Meet the Artist: Naftali Ash of Nun Aleph Ink

Photo: Courtesy of Naftali Ash

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community in Miami. Even though that city is more associated with partying and going to the beach, I attended a Haredi yeshiva and a lot of my education was spent bickering with a Chavruta (one-on-one debate style of learning Torah).

I eventually graduated from an Orthodox school (albeit not a yeshiva), and went on to spend a gap year studying art in East Jerusalem. As anyone who has spent a significant time in that part of the world can tell you, such an experience really opens you up to the world. I became obsessed with seeing parts of our globe that are politically divisive or misunderstood, and went on to study Political Science at the University of Central Florida.

Throughout semesters and beyond graduation, I visited/lived in places as disparate as Vietnam, Cyprus, Honduras, Myanmar, and Indonesia, and while making sense of their political situation also deeply delved into their arts and cultural expression.

What inspired you to become an artist?

I have always drawn ever since my little hand could grip a pen. It became a compulsion to me the way one smokes or chews their fingernails, except luckily drawing is more socially acceptable. In that sense there was no real inspiration to become an artist, it was just something that felt natural.

What is your specialty?

Symbology, mythology, and how humans make sense of and depict the nature around them are what I especially love to draw. Because of how rich such traditions are, I subsequently try to include layers of detail that one can discover upon taking a closer look, kind of how one can reinterpret a story upon a reread.

One thing I cherish about my Jewish upbringing is the fascination our people have with stories and characters. I do almost all of my work in black and white, to still allow the viewer to use their imagination the same way one listening to a story would.

How and where do you work?

I tend to work small, so my work is portable. But I will always need to be listening to a lecture or music. My favorite spots are a cafe during rainy weather, and somewhere rich with green on a glorious day.

What is the most indispensable item in your workspace?

I cannot survive without ink, so I always have an assortment of pens of various thicknesses.

Where do you take your inspiration? Are you pursuing any themes?

I get a lot of my inspiration from the thick and dramatic linework, which runs the gamut from comic book style to Indonesian wayang.

Relatedly, it’s also easy to get lost in epics like a Batman rivalry to the Ramayana. It’s really fun to express in your own way what generations of people have tried to interpret for themselves. Lately I have tried to elevate the role of women in these stories, and want to focus more on the female perspective.

Do you do bespoke work?

Yes! I love taking commissions and collaborating in general.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am almost done working on a Jewish month’s series, where I draw the historical events of each month, alongside the Sefer Yetzirah’s outlook and my own thoughts on it.

What is your favourite piece in your current collection?

I really like how my Tammuz came out from the aforementioned month’s series.

How do you know when a piece is finished?

They say no work is ever finished, only abandoned. But abandonment implies that something cannot fend for itself. So I’ll stop working on something if I believe it says what I’ve wanted it to say.

What was the first artwork you ever sold?

When I was 16, I sold a gaudy piece done in Crayola marker of a Rabbi playing violin for a tiger. Felt really good!

Which project have you enjoyed working on the most so far?

It is immensely fun to participate in Inktober and be a part of a community. I also have really enjoyed a “Rivers” project that I’m still working on, where I try to celebrate the great rivers of the world.

What do you want to achieve with your work and what are your wishes for the future?

I would love for my Judaica to bring home the point that Jewish culture is something that stands tall among the great civilizations of the world. Similarly, I want Judaica to be an art form that evolves and adapts, and challenges old motifs and conceptions about what Jewish art is. Though we are a united people, we can and should also embrace our differences.

Where can we find your work?

I have just started an Insta and an art store for my Judaica!

Site: nunalephink.com

Insta: nunaleph

Photo: Courtesy of Naftali Ash – Tammuz

Photo: Courtesy of Naftali Ash – Dragon (Inktober)

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