The new show at Zack Gallery, #SeasonsAtZack features Instagram artists. A fundraiser for the gallery, the exhibit is extremely eclectic.
“The theme of the show is based on the theme of Festival Ha’Rikud, ‘Seasons of Israel,’” said Daniel Wajsman, marketing coordinator at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. “Every year, the gallery has a group show to coincide with the festival and the artists submit their paintings to the gallery. This year, we thought: why don’t we do social media instead? These days, everyone has a camera…. We all take pictures with our phones and share them with friends and family. This is one step further. Why can’t we share our photos with everyone? That’s what Instagram does – it is a site where we share our images with the world. That’s what we aimed for in this show at the Zack. We wanted to change the concept of what art is.”
The gallery started with the idea that only artists who have an Instagram account would be featured in the exhibit, but later opened the submission process to everyone, said Wajsman. All of the images from the show will be on the JCC’s Instagram page and prints will be available for purchase in different sizes and formats.
About a third of the photos in the exhibit come from a select group of people: staff members of several Jewish organizations, who went to Israel in April for a professional seminar. The organizations participating in the seminar were the JCC, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, Jewish Family Services, Louis Brier Home and Hospital, Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and Nava Creative Kosher Cuisine.
“We work closely together, but we don’t all know each other,” said Wajsman. “Some of us are Jewish, and some are not. The seminar had a double goal: to teach us about Israel and Jewish history and to connect us with each other.”
Regular visitors to the Zack Gallery will be familiar with many of the photographers in the exhibit. Some of the photos are by artists who have exhibited previously at the gallery – like Lauren Morris, Michael Abelman and others – and submitted photographs of their paintings for the show.
Another set of participants includes local masters of photography, such as Jocelyne Hallé, Judy Angel and Ivor Levin. Each one has more than one of their images on display.
Halle’s “Sunflowers” photo was taken recently. The bright sunny heads of the large flowers contrast sharply with the heavy stormy clouds overhead, and the juxtaposition evokes strong emotions. “It wasn’t Photoshopped at all,” said Hallé. “It’s just the way I took it.”
In contrast, Angel’s airy images glow and shimmer with transparent sunlight. They are so light, they seem translucent, able to fly off the wall like magical butterflies.
Beside them, Levin’s photos look like drawings, their colour schemes and compositions inspired by the rains and umbrellas of the autumn season in Vancouver.
New artists also have a strong presence in this show. For them, having their names under their art on the gallery walls is a fascinating experience. One of this crowd is Linda Lando, the Zack Gallery director. “I’m not an artist,” she said. “I’ve never displayed anything before.”
One of her photos, the colourful “Ein Gedi Night,” was taken on her trip to Israel, as a member of the seminar. “We visited Kibbutz Ein Gedi late at night,” she said. “It is a beautiful floral oasis in the desert. They have amazing flowers, and this blooming tree was near the entrance.”
Robert Johnson, also part of the seminar and a longtime JCC employee, has a couple of his photos in the show. One of them is particularly memorable: a photo of a camel with a sad expression, lying under a tree. The title of the photograph is “This is Not a Camel.”
“He talked to me,” Johnson said with a smile. “People were riding him all day, and he didn’t want to be a riding camel anymore.”
The variety of the images in the show is mind-blowing: from Israeli landscapes to mud bathers on the shore of the Dead Sea to abstract composition. #SeasonsAtZack continues until June 9.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Linda MacCannell’s photograph of John T’Seleie. (photo from Drew Ann Wake)
The new show at the Zack Gallery, Crossed Paths – which explores the connection between the Jewish and the Dene peoples – has its roots in the federal Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry.
“In the 1970s, I was a CBC reporter in the Northwest Territories,” show curator Drew Ann Wake told the Independent. “When the government proposed a pipeline through the area, they sent Justice Thomas Berger to investigate the impact of the proposed pipeline [in 1974]. He talked to over 30 native communities to get their input. When he was finished, he issued a report recommending the government settle all the claims on land that the pipeline would pass through before construction started…. They are still settling those claims. The pipeline hasn’t been built yet.”
As a journalist, Wake accompanied Berger and his team on that historic trip. She taped numerous interviews with the local people participating in the inquiry.
“Ten years ago, I found those old tapes,” she recalled. “Only audio tapes; it was so long ago. I thought it would be interesting to go back and talk to all of them again. And let their children and grandchildren listen to their elders’ voices.”
She invited a friend, photographer Linda MacCannell, to create portraits of some of the participants of the Mackenzie Valley negotiations. Over several years, they traveled to the villages Wake had visited with Berger. MacCannell took photos and Wake filmed her interviews. “We created a show of Linda’s portraits and the stories I collected and went on the road. By now, we’ve exhibited this show in 50 galleries across North America,” said Wake.
MacCannell’s large-scale portraits of various members of the Dene First Nations, who live along the Mackenzie River, constitute the heart of the exhibit at the Zack.
“Two years ago, we gave a presentation at the grunt gallery, an artist-run centre in Vancouver,” Wake explained. “We showed the films. After the presentation, a man approached me. He introduced himself as Michael Shumiatcher, a local artist and educator. He said he knew Justice Berger at the time of the inquiry. Michael was a high school student then, and Berger was his best friend’s father.”
Shumiatcher suggested they work together and present the exhibit to schools around the province. Wake liked the idea, and invited him to join her on her next trip north. Also joining the summer 2018 trip were artist Melenie Fleischer and her husband, cellist Eric Wilson, as well as composer Daniel Séguin.
“Daniel saw the video I made of the drummers the previous year,” Wake explained. “He wanted to write new music to incorporate the traditional drums.”
The group traveled to Fort Simpson, N.W.T., to study the drumming culture of the Dene in more depth.
“Séguin wrote a piece of music, called Dehcho, for cello and the drums,” Wake said. “That is how the local nations call the Mackenzie River – Dehcho. Wilson performed it at the local gallery presentation of our show. The gallery was packed. People sat in the hall and stood on the stairs. He had to repeat his performance for all who wanted to hear it.”
As well, Fleischer and Shumiatcher produced several paintings.
One of Fleischer’s, a herd of bison, is suffused with wild, tumultuous energy. “They were huge,” she said of the animals. “They looked up casually and continued grazing and drinking water in the shallow puddles. We were cautious and maybe even scared as we huddled close in the van to take our photographs. Thrilled at our first encounter with the ancestors of the ancient bison depicted on the cave walls of Altamira, Lascaux and others, I knew then that I was going to paint bison.”
A painting by Shumiatcher depicts Wilson blowing a shofar on the shore of the Mackenzie River. Fleischer and Wilson brought the shofar on the trip as a gift.
“Once we got our invitation from Chief Gerry Antoine to come to Fort Simpson and collaborate with Liidlii Kue First Nation on our cultural exploration of music – cello and drums – we were very excited. We were in New York at the time, and I wanted to bring Chief Antoine something special,” said Fleischer. “All I could think of was that our nation was thousands of years old, as were the indigenous people. With that in mind, we went looking for a ram’s horn from Israel, a shofar.”
They visited several Judaica stores in New York. “It was funny,” said Fleischer, “my husband Eric blowing shofars outside the stores, on the sidewalk. He is a cellist and very particular about sound.”
The next step for the group was to approach the Zack Gallery for a joint show. The Jewish artists’ paintings complement MacCannell’s photography, showing another facet of the northern experience. Just as power and serenity dominate the portraits and the photographer’s triptych of the river landscape, the paintings add a touch of awe at nature and its symbiotic relationship with humankind.
The Zack exhibit also includes traditional clothing made by several Dene artists. “Last year, we won a grant from the Canada Council [for the Arts] to commission northern artists,” Wake said. Of the pieces on display, each has a story. In some cases, the stories are real; they happened to the artists’ family members. For others, the stories are purely imaginary or are based on local folklore. Regardless, every story has a link to the tapes Wake collected in the 1970s and the people she interviewed.
Linda Wolki, known for her needlework, created a traditional yellow coat after she listened to the recording of her mother telling Wake how she hunted seals when she was young. “The woman’s story was amazing,” Wake said. “She was out hunting in the snow and cold, and four polar bears decided to chase her. She laughed.”
A pair of embroidered moccasins, made by Agnes Mitchell, is displayed in a plexiglass case next to the pair her father wore for years. The embroidery on the old moccasins – made by Mitchell’s mother – and the new ones is equally elaborate.
“One story I asked an artist to illustrate was an ancient northern legend about an abandoned woman,” Wake said. “The tribe abandoned that woman in the forest because of her sharp tongue. She only had a few coals for her fire, but she survived. She made herself two cloaks – one of raven feathers and another of rabbit fur – and many more objects.”
Artist Jeneen Frei Njootli has brought the cloaks to life. Her creations, a black cloak of raven feathers and another of white rabbit fur, hang in a corner of the Zack, one above another, as a tribute to her people’s tenacity and their drive to survive in the harshest conditions.
“We were very proud to learn that recently Jeneen Frei Njootli was chosen as one of the five finalists for the Sobey Art Award, an annual prize given to the most promising Canadian artist under 40,” said Wake, who then pointed to a blue coat on display. Smiling, she said, “And that coat belongs to Michael Jackson. But not the Michael Jackson of pop music. Our own Michael Jackson, a Vancouver lawyer who, in the 1970s, was part of Justice Berger’s team.”
When Wake started working on this show, one of the new interviews she conducted was with Jackson. “He worked with many First Nation people,” she said, “and I asked him how come he was so empathetic to their plight. He said it was because he was Jewish. When he grew up in London, England, he experienced antisemitism. He knew hunger as a child in post-World War Two Britain. It made him sensitive to others suffering from discrimination. Made him want to help.”
During the Berger inquiry, Jackson befriended one of the local men, John T’Seleie, who organized his community to meet with the inquiry’s lawyers.
“Their friendship has lasted for decades. They’re still friends,” Wake said. “As a child, T’Seleie was a student at a residential school. Like many others at residential schools, he suffered. As an adult, he became an advocate for his people.”
The portraits of these two friends hang side by side on the gallery walls, and the film Wake made of her interviews with them is also part of the exhibit.
“That’s how our entire show started, so many years ago,” she said, “with those two and their friendship: a Jew and a Dene.”
Crossed Paths is at the Zack until April 7.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Sidi Schaffer’s current exhibit, In Partnership with Nature, is at the Zack Gallery until March 3. (photo by Olga Livshin)
Sidi Schaffer’s art has gone through several different incarnations. At the beginning of her career, in postwar Romania, she adhered to a realistic approach. “For several years, the central images of my work were people,” she said in an interview with the Independent.
After her family immigrated to Israel, she continued her studies and received her art education degree. “At that time, I fell in love with the Impressionists, especially Cezanne, and started painting more landscape and still life,” she said. “I tried to catch the essence, the light and beauty of my surroundings. Even my palette changed.”
The next stage in her artistic development came after she immigrated to Canada in 1975. It was as if every country triggered a twist in her artistic road. “I needed to establish new roots and master new challenges,” she recalled. “In 1980, I went back to school to study printmaking at the University of Alberta. They told me: ‘Paint abstract, throw away realism.’ I followed my teachers’ good advice … and totally immersed myself in abstraction. I simplified my work; my focus became my inner world, my feelings and my emotions. The art-making process became a sacred ritual.”
But pure abstraction didn’t hold her interest for long. Her abstract compositions acquired random elements of realism. “I tried to make my works integrated, bring together abstract and figurative,” she said. “I tried to express the concept of unity between the internal and the external, between the spiritual and the physical.”
Her current show, In Partnership with Nature, which opened at the Zack Gallery on Jan. 31, combines her inclination towards abstraction, her love of nature and her ability to bridge the realistic and the spiritual in her paintings. It also highlights her innate optimism. The show is airy, uplifting and charming, the works prompting a quiet gladness in viewers.
It’s about flowers, but in an oblique, complex way. “I love flowers,” said Schaffer. “Nature is my biggest inspiration. When it surrounds me, I feel alive, free, and in awe of all its beauty and miracles.”
For years, she has been drying flowers between pages of books. “I have piles of those books in my house,” she said. “I always wanted to preserve the flowers’ beauty, even after the original bloom. I have been doing it since I was a young girl…. In autumn, I also dry leaves with their amazing colours and abstract designs. Nothing is more beautiful. Sometimes, I pick a flower just to remind me of a place and time.”
A few years ago, Schaffer decided to try and incorporate those dried flowers and leaves into her art. “I wanted to make them the subject matter,” she said. “Every picture in this show, except one, has one or more dry flowers or leaves in them.”
All of the images in the exhibit are mixed media. She experimented with acrylic and oil paint, with old prints and new drawings, with collage. The dried leaves or flowers form the heart of the compositions.
“I wanted to give them importance,” she explained. “Some of the landscapes in this show look fantastic, because dry leaves play the part of trees. Some abstract collages were like memory boxes for me, with layers. There are dry petals there, and lettering and musical notes.”
Schaffer’s collaboration with the elements of nature tends towards whimsical. Flower petals float on the visual breeze. Mundane dandelions turn into exotic palm trees. Waves of musical notation sparkle with rainbow colours.
“I played with the images,” said the artist. “I didn’t take myself seriously when I prepared this show.”
Schaffer said every image in the exhibit started with an idea. “But I never knew how it would come out,” she said. “It’s a process, a discussion between me and the flowers. Sometimes, it is a struggle. I look at the flowers and they supply more ideas. This one flower I had, I put it on the painting and the petals came off. I left them off, incorporated into the image.… From a flash of excitement to the end result, each image reflects my emotional journey. By the time I finish a painting, it seldom resembles my original starting point. What is important for me is the visual poetry, the relationship of form, space, colour and light.”
Schaffer’s exploration into creative possibilities is nourished by her rich inner life. Before her retirement, she taught art and painted commissions, but never, for example, something made specifically to harmonize with anyone’s living room décor.
“I paint what is inside of me,” she said. “I don’t paint for anyone’s sofa. I enjoy the hours I spend in front of my canvas. It is an intense emotional outlet and, when I’m finished, I feel happy, but, at the same time, drained and vulnerable.”
In Partnership with Nature is at the Zack until March 3.
Olga Livshinis a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Temple Sholom Sisterhood Choir under the direction of Joyce Cherry with pianist Kathy Bjorseth performed an afternoon concert of Jewish music at the Weinberg Residence on Jan. 13. Featured were three works by Joan Beckow, a resident of the Louis Brier Hospital and a Temple Sholom member. Beckow was an active composer and music director in Los Angeles and, for a time, was Carol Burnett’s music director. The 23-voice Sisterhood Choir has sung for the annual Sisterhood Service for a number of years, but the recent concert at the Weinberg was a first for them outside of Temple Sholom.
Some of the artists on opening night of the group show Community Longing and Belonging, Jan. 15 at the Zack Gallery. The exhibit marked Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month and ran until Jan. 27.
Eurovision 2018 winner Netta Barzilai, right, performed at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver on Jan. 26 to help celebrate the 18th anniversary of Birthright Israel. Here, she is pictured with Carmel Tanaka, emcee of the night with IQ 2000 Trivia. The dance party was presented by the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver in partnership with Axis Vancouver, Hillel BC and the JCCGV.
“Open Doors” by Marcie Levitt-Cooper.
(photo by Daniel Wajsman)
The group show Community Longing and Belonging,
which opened Jan. 15 at the Zack Gallery, marks Jewish Disability Awareness and
Inclusion Month (JDAIM).
“I heard about community art shows in
celebration of JDAIM in other communities,” said Leamore Cohen, inclusion
services coordinator at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, who
was the driving force behind the local exhibit.
“I thought an unjuried exhibit would be a
fabulous way to honour our community-wide commitment to remove barriers, to
celebrate our community members’ creative capacities,” she said.
The main idea was to open up participation to
everyone – professional artists and amateurs, people of different skill levels,
abilities, perspectives, faiths and socioeconomic status.
“To make participation truly inclusive,” said
Cohen, “we provided each artist with a 12-by-16 wood panel. We have also been
taking direction from Kickstart Disability Arts and Culture and its artistic
director, Yuri Arajs, as we wanted to ensure that this event is fully
The JDAIM inclusion initiative and month of
advocacy began throughout North America in 2009, explained Cohen. The idea for
the art exhibit started to take form last spring, when Cohen approached Zack
Gallery director Linda Lando.
“Linda was really receptive to the idea of the
show.… Once I had the green light from her, the support and use of the
gallery,” said Cohen, “I began to focus more on the theme.”
The theme of community and inclusion prompted
her next steps. She reached out to many different organizations and communities
and invited artists from all over the Lower Mainland to participate. The call
for submissions went out in late September, and the response was remarkable.
Fifty-two artists are included in the show.
“We have artists from Vancouver, Burnaby,
Richmond, North Vancouver, and even as far out as Cloverdale,” said Cohen.
“I’ve had the good fortune to meet all these new and amazingly creative people,
welcome them to our community centre, and make new friends along the way. It’s
been a joy. It broke my heart that I had to turn many away because of the
limited space in the gallery. I have artists who want to sign up for the next
year. There is so much excitement and so much more to say on this issue.”
To frame this exhibit, Cohen posed two
questions, which are being used in its promotional materials: “How do we make
meaning of the concept of community, the real and the imagined spaces we
inhabit? What does community longing look like and what are the possibilities
for belonging in an ever-changing world?”
“This show was a challenge and an invitation to
look at social problems creatively and critically,” Cohen told the Independent.
“It was also an opportunity for artists living with diverse needs to exhibit
their work in a professional venue and to receive exposure.
“I don’t think we are going to resolve the
problems of longing and belonging, or longing for belonging, any time soon. I
think we’ll always have people who are better situated and people whose social
networks are more tenuous. We should just keep having the conversations and
build up those connections. We create new platforms and new access points, new
opportunities for people to engage and tell their stories, whatever they look
like and from whatever lens, whether it be through mental health, sexual
identity, ability or socioeconomic status. We all have a story to tell.”
Cohen shared one example of how the show’s
theme relates to her own life.
“The ‘longing’ part of the theme resonates with
a lot of people,” she said. “It resonates with me as well. It emerges from my
own story of disconnection from the Jewish community during my youth and young
adulthood. Fortunately, so, too, does the ‘belonging’ part of this show. The
JCC is a wonderful place, a place for belonging.”
The theme allowed for a number of different
approaches, and the skill of the various participating artists varies widely,
but the utter diversity becomes its main attraction. Although the size and
shape of the canvases – the wooden boards provided by the organizers – are
universal, the content is anything but, and so is the media. Some pieces are
oils, others acrylic; still others, mixed media. There are abstracts and
figurative compositions. Some have narratives. Others evoke emotions. Some have
Jewish connotations. Others don’t. Some artists participated solo, while others
enrolled as a family group.
Marcie Levitt-Cooper represents one such
family. Her painting “Open Doors” depicts a colony of colourful birdhouses.
Every door of every birdhouse is open, creating a welcoming avian village, a
festive metaphor that makes you smile. No birds appear in the image, but you
can almost hear them sing. The artist’s three daughters – Rebecca Wosk, Teddie
Wosk and Margaux Wosk – also exhibit in the show.
Another family of artists is mother Elizabeth
Snigurowicz and son Matthew Tom Wing. “They regularly come to the Jewish
Community Centre inclusion services Art Hive drop-in program, a low-barrier,
free art program,” said Cohen.
Daniel Malenica doesn’t have a family in the
show, but her charming, pastel-toned piece is a jubilation of the artist’s
Croatian roots and her LGBTQ+ community. Two girls embrace each other in the
painting, both wear Slavic costumes. The title, “Veselye u Selu,” is the
English phonetic spelling of a phrase in the artist’s mother tongue, meaning
“Celebration at the Village.”
In Evelyn Fichmann’s painting “Embrace,” the
artist, a recent immigrant from Brazil, has incorporated words in English and
Hebrew. “Encourage,” “include,” “educate,” “respect,” “engage” and “support”
surround the image, all fitting descriptors of what we should strive to do in
Community Longing and Belonging runs until Jan
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Olga Campbell (seated) takes a break from signing books at the opening of her exhibit A Whisper Across Time, which also served as a launch of her book by the same name. (photo by Gordon E. McCaw)
The impacts of the Holocaust continue to reverberate. Even though most of the first-generation survivors have passed away, the next generations, the survivors’ children and grandchildren, remember.
Local artist Olga Campbell belongs to the second generation. Her parents survived the Holocaust, but her mother’s entire family was murdered by the Nazis. The need to give those family members a voice was Campbell’s driving force in writing her new book, A Whisper Across Time: My Family’s Story of the Holocaust Told Through Art and Poetry. Her solo exhibit with the same name, co-presented with the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival, opened at the Zack Gallery on Nov. 15. The night also served as a book launch.
“The art in this show are mostly prints from the book,” she said in an interview with the Independent. “There are also some pieces that are offshoots on the same theme, even though they aren’t in the book.”
Campbell has always known that her mother’s family didn’t survive the war, but the emotional impact of their deaths built slowly over the years. It took decades for this book to emerge.
“In 1997,” she said, “I heard a program on the radio about the second-generation survivors. Their words about the trauma being passed between generations resonated with me.”
She embarked on an artistic journey, and she is still following a path of exploration. Her art reflects her emotional upheaval. Her paintings and statues are fragmented, with broken lines and distorted figures, evoking feelings of loss and anguish. One look at her paintings and a disquiet tension washes over the viewer. It is apparent that a huge tragedy inspired her work.
In 2005, Campbell had a show at the Zack, called Whispers Across Time. “Even then,” she said, “I knew I had to write about my family. The art show was not enough. I had to say more, but, at that time, I couldn’t. I was too raw, too emotional. But my family kept tugging at me. I needed to tell their story. I was compelled to write this book.”
Unfortunately, she knew only the bare bones of her mother’s life. So she plunged into a deep and long research period, surfed the internet, contacted Yad Vashem and other sources. After several years, the book crystallized.
“My book is a tribute to my family, the family I never knew,” she said.
“Of course, it is only one family of the millions of families killed during the Holocaust.”
Campbell spoke of the relevance of her book in today’s political climate. “Our world is a chaotic place right now, somewhat reminiscent of the period before the war,” she said. “There are over 68 million people around the world that are refugees or displaced. My book is not only about my family. It is a cautionary tale. It is about intergenerational trauma and its repercussions across time.”
She created new art for the book, wrote poetry to supplement the imagery, and also included an essay on her family members and their lives, destroyed by the war. The paintings in the book and on the gallery walls are powerful but melancholy, even distressing.
“My work always had this darkness, the sadness, but also a bit of hope,” she said. “I never know what will happen when I start a piece. I’m very intuitive. I would throw some paint on an empty canvas and let my emotions and the art itself guide me through the process. I use photos in my works and digital collages. My finished pieces always surprise me.”
When the book was ready, Campbell applied for another show at the Zack, to coincide with the book launch.
“I wanted to give it the same name as the previous show, Whispers Across Time,” she said, “but I checked the internet, and there are a couple other books already published with the same title. I decided to change it.” The book and the show are called A Whisper Across Time. “I feel a lot lighter now, after the book is finished and published,” she said.
A Whisper Across Time is Campbell’s second publication. In 2009, she published Graffiti Alphabet. She has been doing art for more than 30 years, but that is not how she started her professional career. She was a social worker until, in 1986, she took her first art class. That year changed her life.
“It was such fun. I loved it,” she said. “I went back to work afterwards but it didn’t feel as much fun. I decided to get an art education. I enrolled in Emily Carr when I was 44.”
Campbell finished the art program, continued working part-time as a social worker, and dedicated the rest of her time to painting, sculpture and photography.
“I’ve been a member of the Eastside Culture Crawl for 22 years, since its beginning,” she said. “I participated in the Artists in Our Midst for many years, too. At first, when people asked me, I would say I do art. Now, I say, I’m an artist. I must be. That’s what I do. I’m retired now, but I did art when I was working, too, and it was always very healing and rewarding – still is…. If, for some reason, I don’t paint for awhile, I feel as if something is missing.”
The A Whisper Across Time exhibit continues until Dec. 9. For more about her work and books, visit olgacampbell.com.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Claudie Azoulai, left, and Nicole Schouela. Their work comprises the exhibit Heart to Heart, which is at the Zack Gallery until Nov. 9. (photo from the artists)
The latest show at the Zack Gallery, Heart to Heart, presents the work of two artists in two vastly different media. Claudie Azoulai makes felt tapestries, while Nicole Schouela specializes in photography. Despite the differences in material representation, however, the colour palettes and the themes are amazingly similar – places close to their heart, places that invoke love and peace. The places and the emotions they inspire consolidate the show into a seamless, cohesive whole.
“We wanted to have a shared show forever,” Azoulai told the Independent. “We’re cousins, Nicole and I. We grew up together.”
They came up with the idea of a joint show about a year ago. “The timing is perfect,” said Azoulai. “It takes me, on average, about a month to create one piece, and there are 13 pieces of mine in this show, all new.”
All of these pieces are related to a children’s book Azoulai has written. “The book will be called The Spring Feast. It’s about the flora and fauna of Hornby Island, one of my favourite places. I will photograph every tapestry here, and they will be the illustrations for the book,” she said.
Azoulai considers herself a part of the great pageantry of life, and Hornby Island provides her with the opportunity to experience it firsthand. One of the tapestries, “Herring Run,” reflects her connection with nature.
“Every spring, herring come to Hornby Island to spawn,” she explained. “Then salmon come to eat the herring. Seals come to eat the salmon. Whales come to eat seals. Eagles fly over to eat the roe. Everything is alive, this great circle of life, and I’m part of it, too. When I come to Hornby Island in spring, I try to stay outside all day.”
Many of the tapestries depict various birds of Hornby Island. “I work from my imagination,” Azoulai said, “but when I need a particular pose or gesture, I go to the beach to watch the birds or look at photographs.”
Azoulai dyes her wool herself, and no batch comes out of the vat exactly the same, even if all the ingredients of the dye match. “Colours of the fleece always surprise me,” she said. “They influence the images. When I’m stuck, I would dye a new batch, and the new colours might affect the image, lead to a change. The colours dictate the picture more often than not.”
She frequently experiments with new materials, incorporating silk or synthetic particles into the base of wool to add a shine or a different texture. “As long as the fleece entangles the other threads, the image stays together,” she said about that technique.
Mixing and matching is also Schouela’s preferred technique, using Photoshop to work with different parts from a multitude of photographs.
“I have nine pieces in this show,” she said. “They are places I revisit often, not by traveling far away, but the places where I live and work. The places I walk. The places I love. The places that have almost a ritualistic meaning for me.… Sometimes, they are physical places. Other times, they are mental places.”
Schouela started her artistic life as a dancer, but dance is an unforgiving art form that takes its toll on the body. She switched first to ceramics, and later dedicated herself to photography. In everything she creates – a dance or a vase or a photo collage – there is movement and transformation. The images flow through each other, striving towards abstraction and emotional truth.
“Photo manipulation is freeing,” she said. “I could take pieces from here and there and create a new image I want, while it still retains the essence of the originals. It might take me several months to finish one picture. I would stop working with it and then, later, I would return to it again and again, until I’m satisfied.”
She photographs places that are part of her and her search for connections and understanding. By now, she has thousands of photos in her digital archives. “Sometimes, I would use a photograph or a fragment of one years after it was taken, because it would fit one particular composition or a feeling I want to explore,” she said. “I don’t want my images to resemble the real places. The original photographs are not important by themselves. They are part of the process. Sometimes, I play with pieces of 30 to 50 photos for one picture. It is fun.”
Schouela’s abstract compositions on the gallery walls lean towards pastel or black and white, with occasional splashes of bright colour. Some are geometrical. Others tell a story or convey an emotion.
“Traditional photography doesn’t interest me anymore – anyone can take a picture now with their phones,” she said. “I don’t want my imagery to be like paintings either. Photography is a separate art form. If I wanted a painting, I would paint. No, I want my collages to keep their photographic elements obvious.”
Barbara Heller’s exhibit, Divine Sparks, is at the Zack Gallery until Oct. 8. (photo by Olga Livshin)
Barbara Heller’s new solo show at the Zack Gallery, Divine Sparks, could be divided into three distinct themes, each one representative of a world culture: the Sephirot, the Mudras and the Future Reliquaries. Each of the three resonates with one of three religions, Judaism, Hinduism and Christianity, respectively, but Heller, a master weaver, sees divine sparks everywhere. Her tapestries, big and small, invite gallery guests to contemplate what unites us, no matter our ethnicity or religious affiliation.
Symbolism infuses Heller’s images, starting with the centrepiece of the show, “Tzimtzum,” or “Transcendence.” The large tapestry is a stylized ladder. The midnight blue rungs at the bottom coalesce into a dead bird, but the higher your eyes travel, the lighter the colours become. Two pairs of wings punctuate the climb of colours from dark indigo to white radiance.
“The ladder has many interpretations,” Heller told the Independent. “It can be a metaphor for our life, a liminal space between birth and death…. For me, the rungs are stepping stones on the path of spiritual attainment, of transcendence.”
Heller has shown this tapestry at several exhibitions already, to great acclaim. Recently, it won the American Tapestry Alliance Award.
“Originally, I wanted to display this tapestry with real feathers piled along the bottom,” the artist said about “Tzimtzum.” “I have amassed many beautiful feathers, and friends kept bringing me more, but I discovered it was almost impossible to send real feathers anywhere. I displayed the tapestry in Poland a couple years ago, and they told me that real feathers have to be quarantined for weeks before being allowed into the country. And they can’t be from endangered species. I wasn’t sure about that.”
Since the plan involving the real feathers fell through, Heller made a series of small tapestries of her feather collection, Sephirot, specifically for the Zack show.
“I already had lots of yarn died blue for the ‘Tzimtzum,’” she said. She called the series Sephirot after the kabbalah’s spiritual qualities of understanding, wisdom, love and judgment, among others.
“Some of the feathers are almost photographic,” she said. “In the others, I played with colours and sparkles.”
The second series in the show, Mudras, obtained its name from the hand gestures prevalent in Hinduism, Asian dancing, yoga and meditation.
“Typically, mudras are used as a way to direct energy flow in the body,” Heller said. “According to yoga, different areas of the hand stimulate specific areas of the brain. By applying light finger pressure to these areas of the hand, you can ‘activate’ the corresponding region of the brain. In addition, hand mudras also symbolize various feelings and emotions.”
Heller’s Mudras is a series of small, uniform-sized round images of various hand gestures. The hands are woven of golden yarn and appliquéd to dark-green fabric with a vague “computer motherboard” pattern. Parts of real electronics – wires, chips, connectors – are incorporated into the design of every gesture, as if to emphasize the similarities between computer circuits and the neuron circuitry in our brains.
“I collect old electronics and take them apart, and use them in my weaving,” said Heller. “This series was fun to make.”
The other series, Future Reliquaries, is an older one. Also depicting hands embedded with parts of electronic devices, it reflects humanity’s developing love affair with technology.
Several tapestries of the series are rather large. In each one, a human hand in golden yarn stands out from the background of an ancient traditional pattern. “Different tapestries sport different patterns: from Persia, Indonesia, Turkey, Navajo,” Heller said.
Like in the Mudras series, the interlaced computer piece are symbolic of our interconnection with machines.
Heller wrote: “This series deals with three apparently separate but, in my mind, connected histories: weaving, computing and religion. Weaving is a binary system of up/down, just as computing is a binary system of on/off…. Religion is not only a store of faith; it is a store of history and social values…. Today, we are creating a new religion. We are worshipping the technology.”
Heller’s tapestries contemplate the future status of today’s electronic remnants in the context of ancient fabrics. “As holy relics were housed in reliquaries, often made of gold and gems, I’m trying to populate my tapestries with the future relics – the computer chips and wires.”
Beside the large hands, there is also a selection of tiny ones, where each miniscule woven hand is linked to topics such as keys or clocks, science or beauty, birth or death.
Heller’s exhibit is part of larger happenings in Vancouver this month – a symposium of the Textile Society of America. The symposium takes place Sept. 19-23, and many galleries around the city besides the Zack are displaying textile or weaving exhibitions to coincide with it.
As a well-known local artist, Heller has been one of the event organizers from the beginning. “We have a wealth of local textile artists, and about 400 people are coming to the symposium from all over the world,” she said.
The planning for the symposium began three years ago. “We made sure that the hotel reservations were available on the dates that didn’t include Yom Kippur,” she said. “Unfortunately, a year ago, the hotel informed us that they had to change our reservation dates.”
So, now, the first day of the symposium falls on Yom Kippur, as other reservations were not available, and the society has posted an apology on its website.
The paintings of Frank Levine are on display at the Zack Gallery until Aug. 31 in a shared show, called Celebration, with Melanie Fogell. (photo by Olga Livshin)
The latest show at the Zack Gallery, Celebration, showcases two artists, Melanie Fogell and Frank Levine. At first glance, they don’t seem to have much in common.
Fogell’s art is bright and flamboyant, totally abstract, and her canvases are large, while Levine’s paintings are generally smaller, more intimate, his colours more muted and his compositions tend to have recognizable figurative patterns: people, musical instruments, landscapes, cityscapes.
However, both artists celebrate life through their paintings. For years, both approached art as a hobby – it is only recently that Fogell started painting full-time, while Levine still works as an accountant. Both artists also lived for some time in Gibsons, B.C., where they met a few years ago. Fogell still lives there, while Levine has moved to Richmond.
Levine’s life has involved several drastic moves, geographic and professional. Born in England, he received his art education in London. He majored in fashion design. Upon graduation, he opened his own fashion boutique in London, but that didn’t last long in the cutthroat industry. After that, he worked for 10 years as a clothing designer for a large factory in the city.
“The clothing industry in London is very stressful and loud. Everyone shouts and screams,” he explained in an interview with the Independent. “The designers had to produce a new design every week, two collections a year. If a particular coat sold, the owners congratulated themselves at how good they were at selling. If it didn’t sell, the designers were to blame.”
After a decade of the stress and screaming, Levine switched to accounting, which he considers an occupation much less taxing on his nerves. In 1978, he moved to Canada and settled in Vancouver. “Antisemitism in England was a consideration in my decision to move,” he said.
Wherever he has lived, and whatever his day job, he has kept on painting.
“I have always painted when I had the time,” he said. “I don’t paint every day, only when I’m inspired. Once a week, my son and his children come for a visit, and we paint together.”
One of the paintings in the show, “Prism,” came from one of those weekly sessions. The small image features a blue-and-gold cityscape, happy and bright, vaguely reminiscent of a Greek city. “My son suggested the theme of prism,” said Levine.
Many of the artist’s paintings are landscapes, but he portrays them through a mesh of geometric figures. The lines creating the geometric patterns add mysticism to the trees and lakes. “I’m drawn to the images that have passion, not something everyone would paint,” he said.
Whatever his brush depicts – his backyard in Gibsons with a visiting bear, a small café in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris or picturesque gates in China – his love for the places shines through the canvas.
Unfortunately, not many people have seen his charming work. “I didn’t do any promotion until recently and I sell maybe two or three paintings a year,” he said. “I only joined Facebook a month ago.”
Over the years, Levine has participated in several exhibitions in Gibsons and has had his paintings displayed at a Richmond community centre. This Zack Gallery show is only the second time in Vancouver that the public has had a chance to admire them, and it is his first exhibit in a Vancouver art gallery.
Unlike Levine, Fogell is well known on the Vancouver art scene. She had a solo show at the Zack in 2011 and another one in 2014. Her early art education at Emily Carr University of Art + Design could have led to a career in the arts, but, like many others, she discovered that it was extremely difficult to make a living as an artist. She became a piano teacher instead.
Years later, Fogell went back to university for a master’s in women’s studies and then did a PhD in educational research. She has taught women’s studies at the University of British Columbia and piano as a private tutor, but, throughout the years, just like Levine, she has never stopped painting. She loved art too much, and the need to express herself through imagery drove her to paint. She paints full-time now.
“I did this group of paintings, the Oval Series, over the last two years,” she said about the work in the Zack Gallery show. “It began by me doodling oval shapes. Then I started thinking of possible meanings of this particular shape. The oval could stand for an egg, which is a symbol of life, a celebration of life. Or it could be a face, the beginning of a face, not ready to be recognized. They could be faces of people in my life or people I have yet to meet.”
Fogell’s paintings burst with primal colours, and her ovals seem like gladness enclosed, surrounding the viewers like a collection of exuberant eggs, or new leaves shimmering in the sunlight, or a field of tulips swaying in a breeze. They promise renewal and hope. “I paint how it feels to be connected to everything in my life, both present and past,” she said.
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].