Originally posted 06-16-06 in MBD2
Addi Somekh, balloon twister based in Los Angeles, California, is well known for his innovative ballooney ideas. Beginning with his hats, or rather, headdresses, all the way to his balloon bass and his band “Unpopable”—creative, resourceful, and definite risk-taker are adjectives that come quickly to mind. Visit www.balloonhat.com and www.newballoonart.com and you’ll see what I mean.
“My main influence is music. When I was a kid I always wanted to be a musician. I wanted to improvise,” he said. Likening his improvising with latex to the minimalist New Orleans jazz drummer, he only uses 260’s and a pen
“I guess I’m addicted to the rush of improvising,” he said. “Everyone has their own style. Improvising doesn’t work for everyone.” However he added, “I personally don’t have the attention span to do long weaving projects that a lot of people do. I like to do things quickly and move on to the next thing.“ You can’t just start improvising, he suggested, you have to start with the basics and a strong foundation.
Somekh began with restaurants and worked for tips. He also needed a way to pay for his car insurance and found that when he twisted balloons he seemed to have the talent for it. In addition, he realized that making balloon animals didn’t seem to have quite the impact as hats did. “A hat literally transforms the wearer and the environment,” he said.
As balloon twisters the world over will attest, balloon hats do bring joy to others no matter what the age, size or shape of the balloon or the wearer. Somekh takes the process further by combining various elements in stylistic and interpretive ways. By keenly observing the details of a person, like their accessories, clothing style and surroundings, and then going with his gut, the result is the delicate combo of “the giddiness of balloons and the classiness of being crowned.”
In fact, he traveled the globe over a period of several years with photographer Charlie Eckert making balloon hats and taking photographs of the vast array of wearers, demonstrating balloons are cross-culturally very joyful things indeed. Some of the photos are in his book “The Inflatable Crown” while others can be seen at his website. A documentary film, “Balloon Hat”, by Andrew Vermouth, was also made about the experiences.
Meanwhile his band “Unpopable” continues to play gigs and record tunes. Somekh plays balloon bass, which is a unique instrument introduced to him by another balloon guy, Sean Rooney. There is also The Balloon Drum album available, where, you guessed it, drums made out of balloons are played. You can listen to songs using the different instruments at his newballoonart.com site.
Coming up soon, if you plan on attending Millenium Jam in Belgium this year, Somekh will be teaching several workshops: Intro to Balloon Hats, Advanced Balloon Hats, and 2-D Art Deco. The documentary film “Balloon Hat” will also be shown.
This year he’ll be receiving a $10,000 grant from the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department to create a Balloon Art Brigade. Last year he received the grant, as well, and as part of an Artist-In-Residency program, and with the assistance of Hollywood High School Art Instructor Jessica Potrovitza, Somekh was able to train students from the school to be balloon twisters. The students then went into area nursing homes with their skills to entertain during the holiday season.
Despite his popularity and various endeavors (he has also authored a book about artist Mary Holmes, “Paintings and Ideas”), Somekh said he remains grounded by reading the news a lot. “People can get so ambitious they don‘t appreciate the here and now. I try to make sure I enjoy every day and every opportunity,” he said. “I try to have goals but not have those goals wreck my day-to-day life. It’s balancing art and commerce. You want to do something meaningful and you want to make money. Mary Holmes told me ‘What feeds your heart and feeds your stomach aren’t always the same things.‘ Feeling comfortable with yourself and getting recognized helps, but can also build a bloated ego that is not cool to be around. It’s also a combination of dealing with getting recognized and not needing to get recognized. If you do something that has some kind of soul and meaning, that is its own reward. So, it is much better to not be recognized and be comfortable with yourself, than to be recognized, but not comfortable.”
Advice for newbies? “Be like a sponge. The more you practice, the more you learn. And when you’re starting off, take any gigs and learn from them,” Somekh said. “You just got to practice all the time. The more you practice, the more you discover.” And now as a musician, Somekh said he is back in the beginner seat.