Beyond the Edge by Lori Goldberg , part of the exhibit Urban Forest, which opens at the Zack Gallery on Oct. 15. (photo from Lori Goldberg)
“Urban Forest is a body of work exploring the relationship between urban dwellers and the natural world of the B.C. forest, and tying it into Jewish thought,” artist Lori Goldberg told the Independent about her new exhibit at the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery, which opens Oct. 15.
The forest affords multiple experiences, which are often dichotomous, she explained, “freedom and fear spotlight fragments of light and cavernous darks, convoluted winds and soft silences. Trees collide with the sky, providing a protective umbrella that obscures the skyline of the cityscape. Those entering the forest shed layers of urban living as the drone of the city dims, senses awaken to the natural world, the forest breathes and comes to life.
“The paintings are narrative in style and explore the arena of the personal and the collective. Ordinary views and everyday objects come together in discordant co-existence and question the multiple, often contradictory, issues we face as members of a fragmented society disconnected from nature and from self.” In this way, the exhibit evokes the notion of tikkun olam (repairing the world), “which suggests humanity’s shared responsibility to heal, repair and transform the world.”
Goldberg will be in attendance at the Oct. 15 opening, which starts at 7:30 p.m. The exhibit is at the gallery until Nov. 8. To see more of her work, visit lorigoldberg.ca.
Ian Penn’s exhibit at the Zack Gallery, Pole, “isn’t happy but it’s genuine.” (photo by Olga Livshin)
The poignant tale behind Pole, Ian Penn’s new multimedia exhibit at the Zack Gallery, is a bleak travelogue detailing his recent journey to Poland.
Although Penn’s family came from Poland – his parents were lucky to have escaped the Holocaust and settled in Australia – he never wanted to visit the country of his ancestors. “My mother said she would never set a toe in Poland,” he told the Independent.
Growing up in Australia, Penn moved to Vancouver, where he worked as a cardiologist for many years. He is mainly retired now but still teaches at the University of British Columbia and works as a medic with the emergency-response ski patrol in Whistler.
“When I retired, I enrolled in Emily Carr,” he said. “I graduated in 2010 with a bachelor’s in fine arts but I’ve always kept a visual diary, since university. I have hundreds of little albums at home. Wherever I am, wherever I go, I draw and write in them. It’s how I explore the world.”
He paints regularly, landscapes and figurative images. “For me, painting is a way of telling a story, one of many. There are other ways, too: words, sculpture, video, photography. I used the multimedia approach for this show because I wanted to bring all those ways together, see how they fit. The show is a story of Jewish soul.”
Penn found his subject in Poland. He had resisted making the trip for a long time, until a couple years ago. “My daughter said to me then, ‘It’s time to visit your history,’ so I made the decision to go,” Penn explained. “I have a friend in Australia. We have known each other for a long time. He is a Pole, he speaks Polish, and he wanted to take me. He said we should both read a few books first to prepare ourselves, books about the plight of Jews in Poland during the war, but written by Poles, not Jews. We didn’t want to go as tourists. We wanted to understand.”
Nonetheless, Poland shocked him. “There are almost no Jews left there, and the ones who remain don’t know anything about Jewish culture. I went to a synagogue and I had to say Kiddush because nobody there could speak Hebrew. But the Poles – they exploit Jewish history. They charge 23 euros for a trip to Auschwitz. They have those happy golf carts all around Krakow and they take you to the Schindler’s factory and to the ghetto. They sell Jewish souvenirs, but who made them? Not Jews. This is not how you engage in history. They made a commodity out of our tragedy, of the Jews killed by the millions. It’s like Horror Disneyland. I couldn’t stay there more than one week.”
Penn found most of the Jews of Poland in the cemetery. “There, every stone has a name written on the tombstones, remembered, while those who died in Auschwitz are just dust. I learned that Nazis burnt 1,000 people an hour in the ovens in Auschwitz. I tried to wrap my head about the number. That’s why I did this show. It’s about those thousands of souls.”
All of the works displayed in the show bear the same name, “1000 Marks.” By creating the paintings, Penn wanted to visualize his non-memories, remember something he had never witnessed. Five paintings are similar: dead trees, brown and dreary, wooden poles striving to reach the sky, one pole for every Jewish soul that didn’t have their name written somewhere. Together, they form a memorial.
A couple other paintings have a subtitle: “From the Village to the Ramp.” They are painful to view, powerfully evoking the horrors of the Holocaust. So does the entrance to the gallery, decorated with two real wooden poles, with bark still on in some places, unpolished and branchless. The “Welcome Back” mat underneath them doesn’t look particularly welcoming either. There was a sign at the entrance to Auschwitz, too, and the correlations reverberate in the air.
“This show isn’t happy but it’s genuine,” said Penn. “It’s my response to the entertainment industry they made of the catastrophe. Their tourist trips have nothing to do with our dead families.”
The show also includes a few short videos, two of them filmed at the Jewish cemetery. The screens are mounted to the walls like paintings, continually running loops of footage. “I shot them myself,” said Penn. “There is serenity at the cemetery. And lots of greenery, living trees. I saw a man restoring the text on one of the tombstones and filmed him. I didn’t talk to him, didn’t ask him anything. He was doing a holy job. That was enough.”
A few more wooden poles, also part of the exhibition, are placed outside of the Zack Gallery. They are suspended above the atrium, where the stairs lead down to the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre.
“They are uprooted, like all of us whose parents left Europe,” said Penn. “The poles come from the UBC Endowment Lands and from the Whistler area. They remind me of the trees in the Jewish cemetery but they are also my connection to this place, to Canada.”
The show Pole opened on Sept. 10 and continues until Oct. 11.
Olga Livshinis a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
From The Completely Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green, by Eric Orner.
It was never on Eric Orner’s agenda to go to Israel. He resisted his mother’s entreaties to join a young people’s synagogue trip to the Jewish state. A relatively secular upbringing and a tendency to play hookey rather than attend Saturday morning religious classes meant he emerged into adulthood without a sense of strong connection to Israel or Zionism.
As a young adult, he was busy with a dual career that had him working days in the office of Barney Frank, the iconic, gay, Jewish congressman, and spending his nights drawing an iconic gay, Jewish comic strip that, at its height, was running in about 100 alternative and LGBTQ newspapers across North America.
It was circumstance, not Zionist fervor, that eventually took Orner to Israel, and among the results of his three years there is a series of comic strips that are, in turns, disturbing, thought-provoking and moving.
Starting in 1989, Orner drew the self-syndicated cartoon strip The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green. For 15 years, it was a cult favorite that followed a cast of sharp-tongued characters across a dramatic time in the evolution of the AIDS epidemic, the gay rights movement and politics in general, while capturing the spirit of the time in ways that perhaps only the medium of a comic strip can. The cartoon is cut through with Yiddishisms and sometimes unmistakably Jewish humor and sensibilities. Orner acknowledges that Ethan Green is, like him, a short, culturally Jewish, gay man, but the strip is not about Orner’s life.
“There’s 15 years of episodes of things happening to him and those things didn’t happen to me,” he said. “It was about somebody who had characteristics like me but it wasn’t about my life.”
For those who missed the strip in its serial incarnation, or who want to catch up, a compilation has recently been released, titled The Completely Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green.
When The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green was turned into a film, in 2005, Orner figured that was a good time to wind up the strip and make a change. He had spent a decade working in the Boston and Washington offices of Frank, the recently retired longtime congressman whose name is synonymous with Wall Street reform, consumer protection and pithy lines. Frank had met Orner around Boston, where the Chicago-born Orner was studying at Tufts University.
“I forget who first raised the question that he would work for me,” Frank told the Independent. “He’s very smart, he’s very thorough. The fact that he was doing the cartoons made him more interesting. It wasn’t relevant to his work one way or the other.”
But while Frank is noted for humorous quips, Orner apparently saves his best for the page.
“What I found in Eric is that his wit and humor comes out more in his writing,” Frank said. “He was not shy, but not nearly as outgoing as the cartoons.”
Frank said Orner has one of the hardest work ethics he’s encountered, which may help explain how he held down an intensive job as an aide to one of the country’s leading politicians while also pumping out a bi-weekly comic strip and distributing it, in the days before the internet, by stuffing it into envelopes. To top it off, during this time, Orner also studied law and was called to the bar.
Frank, who introduced the first gay rights bill in Massachusetts, in 1972, is a central figure in the movement for sexual orientation equality, which experienced its most dramatic achievement when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples, just days before Frank spoke with the Independent.
“No social movement in America, that I can think of, has moved remotely as quickly as this one,” Frank said. While the congressman was fighting legislatively, he credits Orner for playing no small part in the movement as well.
“This was not always an easy fight for people and there is also this tendency for people in movements to be grim and to talk about all the negative stuff,” he said. “But having someone who saw the humor in it was affirming in a way.”
Orner left the congressman’s staff to follow his dream to draw full-time. He moved to California and got a job as an animator with Disney.
“Most cartoonists I know aren’t lucky enough to do it full-time,” Orner said. “The only time I’ve had that experience was the time when I was working in animation and really they both involve drawing but they’re very different.”
It was not everything he had imagined. Orner acknowledges he is a good animator, but maybe not as good as some at Disney, who accused his Tinkerbell of flitting across the screen like a Black Hawk helicopter. Even this was not the main problem.
“That was not about my creativity, that was about Uncle Walt,” he said. “Animation is, in some sense, factory work.”
Like a lot of factory work, much of it was moving overseas. His boss got a job as head of a project in Jerusalem, which was at the time competing with Tel Aviv to become a media industry hub.
“So they built a beautiful animation facility and a bunch of Californians, including myself, went over there to work on a film.” The project never saw light, which is common enough in animation, he said. But, again, he was moonlighting with his own projects.
“Suddenly there I was in Israel,” he said. “It changed my life in many, many ways. I didn’t want to go and I wasn’t very happy about it, but that all changed and I fell in love with it and now I worry about it every day of my life. I disagree with a lot of things that are happening over there and yet I have dear, dear friends.”
The strips he wrote in Israel are part of a to-be-published volume called Avi & Jihad. One strip, called “Kotel 3 a.m.,” is a powerful short story of a midnight stroll to the Western Wall, where a skeptical American Jew finds resonance and a connection to the millennia of history there. When he tells his colleagues at the office about his stroll, it evokes stories of “nutcase Americans” who arrive from Great Neck or Savannah or Palo Alto and start speaking in tongues. Another is about the unadvisable idea of not taking seriously the El Al security agents. In one deeply dark strip, a love story between a Jewish man and a Palestinian Arab man turns into violent carnage that Orner said is not specifically about a single incident, but clearly evokes the murderous attack on a gay youth centre in 2009, and which has added resonance after the stabbings at this summer’s Pride parade in Jerusalem.
Orner’s politics were on his sleeve – or, rather, on the page – when he was writing Ethan. Some of his Israeli comics are less overt and more slice-of-life, but he pulls no punches when speaking about Israeli policies and the positions of American Zionists.
“I think that if it’s fair game to be critical of the Likud in Tel Aviv, then it should be fair game to be critical of it in Washington, D.C.,” Orner said. “I think we’re a little afraid to be critical. This is not the Israel of Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan and David Ben-Gurion.”
Orner said that if you can love America and not love George W. Bush, you can love Israel and be critical of its leadership.
“Sometimes, dialogue is unpleasant and uncomfortable and harsh,” he said. “I think we’re tough enough to handle that. I think we’re strong enough to have this conversation without going to pieces, thinking, oh God, our campuses are full of antisemites.”
Orner was in Israel from 2007 to 2009, which was the aftermath of the Second Intifada, the tensions of which are depicted in his pieces from those years.
“They are constantly under threat,” he said of Israelis. “Do I understand why people would then go to the polls and vote for Netanyahu? I do. Because you might disagree with him but, in the end, you think he’s a tough guy and that’s what we need.”
But Orner thinks there is an element in Israeli politics that doesn’t want a resolution to the conflict.
“I’m a Zionist, but I think the settlements, settlement activity, has been counterproductive from the beginning and I think there’s a lot of people that promote the settlement activity particularly because it is counter-productive to peace.”
Orner recognizes that his opinions may not be a consensus viewpoint, even in his own circles.
“I make a lot of people mad,” Orner said. “I’m not sure my old boss agrees. I know my stepfather disagrees. I know my best friend disagrees. But, having lived there for three years, that’s what I saw. I saw settlements over the [Green] Line and, if I were a Palestinian, that would enrage me also. I don’t know what the answer is, but my guess is building more settlements over the line quicker isn’t the answer.”
After the global recession hit and he lost his job in Jerusalem, Orner returned to Frank’s office and remained there until the congressman retired in 2013. Orner is now a speechwriter in New York. He is looking for a publisher for his Israeli cartoons and is working on another book depicting his time in California.
He has no regrets about his three years in Israel. It piqued his interest in Jewish history and changed him.
“I became far much more appreciative of my connections to Jews from other parts of the world, not just Israel, but France, Italy, Morocco, Iraq,” he said. “I looked out my window – I had this apartment that I could see the gold dome of the Al-Aqsa Mosque from my window – I lived in a hilltop neighborhood called Abu Tor and I looked right down on the Old City walls. You can’t live there without being more interested.”
Winnipeg artist Reva Stone is interested in “examining ideas about the mediation between our bodies and the technologies that are altering how we interact with the world.” (photo by Harold Stone)
The International Symposium on Electronic Art comes to Vancouver Aug. 14-19. One of the artists featured in this “showcase of creative productions applying new technologies in art, interactivity, electronic and digital media” is Reva Stone.
It should come as no surprise, with Stone’s artwork comprising computer-assisted installations since 1992, that she has been invited to participate in ISEA once again. The first time Canada played host to the international symposium was in Montreal in 1995 and the Vancouver event marks only the second time that it has come to our country. In the last four years, it has been hosted in Istanbul, Albuquerque, Sydney and Dubai.
Stone, 70, was born to Sarah and Don Atnikov in Winnipeg and raised in Regina before returning to Winnipeg for university, earning a bachelor’s in sociology and psychology in 1966 and a bachelor of fine arts in 1985. She has been a professional electronic and digital media artist for more than 25 years.
“As far back as I can remember, I was always interested in making art, but it wasn’t seen as a practical decision when I was in university in the early 1960s,” said Stone. “By my early 30s, I was married [to Harold Stone] and a stay-at-home mom with two children. I was taking local art classes, but not finding them satisfying. I needed to learn more, experience more and experiment more.”
Stone returned to school to take fine arts. “I thought I was going to become a painter, but that didn’t last long,” she recalled. “I learned quickly that I love to take chances and am really comfortable trying things I have never done before.”
She graduated when she was in her 40s and was told that a woman her age could not have an art career. So, she said, “I did it anyways. Since that time, I have been creating computer-assisted installations that explore the mutable space between human and machine.”
Stone always begins new work with a concept that she has read about or an occurrence that she has observed, developing her ideas through research and experimentation. Each work comes to fruition, sometimes in collaboration with other artists and scientists, and other times with hired computer programmers. Stone has shown her work across Canada, the United States and Europe.
In addition to ISEA2015, Stone’s work is featured in the 2015 Governor General’s Awards Exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, which runs to Aug. 30, and will be at Gurevich Fine Art in Winnipeg in September, as part of the exhibit A Celebration of Women’s Art.
The Winnipeg show includes the work of her studio partners, Aganetha Dyck and Diana Thorneycroft. “We have shared space for over 20 years and this is the first time we are showing together,” said Stone.
“My interest is in researching and examining ideas about the mediation between our bodies and the technologies that are altering how we interact with the world,” explained Stone. “I then use various forms of digital media to make artwork that comments on this changing nature of what it means to be human.”
Stone’s art has encompassed works such as “Imaginal Expression” (an endlessly mutating, responsive, 3-D environment), “Carnevale 3.0” (an autonomous robot that reflects on the nature of human consciousness) and “Portal” (which combines custom software, media, robotics and mobile phone technology to create a work that appears to be sentient).
“Recently, I began altering and repurposing obsolete devices that refer to the history of communication and technology,” said Stone. “I am altering them by adding small, embedded computer boards, video screens, lights, sensors, custom software, robotics and found video.
“I am choosing objects that possess an historical richness that merges with the alterations I am making to create a rich layering of ideas. As I continue to explore this series of work, I am finding that humor and a sense of play have become an increasingly important element.”
Over the years, Stone has received numerous research and production awards, including from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Major Arts Award from the Manitoba Arts Council and, of course, the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts this year.
She has also been internationally recognized. In 2002, for example, “Carnevale 3.0” received an honorable mention in Fundación Telefónica’s Vida 5.0 Art and Artificial Life International Competition. In 2009, Stone presented at Super Human – Revolution of the Species Symposium, organized by the Australian Network for Art and Technology in Melbourne. The proceedings were published in Second Nature: The International Journal of Creative Media.
The theme for ISEA2015 is “Disruption,” inviting “a conversation about the esthetics of change, renewal, efficiencies and game-changing paradigms.” Conference events will be held at the Woodward’s campus of Simon Fraser University, with exhibitions and events taking place at Emily Carr University of Art + Design and other venues throughout the city.
Vancouver Art Gallery’s Fuse event will be held in partnership with ISEA2015 on Aug. 15. In addition to music and live performance, the works of some 50 artists will be on display, including that of Stone. The event is open to the public starting at 8 p.m. (tickets are $20 plus tax). For more information, visit isea2015.org/schedule.
From left to right, Echoes artists Sidi Schaffer, Sorour Abdollahi and Devora. (photo by Olga Livshin)
The term “artistic brotherhood” was coined in the 19th century. Among the most famous of such brotherhoods were the Pre-Raphaelites in England and the Canadian Group of Seven, and every brotherhood was comprised of artists united by similar artistic principles. Recently, such an artistic union appeared in Vancouver, but it is a sisterhood, compromising Sidi Schaffer, Sorour Abdollahi and Devora. They call themselves Echoes.
The trio’s first combined show was at the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery in 2008. It was a success, and they have repeated the experience twice over the years. Earlier this month, they opened their fourth show together. Called Three Echoes: Harmony through Art, it opened July 8 at Britannia Art Gallery.
Even though their initial collaboration started by chance, the artists have stayed together as a cohesive group because of their common outlook on life and art. Despite differences in their ethnic and cultural origins, their humanity and the ties of friendship transcend age and space, traditions and societies.
Schaffer was born in Romania, a child survivor of the Holocaust. She received her first artistic education in Israel, but Canada allowed her to thrive as an artist. At various stages of her creative development, she has tried different expressive formats, and now she blends them all. Her paintings have figures in them but they tend towards the abstract, hinting at multiple meanings and deep, complex emotions.
Inspired by nature and by her beloved Israel, Schaffer uses mixed media – painting, collage, glue, melted wax and a number of others – in her imagery. Her art minimizes the gap between abstract and figurative, between dreams and life. Playful and nostalgic, her paintings infuse the show with the elemental simplicity of her early childhood.
“We keep the name Echoes,” she said, “because our art is echoing our lives and our pasts, our different backgrounds, and our common present. We regard art in a similar way, although we’re inspired by different matters. Devora draws her inspiration from inside. I find inspiration in nature, while Sorour seeks hers in the rich cultural heritage of Persia.”
Like the other two Echoes, Abdollahi is an immigrant. She came to Canada from Iran in 2000. But, unlike the other two, she is not Jewish. Ancient Persian culture permeates her paintings with generational memories. “My paintings are a bridge between the old Persia and the young Canada, a negotiation between history and modernity,” she said.
Abdollahi’s paintings are as much a declaration of her inner manifesto as they are a mystery for viewers to explore, often on the visceral level. “Many old buildings in Iran have mysteries in them. A half-hidden corner. An invisible door. Architecture has layers, some showing, others not, through the centuries of history. I like to reflect that in my paintings. I say with my art: look, there is something here, but I don’t say everything. I let people guess and imagine.”
She explained that both her Iranian roots and her Canadian experience have influenced her works enormously, creating a conversation between the old and the new, juxtaposing West and East. “Ancient ruins play a pivotal role in my paintings,” she said. “They enable me to express the conflict between different cultures and societies…. My paintings capture the process of change and its effects through the use of layers and textures.”
Although her works’ essence leans towards the abstract, playing with bright colors and enigmatic shapes, there is always a core of reality in every painting, that hidden door through which we are invited to glimpse the artist’s private landscape.
“Our art connects us,” said Abdollahi of Echoes. “We complete each other as artists. Each one of us, like everyone else, in every city and country, is reaching for peace, for the world without borders between people and nations. We are trying to achieve such a world through our art.”
Devora is the one who brought Echoes together.
She met Schaffer during the Gesher Project, which the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre website describes as a “project undertaken by Vancouver Holocaust survivors, child survivors and adult children of survivors. They met over a six-month period in 1998 to examine the impact of the Holocaust on their lives. They explored these experiences through painting, writing and discussion assisted by facilitators…. The project culminated with the mounting of the Gesher [Bridge] exhibit.”
Devora attended an art class with Abdollahi. Later, she introduced her two new friends to each other, and Echoes was born as an informal collective.
A transplanted American, Devora is a firm believer in dialogue between cultures. Her paintings are fully abstract, with colors flowing around each other, energy spiking, and whimsical forms unfolding into new revelations.
“My art reflects my personal search for clarity,” she said. “I am fascinated by dreams and fantasy and the interplay with the concrete and tangible. I am interested in what is hidden, how it informs what is revealed, and the tension and symbiotic relationship between the two.”
In her introductory remarks during the show’s opening, Devora talked about the closeness of the three Echoes members, despite their seemingly contrasting cultural foundations.
“When we go to an art show of some other artist, we always end up in front of the same painting, and our reactions are similar,” she said. “We have the same artistic taste. Our mutual experience as immigrants in Canada forms one of the many bridges that connect us. Our artistic ideas enrich each other, allow us a deeper understanding and lead to transformative commonalities…. Our esthetic communication is a model of a peaceful world, a microcosm of a greater ideal of partnership, a proof that it can be done.”
Three Echoes: Harmony through Art is on display until July 31.
Olga Livshinis a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
“The Golem,” by David Aronson, 1958, encaustic on panel 57” x 64”. (all photos from David Aronson Archive via Braithwaite & Katz Communications)
American painter and sculptor David Aronson, 91, of Sudbury, Mass., passed away on July 2, 2015. He was one of the most important representatives of the Boston Expressionist movement of the 1940s, an influential force in the development of the arts in Boston for more than 60 years and professor emeritus at Boston University, where he founded the fine arts department and taught from 1955 until his retirement in 1989.
Born in Shilova, Lithuania, in 1923, Aronson immigrated to the United States at the age of 7 and lived and worked in the Boston area for his entire career. While earning his diploma at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Aronson studied with the innovative German-born artist Karl Zerbe.
Aronson’s reputation was quickly established and his art has been featured in numerous solo exhibitions in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo, among others. His work is included in the permanent collections of more than 40 museums worldwide including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, MoMA and the Art Institute of Chicago. He received both the Judges Prize and Popular Prize from the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston in 1944 and was one of the youngest artists included in the “14 Americans” exhibition of 1946 curated by Dorothy Canning Miller of MoMA. In 1979, the Rose Art Museum of Brandeis University, the Jewish Museum and the National Academy of Design in New York all hosted retrospectives of his painting and sculpture. Later in his career, Boston University also hosted a comprehensive retrospective of his work in 2005, and the Danforth Museum featured a solo exhibition of Aronson’s work in 2009.
In addition to his exhibitions, Aronson received numerous awards and honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1960, election as Academician at the National Academy of Design, New York, Purchase Prize in 1961, 1962 and 1963 from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, and honorary doctorates from both Hebrew College and Boston University.
Throughout his career, Aronson continued to experiment with new subjects and materials, frequently choosing dynamic subjects such as musicians, alchemists, magicians and mystics. He also used charcoal and pastel to exploit the power of black and white with the immediacy of drawing to convey profound human emotion in such works as “The Moonworshippers,” 1960, charcoal, 80″ x 84″ (private collection). His explorations in the 1960s also led him into sculpture, first in relief, extruding the forms from the two dimensional surface, and ultimately into major three dimensional works in bronze such as “The Door,” 1963-69, bronze, 94″ x 50″ x 12″ (collection Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).
Aronson leaves his wife of 60 years Georgiana (Nyman) Aronson, daughters Judy Webb and Abigail Zocher and son Ben Aronson, and three grandchildren (Jesse, Alex and Max) and great-granddaughter Isabella.
Left to right are artists Robin Adams, Jan Smith and Julie Kemble. (photo by Olga Livshin)
In common perception, the word “manufacture” is associated with industrial production and machinery, but it wasn’t always so. The word’s origins are found in manu factus, Latin for “made by hand,” and the new show at the Zack Gallery, Manufacture: From the Hand, takes visitors back to these roots.
The show presents beautiful handmade jewelry and wall hangings by 33 artists and craftspeople, members of the Vancouver Metal Arts Association (VMAA). Crafts are not a regular sight at the Zack, but gallery director Linda Lando explained, “The Vancouver Metal Arts Association has been welcomed to the Zack Gallery, as they … approach metal in a unique way. They use metal as one would use paint and canvas, so their creations bridge the gap between art and craft.”
The exhibition is eclectic in both imagery and materials, with each piece reflecting its creator’s personality. The entire show emphasizes the participants’ diversity in cultural backgrounds and artistic interests. The only common factor is metal – gold, silver, copper, brass and others – as the basis for their art.
The Independent talked to several of the featured artists. One of them, Julie Kemble, is a recently retired communications teacher from a local university, although she always enjoyed various artistic hobbies. “I started working with metal around year 2000,” she said. “I used to work with fibres. I guess I love body adornment, so it was a natural transition for me from fabrics to jewelry. They both adorn the body.” A Kemble sculpture could be used as a desk decoration or worn as a pendant. In both incarnations, they are charming.
Robin Adams has been a jeweler for more than 20 years. “I owned a jewelry shop before,” said the professional craftsman. “I sold my own jewelry there, but for a shop, you produce several copies of the same pieces. Now, everything I make is one of a kind. I’m an artist.”
Another jeweler in the show, Jana Kucera, currently manages a pub. “Art, making jewelry, is a hobby for me, but I hope it could become more,” she said. “I’ve always been an artist at heart. I graduated from the VCC [Vancouver Community College] Jewelry Art and Design program in 2005 and I enjoy making jewelry. I sell through shows like this one.” Her original copper necklaces are delightfully graceful.
The exhibition showcases not only jewelry but other metal art, as well. One full gallery wall is dedicated to Dana Reed’s series of hanging disks. Each about the size of a hand, the disks combine copper etching, enamel and photography.
Reed has been working with metal for a few years. “My day job is in administration and tech support,” she said, but “I’ve always made stuff; my whole family made beautiful things.” Her brother is a metalworker, too, and although Reed doesn’t have a formal artistic education, she has been taking classes in different artistic media. “I find metal to be pleasing to work with. It stays in place,” she joked before turning serious. “I can achieve precision with metal, while enamel allows more of a free-fashion imagery.”
Among the other wall pieces in the show is a selection of life-sized garden tools, made of Damascene by Karin Jones – a decidedly unexpected item – and a small but picturesque installation called “Changing Values,” made of pennies by Peggy Logan.
Logan has been a professional artist for 30 years. Currently, she is teaching jewelry art at Langara. “I started collecting old pennies when they went out of circulation,” she said. “Before 1993, all pennies were made of copper, and I used them for this piece.” The pennies, strung together and covered with multicolored enamel, glint on the wall, defying the government’s decision to stop producing them.
Another professional artist in the show is Jan Smith, VMAA founder and past president. Her elegant enamel and silver jewelry is represented by galleries in Montreal, San Francisco and Seattle.
“I’ve been an artist for over 20 years,” she said. “It’s not easy to make a living as an artist, especially not here in B.C. I’ve often had to supplement my income by teaching art or working as an art therapist. I’m a member of the International Enamel Association. It’s a small world and we all know and talk to each other. I must tell you that other countries support their artists much better than Canada. Britain, even America, offers better conditions to artists. Their art donations are larger. I’d love to have my art better known here but, so far, collectors in the U.S. know my art better. Even the East Coast is better for artists; I have representation in Montreal but not here. Maybe it is because Vancouver is such a young city.”
Three years ago, Smith founded VMAA to improve the situation. Current VMAA president Louise Perrone told the Independent a little more about the association. “The VMAA was founded by Jan Smith in 2012. Before moving to Salt Spring Island, she lived in Seattle, where there is a thriving metal arts guild. Jan felt Vancouver needed something similar. Unlike Seattle, there are no specific jewelry galleries and no jewelry and metal BFA programs. There is no community of artistic jewelry collectors in Vancouver supporting us either. That is why we started VMAA – to give art jewelry a platform and educate the public, to build a community of jewelry and metal artists.”
Manufacture: From the Hand opened on June 25 and will continue until July 26. To see a selection of the jewelry on display, visit jccgv.com/content/metalart.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
The current double show at the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery has its origins in the two artists’ friendship. “I met with Greg Scalamogna through a mutual friend,” said Miran Elbakyan, an artist-blacksmith and one of the two participants in the show. “I liked his technique – his lines are plastic-like metal.”
“We have similar philosophy in our works,” Scalamogna elaborated. “Miran’s lines flow like paint. We don’t restrict ourselves, [we] let our materials speak.”
The flowing lines and dynamic energy in both Scalamogna’s paintings and Elbakyan’s sculptures gave birth to the show’s title, Flow, but, aside from that, the two artists are very different, almost opposite in their approaches and subject matter.
While Elbakyan deals with fire and iron, creating tangible objects – sculptures, balconies, staircase rails, wrought-iron gates and other usable items – Scalamogna, a painter, concentrates on water in all its guises. Tame or wild, abstract or real, his waves and waterfalls inhabit the cool bluish-grey palette. His paintings reflect the artist’s fluid personality and his love for water. “I love boating and fishing,” he said with a smile.
Like his beloved water, Scalamogna traveled around the world, flowing in and out of adventures, before settling in British Columbia. He took his first trip when he was 19, a student of the Ontario College of Art and Design.
“I wanted to go to some place sunny,” he recalled. “I bought an air ticket to the Dominican Republic and exchanged my Canadian money at the airport before boarding the plane, but they made a mistake and gave me Mexican money instead of Dominican. Nobody in the Dominican Republic wanted to touch that money.”
As a result, he found himself alone in a foreign country without a cent. Young and proud as only a 19-year-old can be, he didn’t call home and ask his mother for help. “I wanted to do it myself,” he said. To earn some money, so he at least wouldn’t starve, he started painting tourists’ portraits on the beach. He also sold all his spare clothes for the price of a meal or two, and made friends with local people.
“They were poor but they helped me, took care of me,” said Scalamogna. “They were very generous. I couldn’t pay for a hotel, so one guy offered me to spend nights in his home.”
The trip was a success in the end. He made it, paying for his first independent vacation with his art, victoriously returning home a week later. He even brought back souvenirs for his family; he bartered for them with his portraits. “Since then, I wasn’t afraid. I knew I could make it anywhere. I could take on the world.”
Scalamogna spent his last year of college studying in Florence, Italy, and afterwards backpacked across Europe with his artistic portfolio, visiting museums and art galleries, finding work wherever he could. He had a few exhibitions abroad before returning home.
However, like water, which never stands still, he soon felt the urge to move again. This time, he took a bus across Canada. For several years, he lived and worked in Banff, but eventually settled here – the ocean enchanted him.
“I’m an expressionist,” he said. “Nature inspires me. I take photos when I’m on the water, fishing, but my photos are only starting points for my paintings. The photos bring back memories and feelings; they reference a certain time and emotion. There is no visual similarity.”
His paintings also reflect his daily existence. “They are commentaries on my life, my job, my relationships, people around me,” he said. A few years ago, when he was living in Tofino, his paintings were filled with vibrant colors and exploratory energy, with frantic tides and glittering sunsets. Some of them are part of the Zack Gallery show, instantly recognizable, but most of the pieces on display are from his latter Vancouver period. The paintings became calmer and quieter, as if seen through the veil of Vancouver’s rain. “I’m older now, more subtle,” he said.
Like his friend, Elbakyan traveled. He moved from Armenia to Israel and, from there, to Canada, prompted as much by political climate as by other considerations. Like Scalamogna, he, too, found a welcome home here, in British Columbia, and this exhibition is his third appearance at the Zack. “It is always nice to show my art here and get some feedback,” he said, although he admitted that he doesn’t like selling his sculptures.
“I’d rather sell home décor,” he said. “I’m always sorry to see my sculptures go. They are all unique. Even if I try to make a second copy, it has no inspiration in it. The first is always the best.”
The only artist-blacksmith on the B.C. mainland and one of the very few in Canada, Elbakyan is in high demand for those who are not satisfied with mass production, who want an original fence around their house or a one-of-a-kind balcony or some funky furnishing.
Recently, he branched out into the movie industry. His latest movie, Seventh Son, released in December 2014, is a medieval fantasy. “I made swords and shields for it,” he said, “and everything else of metal that their lab couldn’t produce. I also played a smith at a fair. It was fun.”
Jennifer Levine, Fred Schiffer’s daughter, speaks at the opening of the exhibit of her father’s work. (photo by Cynthia Ramsay)
On April 16, with the help of volunteers from King David High School and others, the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia welcomed more than 250 visitors to the opening night of Fred Schiffer Lives in Photos. At the Make Gallery until May 31, the exhibit is part of the Capture Photography Festival.
Michael Schwartz, coordinator of programs and development at the JMABC and curator of the exhibit, gave the crowd a brief overview of what the JMABC does, and how the Schiffer photos fit into the museum’s holdings.
Of the 300,000 photographs housed by the JMABC, said Schwartz, “The Schiffer collection comprises over 10,000 photos. The JMABC has been working on this collection – organizing it, processing it – since it was donated by Schiffer’s family in 2001. To date, we’ve digitized 2,000 photographs, which are available to researchers online. The 45 photos that you see in this exhibit are selected from those 2,000, and an additional six photos are on display at the atrium of the Langara library through May 4th in a satellite exhibit.”
Schwartz explained that Schiffer fled Vienna, seeking refuge in England, where he stayed for 10 years before heading to Argentina, where he also lived for 10 years. “He arrived here in Vancouver in 1958 with his wife Olive and their two young children, Jennifer and Roger.”
The Schiffers operated a small studio under the Hudson’s Bay Co. building, on Seymour Street. “Schiffer was respected by his peers, not only for his skill but for being a kind and generous man, a true mensch, as we say,” said Schwartz. “He was president of the local photographic association, wrote frequently for the association newsletter and shared his knowledge of the trade with his colleagues.” He was one of the people who “led the charge to develop a professional photography program at Langara.”
After thanking the partners and funders of the exhibit, as well as his colleagues, Schwartz introduced Jennifer Levine, Schiffer’s daughter, who attended the opening from Toronto.
While her father was the person behind the photographs, she said, “he had two quite remarkable women who loved him and worked with him”: her mother, “who was the person you would always meet in the studio and who was also the organizer and the bookkeeper,” and her aunt, Irene, “who was not only a master retoucher but, also, I think she did some of the printing … together they discussed how things should be, and collaborated to make the prints happen.”
The family came to Vancouver from Buenos Aires, which had a “very lively photographic culture and my father was part of a group of photographers who met together, collaborated, discussed their work … they were sophisticated, they had annual photo shows in art galleries,” said Levine. When he came here, he thought he could interest the Vancouver Art Gallery in his work. “The response was, ‘Oh no, that’s photography, that’s not art.’ And it’s interesting that Vancouver has become such … an international centre for exciting work in photography, but let me tell you that, in the ’50s and ’60s, that was not happening.”
For her father, she said, “coming to Vancouver, which he chose to do, I think, largely for his children … because he had a sense of what was happening in Argentina, meant that the exploratory and experimental nature of his work would have to be held in because people in Vancouver were not interested…. I see how he had to shape his work for the marketplace and I know he did it for us and I honor him for that…. Artists have to make compromises sometimes for the people they love, and my dad did. I’m really proud of him as a photographer but I’m proud of him as a dad, too.”
The current exhibit at the Zack Gallery, Tales of Light and Dark, features two artists from opposite sides of the continent. Alina Smolyansky is a local artist; Judith Joseph lives and works in Chicago. Their paintings hang side by side on the gallery walls as if they belong together. Their similar small size, bright color and propensity to tell stories balance the differences in technique and visual effects, as well as the two artists’ distinct creative auras.
Both artists explore Judaic themes. In the case of Joseph, her paintings relate her family’s history through the medium of Jewish symbolism. Almost every piece of hers includes birds as their most important element. Peacocks, firebirds and owls populate Joseph’s work.
“I love birds because they can fly. I wish I could fly,” Joseph said in an interview with the Independent. “A bird stands in for a person but it doesn’t have age or gender, it isn’t poor or rich. It represents everyone.”
In a way, in her art, she does fly, free of the restrictions of reality. Using the bird metaphor and the mysticism of the Torah, she spins tales of courage and suffering. Several of her paintings are dedicated to her grandmother who came to America from Ukraine after the First World War. In one image, a girl travels across the ocean on a menorah. Her vessel is wobbly, but she hangs stubbornly for her life, and the menorah glows with triumphant light, illuminating pain and sorrow but also victories and achievements.
Many pieces incorporate metal-foil embossing into the paintings. The process used for the embellishment is called repoussé. “I learned repoussé in high school,” Joseph recalled. “I like working with metal.” Her owls’ feathers and floral borders of her paintings glint with intricate copper patterns, infusing the pictures with a sophisticated and funky ambience.
Her paintings always start with an emotion and an idea, she said. “I always have a sketch book with me and, whenever an idea appears, I make a sketch. Most paintings in this show come from my sketches practically unchanged. I know that if the emotion that inspired it is genuine, unfiltered, then people respond to it.”
Like any art show, this one only highlights a small segment of the artist’s output. The majority of her art is beyond the scope of the show. “I paint ketubahs,” she said. “Most of my commissions are ketubahs. I started making them in high school and still love them. By now, I have done hundreds of them. Recently, I also do digital ketubahs. I would paint by hand, then have the image photographed professionally, and then play with it on the computer: add calligraphy, change colors, customize. I had to learn new software to do that, and my skills are still limited, but I’m learning.”
The courage to combine old materials, ancient art form and new computer skills is what makes Joseph a 21st-century artist. The same modern streak also made her collaborate with an online seller of ketubahs, the Canadian company ketubah.com. “Three of their bestsellers are mine,” she said with a smile.
She works predominantly in egg tempera, the type of paint that was exclusively used until about 1500, when it was largely replaced by oil paints. Few artists still use egg tempera, but its brightness attracted not only Joseph but also her partner in this show, Smolyansky.
The credit for bringing them together belongs to the gallery director, Linda Lando. “I put them together because I thought that their work has a similar sensibility,” Lando said. The artists didn’t know each other before the show.
Unlike Joseph with her art degree, Smolyansky arrived at this point in her life by a vastly different route. She started her professional life as an engineer in Kiev. Like many Jews during the Perestroika era, she immigrated to Israel and, after four years there, she came to Canada in 1995. She kept working as an engineer, but wasn’t satisfied with her professional life. She felt the need for a change.
“I was searching for myself,” she explained. “I’ve been a dreamer all my life. I liked making up and writing stories and painting watercolors. When I was a child, I attended an art school. I always liked learning, always was an A student. If I could, I would be a permanent student,” she admitted.
To satisfy her craving for knowledge, she studied writing at Douglas College, and then enrolled in the professional communications program at Royal Roads University. She was thinking of a technical writing career, but felt she couldn’t settle.
At about the same time, around 2006, she began studying yoga, and discovered a spiritual path. “I’m not religious,” she said, “but I need to form my own connection to the Creator. I need to understand where we are coming from and where we are going.”
She quit her engineering position and spent some time in Thailand at a yoga school, but an unknown force was still pushing her towards a different goal.
“I was on Granville Island,” she recalled. “It was 2008, and I was looking for some classes to take when I saw this ad for an icon painting class. It was absolutely unexpected. I didn’t know anything about icons, but it seemed I was driven to this class. I took it and I was good from the beginning.”
The class introduced her to egg tempera and to icon paintings, both Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic. “I was fascinated by egg tempera. I haven’t painted watercolors since.”
She stayed with her icon teacher for three years, until he moved out of the city. She still paints icons on commission and she teaches icon painting, occupying a small but exclusive artistic niche in Vancouver. But she didn’t abandon her quest for knowledge. In search of more spiritual learning, she began her studies with Bnei Baruch Kabbalah Research and Education Institute, based in Israel.
The mysticism of kabbalah appeals to her. “My art in this show is influenced by my kabbalah studies, especially the … Zohar,” she said. Her Tree of Life gladdens the eyes, her old scholar contemplates the Jewish destiny and her menorah shines for all.