Meet the Artist: Reuben Sivillya of Wooden Art Judaica

© Wooden Art Judaica

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I was born 63 years ago in South America. I have practiced many trades and different crafts. When I was 17 years old, I have joined the navy and travelled in the Pacific and the North Atlantic.

One day, I left for Europe. I have lived in Strasbourg for a few year, and then decided to move to Israel, where I had always dreamed of living. I immediately felt at home. At the beginning, I worked on restorations of the old city of Jerusalem, while studying at the Yeshiva Midrash Sefaradi. Inspired by the beauty of this city and the extraordinary atmosphere, which reigns there, I started creating and selling my first artwork. Since I returned to France, I decided to devote myself entirely to my passion. It became my way of living.

What inspired you to become an artist?

When I was small, I was good at drawing in school: I won prizes that encouraged me to cultivate this talent. I started to work as an artisan thanks to my father’s advice, who wanted to prepare us to be able to exercise many trades, especially manual ones: this is how I learned ironwork and carpentry.

I remember that as an adolescent, I already worked with copper, bronze, and silver to create jewellery, which my brother and I gave to girls!  But, after many years in the navy and travelling, only upon my arrival in Jerusalem, I felt the desire to truly devout myself to art.

What is your specialty?

I create beth mezuzot. My favourite material is wood. I like to work with all kinds of pieces of trees and I sometimes combine them with other materials, such as mother-of-pearl and copper. I also truly like working with iron and metals in general and I plan to return to it very soon.

How and where do you work?

I live in the French countryside, where I have a large workshop in which I work the entire day. I appreciate the calmness; these are the ideal conditions for concentrating. I always listen to Torah classes while I work: it is an essential source of inspiration for me.

What is the most indispensable item in your workshop?

I could not work without my chain saw, which I hold dear; it allows me to cut anything into any shape possible, it is magic! But I also like to work the material with precision tools, like my Dremel. And of course, I consider my hands to be my post precious tool!

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

I am inspired by being able to perform a mitzvah by making beth mezuzot, I am happy to devote my time to the creation of objects related to a divine command.

I am also fascinated by architecture: the silhouettes of houses in Jerusalem fascinated me when I arrived in Israel. Having lived in Strasbourg for a long time, I also really like the Alsatian style of timber framing. This is why I decided to create beth mezuzot, creating houses on a smaller scale without them existing in reality: no pictures, no drawings. The mezuzot are created in the course of my work.

Improvisation is predominant. For the moment, I have created three different collections, all in their own style: Strasbourg, Bukhara, Prague. A fourth one, Abstract, is the only one not inspired by architectural models.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am currently finalizing these four collections to exhibit them in Paris this January. I am thinking about a new series of beth mezuzot to which I will integrate pieces of metal, bronze, and copper.

What is your favourite item in your current collection?

My favourite piece belongs to the Prague collection: I was inspired by the paintings of Russian and Slavic artists, such as Chagall, who give such a poetic vision of reality, with their whimsical aerial curves and their buildings, which defy the laws of gravity.

How do you know when a piece is finished?

I have the impression that a piece is never finished! I force myself to stop working and reworking them because I would patinate them again, soften an angle, or add an ornament.

Sometimes, however, the piece itself gives the sign that it is finished – when it satisfies the eye.

Do you do bespoke work?

Yes, of course, some customers sometimes ask me to be inspired by a photograph or to use such or such material, to create beth mezuzot of such or such size, for such or such room.

What was the first artwork you ever sold?

When I was in Israel, I sold my first beth mezuzot to an American tourist who came to my workshop. He liked my work so much that he bought almost all of them. At the time, I used ebony, mother-of-pearl, and silver. He recommended that I drop them off at a jewellery store in Jerusalem.

I thank him because it is thanks to him that I made the decision to devote myself entirely to what was only a hobby then.

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

A few years ago, I created an over 2 metres high wrought iron Hanukkiyah at the request of a shopkeeper in the rue des Rosiers in Paris: the dimensions of the object, very unusual for me, allowed me to work on a different scale, and I really liked it. I hope to have other such opportunities in the future.

But the project which I enjoy the most is always the one which does not exist, yet. The one that I carry within me for weeks, months, years, before devoting myself to it.

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

I like the idea that a beth mezuza is unique and handmade. It is a very symbolic object of our belonging to a community. It houses a blessing for the house and all its occupants, so it deserves to be made with pure intentions and chosen with care and discernment. In my opinion, ideally, each mezuzah should be different and adapted to the inhabitants of the house.

For the future, I would like to be able to live from my creations, work with precious woods and create a new collection of metal mezuzot inspired by steampunk.

Where can we find your work?

Here is the link to my site, where one can find photographs and references of a large number of the beth mezuzot of my last four collections: Wooden Art Judaica

I am also present on Instagram : @woodenartjudaica

And I also have an ETSY shop.

© Wooden Art Judaica

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