Tuesday, April 23, 2024

A Walk to Remember

Yaacov Heller’s earliest art memory dates back to kindergarten, when he crafted an elephant out of clay using his teacher’s kiln. He brought the pachyderm to his Cleveland home and, as Heller recalls, his parents promptly told him to take it back. “[They asked], ‘Where did you steal it from?’ I had to convince them that I made it.”

As prolific as he was prodigious, Heller’s art-making continued apace, and as a young man in the United States Navy, he began to view it as an enterprise, charging fellow-sailors $25 for portraits of their loved ones, completed on board the USS Forrestal. Sometimes he would be working on six of these paintings at a time. When the vessel docked in the south of France, he would use the profits to pay a colleague to man his post while he jetted to Paris to visit the Louvre.

An 18-year residency in Israel, beginning in 1972, led to the style of work for which he is most recognized internationally. His bronze-cast representations of Biblical narratives in action—the binding of Isaac, Moses with the Ten Commandments, David and Goliath—have wound up in the hands of world leaders from Yitzhak Rabin and Margaret Thatcher to Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

“I was in the land of the Bible,” Heller explains. “I read the Bible, and I learned these stories, and I visualized them. If I had gone to Spain, I probably would have been doing bullfighters and flamenco dancers.”

This ability to absorb and then immortalize his environment, whatever it is, has led to an eclectic career. To the uninitiated, the pieces inside Gallery 22—the combination studio, showroom and gallery he has operated in Royal Palm Place for the past eight years—easily could speak to talents of several different artists. But it’s all Heller: Vibrant paintings of Marilyn Monroe, Superman, James Gandolfini and others pop off the walls alongside semi-abstract Lucite sculptures, elaborate Judaica pendants, and secular jewelry patterned in the shape of flowers and animals.

For more, pick up the December issue of Boca Raton magazine.

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