Jossi Stern, Hungarian/Israeli (1923 - 1992)
Jossi (Joseph) Stern was born far from his present world, in the Bakon Hills of Hungary, in 1923. He was already drawing when at the age of ten he moved with his family to Budapest.
When Hitler's bestial horror with its promise of death sounded in 1939, the young artist made for Palestine in an old ship, only to be declared an illegal immigrant and sent to a prison camp for six months. In 1943, there were those who saw his talent and he was enrolled in the Bezalel school of Arts and Crafts in Jerusalem. Outstanding as a student, he became a teacher of Graphic Arts there.
Stern is recognized in Israel as one of its most delightful artists. His drawings are exhibited and appear in many publications. They are the man and his world. Their grace and charm show that he has understood Gustave Flaubert''s remark: "If your work of art is good, if it is true, it will find its echo and make its place."
Stern, a Holocaust survivor from Hungary, put special emphasis in his drawings on depicting the “new Jew,” a sabra, wearing shorts, sandals and looking tough.
But along with his popular drawings, particularly for children books and the press, Stern slowly earned a place as a serious painter whose work was known worldwide. He was also a popular art teacher at the Bezalel Arts Academy here.
Stern died Saturday morning, after a month of hospitalization. Following a second heart attack, he sank into a coma, from which he did not wake up.
Seven years ago, at the age of 62, Stern made news by coming out with a surprise announcement that he was homosexual.
“I was never in a closet, and therefore I never came out of it,” he told the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot during an interview.
“I have always treated the intimate part of life discreetly. Whoever asked, I always told the truth, but people didn’t ask,” he said.
Rumor had it that he had a long affair with the American conductor Leonard Bernstein. Stern did not deny this but hated the fact it had become a rumor, stressing that he wanted to keep his private life private.
“There are three men whom I go to bed with every night,” he used to say. “Marcus Aurelius, Baruch Spinoza and Martin Buber.”
But his openly admitted love affair was with Jerusalem. Mayor Teddy Kollek named him “the Painter of Jerusalem.”
Stern spent many long hours painting the city that he loved. He used to spend hours on end, walking along the streets, the alleys, swallowing the city in his mind, and then come home and record his impressions on canvas.
Loved by so many, in a way he was always an outsider. He has never had an exhibition at the Israel Museum, on the hill across the valley from his home. He had few exhibitions abroad.
But so many books are illustrated with his drawings, so many walls in Israel carry a Yossi Stern. He had, in fact, become an integral part of Israeli culture, perhaps more than he realized.