Addi Somekh (born August 1, 1972) is self-taught balloon artist who has been twisting balloons since 1991. Best known for his wildly inventive balloon hats, Somekh’s other signature pieces include the balloon flower, balloon ring, as well as large-scale balloon sculptures. In addition to his balloon twisting, Somekh is also an author, and musician. With photographer Charles Eckert, Somekh traveled to more than 34 countries on 5 continents and across the United States creating balloon-hats for people of various backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs in an effort to demonstrate the universal power of joy and laughter. These journeys have been photo-documented in calendars, books, and films.
Somekh was born in Hollywood, California in 1972. He is the son of the well-known Silicon Valley semiconductor industry executive Sass Somekh. As an undergraduate, Somekh attended UC Santa Cruz, where he met painter Mary Holmes, who became an unlikely and significant mentor for the young balloon artist. Somekh later published a book about Mary Holmes’ artworks with photographs by Charles Eckert and interviews with the artist.
In the early 1990s Somekh’s balloon twisting began merely as a means to “pay his car insurance” and make extra money when he was 19 years old. While attending graduate school at the New School for Social Research where he majored in Human Resource Management, he continued developing his talents and made a living twisting balloons at bar mitzvahs, elementary schools and corporate parties. Somekh said he enjoyed balloon twisting as a profession because he didn’t have a boss and could make cash improvising balloon hats and keeping the job interesting without having someone looking over his shoulder.
Balloon Hats & Improvisation
Somekh's style of balloon hat making is in large part based on improvisation, and that one of the most important elements of his balloon hat improvisation is getting an intuitive read of a person’s arua,then beginning by measuring the head as a foundation and building from there. Somekh states that he literally sees colors and shapes coming out for their heads, and he recreates these patterns and plays upon them with the balloons. Somekh also credits the NYC jazz quartet Sex Mob and the photographer James Nacthwey as his improvisational inspirations.
World Travels & Publications
California-born Somekh met Queens native and amateur-photographer Charlie Eckert in 1995 while at the New School for Social Research. After seeing the joyous effect that Somekh’s balloon hats had on the normally jaded and stoic New Yorkers when Eckert and Somekh wore extravagant balloon hats to a Halloween party, the duo quickly hatched a plan to travel the world making balloon hats for people of divergent cultures and backgrounds and testing their theory of the universal response joy and laughter which is often elicited from they called the Balloon Hat experience.
Armed with more than 100,000 balloons and Eckert’s camera equipment, they visited 34 countries and 20 of the United States on a self-funded balloon hat world tour between 1996-1999. The travels of Addi Somekh and photographer Charlie Eckert are documented in three calendars (2002, 2003, 2004) titled “The Varieties of the Balloon Hat Experience”, and a full-color, 152-page book called “The Inflatable Crown” release by Chronicle Books in 2001. The pair received widespread press and acclaim for their journeys, including features in InTouch Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Bizarre, and other magazines. Somekh and his Balloon Bass were featured on NPR on September 3, 2003, in an interview and segment produced by Rory Johnston.
When deciding to go on their world tour, they duo chose places specifically where war and poverty continued to affect people’s – especially children’s – lives, and that their presence, and the joy and laughter elicited by the balloon art, would provide maximum healing and illustrate people’s capacity to heal and function after a catastrophe.
Film & Television
In 1997 filmmaker Andy Vermouth met Somekh & Eckhert in West Africa and decided to make a documentary about their travels. “The Balloonhat Movie”, released in 2005, follows Somekh & Eckhert’s for a period of two years as they traveled through Brazil, Bosnia, Serbia, Israel, and on to Egypt and the American South. The film won several awards including 2005 Creative Spirit Award at the Santa Fe Film Festival and 2006 Best Feature Documentary at the Durango Independent Film Festival.
In 2008 Somekh released the documentary “Shoot To Miss: The Arrowmaster Story” about archer Bob Markworth and his efforts to make a living with his archery variety act. Somekh directed the film with Charles Eckert acting as Cinematographer. Peter Taylor edited the film, with an original score created by Gabriel "Frontrow" Rowland.
On Monday February 7, 2011 The Learning Channel (TLC) debuts “The Unpoppables”, a reality show detailing the exploits and adventures of Somekh & his balloon decorating company of New Balloon Art featuring Somekh, Katie Balloons & Brian Asman as they take on an array of challenging balloon commissions that test their skills and sanity. "The Unpoppables" is produced by Authentic Entertainment.
Somekh tells that a lack of talent as a musician is what led him to balloon twisting in the first place, as his childhood dream was to be a jazz musician. Ironically, balloon twisting led him back to music in the form of the Balloon Bass, an instrument that Somekh had played in his band “Unpopable” (aka “Balloon Bass”) since 2005. The first Unpopable album “The Gift/Curse Combo” was released in 2007. Somekh started the band “Unpopable” with guitarist Henry Bermudez in 2005, and he creates a new balloon bass for every performance, popping it at the end of the performance.
Somekh credits his skill with the balloon bass to a case of Lyme disease, which he contracted during a photo shoot for Martha Stewart Magazine in August 2003. While instructing Martha on how to make balloon flowers for a kid’s backyard birthday party, Somekh was bit by a tick and contracted the illness. He moved to Los Angeles to be around sunshine and fresh fruit and was bedridden for 8 months, during which time he learned to play the balloon bass, as he could still move his fingers while stuck in bed.
In 1992 Sean Rooney devised the principle behind the balloon resonator and invented an instrument he called the Balloon Guitar. In 2000, Rooney showed Somekh how to make the resonator, which Somekh then modified several times to make the Balloon Bass. Somekh has since gone on to create a variety of balloon instruments including drums and flutes, and has composed music and improvised with a variety of balloon and non-balloon musicians such as New York-based jazz drummer Kenny Wollesen, Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, Money Mark, Alfredo Ortiz, and the Jamaican dub engineer The Scientist.
- Vietnam Investment Review, Timeout, Issue #85, November 24–30, 1997, Balloonatics
- Seven McDonald, LA Weekly, April 13–19, 2007, Vol 29 No 21, Inflatable Ego
- Mary Holmes, Painting and Ideas, Somekh and Eckert, Very Press ISBN 0-9708298-1-7
- Balloon Magic Magazine, Issue 21, The Varieties of the Balloon Hat Experience
- Rebecca Patt, MetroActive, "Twist and Shout" http://www.metroactive.com/papers/cruz/03.06.02/balloons-0210.html
- New Balloon Art Website, http://www.newballoonart.com
- Jessica Hundley, Los Angeles Times, April 8th 2004, A Twisted World View
- InTouch Weekly, April 18th 2005, Spreading love with balloons
- NPR Interview: Addi Somekh demonstrates his balloon music, http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P1-82083526.html
- Brett Marlow, The Columbia Chronicle, "Twisting and turning laughter around the world" Volume 43 Number 10, November 5, 2007
- Balloonhat Movie Website: http://balloonhatmovie.com
- Shoot To Miss on FilmBaby: http://www.filmbaby.com/films/2843
- TLC Press Release: http://press.discovery.com/us/tlc/press-releases/2011/tlc-takes-balloon-art-new-heights-unpoppables-1090/
- Martha Stewart Kids, August 2003 Issue, "Flower Power Birthday", pp. 106-113
- YouTube video, "The Making of Air, Rubber, and Soul" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNkrzFXy46k
- Balloon Bass http://www.balloonbass.com
- Balloon Bass http://www.balloonbass.com