Following My Creative Journey — Jonathan Katav
NAME Jonathan Katav
ROLE Designer at 2x4
BIRTH CITY Tel Aviv
CITIES LIVED IN New York, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv
Why did you decide to move to a new country?
Since childhood, my mother continually advised me, “Always look for your next Everest,” and that advice has been ingrained in my mind. As a kid, I loved making art, so my parents used to take me twice a week to a program for young artists at the Tel Aviv Museum of Arts. They always encouraged me to do my best and not compromise on where I was and what I wanted to do.
I was born in the suburbs next to Tel Aviv, Israel and spent most of my teenage years in the city. I moved to New York two and a half years ago for an exchange program at Cooper Union to study graphic design from Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem. I fell in love with the city and really wanted to stay. New York felt like it was the place to be for creatives and designers.
But before entering Bezalel Academy, I spent three years in the military. Usually, after the three years of service in the military, everyone takes a few years off to travel around the world or work. But I was ready to study at a university immediately after, knowing that, internationally everyone would be ahead of me.
How did you manage to stay back after your exchange program?
It takes a lot of hard work and dedication for students who’d like to stay full-time. With the guidance of my professor, I was put through a home test, which I had to ace. The home test had six questions that had to be answered by producing work. With two weeks remaining of the semester, I took the test while I was still an exchange student at Cooper Union and got in.
I created a project that I call Forensic Self-portrait for the home test. It was an illustrated book, inspired by the idea of being split between two urges — the urge to create that comes from within me to leave my mark on the current society, and the urge to survive, an animalistic urge that comes from my most basic self as a human being. In the end, the urge to create has to destroy the animalistic urge to survive to continue creating.
What did you do when you felt lonely in the city?
To feel good, I would go to Bushwick, in Brooklyn to revisit memories I have had, as it was the first place I lived in when I moved to New York. Things suddenly became real when I got here! I usually just hang out at the Bake Shop or go shopping next door. That’s my routine. The familiarity of this place makes me feel comfortable and happy.
What is home to you?
Home for me is following my creative journey while knowing that I always have my family to go back to. Sometimes, when I am away from my home in Israel, I imagine myself with my family in the living room and our dog sitting next to us.
To tell you the truth, I don’t think I belong here. I don’t think anyone belongs here. I can try and do my best in succeeding here or even create a life here, but the feeling of permanence remains with my friends and family back in Israel.
Is there any object that you carried with you from back home?
My last name is Katav, which means, “Type” or “Wrote.” Our family got this name because my great grandfather was a calligrapher and book binder. I have some of his books with me in New York, and I’m planning to bring more.
Having this strong family history with typography and design makes me feel like I was meant to do creative work. I feel like it’s in my blood. Bringing my great grandfather’s books with me is like bringing a part of myself here; a thing from my past that is foreign to the culture and society of New York.
I want to create a project using my great grandfather’s work. The idea of using a part of my family history to create contemporary work is very appealing to me.
Growing up in Israel and being part of that culture had a huge influence on me. In the military, I got a chance to work in a unit that required me to use my creative skills. Through that experience, I was able to discover the practical, problem-solving abilities of design. It changed my perspective towards design and gave me a new purpose even in an environment like the military. My creative abilities have guided me throughout my life and I hope they continue to take me to new places.
Do you have any memory of your first childhood home?
I was surrounded by a lot of nature while growing up in Israel. I remember an endless path with Cypress trees on both sides, where I learned to ride my bike. I remember trying very hard until I finally got it. Apart from this, another memory I have from my childhood is drawing a conceptual character made out of squares and feeling great about it. I remember hanging it on the wall of my room. I can still recall the image of the drawing.