Aarele Ben Arieh
Israeli Artist & Sculptor
Ben Arieh was born in Haifa in 1955, and today his home and work base are in the Tzafririm agricultural settlement in the Ela Valley region. He grew up in Kiryat Gat and attended the local high school. From an early age, he was drawn to sculpture and displayed immense talent which he demonstrated by using metal and wood to create various objects. As a child and youth, Ben Arieh spent his free time in his father’s workshop, a designer and producer of farming equipment. In the company of the workshop’s highly experienced professionals, he acquired broad vocational training, mostly in the medium of metal. The capabilities and sound expertise he accumulated during this time enabled him to implement his diverse artistic ideas. His considerable talent for planning and creating was already evident at age fourteen and he played a significant role in the production processes of complex mechanical and constructive jobs. After completing his IDF military service in the Airborne Nachal battalion, he joined his friends at Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, where he set up a sculpture studio and a workshop for the development and improvement of agricultural machinery.
In the early eighties, Ben Arieh developed close ties with potters and carpenters in the Gaza Strip. He worked alongside them as an apprentice and considered them his guides and mentors in art. He drew inspiration from the Palestinian material culture, the unique colorful paintings of pilgrims returning from Mecca and the vast expanses of sand dunes. At the same time, he studied under the late sculptor Moshe Shek (Jook) and the painter Rafi Mintz. Shaping his artistic outlook, these years became his formative years and their influence is apparent throughout his work. Ben Arieh has maintained the legacy of his mentors, both Arabs and Jews, and over the years has taught both young and old in his Tzafririm studio.
Ben Arieh’s work is manifested in outdoor pieces that mingle the public with the environment. He specializes in creating projects that can be used physically by people, such as sculptured playgrounds, park shade, seating and integrated elements for use by the public. "His point of origin is anchored in the material, or rather in the point where the material and the concept meet. The what and how go hand in hand. His pieces are comprised of dozens of interconnected elements which join to form one flawlessly shaped whole..." (Izika Gaon, Curator of The Israel Museum, at the opening of “The Concept in the Material” exhibition, 1987). Ben Arieh calls himself “The Place Doctor." He creates from the impulse to touch and the desire to have an influence on the environment. His work strives for simplicity, expressing precision and making loud remarks by saying very little. His pieces are a blend between man, material and environment. The properties of material, imagery, usability and content are forever intertwined. Using natural materials, he creates sculptures which make people feel comfortable in their natural environment. "I endeavor for graceful truth that encourages forgiveness. My pieces offer a personal experience in both the private and public domain.” Motion and playfulness are central themes in Ben Arieh’s indoor pieces as well as his outdoor work. Thus, he invites the audience to communicate physically and unmediated with his work.
Noted Works & Exhibitions
Ben Arieh’s pieces feature in many public and private locations in Israel and around the world. His most prominent pieces, depicting his work style, include "The Whale Tails" on the coast of Ashkelon  , “The Spider" in Holon, “Ecolog Lenin" in Berlin, “The Dinosaurs” in Kiryat Ata, “Calm in the Arch” in Ganei Tikva, his most recent “Gan Gurim” sculpture in Holon (2012), and more. A new project is also currently underway for the city of Stuttgart in Germany .
In 1987, the Israel Museum held Ben Arieh’s “Toy Sculptures” exhibition, displaying varied pieces from his Gaza stint. In 1997, the Israel Museum presented his "The Concept in the Material" exhibition for the second time, displaying Ben Arieh’s wide range of ideas in the field of urban sculpture. The year 2012 ushered his exhibition called "Song of the Crank" into the Gerstein Gallery in Tel Aviv.  This exhibition presented a series of mechanical toy sculptures made of tin and wood.
Cave in the studio area
When in touch . . . thou art
Daydreams drive us forward and impel us to make things happen. Without them we would simply remain chained to our seats, unable to propel our fantasies or build castles in the sky. While daydreaming, our thoughts, feelings and deepest emotions surface in spectacular array - daring to be embraced.
Aarale Ben-Arieh readily accepts this dare. He is aware of his sensations, recognizes his needs, channels his talents and sings along in harmony with his inner voice. Aarale is in touch.
I create out of a need for contact and a desire to make an influence. I believe that my work creates a presence through which one can try to ease the pace and get in touch with his innermost feelings.
At the same time, Aarale remains down-to-earth in his artistic approach. With infinite humor and optimism, his creations vary in shape and matter, from minute figurines to monumental masses that tower dozens of feet high and weigh several tons. Aarale's unmistaken, personal mark is embedded on each and every one of them.
My creations aspire towards simplicity and are a merging of man, matter and environment. In creating sculptures from natural materials, I always interweave the characteristics of the matter, its imager and its content into one entity. I strive for the simple truth that encourages mercy and forgiveness.
Aarale's ideas are executed with the swiftness of their inception: brass hearts undergo a special glazing process; giant metal birds fly to faraway sculpture gardens and museums; fish swim from the shores of his studio to seas of spectators worldwide; an enormous, shiny brass pomegranate makes its way to a hotel lobby. From experimental hieroglyphs made of wood, soft and hard metals to miniature dinosaurs perched on his studio desktop, Aarale's creations are boundless.
Aarale Ben-Arieh started his independent and unique path as an inventive sculptor far from any artists' workshops or academic influence. As an Israeli military officer in the early 1970's, Aarale believed that the results of the Six-Day War would quickly serve as a means for achieving peace. He felt the need to serve within the Arab community and viewed it as an opportunity to get to know his neighbors on the other side of the border.
After completing his army service, Aarale joined Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, bordering the Gaza Strip, and continued to visit the neighboring Arab communities on a routine basis.
He developed agricultural machinery on the kibbutz and when appointed to serve as the kibbutz CEO in 1980, the agricultural tool studio became his place of refuge from the demands inherent in this public service. Aarale's agricultural machinery assembly line soon began to spurt out strange machines and tools whose use was not always apparent. These were his first sculptures. During his excursions to the Gaza Strip, Aarale encountered useful and traditional tools used in the Arab communities that resembled his first attempts at sculpture. This is where he met his first teachers.
Romantic Thinking, Classical Execution
Aarale considers Abu Ibrahim, an Arab wood worker from Khan Yunis who used to rude tools to make ploughs, as his most important teacher.
I quickly understood that this was neither naïve artisanship nor naïve labor, but maximal sophistication and efficiency. The approach I learned from Abu Ibrahim is actually the Classical approach in art – the correct use of tools and material, with maximum frugality and efficiency, as opposed to the Romantic approach, which is far more tempestuous and wasteful. I believe in Romantic thinking, but in Classical execution.
Abu Shafik, a potter from Gaza, was his second teacher. He taught Aarale pottery and how to build kilns for burning ceramic sculptures. Aarale also chose to study with two Israeli teachers, the sculptor Juke (Moshe Schek) and the painter Raffi Mintz.
With the outbreak of the first wave of riots in the Gaza Strip (1987), the gates of the school that Aarale had built for himself were locked behind him. He felt sufficiently prepared to display his sculptures and to set them on public sites.
The "What" and the "How" Always Go Together
Aarale strives for simplicity and attempts to express more by means of less. The intensities are discovered through the joining of man and environment, with dozens of elements integrated together into a wholeness of shape in which the "what" and the "how" are always combined together. Although his creations deal with the relation between culture and society, Aarale admits that his works are not meant to be explained. Usually, the real story comes from the unseen and the unexplained.
"Down-to-Earth" Daydreamer - A Self Portrait
From within a sense of great uncertainty, I create the reality of my life. As the number of earthly beings, so is the number of "realities". They are all connected together, forming one, spacious wholeness that certainly affects me as well. Other realities serve as "mirrors" through which I meet myself. I believe that every phenomenon is part of an evolutionary process that cannot be measured in terms of good or evil, right or wrong. The hidden and unseen greatly exceed the clear and obvious and I am overcome by the curious impulse to lessen these endless boundaries. My curiosity is particularly arisen by that which remains unexplainable. I find my way guided by my feelings, my conscience and the sense of being true to the moment.
I sense a belonging to the Jewish Culture and to the Land of Israel. This sense of belonging stands on its own, independent of any historical proof, Scriptural prophecy or confirmation from a spiritual authority of any kind.
Most of my works have no visual sign of meaningful declaration. The meaning serves as but another detail in the overall abstractness and is chosen intuitively, primarily for creating an additional dimension and as a mental connecting point. My creations are universal, whereas I, myself, am not really so. I am the most down-to-earth daydreamer you will ever meet.
Aarle's creations are sculptures and environmental works of art that invite physical touch, joyful play and pensive thought. Through the integration of matter, man and environment he offers onlookers an artistic experience that hopefully induces a sense of encouragement and security in their own self-identity. By working with natural materials, different types of wood, various kinds of metals, as well as modern, contemporary materials, in rather unusual combinations, he tries to create a complete, total environment within the urban locale.
I do so by using natural materials as much as possible and by implementing techniques that expose the uniqueness of each material. The characteristics of the matter and the environment serve as a "compass". Needs serve as an encouraging framework and the encounter with "limitation" awakens my desire to surge forward and break through the barriers.
We Haven't Been There Yet
Aarale used a truck and crane to set his bird sculptures, each weighing approximately half a ton, in the sculpture garden of the Tefen Village in the Galilee. As early afternoon waned into twilight, he was not yet satisfied with the various locations he had chosen to place his birds. The truck driver and other professionals who were helping to position the sculptures were fed up with Aarale, who continued to deliberate about where to place them.
"I asked the driver for the umpteenth time to hoist one of the birds again and to set it down a meter away from the place it had been positioned," he relates. "Up until that moment, the driver hadn't uttered a peep, but this time, the sun was threatening to set and his patience had come to an end."
"'You're driving me crazy, the driver burst out, 'Why there, of all places?'"
"'Because we haven't been there yet,' I replied."
His anger dissipated immediately. The driver picked up the sculpture with the crane, moved it to the designated location – and the bird has been there ever since.
"That's why I can't explain how to create harmony between a sculpture and its environment in a simple way," says Aarale. "In that instance at Tefen, harmony with the environment necessitated creating harmony with the truck driver. The special location we finally reached enabled me to see the birds in Tefen the way I had envisioned them in my mind – when the ground was actually the sky into which the birds were trying to fly, and the sky was the ground on which they were set."
"The location," he adds, "and the balancing of the birds on a tripod comprised of two legs and a wing, allowed me to right a wrong that sculpting usually does to birds. There are wonderful sculptures of birds, but they always look like they are planted in the ground and are pining to fly. No sculptor has succeeded in emulating the skinny legs with which nature has endowed real birds in heavy sculptures. The special positioning in Tefen, so I hope, overcomes gravity and gives the impression that the birds are really flying."
Aarale believes that man and culture are part of nature, precisely the same as the plants and the trees. The ability to survive depends on the ability to create a symbiotic relationship within an ever-changing and dynamic environment.
What You See is What It Is
Not all of his shapes are clear, nor are all the allusions explicit. Aarale's work is replete with numerous abstract and mysterious shapes. He is particularly fond of machines that "grind water" and serve as a source of amusement for those who use them. Aarale stresses his belief that "what you see is what it is. There are no concealed intentions. I'm not a member of the school that ascribes underlying meanings to a work of art. Depth is not created beyond what is seen, but rather as a result of what is seen. We are talking about emotional depth, depth in spiritual communication between people, but I don't engage in making puzzles or complicated, logical riddles. There is no need to decipher my sculptures. A bird is a bird, a fish is a fish and a handle than you turn for no reason, is simply a handle that you turn for no reason. In that sense, I am quite unsophisticated. The abstract forms are abstract forms that cross my mind. When I don't know what they are, neither does the spectator. Everything is simple. By means of meaningless shapes I explore without reaching conclusions.