Originally from London, I did my first professional illustration work when I was about 17, when I illustrated two books. One was about Modern Jewish History and the other, Vietnamese refugees. I didn’t undergo formal art training, and read architecture at university, but always tended towards the artistic and illustrative within that field. Later on, my illustrations and cartoons were published in UK national newspapers The Independent and The Daily Telegraph. I came to Israel on a work assignment in 1993 and stayed. Since 2000 I’ve been working full-time as an illustrator and animator in educational publishing but my real focus is on my own art.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
When I first started painting, I painted deserts peopled with tiny figures on some kind of mystical journey. I had just returned from a month in the Sinai, which had been a kind of personal exodus for me. I had left behind the nine-to-five and felt a deep inner calling to be an artist! For me this was like reaching, or returning to, the Promised Land. Since then, in order to earn a living in Israel, I’ve returned to the office life. But my real work starts when I get home in the evening: My art, which is still my Promised Land.
What inspired you to become an artist?
I’ve been an artist ever since ever, but there were two major moments when I really felt the call strongly. The first was on a family trip to Italy when I was very young. We visited the Carrara marble quarries – where all those Michelangelo sculptures originated – and the white dust and huge slabs of marble made a great impression on me. The second was on a trip to California in 1987. I was at Yosemite National Park and had done some guided rock-climbing. I felt mesmerized by the power of the stone, by the beautiful rich sequoia smell, and I needed to start sculpting in wood or in stone. The third was in Sinai. The huge mountains and the burning, breath of the desert put a lot of things in perspective.
What is your specialty?
Until recently I’ve focused entirely on Biblical themes, whether it’s been illustrating the Parshot Hashavua, or painting imagined landscapes of Sinai. But now I’m working in a new direction: Gently humorous paintings looking at everyday Jewish life in Israel and the UK. This new focus also draws on my many years of cartooning, so it feels very right.
How and where do you work?
After many years of painting in oils, I have now turned to acrylics. This is a faster medium, and doesn’t involve heavy turpentine fumes filling the house. I also work in clay and use an outsourced kiln for firing.
My painting studio is part art-room, part computer-room, part library, so it’s rather crowded. It’s also our “safe room.” (A sealable blast-proof room has been built into every apartment in Israel since the first Gulf War in 1991). I work standing up at my easel, which I angle according to the best light. Most of my work is done at night, though, so I have a good work-light which doesn’t distort colour. My ceramic studio is on our balcony under cover, and I love to work there when it’s raining. I have really limited time available for my work. It’s mostly done at night in a one- or two-hour focussed session.
What is the most indispensable item in your studio?
My easel is easily the most basic and useful piece of equipment in my studio. Most importantly it has a modification which I designed and made myself: A kidney-shaped shelf, perfectly-suited to holding my palette, water or oil-jars unspillably, and at exactly the height I need as well as, of course, a mug of tea.
Where do you take your inspiration? Are you pursuing any themes?
Pictorially I’ve been inspired for many years by naïve art. My favourite painting is “The Sleeping Gipsy” (1897) by Henri Rousseau. This is not quite how we’d define naïve today. It’s a majestic, beautiful, well-balanced and enigmatic work. I’ve also been inspired by local naïve artist Michael Falk. He lives not far from me in Sde Warburg and I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from his Biblical paintings, and his colourful, detailed depictions of his early days in Germany and on the Kibbutz.
My current themes parallel Michael Falk’s in that they are based closely on my own life – scenes from Raanana today and from the Edgware (just north of London) of my childhood, as well as on Biblical themes.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on “Our Crowd” – a series about Jewish life in Raanana and Edgware. I’m also making a series of slightly surreal cartoons about Jewish life.
What is your favourite item in your current collection?
My favourite is whatever I’m currently working on, which is right now a painting about Edgware on a Yom Tov. It’s set just outside my grandmother’s house, and the year is about 1974. My grandmother is shown, looking out from behind the net curtains, and my Dad’s there, having a whisky and popping peanuts into his mouth, chatting with his Mum after shul.
How do you know when a piece is finished?
Normally a painting’s finished when whatever I add starts to make it look wrong, unbalanced or just worse in an undefinable way.
Do you do bespoke work?
I’ve recently completed three bespoke paintings; two desert themes, and one on Daniel in the Lion’s Den, all of which were specially commissioned for clients’ homes. I work closely with clients by email, sending them sketches and progress photos of the work. Now I am also offering bespoke house portraits to people. Based on photographs, these are bespoke paintings which can also incorporate family members in typical poses. It may be of your current house and family – and will be a wonderful record to hand down for posterity – or of a historical house, like a fondly remembered childhood home complete with all the people who lived there.
What was the first artwork you ever sold?
My first paid art assignment was to illustrate a book about Modern Jewish History. I was still at school, and taking a class in that subject taught by Robin Spiro, founder of the Spiro Institute (for the Study of Jewish History and Culture) in London. He was writing a book at the time and commissioned me to do a series of illustrations for it. The book was never published, but Robin used my illustrations as a teaching aid for many years.
Which project have you enjoyed working on the most so far?
I’ve most enjoyed working on the Bible illustrations for Ariella Books, the Jewish publisher in Berlin. This was the most challenging and largest project I’ve yet taken on. It involved 55 original acrylic paintings, each the result of an exchange of emails and phone calls with writer-editor team of Bruno Landthaler and Hannah Liss. Too often this can be a frustrating, time-consuming and demoralising process, but with Bruno and Hannah it was quick, constructive and truly creative.
What do you want to achieve with your work and what are your wishes for the future?
I would like to create a comprehensive visual chronicle of Jewish life and themes. My aspiration is to sell enough work on a regular basis – originals, prints and special commissions – so that I could eventually leave my nine-to-five and concentrate solely on making the art I love.
Where can we find your work?
My main outlet is my website and blog at www.darius-art.com. My Facebook page is called Darius Gilmont Biblical Art. I post regularly both there and on Instagram @dariusgilmont. My Etsy shop is called DariusGilmont.
© Darius Gilmont