“Midnight Sun” by Monica Gewurz, who was to show her work at Art Vancouver, which has been postponed. (image from Monica Gewurz)
The Jewish Independent last spoke with Vancouver artist and Jewish community member Monica Gewurz when she participated in Art Vancouver in 2018. She was to be a participant in this year’s international art fair, which has been indefinitely postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“As 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.”
Gewurz was to share a booth with fellow contemporary artist Pam Carr. Previous Art Vancouver fairs have drawn more than 10,000 art appreciators and collectors to the Vancouver Convention Centre. The annual event is billed as “Western Canada’s largest contemporary art fair.”
“In the past year,” Gewurz told the Independent, “I have successfully increased the number of juried exhibitions in B.C. and the U.S., including one in Singapore. My sales and my collector base has increased, as well.”
Gewurz’s artwork can be found in corporate and private collections throughout Canada, the United States, Europe, Mexico, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, China and Japan.
Artistically, she said, for this past year, “the focus of my work has become more introspective and philosophical, with less emphasis being put on the literal depiction of the landscape and more on the feelings evoked by the experience.
“The expansiveness and the quiet energy of coastal British Columbia are strongly evident in the imagery and the palette of my recent paintings, which are meant to be a transformative interpretation rather than a literal rendering of the coastal landscape,” she explained. “Using mixed media and metallic paints and foils has allowed me to develop a personalized style that translates and interprets nature and iconography through layers of transparent glazes.”
Another new development since the Independent spoke with Gewurz is that her art is featured on both a wine bottle and on a line of skincare products. While she has always created wearable art, such as jewelry, this foray into commercial art is different.
“‘Ebbing’ was chosen through a juried competition to become the label of Safe Haven fortified wine of the 40 Knots winery,” she said. “A portion of the wine sales goes to support the Kus-kus-sum salmon habitat restoration by Project Watershed, an NGO. Because I am a supporter of environmental causes, I donated the artwork.”
The vineyard also produces its own line of skincare products and, said Gewurz, “The owner of the 40 Knots winery commissioned the artwork ‘Waves of Tranquility’ to be featured in all VinoSpa product labels, using some of the lees of their red wines. The painting was created to capture the feeling of and tranquility and restfulness provided in all VinoSpa skincare lines and their associated spa.”
The winery website explains that Gewurz mixed the lees from the fortified wine with acrylic gels and paints to create the colours of “Waves of Tranquility.” It notes, “Influenced by Turner, ‘the painter of light,’ and Asian traditional painting, Monica’s abstract landscapes aim to reflect truthfully the moods of nature. Captured on canvas or in silver, her work draws on the exceptional landscape of the Pacific West Coast.”
Gewurz was to bring a new collection of work to this year’s Art Vancouver. Her bio noted, “She is excited to share her highly textured, iridescent, colourful acrylic and oil abstract paintings, often worked with a palette knife, unconventional tools and metallic patinas.
“Texture and thin layers of colour are two key elements in her work, as she aims to blur the line between painting and sculpture. She invites you to touch the work, by integrating natural and man-made repurposed materials, including textiles, paper and plastic, each layer of colour and medium allowing you to experience the paintings – perhaps sparking memories, perhaps freeing your mind to wander, imagine and dream. Through materials and her own travels and life experiences, she strives to make work that can be understood across cultures.”
A harsh critique early in her career didn’t stop Victoria-based Jessica Ruth Freedman from doing what she loves – painting – and becoming a successful artist.
“I was born in Montreal, and then my brother and I were whisked away to Kibbutz Ein Dor in the Galilee,” Freedman told the Independent. “After a few years there, we returned to reside in Calgary. I attended what was then called the Calgary Hebrew School-Talmud Torah. I was filled with the love for Jewish lifecycle events, food, and being part of a community. Apart from a fabulous school experience, one episode of failing an art assignment in kindergarten stands out. We were told to pick a rock and paint it like a ladybug. Creatively, I painted it black on red, rather than red on black, so that the white dots would stand out better. I sadly was singled out as an art failure in front of the whole class!
“Fast forward a few years, a career as a contemporary dancer, yoga teacher and accountant, [then] I returned to my love of painting,” said Freedman, who has a bachelor of arts, with a major in dance and a minor in fine arts, from Simon Fraser University. “At this time, I had moved to Victoria to chase the warmer weather and, after a few holidays in nearby Hawaii, I was hooked on representing the juxtaposition of botanicals versus the urban in my artwork.”
Freedman is one of the artists participating in Art Vancouver, which has been postponed from its scheduled dates, April 16-19, because of COVID-19.
“These days, the traditional way of selling art through a gallery is changing,” she said. “Many galleries are shutting their doors due to increasing rents and a growing online marketplace. Art fairs give individual artists an opportunity to connect directly with new collectors. I also love the communal spirit of the artists working and showing together. There is a lot of sharing of process and information that goes on at these types of events. Since I live on the West Coast, Art Vancouver is the best art fair to participate in, and Vancouverites are a knowledgeable art bunch.”
She said she likes to create fresh work for each art fair. “I consider carefully the city, people, environment and sizes of artwork,” she said. “At this Art Vancouver, I will be debuting some non-traditional materials in my paintings, all while keeping the abstract botanical theme. My aim is to always create work that uplifts and inspires, and I attempt to do this through colour, theme and design.”
Freedman works in acrylic, ink and mixed media. She has exhibited internationally and her work is in private and public collections around the world. On her website, she notes, “My journey through life can only be described as an artistic DIY.” She says she “was always the child who wanted to be left alone to explore and discover” and yet that it is her “path in life to share my art to celebrate connection, serenity and humour and to share this journey together.”
“Many artists will agree that one needs to look inward to find the source of creation,” Freedman explained of her need for both solitude and community. “Even realist painters rely on an internal compass based on technique and free expression. As a Jewish person, I honour the spirit of creation within me, and I also pay tribute to the concept of tikkun olam, the repair of the world. I feel fortunate to explore the creative side of myself for a living, but I also feel it’s necessary to do good work in the world. This might mean volunteering for Jewish events, donating my paintings to charity auctions, or just being a positive person with a solution-focused outlook.”
For Jewish community members who come to see her work at Art Vancouver, the dates for which will be released in the near future, Freedman said, “Surprisingly, a fair amount of Hebrew – my first language – appears in my paintings. If readers come visit my booth, I’ll look forward to pointing it out!”
Though she paints the natural world, Freedman noted a certain irony – she is not very good at caring for actual plants. “I am lucky that I can send my husband out to purchase plants – I paint them and he cares for them,” she said. “I am mostly fascinated by the riot of colour, of chaos, that Hashem has let loose in the natural world. The process of growth and decay, while natural, is obviously hard on us humans but is a natural part of life. I am also very interested in urban design that incorporates the natural world in ways that increase sustainability, beauty, communication and wonder.”
Much of artist Seth Book’s work has been influenced by his maternal grandfather, who was a Holocaust survivor, including “A Series I Don’t Want to Continue” – “One work to symbolize each character tattooed on his arm, and each million Jewish people that were massacred,” explained Book. (photo from Seth Book)
“My art began as solely for the enjoyment of creating work that was esthetically pleasing, but it has since changed to serve a didactic purpose and to provide awareness to social issues and histories that are important to me and my family,” Seth Book told the Independent. “A significant part of my work is to keep the legacy of my grandfather, survivors, and Jewish history alive.”
Book is a member of the third generation. “My mother’s father was a Holocaust survivor, originally from Romania. He went through a few camps, Auschwitz being one of them. Since seventh grade, I have completed a significant amount of research on his story, directly with him while he was alive, as well as after his passing, and, like many other survivors, he had an unbelievable journey,” explained Book, whose work will be on display at Art Vancouver April 16-19, in the unlikely event that the spread of COVID-19 is under control by then and the fair is allowed to take place.
“His presence in my early life has been extremely impactful on the way I live and see the world,” said Book of his grandfather, “and this is what has influenced my art. I truly believe that, in school, work and life in general, I have gotten my tenacity, conscientiousness and resilience from my zaide. As I learned more about his life and what he fought so hard to build for my family, he became a strong source of motivation and drive to succeed in my life. I still uncover bits and pieces about his life after the Holocaust.”
While his art for the past few years has been primarily concerned with his grandfather, the Holocaust, survivors in general, and present-day antisemitism, Book said the past year has been “transformational.”
“My connection to my grandfather allowed me to begin my work at this starting point relative to my own history,” he said, “but it has since expanded to include broader focuses, such as the current generation living on the legacies of survivors, as well as generational trauma and current events affecting the global Jewish community.”
Book, who works at a branding agency doing graphic design and writing copy for clients, is set to finish his bachelor of fine arts degree at the University of British Columbia. His coursework has allowed him to learn about and use many different mediums, he said, “including drawing, digital media, photography, painting and metalwork.”
Born in Vancouver, Book has lived in the Dunbar area his entire life. He attended Vancouver Talmud Torah from preschool to Grade 7, and then went to St. George’s School for his secondary education. He continued his involvement in the Jewish community via Temple Sholom, he said, “where I participated in the confirmation class in 10th grade and then taught at the Sunday school in 11th and 12th grade. I was also lucky enough to travel to Israel with my family on the Temple Sholom trip after my bar mitzvah.”
He was well-versed in diverse media long before his university years.
“Growing up, I was always interested in creativity: building structures, doing crafts, colouring, and especially playing with LEGO,” he said. “I recall being hilariously picky with colours and colouring inside the lines when drawing with other kids as early as preschool; I always find it funny to this day how much it bothered me as a toddler to see other toddlers using odd colour combinations or messy drawing.
“This interest in art was then supplemented by Colette Leisen’s art class all throughout VTT – it was probably my favourite in elementary school. This carried on into various art classes in high school, including drawing, animation, graphic design, ceramics and painting.”
Book said it is hard to define his artistic style because he has always been interested in finding new mediums and approaches. But he has less need for such definition since he began university. Since then, he said, “I have been able to let go of that and continue exploring what interests me rather than being labeled as a ‘painter’ or a ‘photographer.’ I always find that different mediums have such an incredibly unique ability to succeed in accomplishing a piece better than others. In other words, certain mediums are more effective than others in conveying certain ideas or concepts for varying projects. That being said, I try to use the best option I can for each work, trying not to limit myself in expertise. I can always try and learn! I did not work with metal until late 2019, and have already created two works using it, and I am very satisfied with how they turned out.”
Book, who has a background in business management in addition to his art training, said he first heard about Art Vancouver through a summer internship program he took part in a couple years ago, and has kept in close contact with the team there since. “I have loved working with the organizers and enjoyed attending the event every year,” he said. “I quite like the efforts they make to advance the art scene in my hometown and can’t wait to be a part of it as an artist this time.”
Hopefully, he will get that chance, but, even if Art Vancouver is canceled or postponed because of COVID-19, Book is an emerging artist whose works will available at other venues at other times.
He was able to tell the Independent about two pieces he was planning on bringing to the art fair. While he had not firmly decided on all the pieces yet, he said, “I selected the works from my portfolio which I have found to be the most striking, the works that I have received most compliments about, as well as the works which I feel represent my wide practice the best when shown together.”
One of those creations is called “A Series I Don’t Want to Continue,” which comprises six digitally rendered vinyl decals adhered to six two-foot-by-three-foot melamine sheets.
“A series opens an idea and simultaneously closes it,” reads the work’s description. “The values in between the first and last work tell a story or convey some sort of meaning through the relationships formed with the works in between.”
It continues, “A series of works in any media all relate to one another through consecutive nature. Labeling a group of entities as part of a series can bind them together, locking them out from further creation or reproduction. This is where the concept of my work integrates itself reflexively within the format of a series work. Through this work, I explore the contained value of past events, and particularly the Holocaust, in relation to my grandfather’s story.
“When he passed away, the evaluation of his extreme tenacity and hard work to establish our family and provide futures for generations to come was recognized more than ever. ‘Never again,’ the words that often cross our mind, could not be stronger upon recounting the horrors he endured. Never again, but also never forget. These events happened. They must be taught and preserved, but they are contained, and must never grow…. One work to symbolize each character tattooed on his arm, and each million Jewish people that were massacred. There will not be a seventh work in this series.”
The other piece that Book wanted to bring for sure to Art Vancouver is called “Untitled Crowd (The Stars, The Blues, The Ashes).” The 22-inch-by-30-inch ink-on-paper work is also related to the Holocaust. The description reads, in part, that the Nazis’ attention to detail was “dual-edged.”
“On one hand,” it notes, “they kept extremely particular and accurate data records of the prisoners murdered. Ironically, on the other hand, the attention to human detail was nonexistent. When Jewish people were funneled through various camps, they were stripped of their belongings and identities. They were nothing but a number.”
In “Untitled Crowd,” Book writes, “I attempt to discuss this specific lack of attention and elimination of one’s person. Each work is a recreation of real people who either survived or perished during the Holocaust. In order to illustrate the lack of respect and attention given to these unfortunately abused people, I spent a specifically short time on depicting them in the piece. Each face was dedicated about six minutes, to correspond with the six million lives lost. The faces are all overlapping with one another to represent not only the crowds of people who were murdered and their brutal living conditions, but also the morphing of individuals into a mess of numbers and bodies rather than human beings.”
The piece’s three parts carry added symbolism. “The first work is done with shades of mustard yellow to signify the yellow stars Jewish people were forced to use as identification, and the shades are more distinct in overlapping to show not all identity had yet been lost,” writes Book. “The second work is completed with shades of blues to represent the blue-striped pyjamas prisoners wore, and the difference in tone decreases to create a more homogenized look as they lost identity. The final work uses the greyscale to convey the ashes of those perished, and the gaining age of survivors around the world.”
“We are Family” by Cat L’Hirondelle is now on exhibit at the Zack Gallery, as part of he group show Community Longing and Belonging, which runs to March 29.
The new group show at the Zack Gallery, Community Longing and Belonging, is the second annual exhibit in celebration of Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month. Organized by Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver’s inclusion services and its coordinator, Leamore Cohen, the show is a silent auction. Half of the proceeds will go to the artists, and the other half will be divided between inclusion services and the gallery.
The show consists of 50 paintings by different artists. The size and shape of all the paintings are the same – small rectangles – but the contents and media used are vastly different, indicative of the artists’ various styles and training levels. Some are highly professional. Some are figurative; others abstract. But all reflect their creators’ need to belong, to be part of a community. Each painting tells a story.
One of the prevalent themes of the show is flight. Wings appear on several paintings, emphasizing the yearning for the freedom flight entails, but also for the brotherhood of other fliers. The white ornamental wings on Mikaela Zitron’s multimedia piece are bigger than the background board. They take the artist into the sky, into a joyful aerial dance, while Jamie Drie’s feathers, drifting in a sad emptiness, invoke the feeling of disconnection.
The murder of crows in Cat L’Hirondelle’s painting relates yet a different story. “I am a feminist,” said L’Hirondelle. “I was thinking about the importance of being part of a community of like-minded women. My group of longtime women friends is my family, my tribe and, like the crows, I know that they will always be there for me. Since I became disabled, I have felt more and more disassociated with the able-bodied-centric society in general. Just look at the history of people with disabilities in different societies – genocide, forced sterilizations, segregation, isolation, etc. I would love to feel that people with disabilities belong in the world. My piece is trying to impart that sense of longing to be included in general community and how crow communities seem to include everyone: the old, the disabled, the young. I have lived in the crow flight path for many years and have been watching crows’ behaviour; sometimes, I wished people were more like crows.”
The second recurring motif in the show is loneliness, the sense of separation. Daniel Malenica’s image is distinctive among such pictures. The woman in the painting stands behind closed garden gates. She gazes at us from the painting, and the naked longing in her eyes is painful to behold. She desperately wants to open that gate and step through, to join us, but she lacks the courage. What if the people inside reject her? So, she just lingers outside, desolate and alone, waiting for an invitation.
Another outstanding piece on the same theme is Estelle Liebenberg’s black and white painting “Solitude Standing.” She told the Independent, “I work primarily as a potter and a metalsmith, but I accepted the challenge to paint something for the exhibition because I’ve had wonderful times working as a substitute art instructor at the JCC. I chose the monochromatic colour palette because, at the moment, I am quite fascinated by shadows, specifically how they change the shape of objects but still remain recognizable.”
Her focus for the piece was the idea of a community in general. “I’ve spent my life dealing with different communities and, I guess, for me, the lines have softened over time,” she said. “We spend so much time in our lives working on belonging, or longing to belong somewhere, to someone or something. It’s an integral part of the beauty, the joy, the frustration and the heartbreak of life. For me, this was longing and belonging as an immigrant, as an introvert, as a mother of grown children, as a single person living in a city.”
She explained the title of her painting: “It is a hat tip to a song by Suzanne Vega. For me, her words truly encapsulate the feeling of longing to belong somewhere: ‘Solitude stands in the doorway / And I’m struck once again by her black silhouette / By her long cool stare and her silence / I suddenly remember each time we’ve met.’”
Different artists explore different aspects of community and belonging, and not all the communities are small or local. For Marcie Levitt-Cooper, the community in her painting is the universe, the earth and stars encompassed by love. Esther Tennenhouse, on the other hand, contemplates the darker side of belonging.
“My piece is a photocopy from a pre-World War Two Jewish encyclopedia, Allgemeine Ensiklopedya,” Tennenhouse explained. “It was labeled in Yiddish and issued in New York in 1940, the year Germany occupied France. On first seeing this old map, I found it very poignant. The map had to fit the 16-by-16 canvas given to all participants. The format left space, and I filled it with the music of two nigguns and lyrics of six Yiddish songs.”
That colourful map with Hebrew lettering, published just before the Nazis unleashed the full horrors of the Holocaust on European Jews, made for a tragic, frightening image, despite its bright and cheery appearance.
While the exhibit includes other figurative paintings, the majority of the pictures are abstract, either simple swirls of paint or complex geometric patterns, like Daniel Wajsman’s piece – two irregular overlapping rectangles.
“I wanted to emphasize that we should bring everyone in, not leave anyone out,” he said.
Community Longing and Belonging runs to March 29.
Olga Livshinis a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
On Feb. 20, Vancouver-based artist Dina Goldstein’s Snapshots from the Garden of Eden opened at the Museum of Jewish Montreal (imjm.ca). The exhibit will be on display until May 17.
A collection of 11 large-scale black-and-white photographs, Snapshots re-imagines modernized versions of characters and passages from Jewish fairytales, folk stories and legends collected in the book Leaves from the Garden of Eden by award-winning folklorist Howard Schwartz. Drawn from Jewish oral and written traditions across the centuries, the stories span the Jewish world – from Italy to Afghanistan – bringing to life the diversity and vibrancy of this overlooked area of Jewish storytelling and heritage.
Renowned for her reinterpretations of cultural symbols, Goldstein’s Snapshots reframes Jewish lore both famed and forgotten through the eyes of the 21st century. “The resonance of Goldstein’s work stems from her ability to weave intricate visual narratives,” said curator Alyssa Stokvis-Hauer, “where the history of Jewish folklore is catapulted into the modern era with a cast of characters and film noir-esque scenes that are provocative, imaginative and layered with meaning.”
Playing with visual and narrative archetypes, Goldstein creates new connections and relevance by merging the traditional and whimsical with contemporary themes of technology, desire, justice and identity, exploring and reinvigorating the history and role of Jewish folk narratives in broader cultural memory.
Yehuda and Maya Devir and their self-drawn webcomic characters in One of Those Days. (image from Devirs)
Fans always do a double take when they see Yehuda and Maya Devir at a comics convention or in a New York City subway, or wherever. The young Israeli couple looks like they jumped right out of their virally popular webcomic One of Those Days.
“I suppose it’s like meeting a real Bart Simpson in the street,” mused Yehuda. “We act exactly the same as our characters.”
Indeed, about seven million social media followers know that Maya loves super-hot showers and hates folding laundry. They know Yehuda’s a big baby when he’s sick and is willing to say “I’m sorry” after an argument. They sympathized with the couple’s struggle to get pregnant.
Most of all, fans smile at the humorous spin the webcomic puts on everyday scenes in a marriage, from dishes in the sink to kisses on the couch.
“We get lots of emails and messages from around the world about how we changed the way couples look at their relationship and how they talk to each other,” Yehuda told Israel21c. “It’s amazing that we can make such a difference for people, that our work can connect Muslim, Jewish, black, white, rich, poor … it doesn’t matter.”
One of Those Days won the Most Creative Content Maker Award at the Inflow Global Summit 2019 Awards for social media influencers.
“We dedicated our award to our followers and supporters around the world. We have fans in Brazil, Japan, Trinidad, Iran, Iraq – basically, every country,” Yehuda said. “People thank us for making them happy once a week and making them feel they are not alone. It’s an amazing journey we’ve been on.”
The Devirs’ journey began in September 2016, when they packed up their diplomas in visual communication from Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design and moved to Tel Aviv.
The newlyweds hoped to find an affordable apartment in a nice neighbourhood. And they hoped to make a living in illustration and design. Neither aspiration was terribly realistic.
“A friend suggested we post a selfie on Facebook asking friends to help us find an apartment,” said Maya. “We didn’t know how to take a good selfie, but we can draw really well, so we did a cartoon of ourselves and posted that.”
Not only did that illustration help them find an affordable flat in a very expensive city, but it also formed the kernel of One of Those Days.
While working as a freelance illustrator in the fashion, music and startup industries, Yehuda posted funny snippets on social media about being a new husband.
“Very quickly I joined him because I wanted him to make me look good,” Maya said with a laugh, “and because the story belonged to both of us. The concept was to illustrate moments we both experienced.”
In May 2017, Bored Panda posted a piece about the Devirs that went viral. “After a week, we gained half a million followers on Instagram,” Maya said. “Since then, we never stopped gaining followers. We got tons of emails and Yehuda couldn’t manage by himself. So, I left my job as art director in an ad firm and joined him full-time in October 2017. This was our dream – to create something of our own.”
They take complementary roles in each cartoon. “We start the idea together and the actual illustration is Yehuda’s talented hand,” said Maya. “Then I add my suggestions about colour composition and typography. I also manage the business.”
She said, “I opened an ecommerce shop. At first, we sold only autographed A5-sized prints of One of Those Days comics and Yehuda’s other comic illustrations. People who were into art and comics appreciated that.”
The online shop now sells three One of Those Days books plus merchandise, including apparel, shower curtains, calendars, phone skins and other items imprinted with favourite cartoons.
The Devirs’ YouTube channel has 46,000 subscribers. They have a Patreon subscription content service. They’ve appeared at comic-cons in Europe, India and will soon visit the United States. They are in great demand to give talks and lectures.
“Everything we do is because our fans suggested it,” said Yehuda. “Now, they want a TV show and we are going to try to do it. We are working with a scriptwriter at a studio in the U.S.”
Relationships proved to be a universal kind of language for the Devirs. “When we decided to move into the stage of being parents and saw it wouldn’t be that easy for us, this was a turning point,” Yehuda confided. “Would we really talk about the unpleasant experience of trying to get pregnant? It’s a super-personal subject.”
Maya felt that Yehuda’s humorous and colourful style would put the right spin on the topic and could be supportive for other couples in a similar situation. And so they introduced comics about ovulation, periods and lovemaking on demand. Messages offering support and advice came pouring in. It was like a worldwide group therapy session, Yehuda said.
The cartoon announcing Maya’s pregnancy got 16 million likes and shares. The first illustration of baby Ariel got 13 million. As of Dec. 1, she had 219,000 Instagram followers at just six months old.
“It was unbelievable to see the amount of love we got from people we didn’t know,” said Yehuda. “As Israeli and Jewish people, it was especially unbelievable to get supportive reactions from our huge fan base in the Arab world. The Israeli part is not important. We’re just the cartoon couple about love.”
Now living on Maya’s childhood kibbutz, the couple puts Ariel in the care of her two grandmothers when they travel to shows and lectures. The difficulty of parting with their baby became another comic that went viral because it was so relatable.
“It’s hard for Maya and me to leave her,” said Yehuda, “but, when she’s older, she’ll join us.”
Israel21c is a nonprofit educational foundation with a mission to focus media and public attention on the 21st-century Israel that exists beyond the conflict. For more, or to donate, visit israel21c.org.
Former Zack Gallery director Linda Lando, left, with new director Hope Forstenzer. (photo by Daniel Wajsman)
The Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver has a new director, Hope Forstenzer – one of the few directors in the gallery’s history to be a professional artist.
Forstenzer is a graphic designer and a glass artist; she is a member of the Terminal City Glass Co-op. She takes over the reins of the Zack Gallery from Linda Lando, who retired at the end of last year.
“I have a background in visual art and performing art,” Forstenzer told the Independent. “For years, I was the artistic director of a multimedia company in New York. We worked on short plays: judged them and then produced them around New York. It was an amazing job, very interesting, but it didn’t pay my bills. For that, I worked as a graphic designer.”
She also taught graphic design, first in the United States – New York, Seattle and Baltimore – and, later, in Vancouver, after her wife accepted a job at B.C. Children’s Hospital in 2012 and the family moved here. Forstenzer has been teaching graphic design at Emily Carr University of Art + Design and at Simon Fraser University.
The artist began working with glass in 2001, while still in New York. She liked it so much that she made it her principal medium. A number of glass shows in Seattle and Vancouver have included her pieces.
“I had two solo shows for my glass, both here in B.C.,” she added. “I also participated in a group show at the Zack in 2015.”
The life of a freelance artist is a hectic one. Forstenzer has had to juggle her teaching schedule and studio time, plus a family with young children. She longed for more professional stability.
“I started looking for a steady part-time job,” she said, “then I heard Linda Lando was retiring from the Zack. I always loved this gallery and its artists, loved the JCC. I decided to apply for the job. I’ve worked in leadership positions in the art field all my life, so this job seemed perfect, both in its essence and its timing.”
Her plans for the gallery are extensive. “I want to do at least as well as Linda did. She was a marvelous director, so I have big shoes to fill.”
Forstenzer is already working on future shows, both solo and group exhibitions, in various artistic formats. “I love diversity,” she said. “But a group show might be harder in some ways to jury and organize. Art is always subjective and, in a group show, some people will always like certain artists more than others. The trick is to make it work for the majority…. When a curator assembles a group show, it is a collaboration, like putting together a puzzle, making as little dissonance as possible from the disparate pieces. On the other hand, in a solo show, you create a flow of energy.”
With regard to the gallery and its place in the community, Forstenzer said, “I want to make sure the gallery is connected to the JCC. We are part of it, and that should be emphasized. It doesn’t mean only Jewish artists – the JCC has a diverse membership, it draws in people of all ages, skills and cultural influences. I want to reflect that in our future shows and programs. Linda started that with her amazing poetry series. I want to do more. Children’s programs. Sessions for older citizens. Workshops for families. I want interactions with the gallery. I want our visitors to be part of the shows.”
As for the artists, she said, “I want to create a nurturing environment for them in the gallery, want to encourage younger artists, not just in age but in experience. Some people only start in the arts after they retire, and their mastery in other areas makes them unique in artistic venues. I want to establish a relationship with our artists, so they will trust me.”
Forstenzer is sure that her being an artist herself is an asset for her work as gallery director. “I’m not only an artist, I’m a fan of the arts, of beautiful things of any kind. It’s not really that common. Many artists are not fans, they prefer their own art to anyone else’s, but I love art. When I visit a museum or a gallery, I want to absorb as much as I can of the other artists’ imaginations.”
Her years as an artist and as an art administrator give her a unique perspective – to see the gallery from both sides. “I can advocate for the artists,” she said, “but I also can and will represent the gallery and its patrons.”
While acting as the gallery director, Forstenzer said she will not exhibit her own work at the Zack. “It would be a conflict of interest,” she said. “I’ll never exhibit here. I will participate in the Terminal City Glass Co-op’s group shows as a glass artist, but, at the Zack, I’m the director, not an artist. I will keep a hard line between my glass-blowing and my gallery.”
Olga Livshinis a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Editor’s Note: This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that Hope Forstenzer was not the first Zack Gallery director to be a professional artist, but rather is one of the few directors in the gallery’s history to be a professional artist.
Linda Frimer’s exhibit, Beckoned by the Light, runs until Feb. 23 at the Zack Gallery. (photo from Linda Frimer)
“Since I was a child, I’ve always looked for the light – in the forest near my home and in the stories of my family. All the paintings in my show were inspired by light, the light of creation,” said Linda Frimer.
The exhibit, Beckoned by the Light, opened at the Zack Gallery on Jan 30. Originally, Frimer thought that her show would open simultaneously with the launch of her upcoming book, Connecting the Dots, and this is why the gallery exhibit opened in conjunction with the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival. But life interfered, and the book is still a work-in-progress. Nevertheless, Frimer told the Independent, “I decided to go ahead with the show.”
Frimer’s paintings are beautiful, suffused with light. They are closer to impressionism than to realism, but every piece is unmistakably and uniquely hers. Light bathes the trees and the streams. It filters among the branches. It soars on dove’s wings over brilliant abstractions and illuminates mysterious paths winding through the woods. Light bursts into explosions of gladness and swirls like dancing fairies, inviting gallery visitors to share the luminous joy, to rejoice in the rainbow of colours.
“When I paint, I want to be positive,” the artist said. “Life is hard. That’s why I want joy in my paintings.”
To express her joy, Frimer uses bright colours, including gold and silver. “Gold and silver are great for all the recurring symbols in my paintings,” she explained. “One of my favourite symbols is wings – wings of the birds, like a dove, which is a metaphor for light.”
Another symbol that appears frequently is a tree. “Trees have wings, too. Sure, they are rooted in earth, but they reach for the sky, for the light,” Frimer said.
One more symbol populates many of her paintings – a flower, specifically a sunflower, which always strives to stretch higher, to touch the sun.
And then there are paths, roads to the light. Or to a better place. Or to someone you love. “I love people,” she said. “Love being a member of a group. I’m a member of several different groups.”
One of her groups – with five artist friends – attended her opening night and brought a gift: a wooden staff adorned with symbols of her art. Each object that was attached to the staff was created by a member of the group.
“We met through a project of the Hebrew University about 15 years ago,” Frimer said. “Now, we meet regularly, support each other in life and art. Whenever one of us has a show, the rest of us always make something symbolic for her.”
The group comprises Frimer, Nomi Kaplan, Lilian Broca, Barbara Heller, Sid Akselrod and Melenie Fleischer. “We call our group Five Hens and a Rooster,” Fleischer said with a laugh, as she presented the group’s gift to Frimer.
Music also plays a big part in Frimer’s artistic life. One could almost hear notes thrumming in her imagery. “I often listen to music when I paint,” she said. “I even dance sometimes. I love classical music, pop, all kinds, really.”
Frimer always starts a painting with an idea, but then her imagination takes over. “I follow my intuition,” she said. “Painting is a spiritual act for me. It’s like meditation. I love the process, the magic of creating. It’s wonderful to be able to express all that positive energy.”
In her opinion, everyone is an artist. Not necessarily a visual artist, but we all create in our own way. “It’s about how you feel, how you express yourself,” she said. “The process is much more important than the end result. I taught art a lot and I facilitated several healing artistic projects. It is great when I can help people tell their stories through creativity.”
Her new book is about that, too. “It’s my life story through art,” she said. “There are also creative exercises there, and some essays about different aspects of creativity. It’s about the healing power of the arts.”
Many of Frimer’s canvasses are large, expensive, fit for corporate headquarters or ballrooms, but the artist wants more than to sell her paintings for profit. “I believe in art reaching the public, being accessible. That’s why I make reproductions of my own work,” she said. “I make posters and giclée prints in different sizes. While my original paintings might not be affordable to many, anyone can afford a small print or appreciate a poster.”
In the same spirit, she often makes donations of her art to hospitals and synagogues. “When a painting hangs in a hospital,” she said, “I hope it might make someone feel better, help with their healing. In a synagogue, I hope my paintings might inspire and support. I studied colours and how they could aid in healing a body or a spirit. I even wrote about it in my book.”
Frimer’s bright paintings are permeated with hope and energy. They are celebrations of possibilities, as if the artist sees everything through the lens of optimism. And she shares that optimism freely with all of us.
Beckoned by the Light runs until Feb 23. For more information on Frimer and her work, visit lindafrimer.ca.
Olga Livshinis a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Left to right, Three Echoes artists Sorour Abdollahi, Devora and Sidi Schaffer. Their exhibit, Hope and Transformation, is at Amelia Douglas Gallery until Feb. 29. (photo from Three Echoes)
Connected by similar values and inspirations in their creative work and in their lives more generally, Sidi Schaffer, Sorour Abdollahi and Devora are longtime friends. Their fifth exhibit together – as the informal collective Three Echoes – is called Hope and Transformation. It is at the Amelia Douglas Gallery at Douglas College in New Westminster until Feb. 29.
“Art transcends the limitations of time, space, language and cultural background,” said Devora in her written remarks, prepared for the exhibit’s opening Jan. 16, which was postponed because of the snow, and given Jan. 21. “The echoes from within spill over onto the canvases,” she said. “Together, our works create a dialogue of hope and transformation.”
Devora told the Independent that the name for the exhibit came “through talk and discussion between the three of us in reflecting on our individual and collective journeys and where we found ourselves, and the world, at that moment.”
“Today, there is a lot of anxiety about globalization and migration,” Abdollahi said. “As an immigrant artist, my art deals with connections between cultures and hybridity. Therefore, my works might help serve as a bridge and tell the immigrant story.”
Abdollahi was born and raised in Iran, where she graduated with a diploma in Persian literature from Yazd University and a bachelor’s in fine arts from the University of Art in Tehran. In Vancouver, where she settled 20 years ago, she studied at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. She writes in the exhibit catalogue that her Iranian heritage and Canadian experience “have had a tremendous influence on my works’ subject matter, dealing with the mediation between the modern and the ancient, the old and the new, the West and the East.”
The artist uses collage, a multi-layering technique and mixed media. “My works show the relationship between culture and environment and migration,” Abdollahi explained to the Independent. “Our environments are changing both internally in our mind and externally, and my works illustrate this change. My works create negotiation between different cultures and societies.”
Schaffer also started her fine arts education in her birth country, Romania. In Israel, she received a degree in art education and taught in the school system for more than a decade. When she came to Canada in 1975, she studied at the University of Alberta, where she majored in printmaking and painting. Initially focused on abstraction, her work has become “more integrated, combining abstract and figurative forms,” she writes in the catalogue. “Now I am continually exploring new possibilities with mixed media, a combination of print, drawing, painting and collage. Important for me is the visual poetry, the relationship of form, space, colour and light. Some of my works in this show are a combination of collages of different things from nature and painting; others are collages of my own imagination.”
“I am an optimist and also I am amazed about the continuous transformation in nature around me,” Schaffer told the Independent. “I combined my love and respect for the beauty of flowers and leaves, surrounding them with hope, and new imaginary landscapes. In a way, I give the dry flowers a new life, bringing them out from the pages of old books.”
As for Devora, she told the JI, “What gives me hope is my relationship with the Divine – that there is no separation, that we are all connected and made of stardust, that we are all on an unfolding journey of being together. I attempt to express that emotion onto the canvas.”
For Devora, art has the power to transform the viewer when the viewer can hear her work speak to them from their own experience. “At the opening,” she said, “the Douglas College students from two classes – one poetry class and one art history class – gathered around and engaged with all three of our works, asking questions, wanting to understand the process, the intention and how they could relate from their own lives to what they were seeing.”
Normally, only the art history students attend each artist talk. However, after Devora shared that the Zack Gallery at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver hosts Pandora’s Collective poetry nights, where members of the collective create works inspired by the art, the Amelia Douglas Gallery invited the poetry class, as well.
Growing up in Berkeley, Calif., where she earned a master’s at California School of Professional Psychology, Deborah Ross does all of her creative work under her maternal grandmother’s name, Devora, in honour of her grandmother, who was murdered in the Holocaust. “Her spirit gives me the strength and confidence to create,” said the artist in her remarks for the exhibit.
Devora, who now lives both in Vancouver and on Salt Spring Island, came to Canada in 1993. She has studied art at Emily Carr, Langara College and elsewhere. “My artwork reflects the love I have for the creative process and exploration,” she writes in the exhibit catalogue. “I am fascinated by the inner world of emotion, dream, metaphor and story and strive to illuminate both the universal and personal by bringing them onto the canvas.
“My latest works explore the interplay and continuum between abstract and representational images of landscapes and figure, and a fascination with the surreal, in mixed media combining acrylic and collage.”
In her remarks for the exhibit opening, Devora explained, “My art reflects a search for understanding and clarity about my personal and ancestral history and the world. My experiences inform my work as I go inside and bring them onto the canvas. I endeavour to transform darkness into the light of hope. I am interested in what is hidden and how it informs what is revealed.”
She noted that she, Abdollahi and Schaffer “turned to esthetics as a way to focus and navigate our journey.” And she expanded on this concept. “Through the lens of esthetics combined with the common immigrant experience and effects of war and displacement,” she said, “the three of us have managed to bridge all other divides: language, ethnicity, culture, religion and country of origin. Our childhood environments and experiences could not have been more different on the surface and yet the foundations of connection and similarity were already being laid down, established through the development of the lens of sensitivity to beauty in the world and compassion for the human experience.
“Our ideal, of different cultures living in harmony, is reflected in our own personal experiences, in which intimate exposure to the world of ‘the other,’ unearths commonalities and gives rise to a greater depth of understanding about our own lives.”
She concluded, “In closing, I would like to quote Sorour, as Sidi and I feel that her words speak for all three of us: ‘In my friendship and collaboration with Sidi and Deborah, I see an opportunity to explore and express my own culture, but also to relate these themes to other cultural experiences – recognizing the echoes of each other in our works and our lives. My works side by side those of my friends’ works create a dialogue and negotiation which hopefully provides the viewer with a different vision of the world – one which is borderless, free and peaceful.’”
Larry Cohen’s new ceramic exhibition at the Zack Gallery runs until Jan. 25. (photo by Olga Livshin)
Larry Cohen’s new ceramic exhibition at the Zack Gallery is called This and That. The name is symbolic for the artist. His show consists of two entirely different types of pottery: whimsical woven sculptures and functional crockery. “I wanted to explore the relationship between pure art, like my sculptures, and functional things, like my bowls, vases and cups,” said Cohen in an interview with the Independent.
“There is a continuum that stretches from pure functional to pure art, and every object fits somewhere along that continuum,” he explained. “The closer to the artistic end, the less functionality the object has, except for people to look at it and think about it. On the other end, there is pure functionality: you can use a bowl for fruits or a mug for your coffee, but it also has a shape and a colour; something to look at, too.”
In his long artistic life, Cohen has worked in many different mediums, creating sculptures from metal and wood, but clay is his material of choice. “Clay is a wonderful thing to work with. It feels good in my hands,” he said. “And it could be found anywhere in the world. Here, in British Columbia, in Europe, in China, in Japan, in Latin America.”
In the past decade, Cohen has won a couple of month-long residencies as a clay master, one in China, another in Japan. “The clay is different everywhere. Its chemically different compositions provide different visual and textile effects in the objects made of it,” he said. “It could be the same colour when unfired and painted with the same glaze, but, if made from different types of clay, after firing, the resulting pottery would look and feel different.”
Cohen travels a lot and, everywhere he goes, he searches for the local potters and their art, trying to absorb as much as he can from the various traditions. “As clay is different everywhere, so the traditions are different, but, in most of the places I have visited, the history of pottery goes back thousands of years,” he said. “People made things of clay in ancient China and ancient Mexico. Not so much in Europe – it had to import the technique from China, but it is still very old. The only place in the world I know that didn’t have pottery is here, in British Columbia. The local clay is wonderful, but the indigenous people here didn’t use it. They made everything out of wood. Only in the past 200 years, since the Europeans settled in B.C., pottery has been on the rise.”
To a degree, Cohen is a local clay pioneer, like other local potters. It is important to him that everything he creates is unique, that no object repeats another. He is as much a craftsman as an artist, which makes even his utilitarian bowls and vases works of art. His woven sculptures are really one of a kind; they are akin to wicker baskets, but made of clay.
“Some of them look like vases, but there are holes,” he said with a smile. “You can’t pour water inside. No functionality except to look at and admire. It is a new technique for me. I always try something new, always think: what is another way to use clay?”
This particular technique looks like ceramic ribbons lying on top of one another, or interwoven. “Clay is forgiving,” Cohen said. “You can make all kinds of different shapes from it, but, even so, it took me awhile to develop this technique. I had to figure out how to overcome the softness of clay and how to combat gravity, so the upper layers wouldn’t squish the lower ones.”
He cuts clay in strips and then twists them in various ways to create the dynamic shapes. “Sometimes, I repeat the same shape multiple times, sometimes make them different,” he said. “I dry them before firing, so the whole sculpture doesn’t collapse under its own weight. Sometimes, I make two or three layers together. Other times, every layer is dried separately, and then they come together in the kiln, held to each other by the glaze. Once or twice, I made the full sculpture before firing, and you could see the lower layers sort of melting together.”
Unlike a painter, who sees the immediate result of his labours, a potter doesn’t see what he creates until it’s fired in the kiln. Cohen fires every piece twice, first without glaze, the second time with glaze.
“Once a piece goes into the kiln, you never know what will come out,” he said.
Cohen makes his pieces in bunches before firing them all together. “I have three large kilns in my studio on Cortes Island,” he said. “I fire them four or five times a year. One is electric, for lower temperatures. It is the first one I use. Whatever I’ve made by the time I fire the kilns goes in. Then everything has to cool down before I paint on the glaze and use the other two kilns – one for regular glaze, for the smooth surfaces, and another with salt for the special textures.”
This and That opened on Jan. 9 and continues until Jan 25.
Olga Livshinis a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].