“Jerusalem Market, 1959,” watercolour and pencil, by artist Pnina Granirer, a graduate of Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem. Granirer will have a table of her artwork for sale in the atrium of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver on Dec. 3, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., as part of the Chanukah Around the World party marketplace. The works will be unframed, priced from $100 to $500, with all proceeds being donated to Israel, in the hope that the donation will help it in its hour of need. For more on Granirer, go to pninagranirer.com.
The party is a joint event with multiple community partners: King David High School, Vancouver Talmud Torah, Richmond Jewish Day School, PJ Library, Camp Miriam, Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia, and the Kollel. In addition to the marketplace, it will feature games, iSTEAM activities, food, arts & crafts, museum displays, entertainment throughout, a community singalong and a JCC membership sale. Visit jccgv.com/jcc-chanukah-carnival.
Suzy Birstein is one of the many Jewish community artists taking part in this year’s Eastside Culture Crawl Visual Arts, Design & Craft Festival, which runs Nov. 16-19. (photo by Britt Kwasney)
The 27th annual Eastside Culture Crawl Visual Arts, Design & Craft Festival takes place Nov. 16-19 and features almost 450 artists, including many from the Jewish community. Among the community members opening their studios to visitors are Suzy Birstein, Olga Campbell, Hope Forstenzer, penny eisenberg, Robert Friedman, Lori Goldberg, Lynna Goldhar Smith, Ideet Sharon, Stacey Lederman, Shevy Levy, Lauren Morris and Esther Rausenberg.
“We welcome the public to dive back into the Culture Crawl this fall to experience and be inspired by our artists’ growth and discovery. [The pandemic] has been a time of change for many of us and I believe art is a conduit for moving forward together,” says Rausenberg in the event’s press release. Rausenberg is a photo artist, as well as artistic and executive director of the Eastside Arts Society, which puts on the Crawl.
The Independent spoke with a few of the participating Jewish artists about what visitors to their studios can expect to see, and whether creativity is a place of refuge or if it is harder for them to create in times of conflict, including but not limited to the Israel-Hamas war and the war between Ukraine and Russia.
Visitors to Birstein’s studio will see her “figures from fired clay infused with aged and lustred surfaces, which inspire paintings in oil, cold wax and collage.”
The artist is currently working on two series, which will merge into the solo retrospective at Il Museo Gallery, curated by Dr. Angela Clarke for 2025.
“Both series evoke my art/travel adventures to Europe, Mexico and Cambodia,” said Birstein.
“‘Ladies-Not-Waiting’ reference the gazed-upon women by old master painters – Velasquez, Fouquet and Manet – alongside self-portraits painted by masterful female artists, Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington and Leonor Fini,” she said, while Tsipora (her Hebrew name, meaning Bird) is a series of loose self-portraits, which “embrace an exotic earthiness living within my poetic imagination.”
Both bodies of work, she said, “speak to nesting and transcendence, the mirror and reflection and celebrate the individual and universal.”
For Birstein, in times of conflict, “be it COVID, warfare, personal challenges – the only thing that centres me, coming directly from within me, is the creative refuge of my studio and making art. As I say this, I must stress that the love and compassion I feel for and receive from my family, friends, students and peers is the other half of that equation. I can’t imagine one without the other and I am extremely grateful.”
Friedman describes himself as “a muralist-styled stained glass artist.” He has worked in stained glass for more than 40 years and has recently added a blown glass dimension to his work, according to his website, which is also a recent addition.
“My studio is a great place and haven for creative thought and output,” he told the Independent. “[T]hese troubled times just [add] more impetus for me to have it reflected even more so in my artwork.”
Goldberg also finds herself more driven.
“My work is about vitality, life, vibration forging connections and bringing two opposing energies together as a way to find potential for resolution,” she said. “I have a responsibility as an artist to respond. I am more motivated. Expressing ‘Heaven on Earth’ is one way I respond to pain and suffering.”
Goldberg had a three-month residency on the North Shore, which she spent painting the forest – work that studio visitors will see.
“I was recently reading the book Speak for the Trees by Diana Beresford-Kroger about how the roots of the trees, the mycelium and plants and trees talk to each other,” said Goldberg. “By painting in the forest, I learnt how to listen, experience the tranquility, vitality and interconnectedness of the forest and to myself.”
Since the spring, Goldhar Smith has been “creating minimal colour-field style landscapes based on the idea of the shape of light and the colour of shadows,” she said. “The paintings are rendered in soft blues and pastels or deeper mysterious tones and suggest memories of places real and imagined.”
She acknowledged, “The conflict in Israel has, of course, been enormously upsetting and I find myself in despair for both sides of the conflict. My paintings do not yet reflect these emotions, but they will in coming months. I don’t yet know what I will be painting but I will be exploring more difficult terrain.”
For Forstenzer – a glass artist and director of the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery – creativity can be a place of refuge, but also more challenging in times of conflict.
“Making work when I’m feeling the stress of all that’s going on personally and globally is truly healing,” she explained, “but when I’m feeling overrun with those things, it can be a lot harder to fully concentrate at times.”
Lately, Forstenzer has been making glass clocks, something she describes as “incredibly fun.”
“I can experiment with colour and pattern in the glass, and I’ve learned a lot about clockwork mechanisms, which is also an exciting thing to dive into – I’ve been down many rabbit holes online about clockmakers,” she said. “I’ll have a bunch of clocks on display and for sale at the Crawl.
“I also have spent a lot of the last year generally playing with colour and pattern,” she added. “I’ve made vessels – vases, bowls, cups – that experiment with a particular colour or look or pattern or stripe in glass. Once I have a colour process in place, I often go on to use those colours, patterns and processes in sculptural pieces. Since I’ve done so much experimenting this year, there will be a lot of pieces on display and for sale at the Crawl as well.”
In addition to opening their studios, Forstenzer and Birstein are part of the Crawl’s juried exhibition, which has the theme “Out of Control.”
“At a time when we start to celebrate our freedom from pandemic restrictions, it’s an opportunity to reclaim experiences that were denied for so long, a chance to think outside of the box and just let go,” says Rausenberg in the press release.
The exhibition features the work of 80-plus Eastside artists and takes place at multiple venues: Alternative Creations Gallery and Strange Fellows Gallery (both until Nov. 19), the Pendulum Gallery (until Nov. 24) and the Cultch (until Nov. 25).
“Shabbat Saskatchewan,” by Esther Tennenhouse. Part of Otiyot (Letters), a joint exhibit with her son Joel Klassen, which is now at the Zack Gallery.
Colourful and playful, dark and ominous, Esther Tennenhouse’s artwork is engaging and thought-provoking, as she offers her take on Torah and midrash, immigration and language, orthodoxy and modernity. Otiyot (Letters), an exhibit she shares with her son Joel Klassen, opened at the Zack Gallery last week.
Tennenhouse’s sense of humour, curiosity, imagination and sincerity come through in the work on display, and in her responses to questions about the exhibit.
“Ot means ‘letter’ (of the alphabet) – it also means ‘sign’ and ‘signal,’” she told the Independent. “It was my first choice of name for the show: Ot – Starring the Letter Shin. Sounds like ‘ought,’ as in ‘thought.’ Ot was visually terse (and sounds adorable). That was why it was Ot in [the] JCC program book – I had to provide that bit before these pieces were made! Yikes! But it got changed to the longer plural in Hebrew and lost its zap. More truthful, though, as I have so many (too many) words of explanation on the wall beside each piece.”
All the works were made specifically for the exhibit, said Tennenhouse, “only for this place, for anyone who happens to walk into the JCC,” where the Zack Gallery is located.
“I was driven by my own relationship to the alef-bet: me, a quite secular, second-generation, Winnipeg-born Jew living in Vancouver, of prairie-born parents, who learned my aleph-bet as a child, quite long ago. I think many like me, with my sort of education, walk by these gallery doors, so I thought they might wander in and relate.”
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Tennenhouse went to Talmud Torah there from age 4 to 11, then to public school. She earned a bachelor’s in English and, while working at the Winnipeg Free Press, majored in sculpture at the University of Manitoba School of Art.
She moved to Aklavik, in the Inuvik region of the Northwest Territories, and then to Yellowknife, where she learned about ceramics at the Yellowknife Guild of Arts and Crafts. She later worked with translucent clays.
Moving with her family – husband Ron, son Joel and daughter Timmi – to Vancouver in 1995, Tennenhouse found a home at Or Shalom, participating in the Talmud and Torah study offered there, reengaging in Jewish education after a break of some 45 years.
Klassen also attends Or Shalom. His art background includes having drawn at home and working with painter Sylvia Oates – who he describes as a mentor – in her Parker Street studio. Klassen has had a one-man show in artist Noel Hodnett’s Parker Street studio, and he was in the Kickstart Disability Arts and Culture’s 2019 group show Nothing Without Us at the Cultch. For the past four years, he has attended the JCC’s Art Hive, which is facilitated by Kim Almond.
Klassen’s Hebrew letters and drawings are in five of the pieces at the Zack Gallery, said Tennenhouse.
“Making letters as individuals, each with their own character, was the most fun to do,” she said. “Jan Wilson, a friend and quilter, offered to help if I drew out the correctly sized letters backwards for transfer and picked the fabrics.”
The letters comprise eight of the works on display, and offer much to think – and smile – about. Klassen’s aleph is filled in with leopard print fabric, surrounded in black with a flowered border. The word “wild” comes to mind as one looks at it, not just the wildness of animals and nature, but of human beings. The piece is called “Aleph in the Garden.”
“I did not shy away from diversity,” said Tennenhouse. “It’s sort of an underlying element. I felt the show had to offer something to any individual, whatever their history with the alef-bet, and it deals with very well-trodden themes. I felt a need for an element of surprise, which is one reason why Joel’s aleph became a leopard in the garden (of Eden?).”
A last-minute addition to the depictions is one of the 12 new letters for gender-neutral word endings that were created by Israelis graphic designer Michal Shomer a few years ago.
“They appeared in welcome signs outside schools and on IDF buildings, etc., but the kabbalist idea of the power of the alphabet lives on – the new letters were vigorously rejected by religious factions,” said Tennenhouse. “‘Changing the letters removes any kedusha (sanctity) the words have or any ability the words have of channeling God’s energy into the world,’ said sofer Rabbi Abraham Itzkowitz. ‘This project essentially makes Hebrew like any other language.’ Some of the signs were taken down. Religious schools were forbidden to use them.”
That said, Tennenhouse told the Independent, “What first tickled me into this aleph-bet project was the poetry and passion of the ideas of the early mystics. They conceived of letters of the alef-bet existing even before the creation of the world – all 22 were vessels of the divine, all things were created by their combinations. Meditative/ecstatic kabbalah taught that individual letters were something to meditate upon, which led to ecstasy, one of the steps to sense of union with G-d. American calligrapher Ben Shahn, who titled one of his books Love and Joy About Letters, quotes the 13th-century Rabbi Abulafia, who said the delight in combining letters is like being carried away by notes of music.”
Tennenhouse and Klassen’s “Shir” (song, poetry, chant, in Hebrew) is truly delightful, like a page out of a children’s book. A multimedia piece, it depicts several animals and the sounds they make, both in Hebrew and in transliteration, though the giraffe just “hum[s] at night.”
Two other works are striking, both on their own and in contrast to each other: Sinai 1 and Sinai 2.
The latter features three bright yellow flowers, surrounded by green. “It is a triangle canvas which is about the mountain bursting into bloom when Moses came down with the Ten Commandments – this was a midrash from the 1500s. The triangle has flowers by Joel. I asked him to put flowers on it, envisioning little flowers here and there – he just went swoosh woosh on it.”
Sinai 2 is a vertical rectangle with whites, greys and blacks depicting a furious ball of activity on top of the mountain that includes the Hebrew letters.
“The Torah tells of fear, awe, the shaking mountain, seeing sounds, lightning, Moses’ anger, the breaking tablets,” said Tennenhouse. “Looking back, I overburdened the canvas [with] anger, though laying on the 231 Gates – a diagram from the Sefer Yetzirah which shows each letter combining with each other letter of the alef-bet – because I see the story of the giving of the Torah as a sort of creation story for our intense embrace of literacy. The diagram relates to Rabbi Abulafia’s talk of combination of letters but distracts visually from the anger/violence, [the] mountain, fear.”
There is so much more in this exhibit.
“Cursive Handwriting: Kovno Testament” is a stark, unfinished work, featuring the words, written in his own hand, of Lithuanian writer Eliezer Heiman, who died in the Kovno ghetto during the Holocaust. It was to have three more samples of cursive, said Tennenhouse. “I left room for them before I put on the image of Heiman’s tablets. Those spaces stayed empty. Everything else edited themselves out because of what happened in Israel on Oct. 7.”
There is the multimedia triptych “Shabbat Saskatchewan,” which Tennenhouse said “is me trying to use real photos and documents to create some presence of my mother’s grandparents and parents.”
“It ended up being centred on great-grandmother Esther Dudelzak Singer, Baba Faige (Fanny) Singer and my mother with her sisters,” she said. “Yiddish was their mamaloshen (mother tongue) and the Sonnenfeld community was religiously observant.”
“The Owl and the Pussy Cat” adds colour and vibrancy to Edward Lear’s black and white drawing of his nonsense poem, the Yiddish translation of which – by the late Marie B. Jaffe – fills the two side panels of this triptych. Tennenhouse couldn’t find much information out about Jaffe, she said, “But, thanks to Eddie Pauls at the Jewish Public Library in Montreal, [I] learned she immigrated to New York in 1909 from Lithuania.”
Tennenhouse began to see the owl and the cat in their boat as sailors braving the rough seas, traveling around the world to find “Di Goldene Medine,” “the Golden Land,” America.
“You might say ‘Saskatchewan,’ too, is about leaving home, traveling across seas and finding a new place but keeping your language and culture,” said Tennenhouse.
Otiyot (Letters) is on display at Zack Gallery until Nov. 12.
Left to right, Tzimmes’s Saul Berson, Yona Bar Sever and Moshe Denburg perform in the Ukrainian Hall Community Concert and Social on Nov. 5. (photo from Heart of the City)
A festival favourite, Tzimmes, will perform at the 20th Annual Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival, taking part in the Nov. 5 Ukrainian Hall Community Concert and Social, which closes out the 100-plus live and online events that take place at more than 40 venues over 12 days.
Presented by Vancouver Moving Theatre with the Carnegie Community Centre, the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians and other community partners, this milestone year of the festival – with the theme “Grounded in Community, Carrying it Forward” – starts Oct. 25.
“We have performed at DTES Heart of the City Festival on several occasions over the years,” Tzimmes founder and band leader Moshe Denburg told the Independent.
“November 2008 was the first time and, two years later, in October 2010, we performed again. We were invited a few years ago, in the fall of 2020, but couldn’t make it due to a scheduling conflict.”
In addition, said Denburg, a small group from the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra (VICO), which Denburg founded, played the festival in 2011. “The repertoire was, of course, intercultural, but included klezmer and Hebraic pieces as well,” he said. “Every time we played the festival, there was a truly welcoming atmosphere, and I would like to say it is an honour to be part of the mitzvah (good deed) that Heart of the City is performing for the neediest amongst us.”
“For 20 years, the Heart of the City Festival has been grounded in the Downtown Eastside and focused on listening and learning from the cultural practices of the community,” notes the press release. “The festival works with, for and about the Downtown Eastside community to carry forward our community’s stories, ancestral memory, cultural traditions, lived experiences and artistic processes to illuminate pathways of resistance and resilience.” The festival’s mandate “is to promote, present and facilitate the development of artists, art forms, cultural traditions, history, activism, people and great stories about Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.”
The closing event at which a trio of musicians from Tzimmes will play – Denburg (lead vocal/guitar), Yona Bar Sever (lead guitar/backup vocal) and Saul Berson (clarinet/flute/saxophone) – will also feature the Barvinok Choir, Dovbush Dancers and the Vancouver Ukrainian Folk Orchestra. The concert will be opened by cultural speaker Bob Baker of the Squamish Nation and DTES resident, artist, poet and community activist Diane Wood will read “100 Years of Struggle” by the late Sandy Cameron, an historian and poet, among other things, who was very involved in the Downtown Eastside.
About what the Tzimmes trio will play at the concert, Denburg said, “The Tzimmes repertoire is always made up of Jewish music in the larger world context. So, there will be aspects of klezmer and Yiddish song (European), Ladino (Judeo-Spanish/Mediterranean), and pieces in a more Middle Eastern style as well. If anyone wants a primer on our repertoire, they can visit our YouTube page: @BigTzimmesProductions. Have a look/listen to ‘Dror Yikra,’ ‘Cuando’ and ‘Moishe’s Freylakh,’ and you’ll get an idea of what’s to come.”
The Independent last spoke with Denburg in 2021 about Tzimmes’s then-new two-CD album The Road Never Travelled. Since that interview, the group released, in 2022, a remixed and remastered version of their first album, calling it Sweeter and Hotter.
“In 2020, as we were creating our fourth album, The Road Never Travelled, I realized that there was almost enough material for a second disc, but it needed a few more pieces,” said Denburg. “Around that time, my dear friend and band mate, Yona, suggested that I try to remix our debut recording. We always felt that we were constrained by a simpler technology back in 1993, and that certain aspects of the mix could be improved – vocals could be clearer, instruments brought into better relation and so on. Looking around, I found a fine facility in Red Bank, N.J., that specialized in transferring old reel-to-reels to a digital format. The tapes of Sweet and Hot were 27 years old, but they transferred wonderfully to digital tracks.
“On the second disc of The Road Never Travelled, we included several remixed liturgical pieces from Sweet and Hot,” Denburg said, noting that the group continued the process and worked on every track of their 1993 debut album. He said, “The result, we believe, is an enhanced version of Sweet and Hot that does not compromise the original at all; in fact, we humbly submit, the result of all this work is that the sweet parts are even sweeter, and the hot stuff even hotter!”
The closing concert/social of the Heart of the City Festival – called Building Community: 20 Years of Friendship – takes place at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre, with doors opening at 2 p.m. and the concert at 3 p.m. Tickets ($30/$20) are available at eventbrite.ca.
Among the many other events taking place during Heart of the City is an exhibit of photographer David Cooper’s work for the festival over its 20-year history, curated by Vancouver Moving Theatre co-founder Terry Hunter. (For more on Cooper, see jewishindependent.ca/capturing-community-spirit.)
Cooper will attend the Nov. 1, 4 p.m., opening reception in the third-floor gallery at Carnegie Community Centre. The exhibit, which runs to Nov. 30, will feature two to four photos from each of the festival’s 20 years, displayed chronologically with the festival poster for each year.
Organizers said Cooper provided guidelines for selecting the images: “simple, elegant, expressive images with energy, movement and/or emotion that represent the cultural and social diversity of the festival’s programming and people.” The exhibit also will include photos of festival participants who have passed away.
Sorour Abdollahi’s solo exhibit Intersecting Landscapes is now at Zack Gallery. (photo by Olga Livshin)
Over the years, Iranian-Canadian artist Sorour Abdollahi has participated in several group shows at Zack Gallery, but the current exhibition, Intersecting Landscapes, which opened on Sept. 7, is her first solo show here.
“Sorour is definitely not the first non-Jewish artist with a solo show at the Zack,” said gallery director Hope Forstenzer. For years, the mission of the Zack Gallery, which is in the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, has been to showcase Jewish artists and art dedicated to Jewish themes, she said. Non-Jewish artists were not excluded, but they usually appeared in group shows.
“The big difference in the past few years,” said Forstenzer, “has been an expansion of the definition of a Jewish theme to include a wider variety of human universal experiences that reflect on Jewish cultural history and traditions.… Sorour’s work, while not as overtly Jewish as some, addresses the concept of diaspora and its impact on culture and memory. When we made the decision to show her work, it was based on the concept of a cultural nostalgia for home as an inherently Jewish theme. And the response to it, so far, has borne that out – it has had a very strong emotional impact on the community here at the JCC and has already engendered discussion of the Jewish diaspora.”
Abdollahi has been a professional artist all her life. “I’ve always painted, since I was a child,” she told the Independent.
She received her art education in Iran, and her first solo art show happened there in 1987. A successful artist, working in mixed media and acrylics, she regularly exhibited in Iran, participating in multiple group and solo shows in various cities, including Tehran and Isfahan. The only big gap in her exhibiting schedule occurred when she immigrated to Canada. “We came here in 2000,” she said. “We did it for the children.”
Like all immigrants, she struggled with the new language and new culture. “It was several years later, when my children grew older, that I enrolled in Emily Carr [University of Art + Design] part time,” she recalled. “I wanted to become familiar with the local art scene, with the educators and the artists. I wanted to become a part of the local artistic community. And it worked beautifully. My friendships with wonderful Vancouver artists Devora and Sidi Schaffer stem from those days.”
Five years after her immigration, Abdollahi felt immersed enough in the British Columbia art vista to open her own studio and gallery in Yaletown.
“People would pass my gallery on the street, and some would come in,” she said. “They asked questions. I felt that my art connected.”
That connection gave her the courage to join the Eastside Culture Crawl – the biggest visual art festival in Vancouver – 10 years ago.
Abdollahi’s current show at the Zack represents the scope of her art perfectly. It consists of old and new paintings from several different series. A blend of abstract and figurative art, her paintings are airy and bright. Most of them have vague architectural connotations and employ a predominantly blue and green palette reminiscent of spring and rebirth. The abstract forms, sometimes utterly modern, often reveal faint outlines of ruins, shimmering in the mist, in the background.
“I grew up in the land of contradictions, where a traditional way of living juxtaposed a modern, Western lifestyle,” she said. “Those contradictions manifested in the landscape surrounding me, the historical against the contemporary, with layers of change and transformation.”
Immigration to a new country profoundly impacts her imagery.
“In my paintings, I examine the relationship between memories and the external landscape,” she said. “My Iranian background and my Canadian experience have had an enormous influence on my works. They inspired a negotiation between the modern and the ancient, the old and the new, the West and the East. Ancient ruins and Persian architecture play a pivotal role, too. They have enabled me to express the conflict and the negotiation process that often exists between two different cultures or societies. While the ruins speak of a mysterious, pure and mystical past, they also illustrate the corrosive effect of time and modernity, the constant reconfiguration of a country’s landscape, architecture and culture. The dripping paint in many of my pictures also illuminates the process of renewal. The old slides down, while the new grows over it. My paintings attempt to form a bridge between the past and the present.”
Two of the paintings particularly stand out. “The Magical Carpet” is a collage, full of the whimsical patterns, warm hues and bright shapes of a traditional eastern bazaar, with the artist’s customary ruins in the background.
Another painting, “Letters from Beyond”, with its strong punch of red paint, uses fragments of writing that are wholly imaginary. “The language and the letters in that writing don’t belong to any nation,” Abdollahi said. “I created it because I believe that we are all the same people. We should have no borders and no different languages separating us. That’s why I wanted to have a show here, at the Jewish Community Centre. I feel like my art is a link that connects us all.”
Abdollahi’s works can be found in private collections in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Creativity manifests itself in people’s lives in different ways and at different times. For Enda Bardell, various forms of art occupied her for decades, while Mike Cohene discovered woodcarving only a few years ago, on his way to retirement. Their double show, Artistry in Wood and Water, opened at the Zack Gallery on July 26.
Bardell told the Independent that she was born in Estonia. In 1944, when she was a young child, her family fled from Estonia, then occupied by the Nazis, to Sweden. Her mother worked at a paper factory there, and Bardell played with paper dolls she made herself. She also drew all the dolls’ colourful outfits. “I gave the dolls away to other girls, to make friends,” she recalled. “My first attempts at fashion design.”
A few years later, the family was forced to move again. The Russian communist government wanted the return of all the Estonians who had escaped the Nazis during the war, and Sweden was going to comply with that demand. But Bardell’s father didn’t want to live in communist Russia, so they became refugees again, this time ending up in Canada.
“In 1951, we came to Winnipeg,” said Bardell. “I went to school there and I desperately wanted to fit in. To belong. To be Canadian. I participated in many school clubs and activities. Entered an art class, too. My teacher praised me and recommended that I send one of my drawings to an interschool art competition. I did. And I won. I knew then that I was an artist.”
Interested in landscapes and abstracts, Bardell painted a lot as a teenager, but, after her high school graduation, she became deeply involved in fabric art. “I sold my batiks at craft fairs and house parties. People liked them, and someone suggested I should open my own store,” she said. “I did. I designed lots of different textile objects: skirts, pillowcases, aprons, etc. I felt that I needed a business course, in addition to my art education, so I took it. My store was very successful.”
But, as soon as the store achieved that success, running it lost its challenges. “I became bored,” said Bardell. “It was time for a change.”
She sold the store and did many other things in her professional life. “I always want to try something new, something I’ve never tried before. At one time or another, I was a lamp designer. I worked in banking. I was a realtor. I designed costumes for the Vancouver movie industry,” she said.
She also traveled a lot. “I have visited 38 countries. I like adventures, like it when I can’t speak the tongue. Then I have to express myself through body language. I have to be creative,” she said.
Art always shimmered on the periphery of her life, a constant creative supplement to her various commercial careers. First, abstract oils and acrylics, and, later, watercolours. Painting eventually metamorphosed into the focus of her existence. In the past two decades, she has participated in multiple solo and group exhibitions in Canada and abroad. In 2008, she even participated in an art show in her native Estonia, the Estonian Art in Exile exhibition at KUMU, the National Museum of Art in Tallinn. KUMU acquired one of her acrylic abstracts for their permanent collection; another of her paintings is in the Tartu Art Museum in Estonia. Her paintings are represented by many local galleries.
The current exhibition at the Zack is the result of a trip Bardell took to Yukon shortly before the COVID pandemic temporarily closed all travel. “My son lives in Yukon,” she said. At his prompting, she applied and was granted residency for one month at Ted Harrison Cabin in 2018. “We hired an RV and traveled there for two weeks,” she said. “Yukon was amazing: mountains, rivers, lakes. The place resonated with me. I took 1,400 photos during our travels. Based on the selection from those photos, I painted 40 watercolour pieces during my stay at the cabin. It was a privilege to stay in that wonderful place, especially because I had met Ted previously.”
Many of Bardell’s paintings in this series involve rivers and lakes. “I like water,” she said. “I have always lived on the water, except for one year in Winnipeg. I swim year-round here, summer and winter. Sometimes, I have seals swimming with me. It feels magical.”
When she submitted her Yukon series to the Zack Gallery, it was accepted, on the condition that it would be a double show, as gallery exhibitions must have a Jewish connection. Bardell’s Jewish connection became Mike Cohene, a local woodcarver. His colourful carved fish complement perfectly Bardell’s watercolours of Yukon’s rivers and lakes.
Unlike Bardell, Cohene didn’t do anything artistic until 2009. “I had a solid clothing business,” he said. “Awhile back, I started thinking about retiring and selling the business.”
In the summer of 2009, Cohene visited Steveston Farmers Market. “They had a booth of the Richmond Carvers Society – I thought their works were outstanding,” he said. “I always whittled but I never considered myself artistic. I started talking to the man in the booth, expressing my admiration. He said anyone could learn to do it. He invited me to come to the club meeting in September. I went.”
Since that day, he has learned a lot about the artistry and the technique of woodcarving. His journey began with woodcarving classes at the society. Later, he took a course at Emily Carr University of Art + Design and enrolled in carving workshops.
“My first carving was a bear cub,” he said. “Then I made a dolphin. Then I started carving fish and birds…. I’ve always been a fisherman, but I never studied fish anatomy before. I caught a fish and tossed it into a bucket. Now, I catch a fish and study it: the fins, the tail, the scales, how the colours change. I look at fish from a new perspective.”
In 2017, Cohene participated in his first two-artist exhibition at the Zack Gallery, with photographer Joanne Emerman. Since then, his art has become even more refined. “I learned more sophisticated techniques and tools,” he said. “I got several residencies in B.C. and Oregon.” Three years ago, he began teaching woodcarving to other Richmond Carvers Society members.
To create his wooden creatures as life-like as possible, Cohene uses various reference materials. “Mostly I use my own photographs,” he said. “When other people photograph wildlife, they give it their own interpretation, but I want to follow my own vision.”
His statues of fish include rocks and corals, all carefully carved and painted in bright, realistic colours. “Sometimes, one statue takes up to 20 coats of paint – different wood parts absorb paint with different intensity,” he explained.
He also uses tree branches as mounting blocks – they are not carved, just sawed off, polished and lacquered. “I only use dead wood for my statues. I often walk along the beach and pick up interesting pieces of driftwood. I’ve never harmed even one living tree,” he said.
Recently, Cohene has started exploring First Nation carving. The motifs attract him, and he has several pieces on display at the gallery, including two decorative oars.
He also creates Judaica – mezuzot, chanukiyot and dreidels – some of which can be seen at the gallery. Cohene has been to Israel 34 times. “Once, I brought 12 kilograms of olive wood with me from Israel, and I make many of my Judaica pieces from the reclaimed Israeli wood,” he said. “Olive wood has such a beautiful texture. And dreidels are fun to make.”
Whatever he works on, Cohene always gives it his all. “For me,” he said, “woodcarving is a form of self-fulfillment.”
Nathan and Sidi Schaffer at the opening of their photography exhibit at the Zack Gallery June 22. (photo from the artists)
Painter, printmaker and mixed media artist Sidi Schaffer has a new show at the Zack Gallery – a photography exhibit with one of her sons, Nathan Schaffer. Eye Love Nature invites viewers to see the beauty and wonders of the natural world, and for us to recognize the dangers we pose to it.
Rather than nature as something separate, we see ourselves in the Schaffers’ photos. Sometimes, the animals are doing something that we enjoy doing, like the three whales in Nathan’s “Family Swim,” only their fins visible in the misty ocean. Other times, we can empathize with what a tree has endured, but also our part in hurting it, as in Sidi’s “Embraced and Loved,” which shows a gnarled tree not only tightly wrapped by a vine, but also scarred by the initials, including a pair in a heart, that many people have carved into it.
The titles of some of the photos bring a smile, but also a sense of responsibility. The overall feeling of the exhibit, however, is uplifting, hopeful.
“I have a fondness for word play and puns as a way of expressing humour. I find it helps keep a positive environment when interacting with others and, at times, deal with sensitive issues in a less threatening manner,” Nathan told the Independent. “Artistically, my goal is to engage the audience both visually and with language. ‘The Pepsi Challenge’ [in which two horses tussle over a Pepsi cup] in my mind ‘can’didly raises concerns about human garbage and pollution straight from the ‘horse’s mouth,’ so to speak. In ‘I’m Stumped,’ there is also a bit of fishing line on the stump under the bird’s foot – again a reminder that human pollution is unfortunately prevalent in the lives of wildlife and sometimes it can feel like we are stumped trying to deal with it.”
Eye Love Nature is the first photography exhibit for both Schaffers. Sidi said, “as I age, I wanted to see my photos on a gallery wall and share our joy creating them with the people in the community.” Nathan writes in his artist’s statement: “I very much hope the viewers enjoy the photos and that positive emotions arise and carry forth.”
Both Schaffers thanked Zack Gallery director Hope Forstenzer and the selection committee, as well as their friends and family, “for providing guidance and supporting this,” said Nathan, who works as a psychiatrist treating adults at a community mental health clinic.
“The resilience of many patients inspires me to search for strength and marvel at beauty in nature,” he said. “I often recommend spending time in nature as a way of reducing distress from inner turmoil, both to patients and family. I also enjoy my photography as a way of expressing latent artistic interests, as I haven’t improved my drawing beyond a rudimentary level. It is a counterweight to the stress associated with my work.”
For Sidi, who is a career artist, the skills involved in painting/printmaking and photography overlap to some extent.
“The combination of a good eye and imagination can help in both forms of art expression,” she said. “[But] the trigger when taking a photo is coming from outside. It is your sudden surprise of what your eye sees in front of you at a certain moment, in a certain light or shadow. It can be a landscape, people or clouds in the sky. It can be a design that the power of nature created on a tree bark, or a gentle breeze moving the petals of a flower. You can be enchanted by a flower’s seeds that hide themselves from the elements.
“As compared to painting or printmaking, with photography, it’s presented to you, you only have to look and explore,” she said. “When I am in front of a canvas or paper, it’s usually in front of a white surface that waits for my imagination, for my expression of freedom to choose the subject or design that comes from inside me. It takes me even more into my inner self, into a world that brings me satisfaction, reflection and peace. Physically, painting is more challenging; my whole body is involved in the making. I love both mediums and hope to combine them in my mixed media works.”
While Eye Love Nature is Sidi’s first photography exhibit, she has been a photographer since childhood. Sidi was born in Romania – her mother studied photography before the Second World War.
“After the war, coming back home from the camps, my parents opened a photo studio,” said Sidi. “From then on, even as a little girl, I immersed myself in their world. I assisted my father in the dark room; I helped colour the black and white photos with watercolour. I learned from my mom how to touch up the negatives. Today, we would call it Photoshop. In my later years, here in Canada, at the University of Alberta, in addition to painting and printmaking, I also studied photography. I will always be thankful to my parents, who exposed me to the magic of photography.”
It was Sidi who gave Nathan his first camera when he was young. “But the love of nature, the curiosity, his investigative spirit and his good eye, he developed through his life, step by step,” she said. “He was always surrounded by art and love of the natural beauty of our world.”
When asked if he had been lucky enough to meet his grandparents, Nathan said, “Yes, I have vivid childhood memories of helping them develop negatives in a darkroom with a red light and strong vinegar-like smell. I very much enjoyed spending time with them while watching photos gradually appear during this process.”
Of course, photography has changed much since that time.
“Through the years, I’ve worked on film and in dark rooms,” said Sidi. “With the explosive development in photography these days, I switched very happily to the digital camera. This way, I have a more direct and faster approach to picture taking. My aim is to stay true to what I see and not manipulate the image except maybe to crop or lighten/darken if necessary. We are surrounded by enough fake images and news these days. I want to be far from all that. The truth gives us freedom.”
More than 40 photographs comprise Eye Love Nature.
“For this show, we picked images where we were primarily appreciative observers rather than creators,” said Nathan. “We only attempted to correct minor blemishes, in keeping with our parenting style,” he said with a smile.
There were many candidates for inclusion in the exhibit. “Like in nature, Darwin’s rule of survival of the fittest was the main guiding force,” said Nathan. “Some couldn’t compete due to technical issues such as file size or being unfocused; others lost out due to not being as captivating. Hope, the JCC gallery director, also helped in selecting the final choices.”
As for the choice of where to direct any profits made from the show, the Schaffers have decided to divide them equally between the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
Both organizations, said Nathan, “do their work in what appears to be very different areas; however, they share an important similarity. Cancer is essentially resident cells going rogue and taking over space and resources from the body, thereby putting it in serious danger. Civilization and humans can have a similar destructive impact on nature and wilderness by urban spread and taking of natural resources without limits. Controlling these rogue processes is needed in order to save and heal patients and nature. These organizations share in a mission of tackling some of the major problems we face.”
Eye Love Nature is at the Zack Gallery until July 24.
Esther Rausenberg, artistic and executive director of the Eastside Arts Society. (photo by Wendy D)
Eastside Arts Society (EAS) presents the return of its two-day summer art-making event, CREATE! Arts Festival, taking place at Strathcona Park on July 22 and at various Eastside Arts District studios on July 23.
A community initiative designed to welcome guests to explore, learn and create art together with local artists, CREATE! features a variety of accessible visual and performing arts workshops for adults and youth, including watercolour painting, needle felting, indigo dying, pottery, glass fusing, photography, ukulele, Salish singing and storytelling.
“In addition to a variety of art workshops, demonstrations and public participation art installations, we are also incredibly proud to introduce our brand new festival art shop, featuring a curated selection of arts and crafts all handmade by local artists,” said EAS artistic and executive director Esther Rausenberg, who is a member of the Jewish community.
On July 22, there will be a series of outdoor art-making workshops taught by more than 15 artists who live and/or work in the Eastside Arts District, many of whom will be participating in CREATE! Arts Festival for the first time. Adult and youth workshops will be hosted by Taaye Wong, Tanna Po, Suzan Marczak, Nima Nasiri, Naomi Yamamoto, Niki Holmes, Ross den Otter, Daphne Roubini, Russell Wallace, Jewish community member Naomi Steinberg, Nicole Caspillo, Nathaniel Marchand, Eri Ishii and Chantal Cardinal (FELT à la main with LOVE). A children and youth workshop will be hosted by Amberlie Perkin and an all-abilities workshop by Alternative Creations Studio.
Saturday festivities will also include a general admission CREATE! Art Zone. Art demonstrations include painting, pottery and glass beading from Francis Tiffany, Julia Chirka (summer skool) and members of Terminal City Glass Co-op. Public participation art projects include a life-size colouring mural with Serena Chu of Chu Chu, squeegee art with Joanne Probyn, and the building and performing of two giant crow puppets – in honour of EAS’s unofficial mascot – with Jacquie Rolston. Opus Art Supplies will have a hands-on block carving and printing activation: carve and pull a mini-block print, and contribute to a collaborative printmaking collage.
A selection of local handmade artworks and goods, curated by OH Studio Project, will be available at the festival shop. There will be a fully licensed beer garden, serving beer, cider and wine from Strange Fellows Brewing, as well as an assortment of food from a collection of food trucks, including Earnest Ice Cream, Wak Wak Burger, Mahshiko and Camion Café.
On July 22, the 8th Annual Art! Bike! Beer! Crawl Brewery Tour & Fundraiser will, for the first time, end at the festival grounds.
Activities will move indoors on July 23, connecting participants with art production spaces in neighbouring Eastside studios, with additional art workshops hosted by members of the Terminal City Glass Co-op, Richard Tetrault, Sonya Iwasiuk, Grace Lee (eikcam ceramics) and Naomi Yamamoto.
Workshops are $35 (plus GST) for youth/adults, with the exception of Perkin’s workshop for children/youth at $20 (plus GST); children under the age of 12 must be supervised by an adult. The general public can access festival activities at Strathcona Park for a $5 general admission fee (children under age 12 are free). For full festival details and workshop registration, visit createartsfestival.ca.
Art Downtown festival runs to Sept. 15 in Lot 19 downtown. (photo from Vancouver Visual Art Foundation)
On June 21, Vancouver Visual Art Foundation and Downtown Van (formally, Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association) launched the fourth edition of the outdoor summer festival Art Downtown. Every Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Sept. 15, people can drop by Lot 19 to see a diverse array of artwork from both emerging and established artists, while enjoying live music.
“Art Downtown is more than just an exhibition – it’s a catalyst for artistic expression, fostering an environment where artists can thrive and connect with a broader audience,” said executive director Lisa Wolfin, a member of the Jewish community. “We want to inspire the public to appreciate and engage with the power of art.”
“Aqua,” by Violette Zohar Fiszbaum, who is one of the more than 50 artists participating in the Parker Art Salon exhibit at Pendulum Gallery. (photo from Violette Zohar Fiszbaum)
Pendulum Gallery in downtown Vancouver opened a new show on May 15 – What Moves You – by the Parker Art Salon. More than 50 artists, all having their studios at 1000 Parker St., presented one piece each for their annual exhibition. The art, including paintings, sculpture and photomontage, is inspiring and uplifting, brightening up the space around it.
While the exhibit is already open to visitors, the opening reception, and the launch of an online auction hosted by Waddington’s Auctions, will be held at the gallery on June 8, 6-8 p.m. Fifty percent of the auction proceeds will go to Beedie Luminaries, a scholarship program for students with potential who are facing financial adversity. To further promote the artists, there will be a Parker studios tour on June 10.
The Independent spoke with one of the Jewish artists participating in the show, Violette Zohar Fiszbaum, at Niche Art Gallery on Granville Island. She is one of Niche’s co-founders.
Fiszbaum grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “I studied art as a teenager, but my parents thought you couldn’t make a living at art – they were right, it is tough. They wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer. After I graduated from high school, I studied chemical engineering. I also wanted to study astronomy and quantum physics, but, again, it is not easy to make a living. But it never stopped me. I always did some art and I keep up my interest in quantum physics, too. I read on it even now, when I can’t sleep.”
After she finished university, she went traveling: Europe, Asia, North America. “I studied Tibetan art restoration in Paris and I visited Tibet in the 1990s. Tibetan culture is exotic, yes, but very spiritual. It brought me closer to my Judaism, my spiritual roots. I think all spiritual cultures are connected,” she said.
Fiszbaum studied kabbalah. “I grew up secular,” she said. “My parents survived the Holocaust as children, got married in Israel, and then moved to Brazil. But Judaism came from the inside of me, from my studies and my travels. Zohar is my Hebrew name, and that’s how I sign my paintings.”
She visited Israel many times during her wandering days. One of her travels brought her to Vancouver, and she liked it here so much she decided to stay. “I worked in the movie industry for a time,” she said. “I wanted to act in movies, and I did.”
She also worked a lot at her art, and she continued studying art, as well. “In the last 10 years, I have been teaching art,” she said. “I teach mixed media. In the beginning, I was an assistant at Emily Carr [University of Art + Design]. Lately, I have had my own class at Olympic Village. It is a beautiful room. It faces the water. My students are all adults, and we are having fun together.”
Fiszbaum’s artistic interests are diverse. She plays piano. She dances. She enjoys photography. But, mostly, she paints. “I often paint with some music on. I turn on the music, dance and paint,” she said.
One of her preferred techniques is mixed media. “I like my paintings to have layers, to have a mystery, an intrigue. Using mixed media is like adding an archeological layer to the image, a depth,” she explained. “For example, I saw this old poster in Israel and I incorporated parts of it in one of my abstract paintings.”
Mixed media is also the technique that allows her to be successful at Niche, although commercial art has never been her focus. “I don’t paint just to sell,” she said. “I want to leave something beautiful behind. In the last two years, I sold and donated 100 pieces.”
She sells and markets herself through several venues. “My website, of course, Parker Art Salon, the East Side Culture Crawl – that is huge in Vancouver, the biggest annual art show in town. I use Instagram. Anywhere I go, really. I play tennis and I belong to a tennis club – I sold some of my paintings there. I like swimming, and I sold many of my Swimmers series paintings through my connections with other swimmers. My painting in the Parker Art Salon exhibition is one of my swimmers. I used to be a dancer, and the human body, its movements, always have fascinated me, both in the water and on land.”
But Niche Art Gallery is one of her favourite places. “It started as a pop-up store just before the COVID pandemic,” she explained. “Pop-up is a short-term lease, and it has been popular lately.”
After her pop-up term had expired, she teamed up with a few other artists and opened the gallery. “Many galleries on Granville Island closed during the pandemic, but Niche flourished,” she said.
Besides her paintings, Fiszbaum sells some unusual pieces at Niche, including funky denim caps. Each one is decorated with an assortment of mixed media: snatches of lace, old buttons and zippers, feathers, disassembled toy fragments, even an old phone keyboard. “It is fun to work on them,” she said. “I use only salvaged materials there. Now I want to make denim jackets.”
Fiszbaum likes working on commissions. “I enjoy the challenge,” she said. “I have created paintings to customers’ demands, both in size and in the colour palette. Sometimes, they wanted my paintings to match their couches and curtains; other times, their carpets and pillows; even a vase once. And I did it.”
Among the work for sale at Niche Art Gallery are Fiszbaum’s portraits. She returns to female portraits again and again. “My mother was beautiful, like Cleopatra,” she said. “I keep painting women’s portraits in order to capture her beauty, to share it with everyone.”
The show at Pendulum Gallery runs until June 16. For more information on the artists (who include many Jewish community members) and the auction, and to book your Parker studios tour, visit parkerartsalon.com.
Olga Livshinis a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].