International Art in the World's Lowest Venue A Visit to JOJO Studio

Rotem Haykin |

“Art, for me, is a balm for the human soul. When I create, I think of the aesthetics of colors and composition that will please and uplift the beholder every time, anew”. That’s how the artist JOJO describes the nature of his creations.

 Precisely during these days – Corona-days – when everyone is closed up in their home and in their soul, art has the power to encourage and even to heal. We came to visit the artist’s studio in the lowest place on earth, filled ourselves up with positive energies and came out regenerated. 

The studio and gallery of the artist JOJO (Yosef Ohayon), about 20 minutes from the Dead Sea hotels, display the works of JOJO, a local artist who creates mostly in metal and whose works are made using both innovative and original techniques, expressing the trials and tribulations of life, human warmth and optimism. JOJO’s art is highly regarded and exhibited all over the world.

JOJO (Yosef Ohayon) – chose to live in Moshav Ein Tamar near the shores of the Dead Sea, and to create within the quiet, powerful and magical desert expanses. His works draw inspiration from a wide variety of sources and merge ethnic design concepts with western and contemporary design ideas. We asked JOJO many questions and, of course, the first was about his choice to live in the Dead Sea area.

How did you choose to settle in the Dead Sea area?

“I came to the Dead Sea 38 years ago with my wife and little boy. We lived in the temporary settlement of Ein Tamar on a white marlstone hill, we were housed in basic concrete buildings initially, without water or electricity, but there was a wonderful atmosphere of fulfillment in the air. We established a new agricultural settlement on the Jordanian border.”

“As with all romantic stories, the sand between the houses and the flies buzzing around did not deter us from dreaming and believing that here, on the shores of the Dead Sea in this hot and distant place, is where our home would be and where our children would grow up. Zionism, you may ask? Definitely! We weren’t ashamed to call it that – we came to settle the wilderness… Or, if you want an analogy from the field of art, we came to paint the desert with color, to embellish it, and to redesign it, according to our needs and preferences.”

Picture of “Dead Sea Sculpture” by Artist JOJO at Kikar Sodom.

How did you begin to engage in Art? Or, how did the technical glitch become a work of art?

With the establishment of the moshav, I worked in agriculture, as well as developing agricultural machinery for sorting melons. During the development of the machine that washes the fruit with fresh water, the metal twisted and soft wrinkles and creases formed. I thought the machine had broken and I threw it in the trash. After a while, I had a flash of enlightenment that the very same technical glitch may contain a potential invention. By using strong water jets, I created my famous “Yong” chair. Spraying strong jets of water from the inside of the metal results in a chair with a soft appearance, a bit like a pouffe, and sitting on it is comfortable and pleasant.

After the blessed malfunction, JOJO continued faithfully to develop and invent unique methods and techniques that give life and brilliance to metallic art, as well as protecting it and keeping it for many years, even in outdoor conditions. In the gallery in Moshav Ein Tamar, you can find a wide variety of works: wall sculptures characterized by clean and elegant lines, paintings created spontaneously in abstract compositions, armchairs and chairs made of metal in unique designs, vases in a variety of styles, and other surprising works that are being constantly regenerated.

Born in Casablanca, Morocco in 1958, JOJO absorbed an artistic atmosphere as a child. His father and elder brother achieved artistic accomplishments in painting and sculpture. Over the years, as a multidisciplinary artist, he began to experiment with a variety of materials: metals, wooden pallets, canvases, a variety of colors and more. His works express intense life force and human warmth, and deeply reflect human hopes and dreams, and strive to express beauty and harmony beneficial to mankind. They often incorporate human figures and images from nature. For example, colorful images of pregnant women, expressing fertility and life force, while flower fields convey a gushing optimism, with intense color that contrasts with the desert landscape in which the artist creates.

Does the fact that you’ve never studied art or design in a formal manner bother you?

“No – on the contrary. I think it’s an advantage. I see a lot of art and design students today who don’t receive proper guidance. They’re sent out into the market and they’re too rigid and repetitive in their work and I find it almost painful. They need genius teachers who know how to develop them and inspire them to do new things. An artist must not get stuck in one place – he must invent the wheel, innovate, otherwise he is just wasting his time. I’ve always stayed away from the attitude that one should strive to be like everyone else, I’ve always looked for something different. The world is endless, there are lots of flashes of brilliance, ideas and fantasies that are just waiting to come to fruition. We need to look for them, explore them, find them. I keep asking myself questions and looking for new things.”

So, the desert is good for art?

‘It can be – it all depends on what you take from it. I really love designing in the desert area. There’s silence and space here that cause the brain to pick up on other things. I don’t know if I would succeed in achieving these results under the pressure of the city.”

Indeed, the desert atmosphere in Kikar Sodom is magical and tranquil, the feeling of freedom and liberation is evident from the moment you reach the area and the white marlstone mountains alongside the blue Dead Sea, welcome you.

And what about the future?

“Today, I have a successful, world-renown gallery of many years in Tel Aviv and, in addition, I exhibit my works in various galleries throughout the United States, Europe and even Australia. In New York, I exhibited in a gallery I own that gained a lot of interest and resonance in the local and international art world, and I collaborate with other galleries in the city.

The Dead Sea views over the quiet white desert, are the basis of my creation. A quiet morning in my studio among the pepper fields is the source of my inspiration. I still live, and will continue to live, in Ein Tamar. And I invite visitors to tour my Studio at the Dead Sea, to obtain an impression of the art and enjoy the abundance of creation.”

What are the expectations when visiting the Studio?

You are invited to the art playground, a world where intuitive color-splashing reveals hidden worlds. On the tour you will get a glimpse of the creative process taking place in the studio of artist JOJO, get to know the materials and techniques he developed and uses to create his special and original works. These techniques include: inflating metal forms using water jets, painting with electrostatic powder and firing in a huge, unique oven, and painting by color-splashing method. 

You’ll be excited to be impressed and even purchase pieces directly from the studio at attractive prices. JOJO Gallery is one of the most talked-about attractions in the Dead Sea region.

You can combine your visit to the studio with a tour of Kikar Sodom, take in the local agricultural views in the lowest place on earth, the palm groves, the beauty of the desert and the border with Jordan.

For an upgraded experience – Active Painting Workshops

JOJO draws from an affinity with the legacy of “action painting”, which began as an abstract expressionism movement. He uses a method of flicking bottled acrylic paints directly onto the painting-base – canvas, wood or metal. The method of painting he developed is clearly evident in the unique touches using his hands, which is characterized by the swirling, circular and vivid lines.

JOJO’s paintings are characterized by their distinctive style and wild expression. Their mode of production is fast, spontaneous, full of passion, and their final appearance conveys a spirit of spontaneity, warmth, love and hope. These paintings are created out of constant regeneration, listening to one’s internal changes, depending on the experience of the moment.

In JOJO’s studio anyone can draw, let their creativity break forth, and have fun. The workshops are an inspiring experience, both artistically and personally. For those interested, the experience can be upgraded with refreshments and drinks, depending on the participants in the workshop. The activity is suitable for all ages and can be combined with a special event and family parties.

In conclusion, the experience of visiting JOJO’s Studio in Moshav Ein Tamar, is joyful and expands horizons. It is precisely during these times that art and self-connection can heal and empower us… Go down to the desert, visit the Dead Sea and come back regenerated and fresh and perhaps more optimistic – like JOJO’s art.

JOJO’s Gallery


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