onward. "Arches are very Mediterranean, and they give a feeling of space. When you see blue sky in the background, you want to know what's through the arch and round the corner, "he says. The wall of arches seems to bend as a visitor walks toward it, and the whole effect is an optical illusion that works – perhaps too well. Birds have flown into the wall. Meiri can take away from as well as add to the surroundings. In Eilat he was asked to make a building of water pumps with external pipes 'disappear' at the Marine Observatory. His trompe l'oeil painting looks surrealistically as if the green pipe on one side is watering a genuine palm tree. On the other side of the pump room the mural echoes the sandy red mountains behind it. The combination of improving the surroundings, solving the problems of perspective and amusing the public at the same time is what makes Meiri tick. A plain brown cube of a kiosk on the corner of Dizengoff and Nordau in Tel-Aviv has been changed into a scene, which he copied from one he saw on a trip to the Seychelles, of holidaymakers relaxing at a bar. He says that because it's in the heart of the city, he wanted to provide a feeling of relaxing and enjoying oneself in a crowd. His father, a mathematician, influenced Meiri in his love of playing with depth and perspective. "Math is what my father wanted me to study," he explains. "And I use math all the time when I'm working out angles and trying to make a painting look at you from wherever you stand." He start to describe his work on the wall on Tchernichowsky Street by the side of Dizengoff Center. "There were pylons and cables sticking out, it was an ugly mess, and City Hall agreed to let me work on it, but they couldn't pay me. I cleared the area with my own hands." Most of the people in Meiri's pictures are Tel Aviv types – hurrying, well-dress women; two men hanging out, hands on hips – that he has sketched or photographed. Often they are passersby who have stared at him as he works. On Tchernichowsky Street he has connected the image of the people to real pylons and extended the three –dimensional pylons into a flat, two –dimensional illusion. "On top of that I had to make it work from whichever side you look. It took me a year." Six months ago, on the front of a pub, he painted a man opening a trick door. Would be drinkers have to push the door on the 'face', so the face gets dirtier and dirtier. He is pleased with the idea of the dirty face