Artist and graphic novelist Miriam Libicki is currently Vancouver Public Library’s writer-in-residence. (photo from VPL)
“I think that a lot of my stuff does end up having to do with identity, through both the books I’ve published and the one I’m in the process of starting to draw right now, as well. I’m very interested in identity and I’m interested in identity as something that can change,” Miriam Libicki told the Independent in a phone interview.
Libicki is Vancouver Public Library’s writer-in-residence this fall. Her first event was Sept. 14 and her teaching sessions have been consistently full. At her finale event Dec. 7, attendees will get a preview of her new work. Libicki will also be making appearances at the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival, Nov. 26 and 30.
Both of her published books – jobnik! an american girl’s adventures in the israeli army (real gone girl studios, 2008) and Toward a Hot Jew (Fantagraphics Books, 2016) – have received acclaim. The former, which was based on the diary she kept during her service in the Israel Defence Forces, was a finalist for the Gene Day Award for Canadian self-publishing. The latter, a collection of graphic essays, won the 2017 Vine Award for Canadian Jewish Literature in the non-fiction category.
She attributes her curiosity about identity to her upbringing. “Part of it is the idea that I grew up in a very strong and defined community, which was Modern Orthodox Judaism, in the suburbs of the U.S., and yet, I always kind of felt that we were not the platonic ideal of Modern Orthodox American Judaism,” she said. “I guess, partially, because my mother was a convert, which, in some thought, is still kind of taboo, although, in the U.S., it’s very common … and that she was not ashamed or disparaging of where she came from at all, we were still very close with everyone in her family…. She was never somebody who preached that Modern Orthodoxy was the only way to live a moral life.”
This led to some tension, said Libicki, who went to an Orthodox day school. “Also, in my teens, being very attuned to hypocrisy – as many teens are – when people are doing things so much differently than what they preach,” it was challenging. “And then, going to Israel and finding that the social categories were completely different again, that Orthodox was a certain other thing,” raised other questions, such as, “Is religion a belief or is it a social category?”
Libicki spent four years in Israel “trying to be an Israeli.” But, she said, “I was constantly judging, with my over-analytical and insecure mind, whether I was succeeding at being an Israeli or whether I was doing something wrong. And then, I ended up leaving Israel and felt very ambivalent about that…. I think that that has driven a lot of my comics.”
Now living in Coquitlam and a mother of two, Libicki said, “I’m sending my kids to school and that involves a whole other declaration of identity.”
She and her partner, Mike, have a daughter, who just started kindergarten at Vancouver Talmud Torah, and a son, who is 2. “I’ve always … wanted to send my kids to Jewish school – I’m not ambivalent about it,” she said.
Libicki’s current project – the one people will get a peek at on Dec. 7 – focuses on the exodus of Jews from the Soviet Union as it was collapsing in the late 1980s and early 1990s. She has finished the script, she said, which is about “232 pages at this point. And now I’m starting to break it down into thumbnail drawings and starting to draw the first few pages of it.”
Of those Jews who emigrated, she said, about half went to Israel and just under half came to the United States, with the rest going to Canada, Australia and elsewhere. “My town – Columbus, Ohio – which was not a huge Jewish community, although we had five synagogues and a private day school, got a big influx of families … so my little Jewish day school, which was very small, was about a third to two-fifths Russian-speaking by the time that I was in high school. When I was in kindergarten, there were no Russians and then, by the time I was in middle school, there were lots. Growing up, my community was not very diverse and it was interesting to see this whole other community fall into the middle of my community.”
Libicki conducted the initial research for this project for her master’s in creative writing, which she recently completed at the University of British Columbia. For her thesis, she said, “I went back to Columbus and I interviewed a lot of people that I went to high school with, that I’d lost touch with, most of them immigrants, kids who came in the ’90s.
“My parents had moved to Ashkelon … in a community in Israel that I thought was somewhat analogous [to Columbus] in that it’s not a big or culturally important town, but it also absorbed a lot of immigrants in a short time. I tried to find a sociologically equivalent sample of Russian immigrants in Israel, who had come at the same time and had all gone to the same high school together in Ashkelon, and I interviewed them.
“Those interviews, and other people’s flashbacks, make up a big part of the book. And then, in with that, I also have the part where I’m analyzing it and deconstructing it through different lenses, and I also have my current-day life of trying to figure out what I am and what my family is, and children are.”
While jobnik! is mainly autobiographical, Toward a Hot Jew – a collection of essays written over the space of about 10 years, starting in 2005 – is a mix of autobiography, cultural commentary and analysis. In both books, Libicki doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, and is quite candid about her feelings, sexuality and other sensitive issues.
“A lot of my favourite writers do that and a lot of my favourite cartoonists, so that’s why I felt from the beginning that I should do this. I like reading memoir, and you can tell when people are trying to let themselves off easily or inflate something or avoid talking about something,” she said. “Obviously, nobody talks about everything, but I think you can tell in some memoirs when there’s a certain topic that really is germane and it’s being avoided or it’s being glossed over versus when somebody tries to confront something with honesty and openness. Since I liked reading that stuff, that’s what I wanted to write.
“I don’t think I’ve had too many regrets about doing that. One thing is that it does help to write about people who are far in the past, although this current book, it will have scenes from my current-day life, so I’m going to have to – I’ve been avoiding, actually, showing pages to my partner, but I’m going to have to do that before submitting it to publishers.”
When Libicki was discharged from the IDF, she applied to a few art schools and universities, in Israel and the United States, as well as a non-art-related university in Seattle, which she chose because she had friends in the city. She and her now-husband, who was based in Vancouver, had mutual friends. After about a year of dating, seeing each other on weekends, he suggested she apply to art school in Vancouver.
Libicki enrolled at Emily Carr in 2003 and now teaches at her alma mater, though her main job at the moment is being VPL’s writer-in-residence. “It’s a temporary thing but it’s a full-time job,” she said.
Writers-in-residence spend about 60% of their time on their own writing, she explained, and about 40% interacting with the public, in workshops, lectures and advising people on their writing projects. She has a studio at VPL, to which she commutes from her home in Coquitlam.
As to what led her to the graphic novel form, she said, “It’s something that just kind of happened. It happened while I was in undergrad. I always read comics. I was a big fan of comics, and I was a fan of more alternative and literary comics that started to come out, essentially, in the ’90s and beyond. But I never thought I’d make comics because whenever I had an idea, I didn’t follow through, and the idea of drawing the same character over and over and over was not something I thought I could do. But, I really wanted to be an artist. I drew a lot of portraits…. I thought I might be a children’s book illustrator. So, when I went to art school, I was just thinking of doing a drawing major but then I did one comics art class.”
In that class, she said, she used one of the entries from the diary she kept while in the Israeli army – “I’d had a particularly eventful and bad week, and adapted that into a five-page comic.”
The response to that work – which grew into jobnik! – was positive. “People were curious, they said they wanted to see more of my army stories, and it seemed like a better way to talk about my experience,” she said.
During undergrad, she started doing more comics, and the title essay in Toward a Hot Jew – about “the Israeli soldier as fetish object” – was created as her senior project in art school. Not only did she want to write a research essay that people would actually read, she said, “I wanted to do something that I could use pictures … as part of my argument that I was making, add a nuance through the drawings, as well.”
Libicki said she writes “in a pretty systematic way,” starting with brainstorming, “then I’ll do an outline, then I’ll break down my outline into pages and do a map of it that way, then I’ll do a script and then I’ll do thumbnails and then I’ll move on to art.
“I guess that a lot of people who do any creative endeavour have a lot of anxiety around it and fear that, every time you start a new project, perhaps you’ve forgotten how to do this, so I try to break down my practice into as many small steps as possible, so each one will not be as scary,” she said.
And, a shorter project is something she can put together for a comicon. For example, she created The Quotable Mered – based on tweets she had written about cute things her daughter had said – specifically for VanCAF (Vancouver Comic Arts Festival), a free, annual two-day event that has taken place at the Roundhouse since 2012.
The genre – which she described as “daily journal comics or comics about a small theme” – was something she had never done before, and she wanted to try the style, as well as drawing a bit more loosely and “writing to a punchline.”
“It was an experiment, and I did learn things from it,” she said. “I might do one of those again but I just have so many things to do.”
Students in Kitah Aleph at the White Rock / South Surrey Jewish Community Centre with their Bereishit (Genesis) craft that they completed after studying the parashah at the centre’s religious school. (photo from WRSS JCC)
Norbert Mantik and Rebekah McGurran of the Hive Printing. (photo from Rebekah McGurran)
The Eastside Culture Crawl is an annual tradition. This year marks the 21st time that artists and craftspeople on Vancouver’s Eastside have opened up their studios to the public in the fall. The Crawl runs Nov. 16-19, and includes more than 500 artists in 80 locations. Among the artists featured are Jewish community members Ideet Sharon-Martin and Rebekah McGurran.
Sharon-Martin hails from Israel. She studied computer animation and, since graduating from the Vancouver Film School in 1998, she has been working as an animator full-time. But, she has always loved art and, in the last couple of years, has resumed painting, as well. Visitors to her studio (204-1000 Parker St.) will be delighted by her mixed media representations of origami birds soaring through various images.
“I find the Eastside Culture Crawl beautiful,” she said in an interview with the Jewish Independent. “The artists are so welcoming and open. Actually, the Eastside Culture Crawl is what brought me back to painting. I started attending it in the last five years, and what began as ‘feel good’ inspiration became this strong need to create with the more traditional mediums than the computer, which is my day job. After three years of attending, I started stalking the art supply shops. At that time, I had a lot of self-judgment; I didn’t think I really had anything to offer to the art industry besides animation. When I finally finished procrastinating and started painting, I was amazed at how exciting and fun it was. I had a feeling that I arrived ‘home.’”
She paints on weeknights and weekends. “Animation and painting are each their own entity,” she said. “During my animation job, I explore and implement acting, physics and body language into the characters I am animating, but I work exclusively on my PC. When I am at my art studio, my inner child comes out and gets messy with the paints and papers and glue. I lose myself in the process and, as a result, find myself.”
The origami birds appeared in her paintings a few months after she picked up the brush again. “The birds symbolize freedom,” she explained. “I woke up one day around that time and realized that I had the freedom to make the choices concerning my life. It was empowering. I began questioning whether I was living the life I wanted or if I was doing what everyone else wanted me to do. The birds have accompanied me on that journey, or personal growth. They ascend, and I imagine myself with them.”
Sharon-Martin’s children inspire her birds, as well as her dreams, but there is also another inspiration, one that seldom appears in artist statements: quantum physics. “I am a quantum physics nerd,” she said. “I read a lot about it. It fascinates me that, at the quantum level, everything is connected. Us, the trees, the animals, the chair I am sitting on – they are all parts of a unified field. I think a lot about the connection between energy and physical form, how each seems to affect the other. It definitely affects my art: energetic and geometric layers and patterns explored on canvas.”
In addition to selling original paintings, Sharon-Martin also sells prints of her paintings. “I’m not the only one,” she said. “Artists do it to bridge the gap between art and people. Many people don’t feel that original art is accessible to them. Perhaps it isn’t affordable. In some cases, the art world is so foreign to them that they are unsure how to approach it. I am so happy that I offered prints last year. I noticed that many people felt more comfortable to flip through the prints rather than look at the originals. My prints led to connections and to many great conversations, which may not have happened otherwise. Last year, a woman who bought a print contacted me a few months later to purchase the original.”
Affordable artwork takes many forms, not just prints to hang on a wall. McGurran and her partner Norbert Mantik sell custom-made T-shirts, towels, bags and other merchandise, all printed with their original designs. Their small artisan studio at 1895 Powell St. is called the Hive Printing.
“This is our third year doing the Crawl,” said McGurran, who was born in Vancouver, but lived in Toronto for a time before returning to live here. “I think it’s an amazing event for both the public and the artists. It gives the public access to spaces and studios they may not otherwise see and a chance to meet artists on their own ground instead of in a craft show setting…. For artists, it is a lower-barrier way to introduce their art to the public than some of the more expensive juried craft fairs.”
McGurran has a degree in urban planning and environmental studies from Toronto’s York University.
“My partner and I moved to Vancouver from Toronto five years ago and decided we wanted to try something different,” she explained. “We looked into a few businesses and loved the idea of going creative. We bought an existing screen printing shop with the idea to do our own line of design. Before we took over, the shop just did custom printing.”
The Hive does both custom printing and original designs. “My partner actually executes the designs, with feedback from me,” said McGurran. “He has a background in industrial and graphic design, as well as a little bit of experience with screen printing, but, for the most part, we both sort of learned screen printing on the fly. It was a lot of research, trial and error, as well as assistance from some local experts in the field. Running a small business is challenging, but I come to work every day with my partner and my dog and I’m never bored.”
According to McGurran, one of the nicest aspects of being a craftsperson is participating in artisan events such as the Crawl.
“I love the Crawl,” she said, “because it means that people come to us and see the process, as well as our space. The studio is in an old bank building, complete with a vault we use as a darkroom. I think people have a much better appreciation for the work we do if they see us in action.”
To learn more, visit culturecrawl.ca.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Joel Harrington chats with Ande Axelrod from Tagua, who makes jewelry from nuts grown in the Amazon (treatsdesigns.com), at a gathering of B.C. artisans at the North Shore Jewish Community Centre (Har El Congregation) on Oct. 16. (photo by Shula Klinger)
I am the proud owner of a Pnina Granirer work. More importantly, I am privileged to know the wonderful human being who is Pnina Granirer. After reading Light Within the Shadows: A Painter’s Memoir, I now know more about her art, its influences and styles, and her life, its joys and challenges. I also discovered that she writes as beautifully as she paints, and has a warm sense of humour.
Each chapter features a relevant quote from people throughout history, something they said or, most often, wrote; people as diverse as Roald Dahl, Anne Frank and Shakespeare. In these and her own words, Granirer imparts not only her life story but her philosophies on creativity, education, identity, family, business.
“There are people who plan their lives meticulously, step by step – I have never been one of them,” she writes. “Of course, I had goals, but these were like signposts to be reached one by one, short-term endeavours without a specific plan for the faraway future. I rather liked the idea of floating along, steering my boat from time to time and hoping that I would reach my destination, whatever it was meant to be.”
And the 82-year-old has experienced many destinations on her continuing journey. In a May interview with the Vancouver Sun, she talked about having written a book twice the size of what was published.
“There were a lot more historical references, many stories about family members and some more memories – it was too long and had to be cut,” Granirer told the Independent.
About the possibility of another book, she said, “I’m thinking about this and how I could use some of the chapters that have been cut, but, at the moment, I’m far too busy with getting through with the exhibition. I need a quiet space in order to begin thinking about writing and hope that I’ll begin doing just that early in 2018.”
Granirer will do an artist’s talk at the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery on Nov. 16 to open an exhibit of her work mounted in conjunction with the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival because the occasion also represents the launch of her memoir. The event is sponsored by National Council of Jewish Women. This is especially appropriate because one of the topics that Granirer explores in her memoir is the difficulty of being a mother, a wife and an artist. About the 1970s, when her two sons, David and Dan, were young, she remarks, “I had little contact with the visual arts community in general and its avant-garde segment in particular. I didn’t have much time for forging professional ties, as my world consisted of my husband and my sons, who were a great source of joy and a well of inspiration for my art.” In this period, she not only produced much work, but also took on teaching.
Her memoir – which includes pages of colour photographs of her work – is divided into three acts. It takes readers from Romania, her birthplace and where she grew up, surviving the Holocaust; to the safety of Israel in 1950, to where first her father, then the family, fled from the dangers of communist Romania; to the United States in 1962, where her husband Eddy, a math professor, could find work, as the recently initiated American-Russian space race saw Americans “pouring money and resources into research, hoping to be the first to put a man on the moon…. Mathematics, the cornerstone and essential building block of scientific research, was suddenly in high demand all over North America.” Three years later, the Granirers would make their way to Vancouver.
Granirer talks about luck throughout the memoir and, specifically, about a couple of “old hackneyed sayings” being true, that of being “in the right place at the right time” and of being “born under a lucky star.” “Events beyond our control do change the course of our lives,” she writes. And, while they don’t always do so for the better, Granirer chooses, at least in looking back, to appreciate her good fortune.
“Of course, I never even thought of being lucky at the time,” she admitted to the Independent. “One just lives one’s life as it comes along and only later, in retrospect, one sees the whole picture. Getting older allowed me to have a better perspective of the past and writing the memoir brought it all together. We kept saying for years how lucky our family was to live in Vancouver, but day by day there were ups and downs and the occasional complaints when unfortunate events happened – and they did. The memoir was a watershed for me and helped me see the serendipitous moments in my life when fate could have gone easily the other way.”
The light and shadows of the book’s title not only apply to the vividness of remembered moments and the darkness in which forgotten moments lie, but also the grey areas through which we must travel in life – the uncertainties, the aforementioned circumstances beyond our control.
When asked if she was a naturally optimistic person or developed into one, she said, “I probably am more of the former, although that does not mean that there are not times when I feel as if the world is collapsing on me. There have been hard times for me in the past, but somehow I seem to manage to get through. I just try to deal with the black thoughts, when they come. Nothing is really black-and-white, it’s through the shadows that we have to find our way.”
In addition to geopolitics, health and other uncontrollable issues, Granirer also had to negotiate the politics of the art world, in which she had to deal with many curators who “did not seem to be interested in art and artists, except as tools for enhancing their own careers.”
“… meeting someone who loves a painting and wishes to live with it, who wants to learn the details of its creation and is convinced that owning it will enrich his or her life, is the most rewarding experience for an artist.”
Nonetheless, she persevered – “Early in my career,” she writes, “I decided to follow my own course, regardless of the cost.” She did so, even as she realized that, in her profession, “being different was not considered an asset, but a liability.” Though admitting that all artists, including herself, crave recognition, she writes that “meeting someone who loves a painting and wishes to live with it, who wants to learn the details of its creation and is convinced that owning it will enrich his or her life, is the most rewarding experience for an artist.”
To mark her 80th birthday, in 2015, and her 50th year in Canada, Granirer gave many others a gift. “Established galleries usually charge the artist 50% commission for each work sold, in exchange for space and promotion,” she explains. “Why not invite the public … for 10 days and offer the commission to my collectors instead.” It was because of this generosity that I was able to buy my first Granirer.
After this exhibition and sale, Granirer and her husband headed back to Romania, 65 years after they had left the country. It was a meaningful visit with at least three serendipitous occurrences. But, back in Vancouver, she ended up in hospital. Sixteen days later, after two surgeries for diverticulitis, she made it home. “I counted my blessings and told myself how much worse it could have been,” she writes. “What if it had happened while I was in Romania?”
She returns to the memoir’s opening paragraph about getting older, in which she remarks, “Simple words like ‘later,’ ‘next year,’ ‘tomorrow,’ ‘not now,’ become risky, unsure and speculative.” But there is also much to look forward to, she says. At the time of writing, it was an international exhibit in Costa Rica and one in Spain. Currently, she’s preparing for the Zack Gallery exhibit and the launch of the memoir. The event takes place Nov. 16, 6 p.m., and admission is free. It will be a great opportunity to meet the artist – and pick up a copy of Light Within the Shadows.
Artists Michael Abelman and Victoria Scudamore share the walls at Zack Gallery in the exhibit Sea to Sky. (photo by Olga Livshin)
In the exhibit Sea to Sky at Zack Gallery, the artists’ works complement each other. Michael Abelman’s seascapes and floral compositions lean towards the pensive and are a little wistful, while Victoria Scudamore’s abstract paintings add splashes of colour and joy to the gallery walls.
“I’ve always liked crafts, since I was a child,” Scudamore said in an interview with the Independent, “but I could never draw. I was a realtor for 30 years. Then, seven years ago, I fell off my bike and broke a wrist. A month later, I decided to take an art class. I thought: I couldn’t draw anyway, I would just have fun.”
She did have fun. But, also during that class, she discovered the style of intuitive, abstract painting and fell in love with it. “It resonated with me,” she recalled. She started taking more classes. “Art became a real passion of mine,” she said. “Now I have to paint every day. I don’t feel whole if I don’t paint. This is my first show, and I’m very excited about it.”
Her elation is unmistakable as she talks about her creative process.
“I’m an abstract expressionist. I try to capture emotions in my paintings,” she explained. “I want to show movement, colours in motion, to show connections. To paint abstract, I need to be in a dreamy space. I often listen to ’70s rock music and sometimes I dance when I paint. Once, I accidentally knocked off a bottle of ink onto one of my paintings, but I didn’t throw it away. I saw something in the pattern of the ink stains and painted over it, used it.”
Scudamore feels adventurous in her approach to art, ready to respond to any stimulus, be it a forest, a seashore, a flower, a bird, an ink stain or a stray thought. “I often paint two paintings at a time,” she said. “I feel freer to explore this way. Like a scientist, I experiment with colours, shapes and textures. Sometimes, I fall in love with a certain palette and do a series based on those colours. It’s all intuitive. I never know where I’ll end up when I start a painting. The beginning is the most exciting moment for me, a mystery. I’m child-like when I paint. I’m in the realm of fun.”
Her happiness in creating art makes her brave and self-confident. “I don’t compare myself with other artists,” she said. “Sure, Michael [Abelman] has been painting for 20 years; he has much more experience than I do, but I think artists shouldn’t compare with each other. It steals joy. We are all on different paths, our own paths.”
Abelman agrees with that sentiment. “I’ve been painting for 20 years but only showing for five years,” he said. “Like Victoria, I don’t compare myself with other artists, only with myself. My art is changing, evolving.”
Sea to Sky is Abelman’s second show at the Zack. His solo show in 2014 was a rainbow explosion of flowers but, this year, his paintings demonstrate a different level of maturity. Although half of his paintings are still flowers, their colours are more pastel and the ambience more contemplative. “It feels like another stage in my art and in my life,” he said. “Maybe I’m getting older.”
Half of his exhibited paintings this year are ships: in winter and in summer, in the morning mist and in the glowing sunset. “I painted ships before but, recently, I find myself drawn to them. My ship paintings are quiet, while the flowers are always louder, exuberant with colours. I still paint flowers, but I wanted more. If you could find beauty in a tulip you could find beauty in a ship, too. I wanted to show it.”
Abelman said ships reflect a sense of exploration but also of loneliness. “A ship is always alone amid the vast ocean, and even near the shore,” he said. “You could see lots of ships in Vancouver. They arrive and depart daily. I take pictures of them when I walk along the waterline, then I take different things from different photos for my paintings.”
He constantly works on improving his skills and widening his range of expression. “Professionally,” he said, “I’m an accountant, but I never tried so hard in accounting as I do in art; never enjoyed accounting so much either. In art, I’m driven. I want to succeed, to be better. I don’t care if I sell, but I want to paint better. I’ve been taking art classes for years, and the more I learn, the more I realize how much I still need to learn.”
Like Scudamore, he paints every day but, unlike his partner in the show, his deep immersion in art doesn’t come easily. “Painting is hard for me,” he admitted. “You go into your own world for hours at a time. It’s a form of meditation. I have to focus, so no music for me when I paint. Sometimes, I listen to the news, but mostly I concentrate on my art.”
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Gail Dodek Wenner conceived the group exhibit Physician Heal Thyself … and Others, which is at Zack Gallery until June 25. (photo by Olga Livshin)
The new exhibition at Zack Gallery, Physician Heal Thyself … and Others, includes four artists, all of them local physicians near retiring or recently retired. Regular visitors to the gallery probably will be familiar with the work of two of them – Ian Penn and Carl Rothschild, who have exhibited at the gallery before – but maybe not that of Arturo Manes and Gail Dodek Wenner.
Rothschild’s contribution to the show is a selection of small, colourful paintings, which look like snapshots of his garden or a street around the corner. Each one is accompanied by a poem written by the artist. Together, they represent his impression of his home city and its healing potential.
Penn’s part of the show is more dramatic. It includes a video and several photographed pages from his journal, where he documented the before and after of his complicated spinal surgery in 2016. His display fits the theme of the show almost too perfectly for comfort.
Manes’ paintings – his method of spiritual healing – are based on Roman Vishniac’s book of black-and-white photographs, A Vanished World.
“The Shoah has been for me a defining event not only in Jewish history but human behaviour, which I’m trying to come to grips with,” Manes said in an email interview. “Black-and-white photographs in Vishniac’s book impressed me greatly…. I used those images of my people prior to the Holocaust as a template for my paintings. By adding colour and a free rendering, I hoped to express the feelings the photographs have evoked.”
He said Physician Heal Thyself is the first exhibit in which he has participated, although he has been painting since childhood. “I’m not an artist – I’m a physician who paints. I was honoured to be invited by Dr. Gail Wenner to be a part of this show.”
Dodek Wenner invited the other doctors to participate in the show, as well. It was she who came up with the theme.
“I always loved art, but I loved science, too,” she told the Independent. “I chose medicine as my career, but art has always been my hobby.”
As an artist, she is very versatile. At one point or another, she has tried various media: painting, ceramics, textiles, photography, Hebrew calligraphy. In practising medicine, however, she stayed true to one direction: mothers and babies. “In the past 26 years, I delivered 2,000 babies,” she said. “But I made the decision to stop delivering. It’s time for a change.”
One of the precursors of her decision was going back to school, to Emily Carr University. In 2009, she received a diploma in fine art technique.
“I took a class, Business of Art,” she recalled. “One of the assignments was to pitch an idea for a show to an art gallery. I chose a theme: healing, what it means to be a doctor and what Judaism says about healing. I chose the Zack Gallery, and I decided to invite several Jewish physicians to participate. All for a school assignment. I didn’t actually do it at that time. I did mention it to Yosef Wosk, who is a friend, and he said it was a great idea.”
A few years later, Wosk reminded her of the idea, and she finally contacted Zack Gallery director Linda Lando. “I pitched the idea to Linda in 2016,” Dodek Wenner said. “We brainstormed it and came up with a few names of Jewish physicians who were artists.”
That was the first step. The next step was to determine what she wanted to paint for the show. “I needed to explore what healing meant to me,” Dodek Wenner explained. “Personally, I always went to my parents’ beach house when I needed to do some healing. So, I thought, what was it about the ocean that healed me?”
After some contemplation, she came up with four steps of healing. “The first one is the acknowledgement: yes, there is a problem. There is a fear, and a doctor has to acknowledge that fear in her patient. Next comes compassion, which leads to the doctor assuring her patient: I can help you. The third one is wisdom. Doctors have a huge body of knowledge. They study for many years, and they share their knowledge with the patient, use what they know for healing. Last is comfort. Comforting the patient is very important at every stage of the healing process.”
After formulating these concepts in her head, she explored what Judaism says about healing. “I looked in the siddur, the Jewish prayer book, and found all four of those concepts of healing, both body and soul, in the first couple pages,” she said.
She knew she was on the right track but wasn’t sure how to showcase her ideas through art. “I went to the beach house again, walked along the shore, and I knew,” she said. “The ocean represents all four facets of healing, too.”
Her paintings, two distinct series of five paintings, are all different interpretations of the shoreline. The ocean is sometimes quiet, sometimes turbulent and the colours of the waves fluctuate from light blue to deep green. The foam, created with the use of medical gauze, plays in the sand among the shells. The shells are real, collected by the artist along the same beach she loves so much. “I scooped them with a cup,” she said.
“My paintings don’t show one particular place,” she added. “They are the essence of a shoreline. Each piece is different, but they all connect.”
Physician Heal Thyself opened on May 25 and continues until June 25.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected]
Orly Ashkenazy’s “Strings.” (photo by Olga Livshin)
The Festival Ha’Rikud group exhibit at Zack Gallery, Celebrating Friendship, presents 23 artists in a variety of styles and media. Each artist, in his or her own special way, explores the theme of friendship.
Photographer Judy Vitek interpreted the theme literally. The children in one of her photos and the texting teenage girls in another live hundreds of miles apart, on different continents, but their friendships are unmistakable.
On the other end of the spectrum, the abstract canvas by Lauren Morris could be seen as a medley of lines and colours, intertwining and mixing like friends at a party. Or perhaps it is a firework explosion. Or a flower bouquet a friend brought one summer afternoon.
Flowers bloom in Carl Rothschild’s paintings as well, but there is nothing abstract in his imagery. Maybe the artist glimpsed his poppies and lilies in a friend’s garden or on a neighbouring street. Cheerful and unblemished, his flowers are his friends. They wave their bright petals in recognition of their creator’s love for his home city.
In contrast to Rothschild’s decidedly local milieu, Gaye Collins’ painting, “Friendship through the Sands of Time,” feels like an exotic metaphor. Two black figures stroll away from the viewer through a vague landscape, reminiscent of yellow dunes or poetic imagination. The painting is dreamlike, and the figures undefined. Friends or lovers, they tell a story everybody knows, but nobody remembers.
Another metaphor, Jennie Johnston’s small and elegant quilt, is a labyrinth, a place of search and contemplation, a path leading into the heart. Whose heart? Everyone must decide for themself.
Between conceptuality on one hand and photographic precision on the other, two paintings stand out – two of the few where faces play the major role. While Yodhi Williamson’s “Chance Meeting on 4th Ave” conveys the simple joy of accidentally bumping into an old friend, Lori-ann Latremouille’s “Flowers of Friendship” channels a more complex narrative. In it, undertones of doubt and surprise mingle with recognition and kinship in the artist’s deceptively transparent double portrait.
Faces also appear in Sima Elizabeth Shefrin’s two tiny fabric panels, but here they resemble primitivistic art, innocent and childlike, ideas rather than portraits. In both panels, an Arab and a Jew refuse to succumb to the current political facts – they want to be friends.
Hope also emits from Alina Smolyansky’s shining piece “Jerusalem Domes of Faith.” Three temples of three different faiths grow out of the same root, united inside one hand, one hamsa, one finite world.
Pamela Cohen explores a different aspect of hope: an aerial view of a brightly coloured patchwork of countries and borders. Could friendships develop across those delineated borders, as the artist implies? Or is it wishful thinking?
Orly Ashkenazy’s composition “Strings” doesn’t feel very hopeful, although its meanings resonate on many sublayers. At first glance, the painting is a random collection of rough face drawings. They look like pencil sketches. A tangle of cotton strings stretch and intersect, cross and turn, connecting those faces. The strings bind them, bind us all; however, a splash of red paint runs from top to bottom of the painting, dividing it into two separate parts like a river of blood. No string crosses the river, no connection manifests between its two sides.
Another work, a tapestry by Vladimira Fillion-Wackenreuther, pays tribute to Prague, the city of the artist’s youth. Tinged with nostalgia, the woven image is playful, uplifting. It reflects Prague’s medieval architecture, its culture-infused streets and traditional Czech marionettes. The city is indisputably the weaver’s friend, and she invites all of us to join in the friendship.
Many other artists are featured in the show – Aurel Stan, Ava Lee Millman Fisher, Beryl Israel, Claire Cohen, Gail Davidson, Joel Libin, Joyce Ozier, Monica Gewurz, Marion Eisman, Patricia Haley-Tsui, Sidi Schaffer – and each has enriched the concept of friendship with his or her unique perspective, talent and skills.
The exhibit opened May 4 and runs until May 22.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected]
“Basket on the Nile” by Carol Racklin-Siegel. “She could not hide him any longer, so she took for him a wicker basket and smeared it with clay and pitch; she placed the child into it among the reeds at the bank of the River.” (Exodus 2:3)
This image – created with gutta resist and fabric dyes on silk – is the cover art for The Brave Women Who Saved Moses, the eighth book in a series of children’s Bible books published by EKS Publishing. The books are available on Amazon or from ekspublishing.com.