In Amit Shimoni’s world, US President Donald Trump has side-swept hair and a fondness for Hawaiian shirts, and presidential candidate Joe Biden wears Ray-Bans and an ice cream cone patterned button-down “like a cool grandpa.” The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dons snazzy gold earrings to go with her oversize shades and studded collar — the one that’s decidedly less frilly than the lace piece that became part of her signature style.
Shimoni is the Israeli illustrator who has captured world leaders and cultural visionaries with a new spirit in Hipstory by Amit Shimoni, an illustrated series of over 50 real-life figures drawn as modern-day hipsters. The Tel Aviv-based artist admits that beyond embodying powerful digital pop art, the images have become a unique way for a new generation to connect with political and historical icons of the past and present.
“The idea was to create a sort of mirror for me and for the people around me, that was supposed to make you think about our generation in comparison to [the leaders of] other generations,” he tells NoCamels.
Using the idea of the hipster concept, Shimoni explains that his artwork “came from a point where I felt like I was a global consumer and had no ideology. The only thing that I was interested in is what’s cool now,” he explains, “I decided to turn these leaders into hipsters because, for me, the hipster is the paradox of being unique but eventually, acting as part of the herd.”
“I saw that people could really understand this type of language,” he adds.
Shimoni has since modified his Hipstory illustrations of world leaders, presidents, cultural icons, social activists, artists, and performers into wall prints, coasters, mugs, puzzles, postcards, and billboards. In 2017, he worked with Laurence King Publishing to publish a postcard book featuring 20 of his illustrations. The book, called Hipstory: Why Be A World Leader When You Could Be a Hipster? is still available on Amazon.
Shimoni’s Hipstory work has been featured in a number of global campaigns. In 2015, The New York Times asked him to “hipstorize” Hillary Clinton as part of a Women Empowerment event, where she was the guest of honor just days before announcing her presidential election campaign. In 2017, he drew Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg for her re-election campaign.
And in 2018, he collaborated with Mexican brand Konrad Sputnik to create a “Go-Vote” campaign for the Mexican national election. Shimoni created five new illustrations of leading Mexican presidential candidates. The portraits were printed on t-shirts with the hashtag #YOSIVOTO or “I Vote.” The campaign went viral on social media and Mexican celebrities posted photos of themselves in t-shirts featuring their candidate of choice.
Recently, Shimoni collaborated with US lawyer and social activist Meena Harris, niece of VP candidate Kamala Harris, for her Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign, an initiative that supports women’s organizations and is inspired by the Maya Angelou poem. As part of the collaboration, Phenomenal sells t-shirts with Shimoni’s images of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Hillary Clinton, US Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, and civil rights leader John Lewis under the world VOTE to inspire buyers to go to the polls.
Shimoni only began working with Phenomenal after he had already created new Hipstory illustrations of Biden and Harris. He tells NoCamels that he reached out to his social media followers, asking them to help him decide who to draw for his next female illustration. Many followers suggested Harris, he says.
Besides having his Hipstory artwork featured as a design concept for restaurants, conferences, city streets, and college campuses across the globe, including in Australia, Iceland, and Israel, Shimoni regularly runs pop up shops in various locations and hosts talks for tourists and international students out of his design studio in Old Jaffa, overlooking the Jaffa Port.
While the ongoing global health crisis, has severely impacted his business, going as far as to cut his income in half, Shimoni is eager to start again once visitors start traveling to Israel more consistently.
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“Normally I work with a lot of stores and they just don’t work right now. I work a lot with Taglit and other organizations that bring tourists to Israel for lectures and they buy gifts for their family and friends,” he says.
Shimoni says the biggest surprise is the effect his illustrations have had as an educational tool for teachers and students — bridging the gap between a traditional way of teaching history and the vitality of pop culture.
“My ambition is to spark the curiosity of students and to make them interested,” he says, “I see the power of this project to communicate with a young audience and they understand it. For me, as a student, I was never interested in history or politics. Heavy textbooks didn’t communicate with me. Now I see how teachers and parents are teaching with my illustrations and I love how it bridges the gap. “
Some of Shimoni’s most well-known drawings include current political figures and world leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Queen Elizabeth II, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as well as former leaders like former President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama, former UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and former Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
He has taken it further by creating illustrations of cultural icons and entertainers including Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, actress Marilyn Monroe, and even Santa Claus, as well as a collection of iconic painters and artists such as Salvador Dali, Vincent Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, and Pablo Picasso.
Expanding on this theme, Shimoni says he is currently working on a science series featuring scientists that have changed the world. The new collection will feature illustrations of Marie Curie, Jane Goodall, Nikola Tesla, and Stephen Hawking.
“The power of the image to make people act and think – for me as an artist to see the power of the image that I created to make an influence is the biggest joy of my creation,” he says.
It all started with Israel
As part of the Hipstory series, Martin Luther King, Jr. wears a baseball cap, a gold cross-chain, and a camo top over his toothy grin. Queen Elizabeth II has flowers in her hair and a customized word necklace. Artist Pablo Picasso dons a gold earring and a low-cut nautical tee to show off a number of tattoos. Marilyn Monroe wears dark makeup, ombre hair, a chain necklace, and a graphic tee that shows off her shoulders.
But before he embarked on a mission to illustrate world leaders and cultural influencers, Shimoni was a graduate of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, working on a final project that would create hundreds of illustrations for a theme park that was to open in the Negev in 2014.
When Shimoni realized the detailed project was too involved, he shifted gears and drew a collection of 12 Israeli leaders as hipsters. And he was met with positive acclaim.
“I couldn’t believe the reaction. Young and old were inspired and everyone had something to connect with. Everyone had their own perspective of the series,” he told NoCamels in 2015.
Five years later, Shimoni continues the painstaking and intricate process of creating illustrations using computer technology. Shimoni draws each of his portraits on a graphic computer tablet and then perfects the texture and coloring on Adobe Photoshop.
Even as he pursues other endeavors — Shimoni tells NoCamels he wants to study tattoo design and convert part of his studio into a tattoo shop — the illustrations are an ongoing project and Shimoni hopes they will continue making an impact on the world.
“The idea is to bring people who made history and are making history right now to the forefront,” he says, “If I can create something that can get people to look and want to know more, then I’ve made the best connection between the customer and these leaders. This is my greatest creation.”