On Feb. 20, Vancouver-based artist Dina Goldstein’s Snapshots from the Garden of Eden opened at the Museum of Jewish Montreal (imjm.ca). The exhibit will be on display until May 17.
A collection of 11 large-scale black-and-white photographs, Snapshots re-imagines modernized versions of characters and passages from Jewish fairytales, folk stories and legends collected in the book Leaves from the Garden of Eden by award-winning folklorist Howard Schwartz. Drawn from Jewish oral and written traditions across the centuries, the stories span the Jewish world – from Italy to Afghanistan – bringing to life the diversity and vibrancy of this overlooked area of Jewish storytelling and heritage.
Renowned for her reinterpretations of cultural symbols, Goldstein’s Snapshots reframes Jewish lore both famed and forgotten through the eyes of the 21st century. “The resonance of Goldstein’s work stems from her ability to weave intricate visual narratives,” said curator Alyssa Stokvis-Hauer, “where the history of Jewish folklore is catapulted into the modern era with a cast of characters and film noir-esque scenes that are provocative, imaginative and layered with meaning.”
Playing with visual and narrative archetypes, Goldstein creates new connections and relevance by merging the traditional and whimsical with contemporary themes of technology, desire, justice and identity, exploring and reinvigorating the history and role of Jewish folk narratives in broader cultural memory.
Yehuda and Maya Devir and their self-drawn webcomic characters in One of Those Days. (image from Devirs)
Fans always do a double take when they see Yehuda and Maya Devir at a comics convention or in a New York City subway, or wherever. The young Israeli couple looks like they jumped right out of their virally popular webcomic One of Those Days.
“I suppose it’s like meeting a real Bart Simpson in the street,” mused Yehuda. “We act exactly the same as our characters.”
Indeed, about seven million social media followers know that Maya loves super-hot showers and hates folding laundry. They know Yehuda’s a big baby when he’s sick and is willing to say “I’m sorry” after an argument. They sympathized with the couple’s struggle to get pregnant.
Most of all, fans smile at the humorous spin the webcomic puts on everyday scenes in a marriage, from dishes in the sink to kisses on the couch.
“We get lots of emails and messages from around the world about how we changed the way couples look at their relationship and how they talk to each other,” Yehuda told Israel21c. “It’s amazing that we can make such a difference for people, that our work can connect Muslim, Jewish, black, white, rich, poor … it doesn’t matter.”
One of Those Days won the Most Creative Content Maker Award at the Inflow Global Summit 2019 Awards for social media influencers.
“We dedicated our award to our followers and supporters around the world. We have fans in Brazil, Japan, Trinidad, Iran, Iraq – basically, every country,” Yehuda said. “People thank us for making them happy once a week and making them feel they are not alone. It’s an amazing journey we’ve been on.”
The Devirs’ journey began in September 2016, when they packed up their diplomas in visual communication from Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design and moved to Tel Aviv.
The newlyweds hoped to find an affordable apartment in a nice neighbourhood. And they hoped to make a living in illustration and design. Neither aspiration was terribly realistic.
“A friend suggested we post a selfie on Facebook asking friends to help us find an apartment,” said Maya. “We didn’t know how to take a good selfie, but we can draw really well, so we did a cartoon of ourselves and posted that.”
Not only did that illustration help them find an affordable flat in a very expensive city, but it also formed the kernel of One of Those Days.
While working as a freelance illustrator in the fashion, music and startup industries, Yehuda posted funny snippets on social media about being a new husband.
“Very quickly I joined him because I wanted him to make me look good,” Maya said with a laugh, “and because the story belonged to both of us. The concept was to illustrate moments we both experienced.”
In May 2017, Bored Panda posted a piece about the Devirs that went viral. “After a week, we gained half a million followers on Instagram,” Maya said. “Since then, we never stopped gaining followers. We got tons of emails and Yehuda couldn’t manage by himself. So, I left my job as art director in an ad firm and joined him full-time in October 2017. This was our dream – to create something of our own.”
They take complementary roles in each cartoon. “We start the idea together and the actual illustration is Yehuda’s talented hand,” said Maya. “Then I add my suggestions about colour composition and typography. I also manage the business.”
She said, “I opened an ecommerce shop. At first, we sold only autographed A5-sized prints of One of Those Days comics and Yehuda’s other comic illustrations. People who were into art and comics appreciated that.”
The online shop now sells three One of Those Days books plus merchandise, including apparel, shower curtains, calendars, phone skins and other items imprinted with favourite cartoons.
The Devirs’ YouTube channel has 46,000 subscribers. They have a Patreon subscription content service. They’ve appeared at comic-cons in Europe, India and will soon visit the United States. They are in great demand to give talks and lectures.
“Everything we do is because our fans suggested it,” said Yehuda. “Now, they want a TV show and we are going to try to do it. We are working with a scriptwriter at a studio in the U.S.”
Relationships proved to be a universal kind of language for the Devirs. “When we decided to move into the stage of being parents and saw it wouldn’t be that easy for us, this was a turning point,” Yehuda confided. “Would we really talk about the unpleasant experience of trying to get pregnant? It’s a super-personal subject.”
Maya felt that Yehuda’s humorous and colourful style would put the right spin on the topic and could be supportive for other couples in a similar situation. And so they introduced comics about ovulation, periods and lovemaking on demand. Messages offering support and advice came pouring in. It was like a worldwide group therapy session, Yehuda said.
The cartoon announcing Maya’s pregnancy got 16 million likes and shares. The first illustration of baby Ariel got 13 million. As of Dec. 1, she had 219,000 Instagram followers at just six months old.
“It was unbelievable to see the amount of love we got from people we didn’t know,” said Yehuda. “As Israeli and Jewish people, it was especially unbelievable to get supportive reactions from our huge fan base in the Arab world. The Israeli part is not important. We’re just the cartoon couple about love.”
Now living on Maya’s childhood kibbutz, the couple puts Ariel in the care of her two grandmothers when they travel to shows and lectures. The difficulty of parting with their baby became another comic that went viral because it was so relatable.
“It’s hard for Maya and me to leave her,” said Yehuda, “but, when she’s older, she’ll join us.”
Israel21c is a nonprofit educational foundation with a mission to focus media and public attention on the 21st-century Israel that exists beyond the conflict. For more, or to donate, visit israel21c.org.
Former Zack Gallery director Linda Lando, left, with new director Hope Forstenzer. (photo by Daniel Wajsman)
The Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver has a new director, Hope Forstenzer – one of the few directors in the gallery’s history to be a professional artist.
Forstenzer is a graphic designer and a glass artist; she is a member of the Terminal City Glass Co-op. She takes over the reins of the Zack Gallery from Linda Lando, who retired at the end of last year.
“I have a background in visual art and performing art,” Forstenzer told the Independent. “For years, I was the artistic director of a multimedia company in New York. We worked on short plays: judged them and then produced them around New York. It was an amazing job, very interesting, but it didn’t pay my bills. For that, I worked as a graphic designer.”
She also taught graphic design, first in the United States – New York, Seattle and Baltimore – and, later, in Vancouver, after her wife accepted a job at B.C. Children’s Hospital in 2012 and the family moved here. Forstenzer has been teaching graphic design at Emily Carr University of Art + Design and at Simon Fraser University.
The artist began working with glass in 2001, while still in New York. She liked it so much that she made it her principal medium. A number of glass shows in Seattle and Vancouver have included her pieces.
“I had two solo shows for my glass, both here in B.C.,” she added. “I also participated in a group show at the Zack in 2015.”
The life of a freelance artist is a hectic one. Forstenzer has had to juggle her teaching schedule and studio time, plus a family with young children. She longed for more professional stability.
“I started looking for a steady part-time job,” she said, “then I heard Linda Lando was retiring from the Zack. I always loved this gallery and its artists, loved the JCC. I decided to apply for the job. I’ve worked in leadership positions in the art field all my life, so this job seemed perfect, both in its essence and its timing.”
Her plans for the gallery are extensive. “I want to do at least as well as Linda did. She was a marvelous director, so I have big shoes to fill.”
Forstenzer is already working on future shows, both solo and group exhibitions, in various artistic formats. “I love diversity,” she said. “But a group show might be harder in some ways to jury and organize. Art is always subjective and, in a group show, some people will always like certain artists more than others. The trick is to make it work for the majority…. When a curator assembles a group show, it is a collaboration, like putting together a puzzle, making as little dissonance as possible from the disparate pieces. On the other hand, in a solo show, you create a flow of energy.”
With regard to the gallery and its place in the community, Forstenzer said, “I want to make sure the gallery is connected to the JCC. We are part of it, and that should be emphasized. It doesn’t mean only Jewish artists – the JCC has a diverse membership, it draws in people of all ages, skills and cultural influences. I want to reflect that in our future shows and programs. Linda started that with her amazing poetry series. I want to do more. Children’s programs. Sessions for older citizens. Workshops for families. I want interactions with the gallery. I want our visitors to be part of the shows.”
As for the artists, she said, “I want to create a nurturing environment for them in the gallery, want to encourage younger artists, not just in age but in experience. Some people only start in the arts after they retire, and their mastery in other areas makes them unique in artistic venues. I want to establish a relationship with our artists, so they will trust me.”
Forstenzer is sure that her being an artist herself is an asset for her work as gallery director. “I’m not only an artist, I’m a fan of the arts, of beautiful things of any kind. It’s not really that common. Many artists are not fans, they prefer their own art to anyone else’s, but I love art. When I visit a museum or a gallery, I want to absorb as much as I can of the other artists’ imaginations.”
Her years as an artist and as an art administrator give her a unique perspective – to see the gallery from both sides. “I can advocate for the artists,” she said, “but I also can and will represent the gallery and its patrons.”
While acting as the gallery director, Forstenzer said she will not exhibit her own work at the Zack. “It would be a conflict of interest,” she said. “I’ll never exhibit here. I will participate in the Terminal City Glass Co-op’s group shows as a glass artist, but, at the Zack, I’m the director, not an artist. I will keep a hard line between my glass-blowing and my gallery.”
Olga Livshinis a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Editor’s Note: This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that Hope Forstenzer was not the first Zack Gallery director to be a professional artist, but rather is one of the few directors in the gallery’s history to be a professional artist.
Linda Frimer’s exhibit, Beckoned by the Light, runs until Feb. 23 at the Zack Gallery. (photo from Linda Frimer)
“Since I was a child, I’ve always looked for the light – in the forest near my home and in the stories of my family. All the paintings in my show were inspired by light, the light of creation,” said Linda Frimer.
The exhibit, Beckoned by the Light, opened at the Zack Gallery on Jan 30. Originally, Frimer thought that her show would open simultaneously with the launch of her upcoming book, Connecting the Dots, and this is why the gallery exhibit opened in conjunction with the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival. But life interfered, and the book is still a work-in-progress. Nevertheless, Frimer told the Independent, “I decided to go ahead with the show.”
Frimer’s paintings are beautiful, suffused with light. They are closer to impressionism than to realism, but every piece is unmistakably and uniquely hers. Light bathes the trees and the streams. It filters among the branches. It soars on dove’s wings over brilliant abstractions and illuminates mysterious paths winding through the woods. Light bursts into explosions of gladness and swirls like dancing fairies, inviting gallery visitors to share the luminous joy, to rejoice in the rainbow of colours.
“When I paint, I want to be positive,” the artist said. “Life is hard. That’s why I want joy in my paintings.”
To express her joy, Frimer uses bright colours, including gold and silver. “Gold and silver are great for all the recurring symbols in my paintings,” she explained. “One of my favourite symbols is wings – wings of the birds, like a dove, which is a metaphor for light.”
Another symbol that appears frequently is a tree. “Trees have wings, too. Sure, they are rooted in earth, but they reach for the sky, for the light,” Frimer said.
One more symbol populates many of her paintings – a flower, specifically a sunflower, which always strives to stretch higher, to touch the sun.
And then there are paths, roads to the light. Or to a better place. Or to someone you love. “I love people,” she said. “Love being a member of a group. I’m a member of several different groups.”
One of her groups – with five artist friends – attended her opening night and brought a gift: a wooden staff adorned with symbols of her art. Each object that was attached to the staff was created by a member of the group.
“We met through a project of the Hebrew University about 15 years ago,” Frimer said. “Now, we meet regularly, support each other in life and art. Whenever one of us has a show, the rest of us always make something symbolic for her.”
The group comprises Frimer, Nomi Kaplan, Lilian Broca, Barbara Heller, Sid Akselrod and Melenie Fleischer. “We call our group Five Hens and a Rooster,” Fleischer said with a laugh, as she presented the group’s gift to Frimer.
Music also plays a big part in Frimer’s artistic life. One could almost hear notes thrumming in her imagery. “I often listen to music when I paint,” she said. “I even dance sometimes. I love classical music, pop, all kinds, really.”
Frimer always starts a painting with an idea, but then her imagination takes over. “I follow my intuition,” she said. “Painting is a spiritual act for me. It’s like meditation. I love the process, the magic of creating. It’s wonderful to be able to express all that positive energy.”
In her opinion, everyone is an artist. Not necessarily a visual artist, but we all create in our own way. “It’s about how you feel, how you express yourself,” she said. “The process is much more important than the end result. I taught art a lot and I facilitated several healing artistic projects. It is great when I can help people tell their stories through creativity.”
Her new book is about that, too. “It’s my life story through art,” she said. “There are also creative exercises there, and some essays about different aspects of creativity. It’s about the healing power of the arts.”
Many of Frimer’s canvasses are large, expensive, fit for corporate headquarters or ballrooms, but the artist wants more than to sell her paintings for profit. “I believe in art reaching the public, being accessible. That’s why I make reproductions of my own work,” she said. “I make posters and giclée prints in different sizes. While my original paintings might not be affordable to many, anyone can afford a small print or appreciate a poster.”
In the same spirit, she often makes donations of her art to hospitals and synagogues. “When a painting hangs in a hospital,” she said, “I hope it might make someone feel better, help with their healing. In a synagogue, I hope my paintings might inspire and support. I studied colours and how they could aid in healing a body or a spirit. I even wrote about it in my book.”
Frimer’s bright paintings are permeated with hope and energy. They are celebrations of possibilities, as if the artist sees everything through the lens of optimism. And she shares that optimism freely with all of us.
Beckoned by the Light runs until Feb 23. For more information on Frimer and her work, visit lindafrimer.ca.
Olga Livshinis a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Left to right, Three Echoes artists Sorour Abdollahi, Devora and Sidi Schaffer. Their exhibit, Hope and Transformation, is at Amelia Douglas Gallery until Feb. 29. (photo from Three Echoes)
Connected by similar values and inspirations in their creative work and in their lives more generally, Sidi Schaffer, Sorour Abdollahi and Devora are longtime friends. Their fifth exhibit together – as the informal collective Three Echoes – is called Hope and Transformation. It is at the Amelia Douglas Gallery at Douglas College in New Westminster until Feb. 29.
“Art transcends the limitations of time, space, language and cultural background,” said Devora in her written remarks, prepared for the exhibit’s opening Jan. 16, which was postponed because of the snow, and given Jan. 21. “The echoes from within spill over onto the canvases,” she said. “Together, our works create a dialogue of hope and transformation.”
Devora told the Independent that the name for the exhibit came “through talk and discussion between the three of us in reflecting on our individual and collective journeys and where we found ourselves, and the world, at that moment.”
“Today, there is a lot of anxiety about globalization and migration,” Abdollahi said. “As an immigrant artist, my art deals with connections between cultures and hybridity. Therefore, my works might help serve as a bridge and tell the immigrant story.”
Abdollahi was born and raised in Iran, where she graduated with a diploma in Persian literature from Yazd University and a bachelor’s in fine arts from the University of Art in Tehran. In Vancouver, where she settled 20 years ago, she studied at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. She writes in the exhibit catalogue that her Iranian heritage and Canadian experience “have had a tremendous influence on my works’ subject matter, dealing with the mediation between the modern and the ancient, the old and the new, the West and the East.”
The artist uses collage, a multi-layering technique and mixed media. “My works show the relationship between culture and environment and migration,” Abdollahi explained to the Independent. “Our environments are changing both internally in our mind and externally, and my works illustrate this change. My works create negotiation between different cultures and societies.”
Schaffer also started her fine arts education in her birth country, Romania. In Israel, she received a degree in art education and taught in the school system for more than a decade. When she came to Canada in 1975, she studied at the University of Alberta, where she majored in printmaking and painting. Initially focused on abstraction, her work has become “more integrated, combining abstract and figurative forms,” she writes in the catalogue. “Now I am continually exploring new possibilities with mixed media, a combination of print, drawing, painting and collage. Important for me is the visual poetry, the relationship of form, space, colour and light. Some of my works in this show are a combination of collages of different things from nature and painting; others are collages of my own imagination.”
“I am an optimist and also I am amazed about the continuous transformation in nature around me,” Schaffer told the Independent. “I combined my love and respect for the beauty of flowers and leaves, surrounding them with hope, and new imaginary landscapes. In a way, I give the dry flowers a new life, bringing them out from the pages of old books.”
As for Devora, she told the JI, “What gives me hope is my relationship with the Divine – that there is no separation, that we are all connected and made of stardust, that we are all on an unfolding journey of being together. I attempt to express that emotion onto the canvas.”
For Devora, art has the power to transform the viewer when the viewer can hear her work speak to them from their own experience. “At the opening,” she said, “the Douglas College students from two classes – one poetry class and one art history class – gathered around and engaged with all three of our works, asking questions, wanting to understand the process, the intention and how they could relate from their own lives to what they were seeing.”
Normally, only the art history students attend each artist talk. However, after Devora shared that the Zack Gallery at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver hosts Pandora’s Collective poetry nights, where members of the collective create works inspired by the art, the Amelia Douglas Gallery invited the poetry class, as well.
Growing up in Berkeley, Calif., where she earned a master’s at California School of Professional Psychology, Deborah Ross does all of her creative work under her maternal grandmother’s name, Devora, in honour of her grandmother, who was murdered in the Holocaust. “Her spirit gives me the strength and confidence to create,” said the artist in her remarks for the exhibit.
Devora, who now lives both in Vancouver and on Salt Spring Island, came to Canada in 1993. She has studied art at Emily Carr, Langara College and elsewhere. “My artwork reflects the love I have for the creative process and exploration,” she writes in the exhibit catalogue. “I am fascinated by the inner world of emotion, dream, metaphor and story and strive to illuminate both the universal and personal by bringing them onto the canvas.
“My latest works explore the interplay and continuum between abstract and representational images of landscapes and figure, and a fascination with the surreal, in mixed media combining acrylic and collage.”
In her remarks for the exhibit opening, Devora explained, “My art reflects a search for understanding and clarity about my personal and ancestral history and the world. My experiences inform my work as I go inside and bring them onto the canvas. I endeavour to transform darkness into the light of hope. I am interested in what is hidden and how it informs what is revealed.”
She noted that she, Abdollahi and Schaffer “turned to esthetics as a way to focus and navigate our journey.” And she expanded on this concept. “Through the lens of esthetics combined with the common immigrant experience and effects of war and displacement,” she said, “the three of us have managed to bridge all other divides: language, ethnicity, culture, religion and country of origin. Our childhood environments and experiences could not have been more different on the surface and yet the foundations of connection and similarity were already being laid down, established through the development of the lens of sensitivity to beauty in the world and compassion for the human experience.
“Our ideal, of different cultures living in harmony, is reflected in our own personal experiences, in which intimate exposure to the world of ‘the other,’ unearths commonalities and gives rise to a greater depth of understanding about our own lives.”
She concluded, “In closing, I would like to quote Sorour, as Sidi and I feel that her words speak for all three of us: ‘In my friendship and collaboration with Sidi and Deborah, I see an opportunity to explore and express my own culture, but also to relate these themes to other cultural experiences – recognizing the echoes of each other in our works and our lives. My works side by side those of my friends’ works create a dialogue and negotiation which hopefully provides the viewer with a different vision of the world – one which is borderless, free and peaceful.’”
Larry Cohen’s new ceramic exhibition at the Zack Gallery runs until Jan. 25. (photo by Olga Livshin)
Larry Cohen’s new ceramic exhibition at the Zack Gallery is called This and That. The name is symbolic for the artist. His show consists of two entirely different types of pottery: whimsical woven sculptures and functional crockery. “I wanted to explore the relationship between pure art, like my sculptures, and functional things, like my bowls, vases and cups,” said Cohen in an interview with the Independent.
“There is a continuum that stretches from pure functional to pure art, and every object fits somewhere along that continuum,” he explained. “The closer to the artistic end, the less functionality the object has, except for people to look at it and think about it. On the other end, there is pure functionality: you can use a bowl for fruits or a mug for your coffee, but it also has a shape and a colour; something to look at, too.”
In his long artistic life, Cohen has worked in many different mediums, creating sculptures from metal and wood, but clay is his material of choice. “Clay is a wonderful thing to work with. It feels good in my hands,” he said. “And it could be found anywhere in the world. Here, in British Columbia, in Europe, in China, in Japan, in Latin America.”
In the past decade, Cohen has won a couple of month-long residencies as a clay master, one in China, another in Japan. “The clay is different everywhere. Its chemically different compositions provide different visual and textile effects in the objects made of it,” he said. “It could be the same colour when unfired and painted with the same glaze, but, if made from different types of clay, after firing, the resulting pottery would look and feel different.”
Cohen travels a lot and, everywhere he goes, he searches for the local potters and their art, trying to absorb as much as he can from the various traditions. “As clay is different everywhere, so the traditions are different, but, in most of the places I have visited, the history of pottery goes back thousands of years,” he said. “People made things of clay in ancient China and ancient Mexico. Not so much in Europe – it had to import the technique from China, but it is still very old. The only place in the world I know that didn’t have pottery is here, in British Columbia. The local clay is wonderful, but the indigenous people here didn’t use it. They made everything out of wood. Only in the past 200 years, since the Europeans settled in B.C., pottery has been on the rise.”
To a degree, Cohen is a local clay pioneer, like other local potters. It is important to him that everything he creates is unique, that no object repeats another. He is as much a craftsman as an artist, which makes even his utilitarian bowls and vases works of art. His woven sculptures are really one of a kind; they are akin to wicker baskets, but made of clay.
“Some of them look like vases, but there are holes,” he said with a smile. “You can’t pour water inside. No functionality except to look at and admire. It is a new technique for me. I always try something new, always think: what is another way to use clay?”
This particular technique looks like ceramic ribbons lying on top of one another, or interwoven. “Clay is forgiving,” Cohen said. “You can make all kinds of different shapes from it, but, even so, it took me awhile to develop this technique. I had to figure out how to overcome the softness of clay and how to combat gravity, so the upper layers wouldn’t squish the lower ones.”
He cuts clay in strips and then twists them in various ways to create the dynamic shapes. “Sometimes, I repeat the same shape multiple times, sometimes make them different,” he said. “I dry them before firing, so the whole sculpture doesn’t collapse under its own weight. Sometimes, I make two or three layers together. Other times, every layer is dried separately, and then they come together in the kiln, held to each other by the glaze. Once or twice, I made the full sculpture before firing, and you could see the lower layers sort of melting together.”
Unlike a painter, who sees the immediate result of his labours, a potter doesn’t see what he creates until it’s fired in the kiln. Cohen fires every piece twice, first without glaze, the second time with glaze.
“Once a piece goes into the kiln, you never know what will come out,” he said.
Cohen makes his pieces in bunches before firing them all together. “I have three large kilns in my studio on Cortes Island,” he said. “I fire them four or five times a year. One is electric, for lower temperatures. It is the first one I use. Whatever I’ve made by the time I fire the kilns goes in. Then everything has to cool down before I paint on the glaze and use the other two kilns – one for regular glaze, for the smooth surfaces, and another with salt for the special textures.”
This and That opened on Jan. 9 and continues until Jan 25.
Olga Livshinis a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Gabriolans held a candlelight vigil after antisemitic graffiti was found at Camp Miriam. An arts festival will take place Feb. 7-9. (photo from You’ve Got a Friend)
Since Camp Miriam on Gabriola Island was defaced with antisemitic graffiti in December, Gabriolans have shown support for the Jewish community, including a candlelight vigil on Jan. 2. Next month, island artists, musicians and writers will gather together to present You’ve Got a Friend: A Festival of Jewish and Gabriolish Art, Words and Music. The Feb. 7-9 festival will feature Jewish-themed visual art, music and writing, all created by residents of Gabriola, among them Juno nominees and literary prizewinners.
“When people heard about the vandalism at Camp Miriam,” said Sima Elizabeth Shefrin, one of the festival’s organizers, “many said, ‘What can I do to help? How can I show my support?’ The festival is a chance to celebrate our friendship and solidarity with each other and to move things on in a positive way. We took the title, You’ve Got a Friend, from Carole King’s old song.”
The festival program includes visual art by Shefrin, Heather Cameron and others at the Gabriola Arts and Heritage Centre. The opening reception will take place Feb. 7, 6-9 p.m., and the gallery will be open Feb. 8, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Feb. 9, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The concert Oy! will feature Bob Bossin, Paul Gellman, Dinah D, the Today Only Klezmer Band and others. It will take place Feb. 8, 7:30 p.m., at the Roxy Lounge and Cultural Club, with tickets available at North Road Sports. Admission is a suggested donation of $15.
Earlier on the Saturday, at 3 p.m., Amy Block will lead a celebration for Tu b’Shevat, the Jewish new year of the trees, at the arts and heritage centre.
Finally, Nu? – poetry and memoir by Janet Vickers, Naomi Wakan, Lisa Webster, Shayna Lindfield, Gloria Levi, Lawrence Feuchtwanger, George Szanto and Bossin – will be held at the arts and heritage centre Feb. 9, 1-3 p.m.
You’ve Got a Friend is supported by Camp Miriam, the Gabriola Arts Council and Anne Landry. For more information, contact Cameron at [email protected].
Janet Strayer at the opening of her solo exhibit, Wings of Imagination, on Nov. 28 at the Zack Gallery. (photo by Olga Livshin)
Janet Strayer first conceived the idea for her new show at the Zack Gallery, Wings of Imagination, about a year ago. “I was talking with Linda, and the bird theme came about,” she said in an interview with the Independent, referring to Linda Lando, director of the gallery.
“Birds appeared in my paintings before,” said Strayer. “They take us into the air, into a different place. Birds symbolize freedom – freedom of movement, freedom of imagination. The flight of imagination allows us to envision different possibilities, different solutions, even different ways to see familiar things. When I considered the name for this show, I thought about [Albert] Einstein and his words that knowledge is always limited, but imagination is limitless. Imagination is the most important thing for any artist.”
Wings of Imagination is all about flight and wings. Birds populate the paintings. Bright and whimsical, they flitter around birdhouses, soar towards a distant sky or interact with other creatures, real or imaginary. Some images are bright, almost cartoonish, inviting a smile, while others seem more serious, characterized by quiet intensity and misty, pastel colours. And then there are funky collages, with real 3-D birdhouses attached to the two-dimensional pictures.
“There are three distinct styles of paintings in this show,” said Strayer. “The three styles are consistent with the theme of the show. I started it conceptually, as I always do, but I couldn’t explore it in any one direction. Wings of imagination is a huge theme, and there is no one way to approach it – all the possible ways should be expressed. Freedom of expression is what it is all about; it is like several different directions of flight.”
One of the styles is almost impressionism. The paintings’ blurry lines are reminiscent of Claude Monet’s foggy nights. The dream-like imagery catapults the viewers into some eldritch realms of sublime illusions with their wings and birds, sky and air.
“Another style is magic realism,” the artist explained. “I wanted to go magical. Imagination is magic. The Canada goose is flying, but his wings are magical – you can’t see such pattern on a real goose, except in your imagination. Beside the goose hangs my homage to Leonard Cohen, as he walks across the sky.”
The two paintings of “Birdwoman” seem similar in composition but entirely different in their palettes and in their emotional subtext. “The colours in ‘Birdwoman on the Roof’ are muted compared to the other one,” said Strayer. “On the roof, she is open to the sky, not as loud as the other, more of a mystery. It has space for you to come in and indulge in your own perception, while the other one is more enclosed inside its room and its brilliant colours.”
Strayer’s magic realism paintings are eccentric and capricious, with clear lines between the colours and frolicking creatures from fantasy novels, while her third style, the collages, appear at first glance as a jumble of small images punctuated by birdhouses.
“Birds need places to live in,” said the artist. “I took a risk with the collages, didn’t know what would happen, but it was such fun working with them. It took me three months to finish those two collages. They started with fragments, and then they led to other fragments. And feathers. And birdhouses. Things tell you what to do, until the entire image comes alive. It was like an adventure in my studio every day. Where would it go?”
Strayer’s playful adventure resulted in two unique art installations. “I wanted people to be surprised by these collages,” she said. “I wanted them to stop and look at all the tiny details. We don’t always stop and look. Even with art, so often, we come to a gallery, but we just glance. We don’t stop and really look.”
Strayer’s is a familiar name to Zack Gallery patrons. She had a solo show at the gallery in 2010, but the difference between the two shows is not only temporal but esthetic. While the previous show was black-and-white digital art and a poetic look at childhood, this one is bursting with colour and exuberance, and features mostly acrylic paintings.
“I enjoy creating digital art,” she said, “but I wouldn’t want it as a steady diet. I’m an explorer. I always want to try something different. I love to work on real paintings. And I’ve always loved colour.”
For Strayer, a predominantly abstract artist, the esthetics of her creations are more important than the telling of a story or the conveying of a message.
“A message should come through the esthetics,” she said. “And, if someone has a different interpretation than me, it’s fine, too. As soon as the paintings are on the gallery wall, they are not mine anymore, even though I created them. Everyone could see something different, compatible with their own memories and experience.”
Wings of Imagination opened on Nov. 28 and runs until Jan. 5. To learn more about Strayer, visit janetstrayerart.com.
Olga Livshinis a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
With the speed of a street-corner caricaturist yet the precision of someone who seemingly misses nothing, Ben Levinson has for decades been capturing the cityscapes of the many places to which he has traveled with his wife, Carla. No pencil, no erasing. Just a black ink pen and a small sketchbook.
“My architectural career taught me to sketch quickly and furiously, and I am able to see details that most would not see,” Levinson told the Independent in an interview earlier this fall.
During these adventures, Levinson has sketched everything of architectural interest to him: churches, cathedrals, mosques, pyramids and, of course, synagogues, while Carla would station herself at a café.
By the time she was done with her coffee and croissant, Ben would have a complete rendering to show her. During the infrequent occasions she would finish first, incomplete drawings would be filled out when they reached their hotel.
The alacrity, accuracy and artistry of the sketches were at times the envy of those whom they encountered on their travels.
“We met artists whose wives and partners waited all too patiently and were ready to move on, whereas Ben was long done,” Carla said.
After looking through Ben’s sketchbooks one day, Carla suggested he do a show devoted to synagogues. Carla, who ran Victoria’s Gallery 1248, helped curate the selection of sketches that appeared at the Wings of Peace Gallery at Victoria’s Congregation Emanu-El from Sept. 4 through Yom Kippur. Now those sketches have been compiled into a book which is tentatively titled In Search of Identity: The Story of the Wandering Jew.
The book’s 49 sketches transport the viewer throughout the old and the new worlds. Many of the sketches are connected by the common experience of Jews moving on because of antisemitic treatment, despite centuries of coexistence in a community.
The figurative journey, which includes interiors and exteriors and is really the result of several holidays the Levinsons took over the span of two decades, sets off in Toledo, Spain, home to one of the few remaining synagogues left after the Spanish Inquisition scattered Jews throughout Europe and the Americas. Levinson’s exhibit and book spend a lot of time in Sephardi lands: a 14th-century Moorish-style synagogue in Cordoba; a tiny shul in Tomar, Portugal, the only pre-Renaissance temple in the country; larger houses of worship in Morocco, home to the largest Jewish population in the Arab world; and, finally, to the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam, completed in 1675.
Poignant reminders of the once-thriving Jewish communities of Eastern Europe follow. Levinson leads the viewer through Berlin, Prague and Budapest, along with artistic reconstructions of the Terezin sleeping barracks and an ancient dig in Vienna.
The voyage shifts to France, Italy and Scandinavia, with the majestic Marais synagogue in Paris, the synagogue at the Museum of Jewish Life in Trieste and the Gothenburg Synagogue, the scene of a firebomb attack in 2017.
Levinson also presents active scenes of a crowd forming outside a Venice synagogue on a sunny Shabbat morning, passersby in front of an Antwerp temple and a sea of bicycles by the Great Synagogue of Copenhagen.
The visual trip wraps up with drawings from Mexico City and the Byzantine-style building of Libertad Synagogue in Buenos Aires.
Born in Medicine Hat, Alta., in 1942, Levinson graduated from the University of Manitoba’s architectural program. In 1966, he moved to Victoria and worked for various firms before starting his 30-year private practice as president of Benjamin Bryce Levinson Architects in 1980. In addition to leading his practice, he continued sketching and showing his work at various venues, including the Architectural Institute of British Columbia and the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver.
Levinson was instrumental in restoring Congregation Emanu-El in the early 1980s. When he arrived in town, he felt an initial disappointment upon seeing the synagogue with “its pink stucco, balcony balustrade pickets, missing fence and hidden dome ceiling.” He helped the synagogue’s leadership in obtaining grants and helped steer the building and fundraising committees to get the money necessary to revitalize the region’s most historic Jewish building.
Small Town Architect, the name of his first book, documents his 40-year career in architectural design and recounts his travels and artistic endeavours. His work can be found throughout Victoria and in numerous communities throughout the province; in elementary schools, municipal halls, grocery stores and restaurants, among other buildings.
Sam Margolis has written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
Lorne Greenberg’s solo show, Cuba, comprises photographic compositions, such as this one. (photos by Lorne Greenberg)
The origins of Lorne Greenberg’s solo photography exhibition Cuba can be traced back more than 35 years. “I had my MFA in photography from the University of Arizona in 1983,” he told the Independent. “In 1984, I began photographing Mexican street art.”
At first, he photographed on the American side of the border, but later visited Mexico several times, taking pictures of streets and buildings in many Mexican border towns. “I have an affinity for Latin American art,” he said. “I also read many Latin American writers.”
After a few years, though, Greenberg turned his artistic eye to other interests and new subjects. He only started refocusing on Mexico five years ago.
“In 2014, I began to photograph in Mexico again,” he said. “This time, I was interested in streets, buildings and yards, objects as artifacts of culture. I see it as the archeology of Man, a study of Man in his environment through the observance of objects and artifacts. There is no sky in my Mexican photos, but walls and doors and windows. Colours, shapes and lines, and where things are in relation to each other.”
He wanted to dig deeper in that direction, but, having been in Mexico multiple times, he turned to Cuba. “I had never been to Cuba before. I wanted to see it,” he said. “I heard that [Barack] Obama was going there, and I decided that I’d better go before Americanization.”
In spring 2016, Greenberg flew to Cuba for the first time. “Just me, my camera and my backpack. I came a few days after Obama left. I was there for about 10 days and visited three cities: Havana, Santa Clara and Trinidad.”
He wandered the streets and photographed doors and walls and windows, but with a new mode of expression. “I started seeing people,” he said. “Before, there were hardly any people in my photos. Now, I wanted to photograph them as part of the streetscape.”
He continued his Cuban exploration in 2018, on his second trip to the country. This time, he stayed exclusively in Havana. “When I was there, I ate, slept, photographed and listened to jazz,” he recalled. “It’s a vibrant place, with music a prevalent part of life.”
Again, he roamed the streets, without a plan, photographing houses and people. “Nothing is staged in my photos; nobody posed,” he said. “I just waited until I had a perfect image, and then I took it. I wasn’t trying to make a statement, didn’t have any preconceived idea. I just wanted to find what is there, discover the relationship between people and places, the coherence of individuals and their building backdrops. If some people didn’t want to be photographed, they would say it, and I didn’t take their pictures, but that happened only three times.”
In selecting the images to include in his solo show, from the hundreds he took in Cuba, he said, “I didn’t want to show just 10 or 15 large pictures. A single large image has a privileged status, and I wanted to create an experience of Cuba, to show people what I saw.”
Therefore, he compiled his photographs into compositions, which made it possible to increase the number of different images on display. Each composition is more than a collection of individual photos – it is a work of art on its own.
“There are 102 different pictures in the show, combined into eight compositions,” Greenberg said. “At first, I considered each composition as a tic-tac-toe grid, but it didn’t work. It was too orderly, too tight, didn’t give the sense of Cuba. Then I thought about the sculptures of Alexander Calder. I changed the layout of my compositions, opened them up, created a flow. They are not individual photographs anymore. They are installations, and they incorporate the gallery space as part of the experience. Each composition has a certain colour scheme, and its lines and shapes create a whole, simultaneously dynamic and static, random and structured.”
The arrangement of the compositions was as creative an endeavour as was taking photographs. “It was fun moving pictures around, seeing different possibilities. I could have done it for much longer, if I didn’t have a deadline for the show,” he joked.
Greenberg’s Cuban compositions reflect the political reality of the country. The lively colours of the buildings preen under the heat and light of the sun, while simultaneously exposing the peeling paint, dirty or moldy walls, and the rusty metal of fences and shutters, which hint at the poverty that exists in the country.
“I see beauty, aesthetics and humanity,” said Greenberg. “Poverty is more in the ethical dimension, and everything for me is in the aesthetic world.”
The show Cuba opened on Oct. 24 at the Zack Gallery and continues until Nov. 24. The opening reception was held on Oct 30. For more information on Greenberg’s work, visit lornegreenbergphotography.ca.
Olga Livshinis a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].