Bazooka Joe: "I want to drop the audience's jaws on the floor with my art, like a gun to the head"

53-year-old autodidactic artist Bazooka Joe has lived a long and eventful life. He transposes experiences from his rough childhood on the streets to vibrant, symbol-heavy paintings using his own artistic language, titled "Gangster Art." In his works, Bazooka presents a variety of surrealistic figures that combine extreme sides of the spectrum–aristocrats and street prostitutes, self-portraits, animals, letters, and other various motifs.
 
(Oren Golan)
With an upcoming outdoor exhibit on Dov Hoz Boulevard as part of Holon Design Season 2017, Time Out sat down with Bazooka to pick his brain about this unique language.
 
How would you define your style?
 
As an autodidact, I've developed my own language called "Gangster Art." I use symbols that represent the chutzpah to resist the traditional line separating 'right' from 'wrong' in classic art.
 
Tell me more about these symbols.
 
Well, my works are stamped with many Stars of David. Judaism and religion have a great influence in my life. I really believe that the Star of David is a strong centerpiece of religious symbolism, so I try to use it as much as possible because I think it sends a powerful message about the energy connections between art and religion. It's also become my signature in a way–street artists sign their names on the walls, while I sign my Star of David on my paintings.
 
You had a rough first few chapters of your life, eh? Did religion play a factor in turning your life around? Or has Judaism always been important to you?
 
Judaism has always been a shoulder to lean on. Though you are right. Until my 40s, my life was very complicated.
 
How so?
 
From the age of 14 to about 42, I was addicted to heroin and mixed up in what went together with it–jail, police, prostitutes, court.
 
Are any of these trials and tribulations reflected in your art?
 
Yes. Every figure in my art is influenced by the characters I knew during those years. For example, prostitutes. When I was using drugs my fellow users were prostitutes. I met them on the streets, in the courthouse, in jail...they are a constant in my life; they've been with me since childhood and now they are a part of my "Gangster Art."
 
So these are the women in your paintings.
 
Yes and no. They aren't exactly women. I believe that in another 200-300 years, the human being will come to the point where they will be both female and male at the same time. They will be able to bring children into the world themselves. All of my characters revolve around this point of view. I call my collection “The Third Sex - Evolution.”
 
This is the name of your upcoming exhibition in Holon. I'm curious about your choice to present your paintings on Dov Hoz Boulevard.
 
I'm a gallery-free gangster. When the Holon Design Series first approached me, they suggested I present my exhibition inside a museum, but I didn't want to be boxed in. Instead, I chose to transfer my paintings to 40 billboards on Dov Hoz Boulevard [in Holon].
 
Having my work in the streets–a familiar setting from my past–is a wonderful way to achieve closure. I think that the universe has a really strong power to influence people in a positive way, so when you're in a good place, with good vibes, and your intentions are good, the universe will take you to that positive place. In this case, the streets of Holon are my positive place.
omer golan 
(Oren Golan)
Besides closure, what other goals to you have with "The Third Sex - Evolution"?
 
I want to drop the audience's jaws on the floor with my art, like a gun to the head.
 
Have you always been a creative soul?
 
I only started painting seven years ago. But, my mother was a painter. Growing up in Bat Yam, I would see my mother with her colors and canvas all the time. You might say that it was written in my DNA.
 
I know you consider yourself an autodidactic artist, but I noticed elements of cubism in your paintings. Do you ever draw inspiration from famous historical artists?
 
I try as hard as possible to avoid museums because I don't want any other influences to cloud my head. I’ll tell you the truth, though. I can say that I am somewhat influenced by Picasso, and also Andy Warhol. Still, I try really hard to run away from fire. If I see that I have some resemblance to another icon, I steer in the other direction. I’m trying really hard to develop and preserve my own language.
 
What’s next for Bazooka?
 
I’m hoping to move to New York. I believe in my art. I know that it will do something special there and help me conquer. Connor McGregor once said, “I’m not coming to participate, I’m coming to conquer.” I really took this sentence to heart and try to live by it.
 
You are very certain of yourself, it's refreshing.
 
Have you heard the expression Abracadabra? It actually comes from the Aramaic phrase "avra kedabra," which means "I create as I speak." When you talk about something and you really mean it, then it's going to happen. I promise you.  
 
During your eventful life, what is the most important lesson that you've learned?
 
Every human being has some diamond in their soul, something really shiny, but you have to connect to yourself and treat yourself well in order to let it shine.
 
Bazooka Joe's exhibition "The Third Sex - Evolution" will span Dov Hoz Boulevard from the Ayalon Freeway to Stroma Square in Holon. Exhibition closes December 12.