Tel Aviv through a gay painter’s eyes

Published on Friday, 09 November 2012 by Webmaster

Tel Aviv through a gay painter’s eyes
Red hearts adorn the boxer shorts of the two men holding hands in “Gay Love Black & White,” a self-portrait of the painter Rafael Perez and his former Eritrean lover. A single red heart balloon lifts them off the ground in childlike ecstasy.

The painting hangs in Perez’s studio in gritty South Tel Aviv, the same area experiencing tension between Israeli residents and African squatters from repressive countries including Eritrea. But all is peaceful in Perez’s world as depicted in vibrant, large canvases that radiate love – be it hetero, homo or patriotic.

"My art is a reflection of the entire gay community — people in the closet, mature love, gay families, gay political and cultural icons," Perez tells ISRAEL21c in his spacious studio-slash-residence above a mechanic's garage.

Perez was born in 1965 to a traditional Jerusalem family. His father exposed his three sons to the works of great painters, and his siblings became an industrial designer and a jewelry designer. Rafi didn't pick up a paintbrush until he was 23, though he started drawing in an unusual venue much earlier.

"When I was 15 or 16, I started keeping a diary," he says, flipping through small tattered volumes filled with expressions of feelings kept closeted for a dozen years. The Hebrew writing is hidden behind colorful sketches.

"I was afraid of my homosexuality. So I covered the words with drawings because I didn't want people to see what I wrote," he explains. "This was a very emotional period."

Perez was the sole artist chosen for a tourism campaign featuring eight Israelis from the fields of sports and culture, which is splashed across London on billboards and print media. He says this is a primary reason Tel Aviv's Gay Pride Parade has attracted more than 100,000 visitors in the past two years.

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