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].