Face to face at ForKids

Published 11:29 pm Friday, October 19, 2018


The children picked through Army men, necklaces, rolls of string and other things on the “buffet of objects” table, as world-renowned artist Hanoch Piven called it on Thursday evening.

They chatted excitedly as they put together their eclectic artwork. Adults used hot glue to hold the various objects in place on each of the eight children’s art boards, a collage of different objects spread across the table inside the ForKids Suffolk Regional Center for Children and Families in downtown Suffolk.

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These children made self-portraits using discarded items like sunglasses and action figures. Even Snoopy the dog made an appearance on one child’s recreated face.

“The world is filled with faces waiting to be discovered,” Piven told the children. “When we discover those faces, we’re really discovering something new.”

Piven is an internationally celebrated caricaturist, known for his celebrity renditions that have been published in magazines like Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Time and The Atlantic Monthly. He uses simple, everyday objects to convey actors, world leaders and other well-known faces.

The United Jewish Federation of Tidewater is presenting Piven and his eye-catching work as its first artist-in-residence for “Israel Today.” The Israeli artist is leading workshops and presentations throughout the region through Oct. 26, according to the press release.

“It’s such a great opportunity for these kids to see that there’s not just one way to be creative, and it’s important that the Jewish community get to share these visiting experts with the greater community,” said Robin Mancoll, the director of the community relations council for the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater.

Piven showed the children that creativity comes from playful experimentation. He described making a caricature of Saddam Hussein, one of his earliest works, and how he made a breakthrough with a box of matches that he decided to use for Hussein’s mustache.

That “happy coincidence,” he said, became the most evocative element of that piece.

“When you look around, you might find ideas where you didn’t expect to find them,” he said.

The children were tasked with doing just that using a board and “tiny found objects” that people had dropped off at ForKids locations leading up to the workshop — nuts and bolts and buttons and whatever else that’s small, but still creatively useful.

“The fun part about working this way is that we can get many different objects until we find the right one,” Piven said, using his famous Albert Einstein piece as an example, as it took about 30 tries to find the right gears for the physicist’s eyes.

The children just needed to keep their pieces within the frame of the board and use some objects that carried special meaning. Jaheem Gill, 8, searched for the right stuff at the workshop with his siblings Divine, 10, Kamorie, 9, and Elijah, 6.

Jaheem put together a face of things that he liked. A mouth that was a golden toy chest because he liked the color, with a LEGO figure like in one of his own sets. The forehead was a piece of a computer, and the eyes were a pair of sunglasses that he thought looked cool.

“I want to be in the firefighter station and I couldn’t find no firemen, so I just used the Army men,” he said.

His sister Divine made a scene of herself and a Hello Kitty Pez dispenser heading to Disneyland with plastic airplanes, beads and butterflies in the sky.

“This is really important, because I always wanted to go to Disneyland,” she said.

Piven, ForKids staff and members of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater helped each child put together their colorful countenances.

“It was an amazing opportunity for our kids to work with an artist like Hanoch,” ForKids Chief Executive Officer Thaler McCormick said. “He’s obviously an extraordinary person, and he’s great at working with the kids.”

ForKids is one of the largest providers for homeless families in Virginia, according to the organization’s website, and the art created in the workshop will be displayed for the first time at the Nov. 8 grand opening of the organization’s new Suffolk center on West Constance Road, where they will remain indefinitely in the lobby.

But the children were excited that they simply got to present their artwork. KeyMarii Jones, 7, had a face with a camera pointed at it because he wanted to be a star, like the adjacent basketball figurine. Kamorie used a Barrel of Monkeys in a variety of colors because he likes to “monkey around,” he said.

Kadien Warren, 7, said his favorite part of his picture was the orange necklace.

“It looks just like me,” he said.

For decades, Piven has championed art as a means of expression for both children and adults, but it also builds confidence through trial and error. By just practicing, he said, you’re able to move further past the self-doubts that plague artists of all ages.

“Being able to feel free to take those chances is what allows you to discover new things,” he said. “If you play safe you’re not going to discover anything. If you take chances and are not afraid to make mistakes — not afraid to lose — this is where you start being more creative.”

That creativity can even help them overcome problems that these children face in their everyday lives.

“Art is a game, art is play and the reason we play is to because we practice for the world. We prepare to face the world,” he said.