Dressing the Naked City
The Jerusalem Report, June 2003 / Tina Silverman
Muralist Rami Meiri has been amusing the residents of a dingy Tel Aviv for two decades with his mammoth wall paintings. Now he's taking his show on the road.

For 20 years, Rami Meiri has been brightening the lives of his fellow Tel Avivians by transforming the decaying concrete walls of the city he loves. Passing a small kiosk, nestled on a busy downtown boulevard, hot, hassled pedestrians sigh with envy as they view larger – than- life- size figures relaxing at a trompe l'oeil coffee bar, reading the paper or enjoying a refreshing ice cream. Meiri paints pretty girls lounging on the beach, friends sharing an espresso, children playing ring – around – a – rosy or a lovely laughing woman (Meiri's wife) leaning out of a third – story window as she hangs a pair of two – story – high blue jeans out to dry. Turn a corner and a huge mocking face breaks free from a wall corner, lovers embrace, or a grinning young woman leaps out of a Bezeq utility box. The walls of rundown playgrounds are lines with happy children playing forever on the kindergarten and schools walls. Thousands of frazzled commuter, stuck in excruciatingly long traffic jams just off Tel Aviv's Derekh Hashalom overpass every day, can enjoy a bit of comic relief looking at Meiri's signature wall mural. Painted 13 years ago, the black – and – white drawing of a man's scrunched – up face, his fingers pulling open both sides of a mouth filled with bad teeth, one of his hands also holding a baby bottle, bursts out onto the intersection. An aggressive face with a soft twist simultaneously taunts and soothes the savage commuter beast. It was this mural that marked Meiri's transition from an altruistic street artist into a commissioned muralist commanding prices that range from 1,000$ to 30 times that figure for a painting Prices depend on mural size and who's footing the bill; advertising commissions help pay for his occasional pro – bono work on a nurseryschool wall badly in need of some joyful decoration. A native of Tel Aviv, a young Meiri returned from post army party in South America in the early 1980s, and began searching for a venue for his creativity. He had seen a lot of street art during his travels, and love the idea of creating the same at home. He studied painting and drawing at his city's Avni Academy, and while supporting himself making candles, began using the city as his canvas. "Tel Aviv is a very ugly city", says Meiri. "So when I finished art school, and I looked around and saw so many decaying walls, I said to myself, 'Wow, I can make a mural and make my city beautiful. I don't live in Paris or Madrid, where every wall is beautiful. In the beginning, I didn't ask for money, just for permission to paint. What did the city have to lose?" Tel Aviv became his muse, his canvas and his gallery. Using his own paints and brushes, Meiri began his career two blocks from what was then his home and is now his studio – gallery, near the beach. A huge, pastel beach scene on the weather – beaten wall that leads from Hayarkon Street to the city's seaside promenade, the mural celebrates the sun – worshiping, heat – relief – seeking Regulars of Tel Aviv's busy Gordon beach. "When I started to work on the Gordon beach mural, I had no expectations. I started to paint and naturally, because it is outside, everyone passing by or spending the day at the beach got involved …everyone wanted to see the development of the piece. It was only then that I realized that painting a street mural is a kind of dialogue with the people, a form of street theatre". Israelis are notorious for their generous 'contributions' to the country's aesthetics. Street trash and graffiti deface the cityscape and countryside. Oddly enough, Meiri's work remains vandalism –free. "After I finish the Gordon beach mural, someone spray – painted on it. I was very hurt. But, the following day, all the regulars of the beach, about 200 people, insisted that I repaint the mural. They wanted it back. That incident drew attention from the papers, and since then, no matter where my murals are, no one defaces them". Forty four years old Meiri used to be a one man show. For 10 years he never even got paid to paint. Now, with a new commission every week, he often has crews of painters helping him create some of his larger pieces and he has expanded to other cities. A five story Netanyah apartment building wall, overlooking a busy square, took a month and five men communicating with each other by walkie-talkie to complete. The painting is of four young children fishing serenely, a soothing reminder of the cool, peaceful Mediterranean a few blocks away. His largest piece, in the Ashdod port, is practically a kilometer long- 850 meters –by 10 meters high. The numbers are daunting: Three artist assistants and six dock workers required three months and some 300 gallons of paint to complete the wall, which depicts various port operations. For the uninitiated, it would take all day, particularly in Tel Aviv's traffic tie-ups, to view his local oeuvre. On average, I see at least five Meiris a day while strolling or busing around the city. For a quick overview of just a few of his more than 500 interior and exterior walls, one can click onto his website, or visit him at his old home on a charming side street near the U.S. Embassy in central Tel Aviv. Two blocks from the beach, the cheerfully painted, one room space is one of the few remaining concrete bungalows that used to dot the shoreline before the big hotels and the promenade turned them into quaint memories of early Israel. A warm, scruffy, physically compact Meiri, wearing a paint -spattered T-shirt printed with his famous scary guy/baby bottle image, gave me an anecdote- sprinkled tour of pieces that measure as high as five stories and half a block wide, amusingly reduced to four by five inch color snapshots pasted on the walls. From a restaurant wall on Mount Hermon down to the underwater observatory in Eilat, Meiri has work all over the country, But money is tight in Israel these days, so don't be surprised to see Rami hanging off scaffolds in Miami, Las Vegas or Warsaw commissioned walls waiting for his own