Coffee With…Seth Wolfson

Seth Wolfson, a Bloomfield photographer and vice president of Artists 4 Israel, recently traveled to Israel to document graffiti painted on bomb shelters and other buildings. His work will be showcased  on September 13 and 14, when Unique Photo is commissioning graffiti artists, including SUEWORKS and MEAR to paint its outside front wall, some 4,000 square feet.

Tell me about Artists 4 Israel.

Artists 4 Israel is a group of creative individuals who work together in a creative effort to promote peace and security in Israel. The idea is to use arts as a way to support Israel’s right to exist in peace and security through programs, both domestically and internationally. In the United States, we have a life-drawing class, which has a different theme every month. Right now, we’re doing a “Painting in the Park” series, where we’ve gotten a well-known painter to teach a class at different locations throughout Central Park.

How does the connection to Israel come into this?

For example, we held a class at Central Park’s Boat House and students painted boats and whatever the teacher decided to teach that day. Then someone comes speaks about five minutes only about Israel—we tied the boat painting with recent Israel events relating to the flotilla attack. About a month ago, boats from Turkey tried to enter the Gaza Strip and there was a lot of negative press about the event. So we took five minutes to explain what happened with facts rather than lots of spin.

So you take a subject or theme and you merge recent events related to them in your classes?

Or historical events. We try to do it in a way that only lasts three or four minutes. Nobody wants to hear a lecture—they come to paint.

Is your “Murality Project” one of the largest Artists 4 Israel projects?

It was our first international program—we’re hoping to go back this November. We brought eight artists, all of whom were non-Jewish, to Israel to paint bomb shelters down in Sderot, which is about five or six city blocks from the border of Gaza, so it is continually under rocket fire.

The rockets are not the rockets you would think of—when they get fired, there’s no control over them. The missiles the U.S and Israel use are proper missiles—they can type in GPS coordinates and they hit an exact spot. These missiles get fired up in the air and land wherever. About three weeks ago, one landed right in the middle of a center for disabled kids, completely ravaging the entire building. So it’s a really nasty way to fight because they run up to the border and shoot it off and run back.

So you have 15 seconds from the time the Israeli Army could tell you the bomb has gone up to get into a bomb shelter. Say you’re driving with two kids in the car and they’re both in car seats. Which one do you choose to get out? These bombs are a part of daily life.

Who were some of the graffiti artists who were a part of the “Murality Project” ?

Cycle is one of the original artists to write on the trains; he’s an Old School Graffiti Artist.

Did you need to obtain permission from the Israeli government and military to paint on the bomb shelters and other buildings?

To paint on the Army base, we needed permission from the military. We needed permission from municipalities, but not with the government in a larger sense.

Did local Israeli artists join the American artists?

We brought eight American artists and met up with 12 Israeli street and graffiti artists.

Why do you use graffiti as the art form as opposed to more traditional styles for your “Murality Project”?

Graffiti has become one of the largest Pop Art forms. There’s an organization called the Urban Arts Foundation, which is an advocacy organization, which supports graffiti. They are working to landmark famous graffiti places throughout New York. They’re also using graffiti as an art tool.

Israeli officials were okay with your artists using graffiti?

They were excited. It’s not the graffiti that you think of—it’s not the type where kids write a tag on the wall. These are all artists who do this for a living.

What were some of the artists’ experiences?

One of the artists, Sarah, is one of our non-Jewish artists [who was painting a battered women’s shelter.] She spoke no Hebrew and these girls [at the shelter] spoke only Hebrew. After 10 minutes, they were trying to make her speak Hebrew and had their phones recording her, trying to say stuff. After an hour, they were all in tears—they never have an experience of speaking to an American in such a real way.

We brought one art therapist who was a woman and a girl who was living in Israel who volunteered as staff who was with us. Otherwise, it was all men who were on the trip. It’s a fairly macho thing, graffiti, in its essence. So it was really amazing for Sarah to sit down with a group of girls and realize that everyone is the same all over the world; everyone has the same struggles; everyone has the same fears.

How many buildings did the artists paint?

At least 75 over only a week. We crammed so much into the trip.

What was Sderot like?

It’s an industrial town—it’s a poor city. One of the other vice presidents from Artists 4 Israel was on a trip previously to Sderot with her mother with an organization that brought kids from Sderot to Jerusalem (an approximately two and a half hour drive) for Shabbos.

So they brought one of these girls up to the Wailing Wall and everyone’s running around and singing; even though the Wailing Wall is a very somber place, it’s also a very joyous place where people sing and dance—it’s a beautiful thing.

So everybody is running around, singing and everyone is happy and this little girl starts crying. And this rebbetzin said “What’s wrong. Why are you crying?” And the little girl said, “How am I going to hear the alarm?”

…There’s a really neat thing about Sderot. Because people spend so much time in bomb shelters, they have this really interesting culture of bomb shelter musicians. These musical groups have started because they spend so much time in bomb shelters.

It sounds like people have really adapted to this environment.

Down in Sderot, the bomb shelters are smaller ones—you are in and out of them quicker. In the North, the attacks can be longer and you can be stuck (in the shelters) for a week at a time.

Up north, they raise money to put in air conditioners, televisions and beds and things like that. Up north, people’s lives are set around these bomb shelters. So if there’s going to be a teen dance, the dance is in the bomb shelter because it’s air-conditioned and it’s lit.

What are your goals for the “Murality Project” ?

We’re bringing cheer and liveliness to this desolate-looking town. Also, to let these people  understand there are people outside their world who support them. They’re not alone.

The other part of it is all of our artists are some of the best artists of their genres—they’re also non-Jewish.

Also, with these graffiti people—they don’t tend to read The New York Times. They get their news other ways—either “The Daily Show” or hear news through music and a lot of the rap music is very pro-Islamic.

By bringing the artists to Israel they get to see the culture. The idea of the Israeli artists mixing with the American artists is so they were able to get a better feeling of what it’s like to live there, to be a part of the culture, which is important to us.

How long will the artwork stay on the buildings?

Forever. That’s the beauty of using high-quality work—people want it there.

I noticed on your website, you photographed Dachau. What was that like?

It was an amazing experience. I visited Dachau and Auschwitz. To me, Dachau was a much more emotional thing. It was such a quiet place. I was there I in the winter, so the ground was snow-covered. You walk around and you feel a certain energy. When you step off the bus and walk through the front gates, you know something happened there.

You see the bunks that they were shoved into. It was freezing cold. I was frozen in my expensive clothes. I can’t imagine what these people had to wear—a tee-shirt and some pants and most likely, no shoes.

How old are you?


What inspires you?

Everything. There’s nothing that doesn’t influence me.

How did the Unique Photo Superstore involved with Artists 4 Israel?

I had approached Matt Sweetwood, president of Unique Photo, and said we’re doing this amazing trip and we would love your support. And Matt is like “What do you want?” and I said “10 million packs of Fuji film.”

Matt gave me Fuji instant film and cameras. A lot of kids participated in the painting and we wanted them to take home a memory of that. We also wanted to give the cameras to the artists and let them photograph the work from their perspective. Now with the painting at Unique Photo, we hope to generate attention to the Artists 4 Israel Project.

Unique Photo is located at 123 U.S. Highway 46 West in Fairfield. You can also see progress on the graffiti wall on Unique’s webcam.

Click here to sign up for Baristanet's free daily emails and news alerts.


  1. Seth is a doll, proud to say I have known him for many years. He is a talented artist with immense potential. What Seth is doing is creative and soulful. How incredible that a young man takes it upon himself to spread joy and respite in a challenging environment like Israel. We never know how a splash of color, a positive image, may even save a life if not just a mood!

  2. Seth’s pictures are stunning. They are documentary photography that captures the essence and power of a very important time and very important place. I am excited about this exhibit and even more excited to know an individual who uses his talent to protect and help those in need.

Comments are closed.