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].
Michael Seelig is donating the proceeds from his exhibit Trees to the Zack Gallery. (photo by Olga Livshin)
Trees, Michael Seelig’s new solo photography exhibit at the Zack Gallery, opened last week. It is a fundraiser for the gallery, which is located in the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver.
Such philanthropic initiatives “are of ultimate importance to the gallery and the community, as everybody wins when the gallery is well-supported,” said Zack director Linda Lando. “We have approximately three benefits a year, and they come in different ways. Sometimes, they’re initiated by the artist, sometimes by myself or another staff member of the JCC.”
Seelig’s decision to donate all the proceeds came from the heart, and it’s not the first time. His previous show at the Zack, which was held five years ago, was also a benefit. “This is my way of contributing to the JCC,” he said in an interview with the Independent. “We have a longstanding connection to the centre. My wife was president of the JCC some time ago, and we’ve given several donations to the community over the years.”
Unlike his previous show, which focused on architectural images – Seelig was an architect before he retired – this show is all about trees. A cornucopia of greens dominates the gallery walls.
“When Linda asked me to do a show this year, I didn’t have much in mind,” he said. “I started going through my photographs, selected the best 20, and then realized that eight of them were photos of trees. Looking back, I’ve always photographed trees. Maybe I have an affinity for trees. So, I thought I’d make it the theme of this entire show.”
Seelig has been drawn to trees and their unique charm for a long time. “I think my love of trees comes from my childhood, when I was growing up in Israel,” he said. “Jewish people are the only ones I know who have a holiday dedicated to trees: Tu b’Shevat. During that holiday, we cherish trees, plant them, take care of them, so they can take care of us. That tradition probably influenced me from a young age to love trees and photograph them. I take photos of trees wherever I travel.”
In the Zack exhibition, there are pictures of trees from Israel and Scotland, Canada and Japan.
“There is a book I read recently,” Seelig said, “called The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben. He is a German forester and writer and he knows trees. He says trees form communities. They communicate with each other and with us. It was a fascinating book, and I agree with the author; his book inspired me. Have you noticed that old stumps sprout new growth sometimes? That is because there are other trees around. Trees are life-givers; they create the air we breathe. Without trees, there would be no life on earth.… In Canada, and particularly in British Columbia, we often take trees for granted. Most of us do not pause to look at them and admire their beauty, solidity and permanence. We forget that, without trees, our planet cannot survive. This show pays homage to trees in many parts of the world.”
Seelig’s trees are all different; each one has its own shape and personality. Some are gnarled and twisted, while others stretch up in straight lines.
“I like it that they don’t talk to me,” he joked. “Trees are my models, but they’re more obedient than people when it comes to posing for a photo. I can take my time snapping pictures of trees. They are perfect photography objects. A tree just stands there. You can walk around it, see it from 360 degrees or from underneath. And every view is different. You can’t do this with a person.”
In addition to Seelig’s photographs of trees, the show includes several watercolours, most of which he painted specifically for this exhibit. Only two small works are exceptions. “When I was looking through my archives in preparation for this show, I found a small painting, created by my father in 1940. He painted a street in Haifa, and there is a tree in the image. The second painting is mine; I painted it in 2010, also in Haifa. Seventy years passed between these two paintings, but their colour schemes are surprisingly similar. And there are trees in both paintings.”
The sizes of the images on display vary greatly. While Seelig’s father’s painting would fit in a school notebook, and most of the photographs are the perfect size for a family home, a huge triptych on canvas of one of his Kyoto garden photos would enliven a hotel foyer or a corporate conference room. “I invited some designers to the show,” Seelig said. “Maybe one of them would like it.”
Seelig’s approach to photography is consistently organic. He doesn’t edit his photos with Photoshop, doesn’t even crop them.
“My pictures are exactly what I see,” he said. “And now you see them, too. There are other photographers who manipulate their photos with editing software, many of them wonderful artists, but I don’t do that. I don’t call myself an artist either, even though I use my creativity for many things in my life. I used artistic judgment for my work as an architect, before I retired. Now, I make greeting cards and wedding invitations with my photographs and my paintings. I illustrated a couple of children’s books, written by my daughter and her husband. Even making dinner for our friends is a form of art for me.”
The Trees exhibit runs until Oct. 20.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
This year’s Jewish Independent Rosh Hashanah cover photo features a bumble bee on a heartleaf oxeye daisy flower – it was taken in Saanich, B.C., by David Fraser. Many native bumble bees are in decline, a concerning trend given the role they play in pollination of plants, including many food crops. Pesticides, habitat loss and introduced bee parasites and diseases are thought to play a role in this decline.
Apples are one of the main symbolic foods we eat on Rosh Hashanah, as we wish for a sweet year, with the help of some honey. Apples are the fruit of choice for this wish perhaps because Rosh Hashanah coincides with the sixth day of creation, when humans – Adam and Eve – were created and they ate the fruit (apple) of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. It could also be that apples symbolize the relationship between God and the Jewish people, as poeticized in the Song of Songs, or that the Zohar (kabbalah) describes paradise as a holy apple orchard.
Regardless of the reason for the fruit selection, apple production is dependent on bees and other pollinators. It would be fitting then for us to wish for more than a sweet, fruitful year, when we are dipping our apple slices into honey. We might consider our role in the decline of not only the bumble bee populations but of the environment at large, and what we can do to reverse it.
“Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!” by Lilian Broca is part of the exhibit Brides: Portrait of a Marriage, which is at the Italian Cultural Centre’s Il Museo until Sept. 30.
In most romance novels and fairy tales, a love story ends in a wedding and the couple lives “happily ever after.” In real life, it’s not that simple. Marriage has its challenges.
The show Brides: Portrait of a Marriage, which opened at the Italian Cultural Centre’s Il Museo in Vancouver this summer, examines some of the aspects of marriage that fairy tales purposefully omit. The show incorporates the works of several local artists in different media: textile art by Linda Coe, photography by Grace Gordon-Collins, drawings by Jewish community member Lilian Broca and a tapestry by fellow Jewish community member Barbara Heller.
“I always wanted a show about brides,” Angela Clarke, curator and director of Il Museo, told the Independent. “We have weddings at the centre almost every week. There is so much energy, so many emotions. But the Roman goddess of marriage, Juno, was not a happy woman. Hers was not a happy marriage, and the controversy attracted me.”
Brides is part of the museum’s Gendered Voices series, and looks at marriage from a woman’s perspective.
“This exhibition places the institution of marriage under the looking glass,” said Clarke. “Each participating artist tackles the deep psychological complexity and immense social pressure involved in a traditional marriage. Historical perspectives and family dynamics, personal reflections and the impact of feminism are explored in the show.”
Each artist contributed her own personal outlook. Coe’s fabric panels belong to her Dirty Laundry series. Colourful and sophisticated-looking hangings were all created from fabric snatches that were once parts of women’s dowries, used and reused for several generations before they ended up in the artist’s stockpile.
“The eight fabric panels represent eight stages of a woman’s life,” explained Clarke. “Each one incorporates relevant texts from Renaissance romance novels and etiquette manuals. In the 16th century, such manuals were very popular in Italy, especially among the middle classes. They were written to instruct young brides in the proper comportment, in the ways to become a successful bride and mother.”
In addition, those eight panels reference the eight requisite parts of a romance novel, from the Middle Ages to the modern Avon romances. “Those stages have names, the same names as the panels,” Clarke said. “No. 1, Stasis (infant). No. 2, Trigger (young girl). No. 3, Quest (betrothal). No. 4, Surprise (courtesan). No. 5, Critical Choice (bride). No. 6, Climax (wife). No. 7, Reversal (matron). No. 8, Resolution (widow). Every love story published these days must follow this structure.”
Heller’s tapestry and Gordon-Collins’s photographs explore wedding dresses and the commodification of weddings. The tapestry shows a bride in a beautiful dress, but her face is blurry, unimportant, and the dress becomes the focal point, a uniform, a symbol.
The photos, in the photogram or X-ray style, lack faces altogether, only the wedding attires of four generations of women of the artist’s family can be seen.
“Grandmother’s wedding tunic was modest, especially in comparison to the artist’s daughter’s wedding dress, much more opulent and sensual, and designed for one-time use only,” said Clarke. “Here, we can trace how, through the generations, the weddings grow into an industry, and the wedding accessories become commodities.”
While neon-bright colours dominate Gordon-Collins’s images and Coe’s collages shimmer with the patina of gold, Broca’s contribution to the show is a sequence of stark black and white lithographs, all from her Brides series.
“My mother passed away in 1989,” Broca said, as she explained the roots of her series. “I was devastated by her death, although it was a blessing after suffering for years from cancer. Soon after her passing, I started dreaming about her as a young bride. I decided to draw my dreams.”
Her drawings reflect the dichotomy between the happily-ever-after concept and the fact that most marriages in the past were arranged, and not unions of love.
One of the drawings, “Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!” depicts a bride sitting in a chair, regarding a frog in her lap. A few more frogs – potential princes? – wait at her feet, expecting her to choose between them.
“I knew my bride would not kiss that frog,” said Broca. “So I added several other potential grooms. Some small, others big…. Still, I had a feeling she would resist them all.”
The work “Upon Reflection” is even more powerful. It shows a bride in a gown and veil looking into a full-length mirror. The image in the mirror depicts the bride, face and posture serene, as befits the occasion, but Broca has left the image of the bride herself white and, from within it, there is the drawing of a woman, the bride, trying to escape.
“That woman, upon reflection, discovers how much she doesn’t wish to be married, to be tied down. What happens next is up to the viewer’s imagination,” said the artist.
For Broca, black and white was the only possibility for the series. “It was the most appropriate way to describe what I felt…. After the first two or three drawings, I began to realize that many brides were not happy at the altar – I showed them. Only a very few happy brides appear in my drawings. Not because happy brides are a minority, but because happy brides are difficult to portray without slipping into a less-than-powerful mode. I may be wrong, I may be able to do it today, but, at that time, it didn’t seem possible.”
Clarke knew about Broca’s series and wanted to include it in its entirety in the show, but that wasn’t possible. “We couldn’t include so many that Angela wanted because they had been sold,” said Broca. “We couldn’t borrow them. The owners live in the U.S. and Eastern Canada. As it is, the two works in the exhibition were borrowed from local owners.”
Brides is at the Italian Cultural Centre until Sept. 30.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
One of the most important issues we should be grappling with nowadays is the preservation of our habitat. At the forefront of the nature preservation movement are photographers and one of them is Liron Gertsman, a young, award-winning local nature photographer whose solo show, Essence of Earth, is at the Zack Gallery until Sept. 22.
The show is sponsored by Esther Chetner.
“Eldad Goldfarb, executive director of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, approached me about this upcoming sponsorship opportunity, aware of my own concern about climate change and my passion for photography,” Chetner told the Independent. “Though I’ve traipsed parts of the globe enjoying the wonders that photo details can deliver, I’m not at all technically trained nor technologically nimble…. I recognize the remarkable quality of Liron’s images, and see value in making his work accessible to others.”
Calling Gertsman a “rising star,” Chetner said, “Encouraging this type of exquisite work is another way to help people appreciate our natural world more deeply and then, hopefully, to work toward preserving such essential global health and diversity. The more we see and appreciate about our natural environment, the more we will all be inclined to proactively protect it.
“Jewish values are quite aligned with environmental stewardship, and so having Liron’s work displayed at the JCC seems like an appropriate fit.”
Part of the proceeds of the exhibit will benefit the gallery, and another part will go to the Nature Trust of British Columbia.
“There are several charities concerned with nature preservation in B.C.,” Gertsman said, “but I like the Nature Trust because they purchase land specifically to build and maintain a treasury of wild areas.”
“I’ve loved nature and taking photographs all my life,” he told the Independent. “Recently, I started moving toward doing it professionally, like giving photography workshops or guiding people on their bird-watching expeditions.”
His photographs are like a guided tour. “I want people to witness nature,” he said. “I want to share with them what I see, even if they can’t travel themselves.”
To cover some of his costs, he has, at times, formed partnerships with companies and organizations.
“I choose companies focused on nature conservation,” he explained. “They would subsidize some aspects of my trip, or sometimes an entire trip, in exchange for photo use and social media marketing, usually through my Instagram account, which has close to 50,000 followers.”
For instance, in May and August of this year, Gertsman partnered with Ocean Outfitters, an ecotourism company based in Tofino.
“They are Tofino’s first carbon-neutral ecotourism company, and they have committed to donating $200,000 a year for multiple years towards restoration of the Tranquil Watershed,” he said.
Gertsman’s photos at the Zack Gallery are full of life and colour. His birds seem to soar through the gallery space. His landscapes are like windows, looking out into the British Columbia wilderness. Stars twinkle in the night sky. Pink crags reflect in the still surface of the lake. Waterfall gurgles across the boulders. Owls hide in the grass, and gulls skim over the rippling wavelets. But the beauty and serenity of his images filled me with apprehension. Could we lose all of this gorgeousness? The night after I visited his show, I had a dream, and Gertsman’s imagery figured heavily in my dreamscape.
* * *
“What is it, Grandpa?” a girl asked.
“A picture archive,” the old man replied.
“But it’s not a memory crystal.”
“No, it’s from the 21st century, an antique. Two hundred years old,” he said, inserting an outmoded device into a slot of his com-link and opening the files. Hundreds of pictures appeared on his screen. Nature, when it flourished.
“Oh,” his granddaughter said with interest. “What are those?”
“Birds,” he whispered reverently. In the image, hundreds of small dark bodies hurtle across the peachy sky, their wings pumping so rapidly, the image blurred.
“Like a hologram in a museum?”
“Yes. Only they were alive. Flying.”
“But why is the wall pink? Why would they paint it pink?”
The old man glanced at the wall of the cave that housed the archives. Nobody lived on the surface of the earth anymore. Nobody could survive the toxic environment. People inhabited underground caverns such as this one and, mostly, they didn’t bother painting the walls. There were few resources anymore.
“It’s not a wall, it’s the sky,” he said. He had been very young when the last of humanity had moved underground, but he still remembered the sky. Scientists said that, in a few more generations, they could live outside again, but he wasn’t sure his granddaughter would last that long. He certainly wouldn’t.
“Our teacher said the sky should be blue,” the girl insisted.
“The sky could be any colour. This is probably sunset.”
“What is sunset?” She had never seen the sun.
He sighed, but, before he could explain, her gaze had skipped to another image.
“It looks like a fountain,” she marveled, “but what are these green blobs?”
The old man winced. “Trees. Bushes. It’s not a fountain. It’s a waterfall.”
Her finger zeroed in on another image. “I know,” she said triumphantly. “These are dogs. Strange dogs, though.”
“These are not dogs. These are bears. The mother bear is….” He contemplated the animals on the screen, trying to remember his own textbooks. He had never seen a living bear either. “I think she is as big as I am,” he said at last. “Maybe bigger. And the little bears are probably your size.”
“So huge?” She eyed him with doubt. “They lived outside, too?”
“I don’t think I’d like it outside,” she said. “Everything is different. I like it better here.” She climbed off her chair and started to leave. “We have everything here.” She went out into the corridor. “I think it’s all fairy tales anyway,” she called back.
The old man remained still, staring at the closed door with sadness.
* * *
Essence of Earth opened at the Zack Gallery. To see more of Gertsman’s work, visit lirongertsman.com or instagram.com/liron_gertsman_photography.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected]
Ken Hughes infuses his paintings with messages. (photo by Olga Livshin)
Ken Hughes has always been fascinated with typography. “Since childhood, letters of the alphabet have intrigued me,” he said in an interview with the Independent.
“Public lettering is a centuries-old method of civic communication, both official and informal,” he said. “It goes back to Mesopotamia. By Greek and Roman times, public writing – inscriptions on buildings, commercial graphics, signs, epitaphs on tombs, graffiti – was common. The messages could be political or commercial, funerial or commemorative, religious or frivolous. In more contemporary times, particularly in Europe, public inscriptions have undergone a revival.”
The artist draws from this rich tradition for his paintings and his new show at the Zack Gallery, Ancient Writings in Contemporary Contexts, opens next week. A collection of inscriptional paintings, beautiful and evocative, colours and shapes of the images enhance and deepen the meanings of the lettering, and every piece tells a story.
Before retiring, Hughes was a professional graphic designer. He taught graphic design for years at Emily Carr and Kwantlen universities. He turned to art five years ago.
“Inscriptions – texts expressed formally or otherwise in different alphabets or languages – are a major source of inspiration for my paintings,” he said. “This particular exhibition’s goal is to visually express texts related to Jewish beliefs and culture. Some of the paintings have writings in the Hebrew alphabet. Others have transliterated Hebrew using the Roman alphabet.”
He explained that the messages in his paintings come from various sources: the Hebrew Bible, fiction and nonfiction by Jewish writers, as well as quotes by famous people, all related in one way or another to Jewish culture.
“I don’t speak Hebrew,” he said, “but I have friends who do. I always ask them to check the writing before I incorporate it into my paintings.”
In his work, the esthetics of the letters are intertwined with the message of the citation used. He has been collecting quotes, personal mottos, sayings and other forms of public texts for a long time. “I sing in a choir, and much of choral music is liturgical,” he said. “It has incredible messages, many of them in Latin. I also read a lot and get my messages from books, from newspapers, from common idioms.”
In 2002, Hughes took a yearlong sabbatical from teaching to prepare for what he does now.
“I traveled through Europe – Poland, France, Turkey, Belgium, Greece and Israel,” he said. “I took photos of the public inscriptions on civic buildings, in churches, at cemeteries. I wrote down quotes from illuminated manuscripts in national libraries. There are incredible inscriptions on the tombstones in Budapest, where many famous Hungarians are buried. Jewish cemeteries have beautiful inscriptions in Hebrew.”
Sometimes, a line of text or a quote stays in his memory or in his notebooks for decades before appearing in one of his paintings. Many of his pieces are sad, executed in a darkish palette, underscoring words of deep emotion: grief, fear, despair, memories of hard times and bleak thoughts. But there is hope and joy, too, and Hughes uses bright and colourful compositions to accentuate those messages.
One of his uplifting works, a multi-paneled cycle based on the story of Genesis, with Hebrew lettering dancing across the panels, is decorative as well as informative. The series will be in the exhibit at the Zack.
“Alphabets are amazing inventions, incredible almost,” Hughes said. “They allow people to communicate ideas with just a few symbols. And they are all different – the Roman alphabet, the Cyrillic letters, the Hebrew. In all cases, letters by themselves mean nothing; they’re just symbols. But a combination of letters, a phrase, could have profound meaning.”
When Hughes starts working on a piece, he approaches it as a designer, with a typographer’s attention to detail. He makes many sketches while investigating each idea. What colours should be employed and in what combinations? What is the best number of panels for this message and the most expressive configuration to highlight the meaning of the words? Even the font used can make a difference.
“Some letters look better in a rounded font; others need a blockier typeface,” he said. “The positioning of the letters and the words could be of paramount importance in my paintings. They constitute the composition. And, of course, the message itself often dictates the font type.”
There are not many artists in Canada who dedicate their art to this kind of painting.
“I wanted my paintings at the Zack,” Hughes said. “I don’t want to display at commercial galleries. I think my works are much more suited to schools, churches or community centres.”
Ancient Writings in Contemporary Contexts runs from July 25 to Aug. 25. To learn more, visit kenhughes-art.com.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Ira Hoffecker’s current solo exhibit at the Zack Gallery, Conjunction, runs until July 21. (photo by Olga Livshin)
Conjunction, Ira Hoffecker’s current solo exhibit at the Zack Gallery, opened on June 13 and runs until July 21.
German-born Hoffecker and her family moved to Canada in 2004. “I always liked art, but when I lived in Germany, my husband and I worked in marketing for the movie industry,” she explained in an interview with the Independent.
Once, when her children were still young, they came here for a family vacation and traveled Vancouver Island. “We loved it,” she said. So much that, when they moved here permanently, they settled in Victoria. As if that wasn’t change enough, Hoffecker also decided to switch careers and follow her lifelong love of art. She enrolled in the Vancouver Island School of Art and has been studying and creating ever since.
Hoffecker’s previous show at the Zack Gallery, in 2016, was dedicated to maps. Since then, her art has undergone a couple of transformations. Conjunction is much brighter and more expressive set of works, although the abstract component remains.
On the journey to her new colourful mode, Hoffecker went through a black-and-white stage, which was the focus of her master’s in fine arts’ thesis, which she completed last year. The works she created for her master’s degree include a number of huge paintings – abstracts made with tar on canvas – plus three documentary videos. The theme – “History as Personal Memory” – was a painful one for the artist. She recalled, “One of my professors said that my works are the interconnected layers of urban setting and history. ‘Where is your personal layer?’ he asked me.”
Taking this advice, she has been trying to delve into her personal recollections, to uncover her place in history, her “personal layer” among the historical layers dominating her art. “In ‘History as Personal Memory,’ I tore pages from a history book about the Third Reich, an era in history that many Germans would prefer to forget. Yet I think it is important to face and discuss this past. Such dialogue might prevent the horrors from happening again,” she said.
In Hoffecker’s art, the artist’s memories are intertwined with the history of her nation. “Correlations between my childhood abuse, which I tried to forget, and the history of Germany, which the Germans tried to eradicate from their memories, exist in my paintings and films,” she said.
In her art and her videos, she opens up about the abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of her grandfather, who was also a Nazi. She is convinced that such openness has helped her heal, whereas suppressing the memories led only to the festering of her inner wounds.
The same is true for historical memories, Hoffecker insisted. “Germany needs to remember, to confront and challenge complacency to prevent a repetition of historical atrocities,” she said.
Her master’s thesis was a deep and painful discovery, a journey in black-and-white to underscore the grimness and tragedy of the topic. Once it was completed, she was ready for a change of direction.
“I spent the summer last year in Berlin,” she said. “When I came back home to Victoria, I wanted to paint some colours again.”
Hoffecker’s current exhibit bursts with vibrant colours and optimism. The series Berlin Spaces, like most of her paintings, has several layers. “There are outlines of many famous Berlin buildings there,” she said, tracing the architectural lines embedded in the abstract patterns with her finger. “The Jewish Museum, the Philharmonie, the library, the Reichstag. It is like a reconstruction, when I think about the past. I overlay history and architecture.”
One of the paintings, a bright yellow-and-pink abstract, has writing among its patterns. “It means ‘forgetting’ in German,” Hoffecker explained. “A few years ago, I was invited to have a solo show in Hof, a city in Germany. I worked there in the archives, found many old maps and records. One of their buildings is a factory now. After the war, it was a refugee camp, and there is a plaque to commemorate the fact. But, during the war, it was a labour camp, a place from where Jewish prisoners were transported to concentration camps and death, but nothing is there to remind [people] of that past. The painting reflects the current happy state of the building, but it also reflects the tragic past, the past we shouldn’t forget.”
While not many art lovers will see the horrors of the labour camp in the airy and cheerful palette of the painting, Hoffecker doesn’t mind. Like other abstract artists, she infuses her images with hidden messages, but doesn’t insist on her personal intentions.
“I own the making,” she said. “I bring in my memories and my heart, but I have to leave the interpretation to the viewers. One man in Victoria loves my art. He bought two of my paintings. He said he sees animal in them. I don’t paint animals, but I’m glad people’s own experience resonates with my paintings.”
Hoffecker is very serious about her art, but bemoans the need for promotion. “I did marketing for movies professionally, but I never really cared [about the reaction]. If someone didn’t like the movie we were pushing, it was his business,” she said. “But to promote my own paintings is scary. When someone doesn’t like what I do, I care. It hurts. I don’t want to do it. An artist wants to be in her studio and paint. It is all I want: to paint and to exhibit. I want people to see my work. Besides, a show is the only time when I see many of my paintings together. I never can do that in my studio. I only see one or two at a time.”