Israeli-born artist provokes and inspires through Negative Space Studio and Gallery

Wood burning artist Gadi Zamir came to Cleveland 16 years ago, following his now ex-wife, and considers the city his "cold home away from home." The Israeli-born Zamir runs Negative Space Studio and Gallery at East 39th and Superior Avenue in Cleveland’s Asiatown community. The gallery name comes from the art term “negative space,” which Zamir explains to be “the space that is either trapped by or surrounds an object. In my work, I often use this method to hide imagery and symbols.”

Negative Space serves as both Zamir’s studio as well as a space to display many prominent artists. For years, the artist created work in his basement. He started wood burning to help his former wife burn room numbers and names into wood plaques for a nursing home she worked for at the time. He confesses: “I immediately fell in love with the process, and before you know it, I could not stop.  Later on, I developed techniques that helped me to incorporate colors and mixed media into my work.”

Although he showed his work in galleries from time to time, the vast majority was piling up against the walls. As time went by, the piles got bigger and bigger, with less room for Zamir to create in, which caused him to start looking for a studio.

In 2010, he attended an event at Asian Town Center and fell in love with the location. With the owner’s permission, he converted a storage room to his working studio and gallery. In 2011, he expanded the gallery and started showcasing other Northeast Ohio artists because he wanted them to have a platform and the ability to share their work with those who could appreciate it.

Negative Space has remained in the Asian Town Center for more than four years now, as the artist’s work fits well with the other tenants, some of whom he has worked with. Zamir designed a Korean restaurant’s doors and the bar for another Vietnamese restaurant. He is currently working with Eric Doung, the owner of the center, to create tables for another restaurant scheduled to open this year.

Zamir draws inspiration from many things, including songs, conversations and people’s physical appearance. He has also been inspired by his travels, especially his year-long travel that he took in his early twenties to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Tibet, after serving in the Israel Defense Force for three years and a half years. The trip fundamentally influenced his art and shaped the person he became.

Zamir recalls one moment that remains particularly poignant for him: “In a remote village in China, I came across an artist who carved hundreds of faces into a walnut using a needle and other tiny improvised tools. The faces were so expressive, and the details were so profound, that even nowadays, as I’m creating, I still think of this man’s dedication and willpower.” His greatest artistic influences have been Gustav Klimt and Dali, who are both masters of using the “negative space” to hide images and have detailed and intricate work.

Zamir enjoys the challenge of illustrating his thoughts, hopes and dreams in works of art. He considers all his pieces to be part of an ensemble. One of the works that he is most attached to is “Caught Between Life and Death,” a 6-foot tall, 5-foot wide piece whose main theme is hunger, portrayed by an African child whose face is made of skulls and faces of embryos. Another piece that the artist is particularly fond of is “Baby Liberty,” which presents the tragedy of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City through the image of a child wearing the Statue of Liberty’s crown, screaming while witnessing the collapse of the Twin Towers from the sea. The knots present on the wood represent the people who jumped or fell, while the Twin Towers are growing, like two bottom teeth out of child’s mouth, to suggest that one can try to demolish the Western world and its values, but they cannot be uprooted.

While his work is displayed in his studio, Zamir also shows it at local and even national galleries, recently holding an exhibition at Glike Gallery in Culver City, California.

Apart from presenting his work, Negative Space has shown many prominent Northeast Ohio artists, but it usually gives opportunities to artists who have never had the chance to showcase their art before. Since Negative Spaces is a nonprofit, it does not charge a commission for the work that is sold in the gallery. One of the artists that Zamir most admires is Evie Zimmer, who had her first one woman show at the gallery. Since then, she has gained momentum and become a well-known artist throughout Northeast Ohio. She even went to Art Basel in Miami Beach, which stages art shows for modern and contemporary works.

In the future, the artist plans to continue creating and using his nonprofit gallery to show and share the works of others, as a means of provoking, inspiring and making a difference in others’ lives.