Israeli special forces vet repurposes wartime experience, training for abstract art

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NEW YORK – A former special forces soldier has recreated his wartime trauma and military experience to create abstract art inspired by Jewish and Israeli themes.

David Roytman was born in Odesa, Ukraine, and grew up in the city’s Jewish community. He enjoyed art, and later studied painting and sculpture.

Roytman moved to Israel at the age of 10 and served as a sharpshooter in the army’s elite Duvdevan unit during his regular military service.

Four months after his discharge from the army, he was called back to fight in Jenin, in the West Bank, during Operation Defensive Shield 2002, a major combat operation during the Second Intifada.

A few years later, while in the reserve, he fought in the Second Lebanon War.

Roytman later found work as a Jewish educator, and then in business, but sought a creative outlet that would help him deal with some of his memories from his military service.

He went back to his experience with painting, but with a twist.

‘Symbol of peace,’ colorful acrylic on white canvas, by David Roytman. (Courtesy)

“I looked for all kinds of methods. I tried to improvise, and at the end I had this idea and I experimented,” he told The Times of Israel at his new gallery in New York City during a recent interview.

He began to fill bags with paint and suspend them in front of a white canvas, then shot bullets through the bags to splatter the paint, creating abstract designs.

“It took about six months to learn how to do it well, because at first it wasn’t clear how to do it, how to fix the canvas, how to apply the paint,” he said. “It was important for me to find my way to deal with PTSD and everything I was carrying, and this was the creative way I came up with.”

“It’s a way to get it out in a good way, not an aggressive way,” he said. “Instead of destroying with M4 [rifle]I’m creating with M4.”

Some of the paintings are only abstract, with vibrant colors splattered on a white and black background. Roytman has also developed a stenciling method, which allows him to depict Hebrew letters, Jewish symbols and community icons, including Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Menachem Begin and the Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

The bullet holes remain in the canvases, however, with around a dozen holes in each painting.

“Painting is basically putting paint on a canvas. How you do it – with a brush, a finger, your hand, or a sniper rifle – it’s up to you,” he said. He calls his painting project, “Make art not war.”

Israeli artist David Roytman, left, shows a canvas to New York City Mayor Eric Adams, right, in New York, March 12, 2023. (Courtesy)

Roytman now runs several galleries where he sells his art along with his “Jewish luxury” products, a line he created that includes high-end kippahs, meizus and other items.

He creates the paintings at shooting ranges in Israel and Ukraine, where he also has a workshop producing some of his products and is involved in several community projects for children.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Israel’s Consul General in New York, Asaf Zamir, attended the opening of his newest gallery earlier this month, in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood.

“Watching someone take military proficiency and turn it into art is truly inspiring,” Adams said.

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