Israel has expanded economically and culturally the past decade, paving the way for entrepreneurs and artists to establish themselves nationally and internationally.

Tel Aviv-based visual artist Boaz Sides, known as UNTAY, is among the many artists who use their work to spread love through outlets in Israel and abroad. UNTAY has painted murals beyond Israel, including Portugal and Poland, and has held numerous exhibitions.

He spoke to the AJT this spring about how art continues to change Israel.

AJT: Can you provide some information about yourself? When did you become interested in art?
Sides: I’m a visual artist based in Tel Aviv with the goal of spreading global love. I graduated with honors from the department of visual communication at the Holon Institute of Technology in 2010 and have been drawing and creating art since I was a kid. I’ve been working in the design industry for almost 15 years both before and after I obtained my degree and have transitioned from senior designer to leading art director while working for various companies.

As a true artist, I also work on side projects, exhibitions, paintings and murals, and I travel and more. In 2016 I decided to quit my day job as a designer and fulfill my dream of becoming an independent artist full time.

AJT: From where do you draw your inspiration?
Sides: I work with various media and am inspired by music, street art and graffiti, contemporary illustrations and designs, the grunge scene, abstract, human bodies, and the natural environment I am surrounded in. I also draw my inspiration from expressionist artists such as Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt.

Photos courtesy of Boaz Sides

Boaz Sides painted this façade in Loures, Portugal, in 2016 as part of the city’s street art festival.

AJT: What type of art do you do?
Sides: I’m mostly active in Israel’s alternative art scene and work on various multiplatforms as a painter, illustrator, designer, art director, exhibition producer and tattoo artist, but my art is specifically geared toward illustration and drawings.

AJT: Is it popular in Tel Aviv? In Israel?
Sides: It’s popular in Tel Aviv, and we are doing our best to spread ourselves to other cities. Besides Jerusalem and Haifa, it’s hard to get our art shown in other places, including Tel Aviv, where it can be really hard, but artists such as myself and others have loyal fans who have followed us for almost a decade.

Boaz Sides and his friends use a secret spot at an abandoned Israeli army base as a place to paint for fun.

AJT: I heard there were graffiti tours in Tel Aviv for tourists. Is that true?
Sides: Yes, there are a few tours. I don’t know all of them, but you need to be careful who you are doing the tour with because most guides don’t know what they are talking about. I personally recommend Hasayeret, which also provides tours of galleries in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa.

AJT: What are some major projects you have worked on?
Sides: In 2014, I co-founded Prettimess Collective alongside Ben and Alon (from Dasilva Boards Co.), which gathers groups of talented alternative and independent Israeli artists. Today we have a big studio and events space we share south of Tel Aviv to help promote our ideas and dreams. In the past two years we displayed eight independent exhibitions with various concepts — from the “Stickers” exhibition to “Neonz” posters exhibition, music showings and much more. On April 4 we opened our biggest exhibition we’ve done so far and saw 1,800 visitors in less than four hours, just in the opening event. It’s being shown at the historical City Hall building in Tel Aviv (Beit Ha’ir), and it will be on display until August. We were also invited to create new art and installations to place over three floors created by eight artists from the collective. You can view photos from the opening event at bit.ly/2rG1AxM.

This mural is part of a big Prettimess Collective installation at the historic City Hall building in Tel Aviv. The mural, “Mixed Feelings,” represents memories of growing up in Israeli suburbs.

I’m now back in the studio and continue to work on promoting the exhibition, tattoo as much as I can, and in June I’m flying with three more artists from the collective to paint murals over Spain and Portugal.

AJT: Why is art important? Particularly graffiti?
Sides: Over the years I’ve discovered that art is a way to communicate and bring people together … no matter their social background. My fans are from all ages and colors. Graffiti and street art are important because they let people who live in the present mark their place, state their opinion and realize their surroundings. It’s a network of people from all over the world that speak the same language.

This mural in the former Jewish ghetto of Lodz, Poland, painted as part of the Urban-Forms mural project, is in memory of Boaz Sides’ grandmother who was a Holocaust survivor.

AJT: Some think graffiti isn’t art. What would you like people to take away from your work?
Sides: I can’t control what people think in the streets, but I will do my best to make people understand that the streets belong to them. I want people to know they can say or paint what’s on their mind as long as they are not harming anyone on purpose.