Ilan Neuwirth was born smiling in Tel Aviv. He moved to the US when he was 12, returning to Israel at 18 to join the Air Force. But the US was his home, and at 21 he returned to begin his first career: teaching windsurfing.
From there he began selling the equipment for the water sports he taught. He grew his business until his store was the nation’s #1 retailer for several water sports brands.
He eventually sold the company and pursued his next passion: real estate. Over the next few years, he built a successful South Florida real estate firm. In both cases, the secret to his success was his ability to subvert trends.
He was surprising, fun, clever, and kind. He draws people into his passions with creativity and rigor, finding new ways to promote his ideas and putting the best of himself into everything he does.
Ilan has traveled, so far, to 50 countries and all seven continents, to rural towns, remote villages, and some of the biggest cities in the world. To see the world, for Ilan, is to see people, and to meet the world is to embrace the ways the people in the world are living. The people that he sees in his travels, whether around the world or in his own neighborhood, are what inspires Ilan’s art: from the colors and patterns they wear to the way they talk and laugh, the way people express themselves is what inspires Ilan.
He learned his love of travel from his father, who brought Ilan with him on cruise ships so often that he calls the ocean his second home. His mother, meanwhile, built a beauty empire in Israel. She taught him the value of hard work, and the happiness that we can find in providing joy and beauty to others. His parents taught him how to be a part of a community; they taught him pride, humor, and rigor. Now his wife, his daughter, his son, and his dog are the essence of his life. They are the reason he’s been able to keep his childhood nickname: Smiley.
His first work of art came from the Israeli sculptor Yakov Agam, who traded his art to Ilan for windsurfing equipment. Agam’s experiments with kinetic and optical art were Ilan’s first inspirations to create art of his own. Later, a friend opened an Italian restaurant next to the Romero Britto gallery, and Ilan was able to spend time at Britto’s gallery. Britto’s message of happiness, and pop art’s messages of hope, dreams and happiness still resonate with Ilan.
For his art, Ilan finds objects, or, just as often, they find him. Antique, vintage, and modern objects are made new, vibrant, and repurposed. Each object is unique, and calls out to him, and asks to be made into something fresh. They call out to be seen, if not for the first time then from an angle that’s been hidden. They call for light and shadows. They call out to be celebrated.
Ilan’s art sometimes uses use powder coating, metal, fiberglass or epoxy, but he always bends neon to highlight these objects and create art that we can’t look away from. This brightness reflects the joy he finds in creating his art. The effect of neon is immediate, warm, euphoric. It’s a century-old tool that harnesses some of the same energy found in stars to create a sharpness which our current moment yearns for. In that way it’s vintage, timeless, and modern in a single moment. From deep bliss to passing euphoria, Ilan’s art tries to explore the shades of happiness in the human experience, and to inspire people towards some measure of that happiness.