Somekh twisting balloons during world travels
|Born||August 1, 1972|
Addi Somekh (born August 1, 1972) is a self-taught balloon artist who has been twisting balloons since 1991. Best known for his balloon hats, Somekh’s other signature pieces include the balloon flower, balloon ring, and large-scale balloon sculptures. In addition to his balloon twisting, Somekh is an author, university philosophy instructor, and musician. With photographer Charles (Charlie) Eckert, Somekh traveled around the world 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 Silicon Valley semiconductor industry executive Sass Somekh. As an undergraduate, Somekh attended UC Santa Cruz, where he met painter Mary Holmes, who became a mentor for the young balloon artist. Somekh later published a book about Mary Holmes’ artworks with photographs by Charlie Eckert and interviews with the artist.
In the early 1990s, Somekh’s balloon twisting began 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. One of the most important elements of his balloon hat improvisation is getting an intuitive read of a person’s aura; he then measures the head as a foundation and builds from there. Somekh states that he sees colors and shapes coming out of people's heads, and he recreates these patterns and plays upon them with the balloons. In a 2018 TEDxPaloAlto talk titled "Balloon Art and the Mysterious Nature of Joy," Somekh claimed that balloon hat improvisation leads to joy, which he describes as an instinctive and therapeutic reaction. Somekh credits the NYC jazz quartet Sex Mob and the photographer James Nacthwey as his improvisational inspirations.
Travels & Publications
California-born Somekh met Queens native and amateur photographer Charlie Eckert in 1995. After witnessing the joyous effect they had when wearing 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. During their travels, they tested their theory of the universal response of joy and laughter, which is often elicited from they called the "Balloon Hat experience."
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, released 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 (magazine), 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.
Somekh's balloon art has been featured in several museum and cultural center exhibits. In 2008, the Skirball Cultural Center hosted The Inflatable Crown, a show featuring Charlie Eckert's photographs of Somekh's balloon hats and a documentary highlighting their travels. Balloon sculptures crafted by Somekh were later displayed at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History for a fall 2017 show. Ballooniverse featured three changing installations crafted entirely out of balloons: Balloon Garden, The Elephant and Six Blind Men, and Balloon Graffiti with Spray Paint Artist Cernesto. At the end of 2017, Somekh also helped produce The Great Mystery Show, an exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum featuring the work of blind South Korean balloon artist HongSeok Goh. Together, the artists collaborated with seven other balloon twisters to create a giant sculptures of turtles, elephants, and dragons.
During an art residency at Cowell College of UC Santa Cruz in 2012, Somekh founded the Balloon Art Brigade—an organization that teaches people how to make balloon art and use it to spread joy in their communities. The organization regularly volunteers at nursing homes and homeless shelters, and it aims to expand to college campuses around the country.
In 2014, Somekh began teaching a philosophy course at Cowell College. His course, Meaning, Paradox, and Love: Mary Holmes and Beyond, has grown from 13 to 130 students in four years. For their final project, students are instructed to interview seniors in the Santa Cruz, California community who are over 70-years-old. In these interviews, the students ask their interviewees how meaning, paradox, and love have played out in their lives.
Somekh credits his balloon twisting to his lack of talent as a musician and childhood dream of becoming a jazz musician. Balloon twisting eventually led him back to music in the form of the Balloon Bass, an instrument that Somekh has played in his band, Unpopable (aka “Balloon Bass”), since 2005. For every performance, Somekh creates a new balloon bass and pops it at the end of the show.
The first Unpopable album The Gift/Curse Combo was released in 2007. Somekh started Unpopable with guitarist Henry Bermudez in 2005, but the band is currently composed of Somekh on balloon bass and Joey Maramba on electric bass. In 2014, the band released an album called The Unpopable Trio with Alfredo Ortiz, and in 2018, they released an album called Tunnel Buddies with several percussionists.
Somekh crafted the balloon bass after contracting Lyme disease 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. Afterwards, he moved to Los Angeles while bedridden for 8 months. During this 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 (musician).
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 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 the 2005 Creative Spirit Award at the Santa Fe Film Festival and the 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.
On Monday, February 7, 2011, The Learning Channel (TLC) debuted The Unpoppables, a reality show detailing the exploits and adventures of Somekh & his balloon decorating company, New Balloon Art. The team of Somekh, Katie Balloons, & Brian Asman are recorded taking on an array of challenging balloon commissions that test their skills and sanity. The show was produced by Authentic Entertainment.
- 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
- "Balloon Art and the Mysterious Nature of Joy". YouTube. Retrieved June 6, 2018.
- 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
- "Good, Twisted Fun with Balloons". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
- "Ballooniverse". Santa Cruz MAH. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
- "Blind Balloon Artist HongSeok Goh Shows Off Massive Work at AVAM". Baltimore. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
- "A blind balloon artist from South Korea opens his first U.S. exhibit, and it's awesome". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
- "Balloon Maker Enjoys the Joy His Art Brings". Santa Cruz Sentinel. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
- "About". Balloon Art Brigade. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
- "UCSC Students Interview Local Seniors for Final Project". Santa Cruz Sentinel. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
- "Class Honors Mary Holmes' Life of Meaning, Paradox and Love". GoodTimes. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
- Balloon Bass http://www.balloonbass.com
- Martha Stewart Kids, August 2003 Issue, "Flower Power Birthday", pp. 106-113
- Sean, Rooney. "Balloon Maestro". Balloon Maestro. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
- YouTube video, "The Making of Air, Rubber, and Soul" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNkrzFXy46k
- 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 YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMc6JZ7RQkM
- "Episodes". The Unpopables. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
- TLC Press Release: http://press.discovery.com/us/tlc/press-releases/2011/tlc-takes-balloon-art-new-heights-unpoppables-1090/[permanent dead link]