Carly Belzberg’s solo show is at Zack Gallery until Aug. 3. (photo by Nathan Garfinkel)
Carly Belzberg is a Zen practitioner, and her art reflects her beliefs. Her solo show at the Zack Gallery – The Spirit of Cloud, The Spirit of River – is all about change.
“I’m frequently at the Zen Centre of Vancouver,” she said in an interview with the Independent. “I study there and I realize that everything in life is in flux. A river is always changing. Water is quiet one moment, turbulent the next. It could be playful or angry, rushing or swirling, transforming from moment to moment. There are bubbles and spray and flow. Nothing is ever constant. The same is true of clouds. You can’t say a cloud is fluffy. It’s only fluffy one moment. It’s dynamic, fluid. The same is true of humans. We change from one day to the next, under the influence of the world. That’s what I wanted to express in my paintings: the freedom of change, its boundlessness. Nothing stays ‘this way.’ Everything evolves. Everything grows, and the essence of change is clearest when watching the river or the clouds.”
Watching the river or the sky helps her meditate. “Nature comes into you,” she said. “You breathe it in, and then it comes out again.”
Part of what comes out for Belzberg is her art. Colours and lines coalesce and crisscross in her abstract images of movement and form. The paintings represent the essence of change, as she sees it.
“It is my first-ever solo show,” she said, although she has participated in several group shows at the Zack in the last few years. “My art is a joy, and I wanted to spread my joy. I’m really happy to share my vision, something I’ve been nurturing for so long.”
Her path to this exhibit was as complicated as a water drop. She grew up in Vancouver, then studied at Concordia University in Montreal, Drexel University in Philadelphia and, later, at Simon Fraser University. With a bachelor of fine arts and art education and a master’s in art psychotherapy, she started her working life in Baltimore as an art therapist.
“I painted as a school girl and loved it. Had an amazing art teacher. That’s why I decided to do a master’s in art therapy. Art helped me a lot when I was sick as a teenager, and I wanted to learn how to use art to help others.”
Her work in Baltimore was in crisis intervention and with elderly dementia patients. She loved both sides of her job.
“Art gives people in crisis a voice,” she said. “It soothes. It supplies cathartic relief. Art is much better than talk because it gives people distance from their trouble and their feelings. Art provides a safe outlet.”
She also explained about the people she worked with who had dementia: “Some of them lost their memories in words, but the images are still there and they come out in the … paintings, even if they don’t remember. They draw their memories.”
While she kept on painting all that time, her focus was on building her art therapy career. Like many hobbies, her painting became relegated to the sidelines of her life.
After awhile, she moved to Winnipeg and, a few years later, around 2007, returned to Vancouver.
“I didn’t do much art, and it made me unhappy,” she said. “I wasn’t connected to who I really am. I found the lack of liveliness inside. I needed art. It is something to look forward to in the morning.”
Unfortunately, between her work for the Vancouver School Board and her private therapy practice, she couldn’t seem to find a place for her own art. Then, about three years ago, things changed.
“There was a demo at Opus, the art supply shop on Hastings in downtown,” Belzberg recalled. “It was held by a wonderful Vancouver artist, Suzan Marczak. I went there and I loved it. There were some difficult people attending that demo, and Suzan dealt well with them. I was impressed, and we talked. Suddenly, I wanted to get back to my painting. I guess I needed a push in the right direction. I started studying with Suzan. She is a very talented teacher, demanding but generous.”
Since their first meeting, the two have become such good friends that Marczak helped Belzberg hang the paintings for her Zack show.
“Suzan reminded me how much I loved painting,” said Belzberg. “It happens sometimes – you forget parts of what you are, and then you remember, and you have this desire to create again.”
About the same time, Belzberg made a serious commitment to studying Zen. This also led her back to her artistic core.
And her work for the school board helped, too. “I offer art therapy classes for the children of Vancouver elementary schools. Young kids don’t have stereotypes, their minds are free,” she said. “They see everything with fresh eyes, and it meshes with the Zen philosophy. In Zen, you let go of your preconceived ideas, of stereotypes. Eternal change means there are no stereotypes.”
This approach is what led to the current exhibit. “This show was a spontaneous exploration of change, prompted by curiosity. I never knew what would happen when I started a piece. As one of my teachers said, painting without a final product in mind is akin to driving on a dark highway, where you only see a short distance ahead of you at a time. Each decision is based on moment-by-moment input, on what you see on your canvas right now.”
Despite the prolonged period of partial withdrawal from the arts, Belzberg has had some sales and commissions over the years. One of her biggest commissions was the purchase of 14 paintings for a nursing home in Winnipeg. But she doesn’t paint for money.
“If I had to paint for money only, I think I’d get sick,” she said. “I want my paintings to go to people’s homes, make their space beautiful. You know, they say sometimes, ‘This house is so you.’ That’s how it is with me in my house. I like crystals and plants, they make me feel good, so I buy them for my home. If someone buys my paintings to make them feel good, to create an environment that resonates with their souls, that makes me happy.”
The Spirit of Cloud, The Spirit of River exhibit opened July 5 and continues until Aug. 3. For more information on Belzberg and her work, visit carlybelzberg.com.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].