Art on the elliptical: PJCCs artist-in-residence captures images of exercise

Elyasaf Kowner has spent a lot of time inside the Byer Athletic Center at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center lately, though he’s hardly broken a sweat.

Elyasaf Kowner photo/courtesy of the pjcc

For the past few weeks, the Israeli artist has been interviewing and sketching the faces of men and women using the treadmill, elliptical and weight machines.

Kowner plans to display the portraits and accompanying words on the walls of the gym, though he’s not revealing the details of those conversations just yet.  

“It’s an unusual place for an exhibition,” said Kowner, whose art wrestles with issues of recognition and location. “I’m taking the fitness center seriously as a spiritual place, not just a place for physical fitness.”

Kowner, who lives and works in Tel Aviv, is the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Visiting Artist-in-Residence through this month at the PJCC in Foster City. Recognized as one of Israel’s most eclectic modern artists, Kowner has been leading a host of creative programs for kids, teens and adults since he began the residency in September.

On Tuesday, Oct. 6, Kowner, also an up-and-coming singer-songwriter, is slated to provide background music for “Obsession With Nature in Jewish Text, Song and Film,” a two-hour dinner and study session in the sukkah with Rabbi Tamar Malino, the PJCC’s associate executive director for Jewish life.

He’ll follow that up with “The Writing on the Wall,” a stencil graffiti art workshop for kids ages 11 to 15 on Wednesday, Oct. 7, and Oct. 14.

Since 2000, Kowner has been a lecturer in leading academic institutions in Israel, teaching art, photography and graphic design.

He’s been creating art for nearly 25 years, which has been shown worldwide, beginning with the New York graffiti project E.K. Paris in 1994. Since then, he has exhibited at the World Wide Video Festival in Amsterdam and in Israel at the Tel Aviv and Haifa museums, among others.

In 2006, Kowner began playing and writing music for guitar, and two years later, he won the Creativity Encourage-ment Prize for the Visual Arts by the Israeli Ministry of Culture.

He sees art in the simplest of subjects — a couple on the beach, a child’s face. Yet the feelings that come over him when he’s truly inspired are complex.

“When I’m turned on by something, I can feel it inside and then I tend to go for it,” Kowner said. “It might sometimes involve weird or strange or bad things, but my job is to be there, be attentive, observe or use myself as a mediator for something else that is much larger.”

While in Israel, Kowner would stop people on the streets of Tel Aviv and, with their permission, “have their moments magnified,” he said.

In 2007, he made “Facing the Wishes,” a yearbook-style paperback that documents the wishes of every student at the Brenner School in Tel Aviv.

“I feel like many people deserve more recognition than they have,” he said. “There’s this perfection that occurs in all of us at certain moments.”

For more information about Elyasaf Kowner or PJCC program registration, contact Kimberly Gordon at (650) 378-2751 or