“At Rest” by Dov Glock, mixed media. Glock is one of several Jewish artists participating in this year’s West of Main Art Walk. (from artistsinourmidst.com)
The West of Main Art Walk Preview Exhibition and Sale kicks off at the Roundhouse Community Centre May 18-19. The West of Main Art Walk itself welcomes guests into artists’ studios May 28-29. Among the artists participating are many from the Jewish community, including Michael Abelman, Olga Campbell, Dov Glock, Pnina Granirer and Lauren Morris.
The preview – which is open for visitors 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. both days – features a reception at the Roundhouse on May 19, 7-9 p.m. Preview visitors will be able to buy the work of some of the 80 local artists taking part. There will be paintings, ceramics, jewelry, textiles and photography, as well as free art demos.
Artwork will also be for sale on the walk, which includes studios from Point Grey to Main Street, and from Granville Island to 41st Avenue over the May 28-29 weekend. Dozens more artists are showing their works all under one roof in larger hubs like Aberthau Mansion, Art at Knox and Pacific Arts Market. There, you’ll also find art demonstrations and more. At Lord Byng Mini School for the Arts, you’ll discover young emerging artists.
Also part of the month’s events is the annual (since 2018) Art for All Fundraiser. More than 70 artworks have been donated – and all are on sale for $50 each. Proceeds will go to the art program at Coast Mental Health. Its resource centre’s art room opened in 2000, and is a place where clients discover their creative potential while developing new ways of expressing emotions, healing pain and growing their self-esteem and self-awareness. Supported by volunteers – including clients and professional artists and art instructors – who give their time, feedback and encouragement, clients are able to work in a number of media, including paint and sculpture; supplies are provided. An annual art show brings together the artists, other resource centre members and Coast clients, family and friends and the general public to celebrate their work and their journey towards recovery.
Granirer, who was a co-founder of the very first open studios walk in Vancouver in 1993, is doing something a little different from the main event. On May 18, 7 p.m., at the Roundhouse, she is launching her poetry-art memoir, Garden of Words. (For more on the book, see jewishindependent.ca/poetry-and-painting-flourish.) Some of the paintings featured in the book will be exhibited and the books will be available during the whole time of the preview and at Granirer’s studio during the walk weekend.
During the walk, Granirer is inviting people to her studio, where she will be offering her works for 50% off, with proceeds being donated to Stand up for Mental Health, which has helped people suffering from mental health issues to do away with stigma all over Canada, the United States and Australia.
Artists will be opening their studios from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on May 28 and 29. This is a unique opportunity to meet the artists, enjoy the art and ask questions. More information and the interactive online map can be found at artistsinourmidst.com.
– Courtesy Artists in Our Midst and Pnina Granirer
In DANCE:CRAFT, dancers Heather Dotto and Joey Matt interact with and reinterpret five elements – glass, metal, wood, fibre and ceramics – created by B.C. crafts artists. (photo by Michael Slobodian)
After years of development, DANCE:CRAFT will see its world première May 20-22, 7 p.m., at the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre. Among the craftspeople who contributed their creativity to the show is Hope Forstenzer, a glassworks artist, who also happens to be the director of the Gertrude and Sidney Zack Gallery.
“I was asked to be part of the project in October of 2016 and, at the time, the thinking was that it would take about two years to develop,” Forstenzer told the Independent. “It wound up taking longer than that for lots of reasons – I think one of the primary dancers went on maternity leave and, then, right as the project was about to begin rehearsals, COVID shut everything down.
“Initially, Joe [Laughlin] and I had all kinds of discussions and brainstorming sessions about ways to incorporate pieces into the dance. We rethought quite a bit of it when we started up again, and we wound up with some very interesting stuff that was quite different in some ways than we originally imagined. I think it’s going to be quite a bit different than any of us originally thought – the world isn’t what it was in October 2016.”
DANCE:CRAFT is described as “an exploration of two dancers interacting with numerous craft objects in a reconfigured theatre setting. It’s craft seen through the lens of dance and remixed, a look at our relationship to objects, creating and interacting with them.”
Presented by Joe Ink – which is led by Laughlin – and SFU Woodward’s Cultural Programs, DANCE:CRAFT also features five virtual reality films that give viewers a look into the artists’ studios.
“I’ve made six large blown glass rock-like pieces with lights inside of them, a large acrylic box full of glass balls, and 12 hanging cylinders in various sizes,” said Forstenzer.
The whole creative endeavour began as a research project focusing on dance and art. Laughlin conceived of the concept and the dancers are Heather Dotto and Joey Matt. They worked with five B.C. artists, facilitated by the Craft Council of British Columbia, curators of the show. In addition to Forstenzer, Stefanie Dueck (metal), Patrick Christie (wood), Deborah Dumka (fibre) and Debra E. Sloan (ceramics) provide the five elements that the dancers and Laughlin reinterpret.
“I have been thinking about the earth, the environment, the elements, evolution, geography, migration and humans,” says Laughlin in the press release. “The tactile sensation of handmade objects juxtaposed with the ephemeral quality of the dancing body triggers a memory experience. Being immersed in an environment and watching the body respond to texture and colour is what anchors us in time and space. We are looking for connections between communities and the natural world, geography and the human family.”
Laughlin added, “The process for creating a dancer incorporates fibre, sinew, muscle, bone, water, pressure, agitation and repetition. Craft is a transformative process that incorporates stone, fibre, wood, metal, water, pressure, agitation and repetition.”
DANCE:CRAFT asks audiences to consider, “How do objects further extend the language of the body and its narrative possibilities?”
“I come from a theatre background and have done a great deal of work with dancers and actors,” said Forstenzer in contemplating this question. “Objects – props, costumes, sets, and all things like them – become part of a performance completely. A knife becomes part of an arm, to use for harmless or harmful purposes; a table becomes a second stage if someone stands on it; a mask hides a face. The best performances use performers, environments and objects to tell a story fully. I think what we’ll see with DANCE:CRAFT is a full storytelling collaboration, in which the artists have given works to Joe, and he has created a story to tell with them.
“This has been a fun project to work on,” she continued. “It’s not that often you get to do a collaboration like this. I’m really excited to be part of it.”
Tickets for the performance are $30 ($25 for students and seniors) and they can be purchased at eventbrite.ca.
Art Vancouver returns after a two-year COVID-imposed hiatus. Artists and galleries from across Canada and the United States – as well as from countries including Argentina, Cuba, Iran, Kenya, Mexico, Taiwan and Zimbabwe – are scheduled to exhibit at the Vancouver Convention Centre May 5–8. Several of the artists are members of the Jewish community, and they spoke with the Independent about their art and the return of the event.
The international fair, first held in 2015, is the main annual event of the Vancouver Visual Art Foundation, which was formed in 2017. The foundation has not let the pandemic quash its momentum.
“The creation of Art Downtown was introduced as a safe space during COVID, where people could have a place to get out and enjoy arts and culture,” Art Vancouver founder Lisa Wolfin told the Independent.
The summer outdoor festival invites artists to create art in various public spaces in downtown Vancouver. People can come and see the creative process in action and speak with the artists. The artists’ works are exhibited, and available for purchase.
“There is an area where people can sit down, get their hands full of colour and learn how to make art at no cost, as this is sponsored by Opus Art Supplies, giving people an opportunity to try things they may have never done before,” said Wolfin. “Live music is part of the festival. Each week, there are two new musicians, including singers, guitarists, bands, and duets, in all genres.”
During the pandemic, the foundation also offered online art classes. Since the easing of health restrictions, in-studio classes have started.
“People from all over B.C., Canada, the United States, Costa Rica, and as far away as Australia, [have] registered for the classes,” she said. “The instructors are professional local artists, teaching in a variety of different styles – florals, landscapes, abstract, graphite, neurographic, impressionism and figurative are some of the subjects demonstrated, with acrylics, watercolours, oils, markers, palette knives and metallics … [being] some of the materials we use.”
Wolfin herself has taken more than 100 classes over the last two years.
“There are stations all over my art studio with different mediums waiting to be experimented with,” she said. “In every class I took, I received a golden nugget that has added to my repertoire and moved my work in a different direction…. Each instructor had their own style and colours that they preferred, which took me out of my comfort zone and back to kindergarten to start all over again, being open to trying new things.
“Neurographic art is a new direction my work has shifted into,” she continued. “Russian psychologist Pavel Piskarev coined the term neurography, or neurographica, in 2014 – it helps us engage more neurons. By this, he specifies how using the simplest tools to draw, through this technique, is a link between conscious and unconscious. This connection is made by the brain cells called neurons being activated in a way that brings forth awareness and mindfulness…. This is a healing project for people of all ages, no artistic abilities are required, only the interest in creating an artwork that is not only intuitive but greatly beneficial to our emotional and calming states…. Neurographical art is a way to transform the stress, fear and chaos of our world into something more calming and peaceful. Art is always about expression and finding that inner peace.”
While still undecided about exactly which art pieces she’ll be showing at Art Vancouver, Wolfin described a new tree series she has been working on.
“I start out with acrylics using bright colours instead of the neutral and natural colours found in nature, including various mediums and acrylics because they create more depth and richness to my work, which is meant to be more realistic,” she explained. “Life is colourful. I look deeply into the forests and feel the colours, then transfer what I pick up onto the canvas. Next, I add Posca paint pens, dabbing colours all over the canvas for an added dimension. Then I go over the canvas with oil pastels and add another texture to it. The pastels skip over the gaps in the weave, leaving little dots of another medium. Lastly, a layer of resin is poured over the canvas and spread out to create a luscious thick layer of gloss which intensely brings out the layers of the colours, making the colours pop.”
She also has been creating florals with KrinkNY paint markers. “Because the tips are much thicker than a paintbrush, I have had to loosen up and go with the flow of the paint,” she said. “This paint mixes with itself when you go over it and it gets wet again. You can blend as you paint, and it is a challenge to get what you think you want [based on the] traditional way of painting.”
Artist Sky Lilah also has used the pandemic years to branch out. “I am continually striving to do something new,” she said. “Over the past few years, I have started to teach online art classes, for youth and adults. I have done a series of abstracts with the theme being on consciousness. For Art Vancouver 2022, I am doing a new series of mixed media, with the focus on love, thoughtfulness and manifestation. I have also been spending more time creating a unique fashion line and hand-painted clothes.”
The work she’ll be bringing to Art Vancouver is a new style of mixed media, she said, “with the focus being on my family – making unique pieces based on each member, including components from their past, present and future. I am fascinated by time and consciousness and how our minds create our reality.”
In addition to her art, Lilah will be bringing to Art Vancouver a personal development workbook that “includes self-awareness exercises and creative exercises to help one further develop themselves and live their best life,” she said.
“My personal development practice always influences my style of artwork,” she added. “The constant strengthening of my creative muscle, I believe, helps me in all areas of life.”
Lilah is excited by Art Vancouver’s return.
“I love the thrill of prepping for a show, and the impact that the show has on the community is so rewarding. It is always a pleasure to connect with each attendee and hear different perspectives from the art world.”
“When creating the pieces for the Art Vancouver exhibition, I was on Cloud 9,” said Taisha Teal, explaining the title of one of her series of works.
“When I create art, I am in the flow,” she said. “I am in a meditative state where time does not exist. On Cloud 9 has a deeper meaning – of being in another space in time, in the ninth dimension of pure bliss and happiness. When I am in the studio, I am at peace. There is no stress. It is where the magic happens. My name, Taisha, also means number nine in Hebrew; so the title felt pretty perfect.”
During the pandemic, Teal said, “I had the chance to really experiment with new materials and the courage to play around with no judgment.”
The Naked Line Ladies, also known as her “sparkle ladies,” are women in her life “promoting body positivity and female empowerment,” said Teal. Reminders, she said, “that you’re beautiful no matter what, and your body is the only one you’ve got…. We’re embracing our uniqueness, celebrating who we are.”
About her Spraypainted Hearts series, Teal said, “Infinite hearts, infinite strength. There is enough love to go around.”
And the Abstract Alcohol Ink collection is dedicated to her travels. “During this pandemic, I have felt very stuck,” she said. “I have been reminiscing about the places I’ve been and the colours I’ve felt along the way. This abstract series has really helped my mental health in overcoming the chaos in this pandemic. Not having to create the perfect realistic image, I use colours and gestural marks to create a piece that resembles places I have been.”
Artist Monica Gewurz also has been doing more abstract work over the pandemic, focusing more on the feelings generated by the landscape than its literal appearance.
“During the lockdown,” she said, “I continued to explore new techniques and tools, incorporating heavy textures and thin veils, to capture moments that uplift and refresh. We have all been held back from so many important things in life and, hopefully, these paintings can bring some uplifting and beauty to people’s lives.”
Gewurz is planning on bringing a new collection of more than 30 works to Art Vancouver.
“I paint primarily in acrylic,” she said, “but combine this with a variety of other media such as gesso, mediums, glazes and inks. I also like to use materials that excite me, like gold leaf and unusual acrylic mediums.”
During the pandemic, Gewurz said she has taken several online courses and “successfully increased the number of virtual juried exhibitions in B.C. and the U.S.” She also has “participated in numerous art shows conveying the climate change and our large carbon footprint in our planet. I am now being recognized as an eco-artist in the U.S.,” she said.
The environment is a top concern for Gewurz. For example, a piece of hers, “Ebbing,” was chosen for “the label of Safe Haven fortified wine of the 40 Knots winery,” she told the Independent in an April 2020 interview. “A portion of the wine sales goes to support salmon habitat restoration. I donated the artwork.”
Gewurz is one of 11 artists – with her painting “SOS” – in the year-long touring exhibit Diving In: The Art of Cleaning Lakes and Oceans’ Art Tour, an environmental art campaign initiated by the Sea to Sky Arts Council Alliance with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans, Return-It and local artists. It showcases “stunning pieces of art by selected artists created from a range of objects recovered through clean-up dives at local lakes and ocean sites.”
For a professional artist, said Gewurz, “it is important to exhibit at high-calibre international art exhibition shows. Art Vancouver provides me with a platform to display my works as well as sell them – this will be my fifth time exhibiting there.”
Grateful for the opportunity, she said, “To showcase my work in person was something I truly took for granted. Over these last few years, I have found a new appreciation and gratitude for events like this. To be able to connect, converse and exhibit amongst other creative people in my hometown is such a great opportunity.”
Given the continuing pandemic, safety won’t be lost in the excitement.
“We have a larger room in the Convention Centre West building so we can create a safe, socially distanced exhibition with more space between the aisles,” said Wolfin, acknowledging the work of the women-led organizing team of the event and the many volunteers.
The art exhibit is but one of the weekend’s activities. There will be a talk on non-fungible tokens (NFTs), for instance.
“There will be a whole section with NFTs for people to enjoy and learn about this whole new direction in the arts,” said Wolfin. “Art classes are going to feature non-traditional art mediums so anyone interested can try their hand in art…. Opening night starts off with The Face of Art, our runway show that puts a face to the artwork. Friday night will have an all-new art game feature – teams of three people will compete with each other for one hour to build a sculpture out of Lego…. Saturday night is Art Masters, a one-hour painting competition where the artists are given a theme and one hour to create using non-traditional tools, as there are no paintbrushes included!”
Some of Tara Pawson’s Human Beams. (photo from Tara Pawson)
Tara Pawson’s fascination with glass began when she was in high school.
“My dad was a welder,” she said. “He would bring home some metal pieces, and I would fabricate some garden art in our garage. Then, I got a birthday present – a weeklong class of glass-blowing – and I knew that was what I wanted to do with my life. Before that class, I was planning to go to a culinary school after graduation. After it, nothing else but glass.”
Pawson’s solo show, Human Beams, opened on March 22 at the Zack Gallery.
“Glass is a fascinating medium,” Pawson told the Independent. “It combines all the elements: air, fire, wood, metal, water. It is labour-intensive and demanding, and the results are beautiful and fragile. There is a contradiction there.”
Pawson enjoys the process of glass-blowing – despite its inherent danger. “It’s like a game to me,” she said. “I’m not afraid of getting hurt. I have been once or twice, but I love doing it all the same…. When a piece is finished, I always want to do it again, in a different way.”
She loves the functionality of glass, its accessibility to everyone in the forms of glassware or candelabras. “I’m not drawn to huge installations. I want to make art for the people,” she said, “for their homes and their hearts.”
Pawson doesn’t have a classical art education, but she has taken many workshops in a wide variety of glass-blowing techniques over the years. “I apprenticed and I learned,” she said.
At 21, she found a job with Robert Held Art Glass.
“The company created giftware and home decor,” she said. “I learned a great deal there. It was a full-time job, and I did everything: glass-blowing, sales, cleaning. I stayed with them for about eight years. During the week, I worked for the company, but on the weekends, they allowed me to use their glass-blowing equipment, and I started making things for myself.”
Then she moved to a company that created glass light fixtures. “There, I learned to work with a different type of glass, different styles, different process,” she said.
About six years ago, Pawson decided to become an independent glass artist. “After my youngest son was born, it was time,” she said. “I wanted to make my own hours and [have] no commute to work, so I could spend more time with my family.”
For the equipment, she joined Terminal City Glass Coop and rents time when it suits her schedule. She makes some unique artworks.
“I make glass gifts and I make memorial pieces that are very popular,” she said. “Those memorial keepsakes are small glass baubles – hearts or orbs or coins – which incorporate tiny amounts of cremains within the glass matrix. The result is a treasured heirloom. I can make them for several family members, so they will always have a keepsake to remember their loved ones. People love them. One client of mine said she always wanted to travel with her father. After he died, she took the glass marble with his ashes on her travels, so he was with her everywhere. This way, she had no problems with customs – an urn with his ashes might be much harder to pass through customs.”
Pawson’s giftware includes vases and glasses, paperweights and funky little “monsters,” candleholders and Christmas ornaments. She sells her glass in several stores in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, as well as online, through her website and her Etsy shop. She is also an active participant in many seasonal markets. Recently, she created a new collection of glass beams, which are included in her current show at the Zack.
“My mother passed away shortly before the COVID lockdown started,” Pawson explained. “I was dealing with my grief and I felt alone in the pandemic. Everything was closed. So I started working on these glass pieces. They helped me process my grief. I thought, maybe I could share it, help others. I never had an art show before. I started asking around how to go about it, whom to approach. I know Hope [Forstenzer] through the Terminal City Glass Coop. I asked for her advice, and she said: ‘Why don’t you apply at the JCC? We have a gallery there.’ I did. This is my first show.”
The show at the Zack, where Forstenzer is director, displays three distinct lines: Human Beams glassware, Thought Towers sculptures and Pearls of Light wall decorations. The Human Beams series works are tall cylindrical glasses of different colours, decorated with mandalas.
“The cylinders start as dark shadowy forms and flow into the bright beams of light,” Pawson said. “They reflect the timeline of the dark days, when the trauma begins, and grow organically towards the light days, when you find peace.”
She explained the symbolism of a mandala, which “represents the universe in Hinduism and Buddhism,” she said. “Their circular design without beginnings or ends is a symbol of a spiritual journey. They illustrate the events, memories and thoughts we have when the emotion of grief consumes us. Some days are darker than others, but, with time, work and support, we learn to ride those waves…. I hand-carved every mandala on every glass. It took me about four hours for each mandala. I think I’m done with them for awhile.”
The Thought Towers are sculptural compositions, orbs of various sizes and colours growing like a tree out of each other. The lighter, bigger orbs echo lighter emotions, like hope or joy, but they are always interspaced with small dark orbs of desperation, guilt or anger. “The Thought Towers convey a spectrum of emotions,” said Pawson. “As we deal with grief, we have good days and bad days. Anything could trigger a crippling emotional response – a song, an image, a TV episode. But we have to remember that good days always follow the bad ones.”
And then, there are the Pearls, each one hand-formed, each a complex and beautiful glass tablet. “Each one is a person or an event we encounter in our daily lives,” Pawson said. “Pearls of Light, or Baily’s Beads, are a phenomenon seen during a sun eclipse. These spots of light encircle the moon. They resemble a string of luminous beads, visible immediately before and after a total eclipse. They are the people around us, our family and friends.”
Pawson’s exhibit is on display until April 28. For more information about her and her work, visit her website, tarapawson.com.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
New docent program at the Zack gets underway. (photo from Zack Gallery)
Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery director Hope Forstenzer recently instituted a new docent program, to train guides for the art gallery.
“I came up with the idea of creating a group of volunteer docents for the gallery right after I got here, which means right before the pandemic,” Forstenzer told the Independent.
Unfortunately, the pandemic made it impossible to implement the idea at that time, and the initiative only became reality in the past few months.
“My job as the gallery director is only half-time,” Forstenzer said. “Even when I’m working, I’m frequently in meetings or visiting studios or doing other work that takes me away from engaging the people in the gallery. I created the docent program to make sure the gallery was staffed with friendly and available faces, with people who knew about the shows, could make sales, and could answer questions.”
Initially, about a dozen people responded to her invitation to become volunteer docents at the Zack. “Some dropped out for various reasons as we were getting underway,” she said. “Others have come along since.
Currently, we have six docents on our active roster.”
Before the docents could perform their assigned duties, they needed a certain amount of training on the gallery rules and procedures.
“The docents each attended two training sessions, both lasting about an hour,” said Forstenzer. “Sometimes, we’d do the whole training in one session, but it varied. The second training shift was usually about our sales system, which isn’t difficult, but isn’t something most of the docents have seen or used before. In the first training session, I explained what their responsibilities were, we discussed scheduling, and I’d either show them how to use our sales system or invite them back to learn it on a different day…. Then they did a shift with me in the gallery as backup. Then they were ready to go.”
The first docent started at the Zack last October. “Some of them have taken breaks due to the Omicron,” said Forstenzer, “but others have stayed throughout.”
She has lots of plans for her volunteer docents. “The primary purpose of having the docents in the gallery right now is to have a knowledgeable and friendly presence that welcomes visitors,” she said. “They can also make sales. As the restrictions due to COVID lift (hopefully), the docents will also help me run events in the gallery, both for kids and for adult groups. Eventually, I hope they’ll be able to run some of these events themselves. We might even schedule some docent-led viewings of shows.”
At the moment, most docents do one shift a week, each shift three or four hours long, but Forstenzer is flexible about that. “Some do two shifts a week. Some split their shifts and go for a swim or a workout in the middle and then come back. It is up to them, and I create a schedule based on their availability and the gallery’s needs.”
She added that all the docents take their volunteering seriously. “If someone can’t make their shift, they let me know,” she said. “If I can cover it, I will. If not, the gallery won’t have a docent that day.”
The docents vary widely in age and experience. Some are students. Others are retirees or people participating in various community centre programs. Gail Bloom shared with the Independent a bit about herself and why she became a docent at the gallery.
Bloom worked as a city planner in San Francisco. “I studied city planning in college and then worked as a practising planner,” she said. “I love cities and was interested in public utilities. My chief role for over a dozen years was sorting out public financing of major infrastructure projects in San Francisco. It was very satisfying to see the fruition of that work across the city.”
She retired about 20 years ago. “My home is still in the Bay Area. I live there with my husband, and my son’s family also live nearby, but, last fall, I came to Vancouver for an extended winter visit with my daughter – she lives here and teaches at Emily Carr.”
Bloom, who turns 70 this month, has been volunteering in many fields since her retirement. “I lead the Board of Children’s Book Project and presently serve on a regional public health agency at the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District,” she said. “I have also enjoyed working on state, local and federal election campaigns, mentoring youths, and helping with the major fundraising event for the Oakland Museum of California.”
She has always been interested in art. “I love cities, as I said, and the museums are a big part of that – especially art museums. In the last couple months, I visited the Vancouver Art Gallery and a small community gallery at the Deep Cove Cultural Centre. There is a show at the VAG now that I’d recommend – Emily Carr and Edith Heath. Heath was a local San Francisco ceramic artist; she started her iconic tile and pottery company out of her little apartment in San Francisco in the ’40s.”
Of course, when she visited the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver for the first time, the Zack Gallery attracted her. “As I’m interested in the arts personally and enjoy art museums, their new docent program seemed like a good fit,” she said. “And my family were thrilled that I found the gallery and something meaningful to do with my time. Now, I’m at the gallery every week. My docent days are Mondays.”
Besides volunteering, Bloom takes advantage of several other programs the JCC offers. “The aquatics program is pretty great,” she said. “I also attended several sessions of the book fair last month, and I just started watching VJFF [Vancouver Jewish Film Festival]. I’m fortunate to have time to participate in them all.”
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Community Longing and Belonging is a community art show in celebration of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month. It opened at the Zack Gallery on Feb. 14.
Curated by Leamore Cohen, inclusion services coordinator at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, the fourth annual exhibit once again considers the questions, 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?
Many of the pieces on display were made by artists from JCC Art Hive, a free and low-barrier program for artists with diverse needs. The collection comprises the work of diverse artists, with different levels of experience, perspective, faith and social location.
One of those featured is award-winning artist and writer Sandra Yuen, who is a member of Kickstart Disability Arts and Culture. Her piece, “Exploded,” is based on the prose of Derrick Bauman, an artist and writer, and influenced by pop art, Roy Lichtenstein, and graphic design. In her artist’s statement, Yuen writes, “As a person with schizophrenia, I wanted to express the fractured mind, the cut edges, the shattering of my life experience because of mental illness. However, this rendition is more a poetic image versus the cruel reality of living in madness, paranoia, hysteria and anger. The colours are sweet, the black lines clean and sharp, creating a mythological or romanticized view of insanity. I try to whitewash my life, sanitize the pain out of it, deny the diagnosis, but the illness remains, the weakness, the flaws, the humanity.”
Mike Levin’s “Waiting for the Train” is about being shrouded in darkness, yet feeling the abundance of sunshine not far away. It is a metaphor for the continued longing for COVID to end so that we can get back to normal living.
Levin’s paintings are often abstractions of nature or city life that conform to structure of composition. They are amalgamations conjured from his imagination, photos he has taken and memories of his experience of exploring.
Growing up in Calgary, Levin has practised art from a young age, and also plays clarinet and saxophone. He attended the University of Calgary’s fine arts and urban studies programs and, after moving to Vancouver, completed his bachelor’s degree in fine arts at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in 2020.
For the past 20 years, Levin has lived with schizo-affective disorder, which he controls through medication and being active in the arts and mental health communities. He has taught drawing and painting at Vancouver General Hospital, the Art Studios, Gallery Gachet and privately within the community; he also works part-time in carpentry. His art has been sold in Canada and the United States to more than 70 private collectors.
Mark Li is a Vancouver-based visual artist whose narrative-focused work creates a whimsical world filled with colour and imagination, as his untitled work in this exhibit shows. Every painting is a tale of friendship and acts of kindness: a bear might be best friends with a cat; a T-Rex smiles with shy humour and sweetness at the viewer; a lady bug and a cat might go dancing in the sunlight; a simple walk in the park with a friend and his dog is a delightful adventure – anything could happen and they could meet anyone.
Rickie Sugars’ “Like Minded” is an example of his unique style of painting in abstract cubism expressionism, using bold colours and black outlines.
A seasoned professional artist, Sugars had his first gallery showing, and sold his first painting, at the age of 17. Since then, he has displayed and sold his art in several galleries and art shows throughout British Columbia.
Sugars is a classical animation graduate from Vancouver Film School. He started creating animated characters well before graduation, resulting in a partnership in an animation company that went on for many years. Continuing his artistic path, he began tattooing in 2004 and has his own tattoo shop. He also designs sculptures created from broken toys.
A few years ago, during an attempt to assist a woman who was being attacked, Sugars received a traumatic brain injury. He had to re-learn everything, including how to talk – however, it did not stop his artistic endeavours. Today, you will find Sugars painting on canvass (or any surface, really), crafting stickers, postcards, wall murals, sand and wood sculptures, and interior/exterior commissioned graffiti.
“My artwork is influenced by media, fads, plus social, political and cultural issues,” he writes in his artist statement. He wants viewers “to look past the obvious, to treasure and celebrate the unique, the unconventional, the familiar: and to be nonjudgmental. Respect others and support them for who they are. Find the beauty in broken toys, an old door, a broken guitar – take time to look more carefully at things around you and you’ll discover beauty in unusual places.”
Another of the artists contributing to the Community Longing and Belonging exhibit is Adrianne Fitch.
Born in Kew Gardens, Queens, N.Y., Fitch studied English and writing at Pennsylvania State University and has traveled all over the world, including living and studying in Israel. She has lived in Vancouver since 2008 and pursues a number of other art forms. She is also a writer and desktop publisher.
“Having lived with a hearing disability and also struggled with depression all my life,” she writes, “I definitely know what it means to feel isolated. As hearing loss is invisible, people frequently make assumptions about me (e.g. they think I’m stupid, stoned or purposely ignoring them). As I did not begin learning ASL until adulthood, I occupy that grey area between the hearing and deaf worlds. I miss a great deal of communication, both spoken and signed, and have often felt as though I don’t belong anywhere.
“That’s why this art show’s theme, Community Longing and Belonging, is so significant and meaningful to me. Indeed, I have always longed for community and belonging. The Jewish community, with its wonderful heritage and incredible diversity, is very precious to me. In creating these three ceramic menorahs, I have tried to express this diversity, as well as my love for the Jewish people.”
Kathy Bilinsky’s two-page collage makes us wonder what story – or two or three or more – we could find behind the mysterious ornate blue door. (photo by Byron Dauncey)
The Sketchbook Show officially opened at the Zack Gallery on Jan. 12. The brainchild of Hope Forstenzer, gallery director, and Lisa Cohen Quay, coordinator of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver’s Adults 55+ program, the exhibit is the culmination of a journaling workshop.
“We wanted to give JCC members the opportunity to say what they felt about COVID and everything else in their lives,” Forstenzer told the Independent. She offered the gallery as a place for the in-person workshop and invited instructor Lex Ireton to lead it.
Ireton, a graduate of Alberta College of Art and Design, and Forstenzer know each other through their work as glass artists.
“I recently went back to school to get an art therapy diploma,” said Ireton. “When Hope contacted me about the workshop she had in mind, I was excited. I’ve taught art classes before, but this one was my first class for adults.”
Putting It All Down: A Creative Journaling Workshop started in the fall of 2021, well into the second year of the pandemic.
“The beauty of journaling is that you don’t have to be an artist,” said Ireton. “We provided all the participants with blank journals plus writing, drawing and crafting supplies. And they had the gallery space itself to work together and create.”
Although more people initially came to the workshop, only six participants stayed to the end. “We met once a week for eight weeks,” Ireton said. “Everyone wore masks, of course. I came up with an exercise, and we did it during the session, sometimes timed, sometimes not. Often, people were so involved, they continued the work at home.”
One of the exercises was called 30 Circles. Ireton explained: “I gave each participant a sheet with 30 empty circles and asked them to fill each circle in any way they chose: a line, a colour, words, images. The circles could be filled thematically or not. Nobody was forced to fill all the circles. Just a few could spark a direction the person wanted to go. It was a warm-up activity, a way to explore the materials and ideas without the pressures of a final completed project. Later, we used the circles as inspirations for journal pages or utilized them for collages.”
Another exercise was a thematic prompt to fire participants’ imaginations, so they could write or draw on a subject. Some wrote poetry or essays. Others did collages using materials they wanted: old magazines, coloured paper, their own paintings or drawings, dry leaves and flowers, fabric fragments.
“As the workshop progressed, participants wanted to know more about each other. We talked a lot. People shared ideas and finished pages. Everyone became more confident with the techniques and media,” Ireton said. “Each session was a joyful social event as much as a journaling workshop. We were all tired of the isolation restrictions caused by COVID.”
While the JCC supplied materials for the workshop, local artist Susan Lee created the empty journals everyone used. “Susan donated the journals for the workshop,” said Forstenzer.
This month, Forstenzer mounted the show, which comprises selected pages of participants’ journals.
“This show is a tangible result of the workshop,” she said. “It is imbued with the energy of the participants putting their imagination to work, creating something meaningful regardless of their personal history as art-makers. The show reflects the child-like pleasure everyone experiences while playing with glue and paper and colours. The weeks of working on their creative sketchbooks has yielded a look into the beauty of putting thoughts on paper in words and images.”
The show is anonymous – there are no names attached to any of the pages, but each image serves as a window into the author’s personality. Some are humorous, like a tongue-in-cheek collage of two pages from a magazine. The collage contains two contradictory lists: What Men Love in Women juxtaposed with What Women Love in Men.
Other images are colourful and lyrical drawings, like a leafy branch with no words. And others combine drawings with poetry and cuttings.
Several workshop participants agreed to talk to the Independent about themselves and their journals.
Judy Stern, a retiree, didn’t have any artistic experience prior to the workshop. “In high school,” she said, “art was the only subject I ever failed. This took away any confidence I might have had, so I have never taken an art class, although I often thought about doing so. Last fall, I received information from the JCC about the upcoming journaling class. I enjoy writing and do have an interest in art, so I asked whether I needed any art experience. I was told, absolutely not…. I was so excited about this, as it was my first group social activity since the beginning of COVID. I was eager to be out and about again, doing something different.”
At first, she was nervous, but the welcoming atmosphere of the workshop soon put her at ease. One image from her journal, cranes flying away among the clouds, integrate her poem – a lamentation familiar to any writer – into a beautiful metaphoric collage.
“I would’ve been happy for the class to go on indefinitely,” she said. “I hope that something similar will be offered again. I am already thinking about my next journal.”
Kathy Bilinsky, another retiree, admitted to having some previous artistic exposure. “I’ve always enjoyed the creative process,” she said. “I have taken various art classes over the years, including two certificate programs at Emily Carr.”
Bilinsky, joined the workshop at the recommendation of Stern, who is a friend. “Judy said I might like it, and she was right. Before, when we could still travel, I always worked in sketchbooks. I have many travel journals documenting our trips with sketches, watercolours, and a bit of cut and paste. As we’re not traveling these days, I looked at this workshop as the opportunity to create.”
Her adjoined journal pages, “Keys and Door,” feature a key ring and a keyhole, above which is written, “Every key tells a story.” We wonder what story – or two or three or more – we could find behind the mysterious ornate blue door depicted on the opposite page.
“I didn’t fill all the pages in my journal,” said Bilinsky, “but so many ideas have been circulating in my mind that I would like to fill in the remaining pages.”
Ande Axelrod has developed a partnership with artisans in the village of Sosote, Ecuador, as her source for tagua beads. (photo from Zack Gallery)
The current show at the Zack Gallery, Affordable, opened on Nov. 17. It delivers on its name’s promise. Every item on display is less than $250 and thus in the realm of affordability for many people, not just art connoisseurs.
“That’s what I wanted for the Zack Gallery from the beginning,” said gallery director Hope Forstenzer. “I wanted to deepen the involvement of the JCC community in the gallery, wanted the art within people’s reach.”
Accordingly, this show looks more like a holiday craft fair than a high art exhibition.
“I don’t believe in the separation of art versus craft,” said Forstenzer. “For me, craft is another word for art, but art that is functional and affordable, designed for enhancing your life and your home rather than a wall of a museum. I hope we can make such a show an annual event.”
To achieve the artisan market feel, Forstenzer invited 10 artists in different media to participate. “They are all local B.C. artists,” she said. “Some Jewish, some not. I wanted to cater to different tastes, to represent different artistic fields. I wanted the show to be fun.”
The atmosphere of the show is jazzy and welcoming. The giclée prints of well-known Vancouver artist Linda Frimer glow with greens and blues. The glass and jewelry twinkle. The ceramics by Hitomi McKenzie stand proud and bright. Mariana Frochtengarten’s colourful shawls in Shibori patterns add a touch of elegance.
Frochtengarten teaches textile art at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. “This is a great opportunity for me to show the community my personal work,” she said. “My work is based on the principles of Shibori – a Japanese manual tie-dye technique. I combine the ancient Japanese tradition with a contemporary approach.”
She works with natural fibres, mostly cotton and linen, and has been working as a textile artist for more than 25 years. “My way into textile art was a bit accidental,” she told the Independent. “I was born in Brazil. When I was in high school, I took a batik class for a hobby, but I fell in love with it.”
After graduating from high school, she studied at Fine Arts and Education University in Brazil and later completed her master’s in fine arts (textiles) at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, in Halifax. “For 17 years, I worked with batik,” she said. “I had a business in Brazil and sold my works in stores, galleries, shows and fairs. I also experimented with some Shibori. I slowly moved on to my own form and interpretation of Japanese Shibori after moving to Canada in 2006. I love the elements of surprise involved in the process of Shibori and I am fascinated by the idea of creating different designs by blocking areas of the fabric before dyeing it.”
Another artist who works with an unusual material and technique is Ande Axelrod. Her company, Treats Designs, produces whimsical and sophisticated tagua jewelry: necklaces, earrings, pendants, and bracelets. Axelrod is very enthusiastic about her artistic creations. “Tagua is known as ‘vegetable ivory,’” she explained. “The tagua palms are native to the rainforests of Ecuador and other South American countries. The nuts grow and harden inside their seedpods. Some tagua nuts can grow up to six centimetres. Once the seedpods are ripe, they’re picked, and the seeds are dried in the sun, peeled and polished.”
The creamy white substance of the nuts is incredibly hard, similar to elephant ivory, hence the name. According to Wikipedia, a mature tagua palm can produce up to 20 pounds of vegetable ivory a year.
“Tagua nuts have been used as a substitute for ivory since the early 20th century,” Axelrod said. “The local masters carve the nuts into a variety of beads and buttons and dye them using bright natural colours.”
She is thrilled to use tagua nuts as the base for her jewelry. “I worked as a graphic designer for more than 25 years. In 2011, a friend and I took some jewelry making classes and I explored a variety of media and techniques. The next year, I discovered tagua while traveling in South America. I was dazzled by the colours, and I loved how light and comfortable the pieces were. You could wear a bigger statement necklace or a pair of earrings and not have a sore neck or headache at the end of the day.”
The sustainability and eco-friendliness of tagua sealed the deal for her. “I wanted to save elephants and I was truly inspired by the vast creative potential of this versatile natural material. It also provides an economic incentive for the local communities to protect the rainforests,” she said.
Since then, Axelrod has developed a partnership with artisans in the village of Sosote, Ecuador, as her source for tagua beads. “Before COVID, I’d made annual visits to Ecuador each February. It gave me the opportunity to work with tagua throughout the process, from seed to bead. Of course, like everyone else, I’ve had to improvise these past two years. Zoom, WhatsApp, FedEx and Western Union have enabled me to stay in touch with my South American partners and get tagua here for me to create my jewelry.”
While Shibori scarves and tagua jewelry may more easily be thought of as unique artwork in the Vancouver context than photography perhaps, Michael Shevloff proves that he is an unquestionable master of the camera, producing his own singular creations. His images, both in colour and in black and white, are statements of his love for British Columbia: its forests, its mountains, its waterways, its streets.
“I do predominantly nature photography,” he said. “However, I also shoot street photography, portraits, and many other genres, both digital and film.”
For this show, Shevloff offers framed and matted photos and photo coasters. “In the past, I also produced books of my photos, collages, cushions and more. I even put one of my images on my phone cover. The choices are many, and there are online firms, as well as local places, that specialize in putting images on almost any surface.”
He has been taking photographs since he was a teenager. “That was a long time ago,” he joked. “I have albums filled with photographs from places I have worked and traveled throughout the years.”
For Shevloff, photography has always been a hobby, while he worked in information technology. It remains a hobby in his retirement, although he obviously has more time now to immerse in his artistic endeavours.
“I have taken classes with professional photographers to hone my craft. And I belong to two photo clubs in Vancouver,” he said. “Vancouver PhotoClub is a well-organized group with monthly meetings and outings. I enjoy being a part of that club because they have assignments, which gives me a challenge and focus each month. They also organize exhibits, which gives me an opportunity to show my work.”
He belongs to the West End Photographic Society, as well. “That one is dedicated to film work and darkroom processing,” he explained. “They also organize exhibits. I enjoy the challenge of working with film and working with prints.”
The 10 artists of this show incorporate different art forms, different artistic philosophies, different ethnic roots and different price ranges. But one fact unites them all – every piece of art in the gallery for the next month is affordable.
The exhibit continues until Dec. 31.
Olga Livshinis a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Photographer Dina Goldstein and Myles Peterson, one of her model-collaborators, at Goldstein’s OG Punk exhibit, which is at the Polygon Gallery until Jan. 2. (photo by Dina Goldstein)
Walking past the Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver, it is hard not to be drawn to the photographs adorning the walls. The powerful portraits of self-described original – OG – punks were taken by Jewish community member Dina Goldstein, whose work is known for its thought-provoking social commentary.
The exhibit OG Punk is on display at the gallery until Jan. 2. Curated by Helga Pakassar, it comprises portraits of major figures from the punk rock scene in Vancouver and Victoria, which were taken by Goldstein over the past year. It is accompanied by an audio guide written by author Michael Turner.
Turner notes, “Goldstein gave her model-collaborators little instruction on what to bring to their shoot, apart from their ‘leathers.’ As for poses, these too were left to the model-collaborators, though it should be noted that the poses chosen for display, as portraits, were decided by Goldstein and exhibition curator Helga Pakasaar.”
“I met some of my model-collaborators by chance around my neighbourhood,” Goldstein told the Independent. “They are artists, musicians and punk devotees; most of them over 50, in punk regalia, hairdos, piercings and tattoos. I was excited by their stories and memories of their time as punks during the late ’70s, ’80s and into the ’90s. There was a vibrant punk scene in Vancouver and Victoria, with local bands, like DOA, incorporating activism and social commentary into their music.
“I have always been attracted to individualism – those who openly express themselves, are unconventional and live an authentic existence,” she said. “Some of the punks were ailing and not well. Some key figures had already passed. Most recently, the iconic Chi Pig, who passed a couple of years ago. I felt an urgency to document this generation of local punks. The project evolved into a series when I was able to collect a good amount of participants.”
Among the participants featured are Murray “The Cretin” Acton, Myles Peterson and wendythirteen. Goldstein sent out questionnaires to better understand the participants. Turner discusses some of the responses to the questions – such as “Has punk changed much since the 1980s?” and “Is punk here to stay?” – in the audio guide, the script of which can be found at mtwebsit.blogspot.com/2021/11/og-punk-2.html.
Though none of the model-collaborators to date are Jewish, Goldstein noted that she “will be continuing to photograph more people for this series in January.”
As for what punk means to her, Goldstein said, “I have always been rebellious. I am non-conventional and have a DIY mentality. My photography requires critical thinking and is a form of activism. My art has been described as satirical, irreverent and subversive.
“As one of my model-collaborators Lisa Jak said and I totally agree: ‘Anywhere and anytime that there is oppression, ignorance, intolerance and f–king stupidity – some punk will be there to question and fight it!’”
Sky Lilah’s new exhibition, Quantum Sky, is at Art @Bentall this month. Quantum Sky is an exploration of consciousness and what that means to the artist. This self-study is done using various mindfulness techniques, then interpreted through visual art. One dominant theme is the use of chakras, with 21 separate works, three per chakra, dedicated specifically to interpreting the meanings held within. As such, the exhibition is an exploration of an aspect of themselves through her art and letting others into that process, with the intention of creating a space beyond time.
“A lot of it is just trusting the process, which is I guess why I paint in the first place, which I find funny because I’m so organized in life. And when it comes to artwork, I find I just need to start and figure it out as I go, as opposed to planning it all and then starting,” said Lilah.