At the beginning of her career, Israeli designer Ayala Serfaty had to work hard to find her voice. “I was not trained to be a designer,” she says. “I was trained to be an artist.”
But instead of choosing art over design – or vice versa – Serfaty decided to combine the two. During the course of her 30-year career, Serfaty has not only exhibited her art installations in prestigious museums and galleries around the world, but she has also sold stunning pieces of furniture and light fixtures – for a six-digit figure per piece, in some cases.
Serfaty’s work is characterized by her constant search for new materials and innovative techniques. Besides glass installations and light fixtures, she also produces pieces of furniture such as couches and armchairs made of felt, which consists of layers of wool, silk, linen, and other fibers pressed together by hand.
“Soma,” her most famous collection, includes a series of luminescent sculptures, assembled in a lengthy process that sometimes lasts months. By heating thin glass rods with a blow torch, she bends the glass to create a web-like internal structure, which she then sprays with polymer. As the sculpture dries, the glass and synthetic material solidify and form a reflective outer film, which Serfaty illuminates with light bulbs lying underneath the piece.
Serfaty claims she was the first to invent this sculpting method, and this is probably one of the reasons for her international success. Her work can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, the Mint Museum in Charlotte, N.C., the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. She also held solo exhibitions in Tel Aviv and in the Netherlands, and she took part in group shows at the London Design Museum, the Cooper Hewitt/Smithsonian Design Museum in New York, and at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
The height of Serfaty’s career? Exhibiting in her hometown
Yet, she considers the highest moment in her career to be the installation she put together for the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in 2008: “I was fortunate enough to be given an entire space to manipulate,” she tells NoCamels. “The walls, the ceiling, the floor… I created the whole thing.”
She was also proud – and a little relieved – when two of her works were inducted into the permanent collection of the esteemed Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. “When this happened, I thought to myself, ‘okay, this is settled. I don’t have to prove anything anymore,’” she recalls.
Serfaty’s talent proves that art has no borders: “Being Israeli has never been a problem in my career,” she says. “In fact, I’ve sold pieces to several Arab League countries, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia.”
Born in Tel Aviv, Serfaty studied fine arts at the prestigious Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem. After completing her art studies at the Middlesex Polytechnic in London, she moved back to Israel and settled in Tel Aviv, where she now works and lives.
With so many commissions from Europe and the US, one might wonder why Serfaty still lives in Tel Aviv. “I almost moved to Milan about 20 years ago,” she reveals. “I was working on a show there, and I had many friends there. It was right after Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, which made me consider leaving Israel. But this is my home. I’ve lived in the same neighborhood most of my life, and I don’t feel at home anywhere else.”
The artist is currently working on artwork commissioned by the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y., and by the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Her pieces are also regularly commissioned by many private individuals; most of her clients come through Maison Gerard, an art gallery in Manhattan. In addition to museum pieces, Serfaty is currently working on two pieces for residential properties in New York. Soon, she will start working on a new commission for a beach house in Hawaii, due in mid-2016.
When asked if she sees herself more as an artist or as a designer, Serfaty replies, “I am somewhere in between. I work according to my inspiration, but I enjoy building useful pieces.”
Photos courtesy of Ayala Serfaty