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Retired Knicks player Amar’e Stoudemire, left, with artist Jojo Anavim and the “Moses” painting Stoudemire commissioned. Photo Credit: Jojo Avarim
Two summers ago, Joseph Anavim found himself at a Hamptons mansion with Kristaps Porzingis, the crown jewel of Latvia and the New York Knicks.
Anavim, a mixed-media and contemporary artist who goes by the name Jojo, and the 7-foot-3 NBA star were among 20 or so people staying at a Water Mill estate.
The pair became instant pals at their mutual friend’s pad.
“He was really a genuine guy, so, naturally we became friends,” said Anavim, 33. “Him and his brothers are all-around good people — very hardworking, focused and humble — and I really admire that.”
A few weeks later, Anavim and Porzingis initiated a trade.
“I gave him a painting, and he sent me a bunch of Adidas sneakers,” said Anavim, who grew up in Roslyn.
While an unlikely barter, it wasn’t Anavim’s first deal with an NBA talent.
He already had earned an admirer in Amar’e Stoudemire. In his retirement, the former Knicks star became an art adviser, curator and collector. He also was Anavim’s first celebrity buyer, having learned about him after spotting Anavim’s pop-art paintings on Instagram and commissioning him in early 2015 to create a piece featuring Moses and the Ten Commandments.
The endorsement marked Anavim’s arrival in the art world. He has amassed a clientele of stars of all stripes — ballplayers, business moguls and billionaires, including former Knick Carmelo Anthony, actor Seth MacFarlane, singer Selena Gomez, rapper Big Sean, social ite Paris Hilton, Daymond John of “Shark Tank” and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson all own Anavim originals.
Drawn to graphics
For Anavim, art was never a part of the bigger picture.
Before becoming a full-time artist, he enjoyed a career in commercial art.
“I’ve always had a keen eye and appreciation for typography and juxtaposition, particularly in commercial packaging,” said Anavim, who lives and works out of his loft in Chelsea. “Growing up, most kids were consumed with finding the prize inside the cereal box, while my eyes were glued to the outside of the box — studying the colors and design.”
Graphic design came naturally to him. After studying psychology at Hunter College in Manhattan, Anavim worked with restaurants in New York City and on the East End, including Georgica Restaurant in East Hampton and Gurney’s Montauk to design menus and marketing materials. That led to print and digital ad campaigns for W Hotels, Sephora and album art for The Chainsmokers and other artists with Universal Music Group.
By 2013, the writing was on the wall.
“I had just moved to a new apartment and had this massive blank wall and needed to fill it,” the 2002 Roslyn High School grad said. “I went to a bunch of galleries and nothing really caught my eye or was too expensive.”
So he decided to make something. Within a month, someone had made him an offer on that piece, an abstract painting on a headboard. Anavim would spend the next year and a half “moonlighting as an artist” and fell in love with it.
“I knew I had to make the move,” Anavim said. “I wasn’t making much selling my art, so it was definitely a risk, and a scary one at that.”
His mother, Ladan, a marketing director, and father, Immanouel, a jeweler, were perplexed about why their son was leaving a steady job to pursue art and a possible life of poverty, Anavim said.
“He’s always been very creative and had a way with people,” Ladan said. “I never told him, ‘No, you can’t do that for a living,’ but as a mother, sometimes you just worry. That’s just part of the job of being a mom.”
But they — and many others — would soon get the picture.
In early 2015, Stoudemire asked him to paint Moses carrying the Ten Commandments.
“I had never done anything like that before, and it was intimidating to say the least,” Anavim said. “I spent almost two months on it.”
He describes his artwork as “a collision between fine art and mass consumerism, sprinkled with a little satire and wit.” His pieces often incorporate a foundation of magazines or newspapers and depict subversive or nostalgic plays on icons and brands. They’re generally vibrantly made from any combination of acrylic and aerosol paint, diamond dust, resin, silk-screening or gel transfers.
“Much of it pays homage to the cultural landscape of postwar America,” Anavim said.
For the Moses piece, he tracked down copies of The New York Times from 1948 that announced the independence of the State of Israel and worked them into a mixed- media portrait of the biblical figure. Anavim said he paid close attention to every detail to the point of obsession. When it was finally ready, he went to Stoudemire’s West Village penthouse and presented the 3-by-3-foot artwork to him.
“It was a bit surreal,” Anavim recalled. “Here is a guy I’ve admired for years, especially as a lifelong Knicks fan, and now I’m presenting him with a painting in his home with a subject about our shared faith. He was almost at a loss for words, and I didn’t know how to interpret that.”
Anavim was unsure whether Stoudemire was blown away or underwhelmed, but in a December 2015 Vanity Fair article about his art collection — which at the time included works from modern pop-artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Roy Lichtenstein — Stoudemire described Anavim’s painting as his favorite.
“That really struck a chord with me,” Anavim said.
These days, Anavim’s focus is on creating the art he wants to make. He works on select commissions on a case-by-case basis. His pieces start at $6,500, and some have sold for upward of $40,000.
“There are only so many hours in a day and only so much work I can create, so picking what you work on is just as important as what you choose not to waste your time on,” Anavim said.
He said his favorite piece is a 7-by-4-foot portrait that singer Selena Gomez commissioned him to make of her. It took three months to complete and has more than 100 layers of collage, paint, silk screen and diamond dust, all finished with a resin coat.
Long Island memories
Anavim revisits visuals and nostalgia from his Long Island upbringing for inspiration.
Some of his earliest memories are from his 4th and 5th birthdays at Laces Roller Skating Rink in New Hyde Park. He can vividly remember the colorful and abstract patterns that were painted on the walls.
“I try to draw out those warm, fuzzy emotions of happiness in people — and when I do, I have done my job,” he said. “My work is less about critique and commentary and more about making the viewer feel something.”
When he was 12, Anavim took a cartoon class taught by Holocaust survivor Al Baruch — the legendary Disney artist and creator of Mighty Mouse and Captain Hook — at the Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center in Greenvale.
“He taught us general composition, animation and animation cells,” Anavim said. “I never looked at animation the same after that.”
As he got older, he would frequent the Nassau County Museum of Art with his friends.
Still, inspiration is only part of the equation for Anavim. “The other and arguably more important component is showing up in the morning and doing your job,” he said. “You could have a million great ideas, but that doesn’t mean [expletive] if you don’t create.”
These are hard-learned lessons he and his sisters, Sipora and Michelle, picked up from their parents. Faith and family feature prominently in Anavim’s life. “I’m an observant Jew — and a central theme in Judaism is to constantly ask questions and learn more,” Anavim said. “I apply that philosophy not only to my personal life but also my profession.”
It is one of the facets that makes him who he is today and propels him to constantly grow.
His parents and many of his loved ones still live on Long Island. Anavim said he tries to make it home for Shabbat dinner.
Anavim’s work has been featured in galleries in SoHo, Miami, Aspen, Colorado; and soon Beverly Hills, California. Most of his sales are made direct from his live-in studio.
He also was part of the “Urban Legends” art show in Florida in December during the most recent Art Basel — a stable for contemporary art — at the Sagamore Miami Beach.
“It was put together by acclaimed curator Sebastien Laboureau and my works were displayed alongside the greats — including Basquiat, Keith Haring, Banksy and Shepard Fairey among others,” Anavim said. “It was an incredible show, and I was honored to be a part of it.”
He recently partnered with the Lions Group NYC, a leading real estate development company that specializes in luxury apartment complexes across New York City. His work is featured on every floor of Canvas, a Long Island City complex — including a 60-foot mural painted on its façade — as part of the project Canvas Condos.
It’s hard to get Anavim out of his studio, but he has his moments, and they usually involve dinner, a charity gala or a Knicks game.
“Those are the events I enjoy,” Anavim said. “I really don’t like going out late to the party scene. Those days are behind me.”
Finding an art patron
As his friendship with former Knicks center Amar’e Stoudemire grew, Jojo Anavim said he would frequent his West Village home for barbecues. On one of those occasions, he met Isaac Gindi, owner of Century 21 department stores, whom he’d known of for some time.
“He has a love and appreciation of the arts and has commissioned so many great artists to collaborate with,” Anavim said. “I sat down next to him and said ‘Hey, you don’t know me but I used to go to Century 21 in Woodbury, Long Island, all the time when I needed a fresh outfit in high school.’ ”
Gindi was amused, and from there the two became friends, Anavim said.
“Before long I toured his private collection, which included an 8-foot Banksy and original works by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat,” Anavim said.
Gindi eventually commissioned several pieces from Anavim and has been one of his most avid collectors and supporters. Anavim recently completed a mural in Gindi’s flagship store in lower Manhattan.
“He really validated what I was doing early on and built my confidence as an artist,” Anavim said. “But most importantly, I count him as a role model and good friend.”