Marty Katzoff’s The Light Within the Shell was created specifically for the Zack Gallery. (photo by Lauren Zbarsky)
The Light Within the Shell exhibit opened at the Zack Gallery on July 4. There is a sign beside the door: “This space is meant to be explored. Wander, sit, experience, enjoy.” The show was created specifically for the gallery.
Created by artist Marty Katzoff, it doesn’t involve traditional paintings hanging on the walls. Instead, it looks like a huge folding screen comprised of a dozen panels. They encircle the room, leaving only a narrow passageway along the walls. Each panel has a colourful abstract painting on its inside surface and a black and white image on its outside. A few small copper sculptures scattered outside the enclosed space complete the installation. Viewers are invited to sit down and meditate on the benches inside the vibrant shell of the exhibit or wander along the outer passageway.
Born in Rhode Island, Katzoff grew up playing sports. “I didn’t do much art until my teenage years,” he told the Independent. “I was going through difficult times in high school. My friend was an artist. She introduced me to the arts. I started making collages and found it therapeutic.”
He never completed high school and worked a variety of jobs. “For the next 10 years, I worked in construction, in restaurants,” he recalled. “And, all that time, I made art. I taught myself to paint. Then I went back to school and completed my BA at Bard College in New York.”
For years, Katzoff worked as an artist in New York, created large murals in indoor and outdoor spaces. He graduated from the University of British Columbia’s master of fine arts program in 2021.
His artistic education vaguely coincided with his newly found fascination with kabbalah, specifically the Tanya, which he has been studying for the past few years. “Before, I had separate ideas about art and spirituality. Now, I’m exploring how Jewish learning is connected to my art, how mythology and tradition transform my spiritual life into my paintings,” he said.
As a child, Katzoff went to a Jewish day school, but kabbalah offered him a different perspective. “I started with a book by Gershom Sholem. Before, I always painted with music in the background. This project is the first I’ve ever done without listening to music. I listened to kabbalah lectures online while I painted. I wanted to discover what I could create while listening to something complex and different … [by the late] Rabbi Yehoshua B. Gordon.”
The idea for the current installation came to him when he was finishing his graduate program at UBC. “One of our family friends lives in Vancouver,” Katzoff explained. “She is Jewish and she told me about the Zack Gallery. I submitted the proposal, and it was accepted. I wanted to create an installation specifically for the gallery, an interactive space, a visualization of light. This show took me 11 months to complete.”
Katzoff sees this exhibit as an amalgam of dreams, painting, architecture, Jewish learning and personal symbolism. Vancouver artist Rosamunde Bordos’s essay about the show, which is available in the gallery, expresses her visual composition in words.
Katzoff’s media, the plywood panels, are all recycled materials. “I have a friend who works in art shipping,” he said. “They ship large pieces in plywood crates. That was where the panels came from. Some of them have holes, so customs could look inside the crates to see the art. I painted around the holes. It was like a collaboration with someone else.”
The size of the panels, some of them taller than a person, left him undaunted. “I always liked to work on a large scale,” he said. “That’s why I did murals in New York.”
His oil paints are also recycled. “I use lots of recycled materials in my art,” he said. “My grandmother was an artist. She gave me her entire collection of pigments for the oil paints I use. I’ll probably work with her paints for the next decade.”
In addition to painting, Katzoff also works as a printmaker. Currently, he teaches printmaking at UBC as a sessional instructor. “For me, printmaking provides the connection with literature, with storytelling and history,” he said. “My brain seems to process that connection better while I’m drawing and etching. My drawings are illustrations, while my painting remains more like a therapeutic activity.”
His abstract copper sculptures, several of which are included in the exhibit, grew organically out of his printmaking. “I make my sculptures reusing the copperplates from my prints,” he said. “I have lots of copper plates. Copper was an important part of Judaism and, after I use the plates for prints, I want to share the metal, recycle it. I make sculptures from it. I also make bracelets and amulets. You can see the remains of the etching if you look closely.”
To learn more, check out martinkatzoff.com. The Light Within the Shell is on display until Aug. 22.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Lilian Broca stands with “Mary Magdalene, The Sacred Union,” which is one of seven panels comprising her current exhibit, Mary Magdalene Resurrected. (photo from Lilian Broca)
Lilian Broca’s artistic canon includes four series on biblical women. The latest, Mary Magdalene Resurrected, is at Il Museo at the Italian Cultural Centre until Aug. 15.
“Each series is an interpretation of a different concern,” Broca told the Independent. “Lilith is the rebel signifying hope for human courage and gender equality. Queen Esther, also courageous and wise, her story addressing the theme of sacrifice and self-empowerment, is actively involved in politics; in her time, known as an almost exclusive masculine realm. Judith, a warrior at heart who single-handedly saves her town from total annihilation, speaks of female effectiveness in the military world – a masculine tradition that she breaks, proving women don’t necessarily excel only in the domestic sphere.
“Unlike Esther and Judith, both actively involved in the masculine domain, Mariam [Mary] is a much more complex figure,” said Broca. “Her story has been greatly redacted in the first couple of centuries CE, leaving us various versions, which offer divergent perspectives of her importance and placement in the life of Yeshua Ben Yosef [Jesus]. One of the concerns in this series is about women’s place, or lack thereof, in institutions – which even in our 21st century – are restrictively based on gender.”
While it may seem odd that Mary Magdalene is included in Broca’s body of work, she reminded the Independent that Mary was “also Jewish until she died, as Christianity did not appear as such until the Edict of Milan in 313 CE and, universally, only at the Council of Nicea in 325 CE.”
A painter for many years, Broca’s Lilith series was created and exhibited in that medium, while Esther, Judith and Mariam are portrayed in mosaics.
“In 2000, I attended The Creation of the World in Jewish and Christian Art with Discussion on Illuminated Manuscripts at the Vancouver Public Library with speakers/presenters Bezalel Narkiss and Dr. Aliza Cohen-Mushlin, both of Israel,” explained Broca. “There, I saw a slide show Bezalel presented on ancient synagogues in the Levant. The Dura Europos in Syria had a beautiful fresco illustrating the Queen Esther story. I was mesmerized and, once home, I started to do some serious research on the Esther stories (more than one version)…. It was during the research that I found out that the palace in which Esther lived with her Persian king, Hashayarshah/Xerxes, had floors ‘encrusted with rubies and porphyry in pleasing designs.’ These were mosaics and, for me, a good omen. I knew I should return to creating mosaics one day, something I experimented with as a student (at 19) but stopped soon after. So, I decided to create the whole Esther series in mosaic glass.”
More than 10 years ago, Broca’s interest in Mary Magdalene was piqued by something she read on the discovery in the 1940s of the Gnostic Gospels, but various circumstances delayed further study, including a visit to her studio by Dr. Adolfo Roitman, curator of the Dead Sea Scrolls, who was in town to give a lecture. He loved the Esther series and suggested she do one on Judith, which she did.
Only in 2016 did Broca return her attention to Mariam. Over eight months, she read dozens of books and essays, and drew and painted the cartoons (drawings for mosaics) for the series now on display. In making the panels, Broca had the help of Adeline Benhammouda, who used to work for Mosaika Studio in Montreal. When Broca was diagnosed with cancer, she asked the studio to make the last two mosaics in the series.
“In the meantime,” said Broca, “the pandemic slowed down activities in all institutions, especially art galleries, and I didn’t know what would happen to my future exhibition.”
The pandemic also temporarily reduced the supply of N95 masks that protected Broca – who suffered a lung infection after her radiation treatment was complete – from the silica dust that results from grinding the glass mosaic tesserae.
One of Broca’s projects as a Shadbolt Independent Scholar at Simon Fraser University was to write a letter describing her activities during the self-isolation months of COVID. All the scholars’ letters were published and Broca’s can be found at the bcreview.ca/2021/02/14/broca-pandemic-magdalene. It is addressed to Mariam and, in it, Broca explains why she chose large (79-by-48-inch) panels for this series.
“In the past, women artists, their works and their stories were mostly associated with the intimate and the small, as though they dared not take up valuable space and time,” she wrote. “As you know from my past art works, I resent that timid notion. My heroines insist and demand the space and importance that long ago was offered to masculine achievements in the military, politics and commerce.
“And, finally, Mariam, after reading so many diverse accusations, betrayals, and the vilification you were subjected to over the centuries, I have decided to express the existence of disparate accounts of your story with text in each mosaic panel, hence the illuminated manuscript composition and unifying motif. Each panel displays three to four lines in an ancient language spoken during your time on earth.”
The languages featured are Aramaic, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, Armenian, Latin, Amharic and Coptic. Broca chose to make seven panels because seven “is a sacred number in the Jewish tradition.”
“Symbolism plays an important part in my artworks and this series is no exception,” Broca told the Independent. “Each drawing includes symbols that are meaningful in both Judaic and Christian traditions. Whether they are flowers, fruit, boats, pottery or textile patterns, these symbols speak of the distant past, yet most of them are recognizable today. Just like an illuminated manuscript page, I sought to illuminate what lies hidden or repressed through the symbols on the borders of each ‘page.’ Hopefully, through them, new ideas can be brought to life.”
While the Esther and Judith stories have a beginning and an end, Broca said, “Mariam unfortunately is a figure that appears suddenly in Yeshua’s (arguably) 33rd year and disappears right after the Crucifixion that same year. The Gnostic Gospels and other historical documentation that refer to her following the crucifixion are interwoven with legend and myth, none of which is accepted by academics. I chose scenes from all sources, scenes that I felt relayed best her high social status during Yeshua’s life, the love and closeness the two shared, her marginalization once Yeshua died and there was no one to protect her against the ill will and jealousy of the Apostles, the relationship with Mary the Virgin and, finally, my personal vision of a balanced religion, any religion.”
For the series, Broca studied the history of the Jews in the first-century BCE to first-century CE period. “I loved all that research,” said Broca. “I learned so much about Judaism in the process. It was reassuring to read Yeshua’s Jewish parables and to realize that he was very, very concerned with the lack of faith he found in the small beit hamidrash(es) they had in those days and, of course, in the temple. The political situation at that time was extremely complex and the ‘ruling class’ of Sadducees and Pharisees kept the masses in poverty while most of them aligned themselves with the Romans and became wealthier than they had ever dreamed. Yeshua never planned on starting a new religion; on the contrary, he wanted a return to the old ways. My understanding is that the 12 disciples were responsible for all the changes that ensued after Yeshua’s death.”
During the drawing stage of the series, Broca said she consulted two academics – Dr. Mary Ann Beavis and Margaret Starbird – about “‘how far can I push the envelope?’ before I get reprimanded by Christians for profanity or blasphemy.” For instance, wondered Broca, is it OK to portray Jesus washing Mary Magdelene’s feet?
“Each time I heard their answers,” said Broca, “I weighed them carefully, because, after all, I do retain an artistic licence for expressing my own perspective in art. But, at the same time, as a Jewish woman (not a Jewish artist) who embarks on a sensitive subject, I had to make sure I respect the Christian beliefs. I would not appreciate a Christian person making art that endorses what I consider derogatory Jewish images or symbolism.”
At the exhibit’s opening, Broca said, “I am not a theologian nor a religious person and my point of view remains, as always, a feminist one.”
She noted, “Mary Magdalene lived in a strict patriarchal society when women had few rights and freedoms, yet she left her sanctuary, her home and family, in order to follow a single man, without a job or an income, without a fixed address, a man traveling with an entourage of 12 other men spreading the word of God.”
She said, “For 20 centuries, Yeshua, or Jesus, has been both a bridge and a barrier between the Jewish and the Christian faiths. Although I find Jesus equally fascinating, this body of work here, is not about him. It is strictly about his favourite and beloved disciple, Mary the Magdalene.”
The documentary Mary Magdalene in Conversation with Lilian Broca is in post-production. The film, for which Broca wrote the script, is fully subsidized by the Canada Council for the Arts. It follows the journal Broca started in early 2016, when she embarked on her research.
“My hope is that the Mary Magdalene series will open new avenues to perceive the hugely influential relationship between Yeshua and Mariam … as well as considering what happened to that relationship in the hands of the male founders of Christianity,” said Broca. “In addition, I hope that, through my Mariam mosaics, viewers will be profoundly motivated to reexamine this whole critical episode of human history.”
In a 2020 article, Italian Cultural Centre director and curator Angela Clarke spoke in this context about Broca’s body of work as a whole, noting: “Through her mosaics, Broca looks to glass shards as a means to remind viewers that the traditional paradigms associated with traditional institutions and power dynamics can be broken through and reconstructed into a world that is more healing.”
“Remembrance” by Michael Shevloff. Part of PhotoClub Vancouver’s Connections exhibit at Zack Gallery until June 27.
Whenever a photographer – amateur or experienced – snaps a picture, they establish a connection between themself and their subject. They shout to the world that this image at this time and in this place is an important occurrence and should be preserved and treasured.
The PhotoClub Vancouver group show, Connections, opened June 2 at the Zack Gallery. People and birds, industrial cityscapes and soothing nature shots, close-ups and panoramas – every image in the exhibit tells a story about the world and the photographer’s place in it.
The club was officially established in 1998. Its friendly, non-competitive environment for photographers of all skill levels encourages members to develop their technical and artistic abilities through various activities, including peer critique, field trips, workshops and seminars. And, of course, exhibitions like Connections, which allow members to share their art beyond the group.
Some of the photographers took the Connections theme literally, like Ivor Levin’s “Roped In.” The orange ropes in the image are taut and sure, but the objects they hold together are left outside the frame. Only the connection itself is important to the artist.
A similar approach characterizes Lynn Copeland’s “Cranes and Planes.” The image’s graphic simplicity is almost abstract, as the harsh lines of the industrial cityscape, viewed on the background of the distant sky, induces the sense of a steel labyrinth where any uninitiated human would be lost.
Barb Kaiser’s “Hanging Around” also includes ropes as the connecting medium, but the feeling it inspires is vastly different. A window washer hangs in his harness in the foreground, doing his job. Behind him, a skyscraper-studded panorama of North Vancouver is visible in all its urban majesty. We are all connected, the image seems to say, in every window of every building.
Unlike the stark, sharp-angled industrial imagery, logical and attractive on a cerebral level, the pictures reflecting nature flaunt softer lines. They appeal to our emotions. For example, Terry Beaupre’s “Canada Geese Flying Off Together” depicts two geese. Their dark silhouettes soaring together on the background of a pink sunset evoke ideas of love and companionship. “I couldn’t have asked them to pose more perfectly for me,” Beaupre says in her artist’s statement, although she admits that she painted the dramatic colours of the sunset later on, to enhance the picture.
The grace of a couple in love is also implied in another bird picture – Levin’s “Peck.” The two doves in the image are sharing a kiss. Or maybe they are sharing a bug to eat. Whatever they are sharing, their affection for each other is unmistakable and heartwarming.
The charm of the loving doves is absent in Drago Tutnjevic’s “Bus Stop.” The four people standing in line to board a bus are strangers. Their estrangement is made even more obvious by the fact that three of them are absorbed in their phones. The one not on the phone looks straight ahead, thinking her own thoughts. No doubt, each of the passengers has multiple connections – their friends, family and others – but here, at this bus stop, nothing connects them except the expectation of the bus itself. The photo reflects the complex networks that link us all, as well as the separateness of every person in our huge technology-permeated world.
In contrast, a simple path in the park, portrayed in John Konovsky’s “Onward No Matter What,” reminds us of the mysteries of childhood adventures and the romantic wandering of our youth.
Another image reminiscent of the joy of childhood is David Beaver’s “Balloon Man.” Even in black and white, the man holding bunches of balloons in both hands brings to mind birthday parties and vacation frolicking. The photo is part of the club’s Henry Ballon B&W Challenge.
An entire wall of the gallery is reserved for the black and white photographs, by different photographers, all parts of the challenge, which was started in 2015 in memory of the late Henry Ballon. Ballon was an avid monochrome photographer and advocated photography with minimum retouching by any software. Club members honour Ballon by creating their own art using his principles. The photos demonstrate how deep the artists can reach, even if their expression palette is limited to the gradations of black and white.
But the most visceral and poignant image in this exhibition is “Remembrance” by Michael Shevloff. A mother crouches beside her young daughter in front of a staircase. Their backs are to the viewer. They face the stairs together, just like everyone who looks at this photograph. And on the stairs reside memories. Toys. Shoes. Hats. Books. No people. What does this young mother tell her child? Who were the owners of the objects on this staircase? What happened to them? Where? When? The photograph raises many questions, and all of them remain unanswered – unless the artist decides to answer them, which Shevloff did.
“The photo was taken at the Vancouver Art Gallery, where there was an outdoor installation commemorating the discovery of the unmarked graves found at a residential school recently. It affected many people and brought a dark period of history to light. Flags were lowered across Canada for many months.
“I took the photo on July 1st of 2021. Normally on Canada Day, there are parades and many people celebrating our history. However, last year, with the pandemic and the dark events I mentioned above, it seemed like no one was celebrating our national day.
“In the photo a woman is talking to her child. In my mind, I tried to imagine how she would be explaining the memorial and the events surrounding it to her daughter. Just as the memory of the dead children is elicited by the installation, the mother and child are also photographed from behind and also remain nameless in time.”
Suzy Birstein’s “Ladies-not-Waiting: Harlequin Zsa Zsa.” (photo from ParkerArtSalon)
Suzy Birstein’s “Ladies-not-Waiting: Harlequin Zsa Zsa,” made of fired ceramic with glazes and lusters, is featured in the book the poetry project: where poetry expands upon a visual idea, published by ParkerArtSalon. The artwork is accompanied by a poem it inspired, written by Majka Pauchly: “I’m not home décor / I shift on the shelf, and plot / To make my next move.”
Beedie Luminaries students were invited to participate in the project by submitting a work of poetry, inspired by a selection of art provided by the ParkerArtSalon artists. The book launch and an exhibit of the poems with the corresponding artwork by the artists – who also include Miriam Aroeste – takes place at Gallery George June 1-July 3, Wednesday-Sunday, noon-5 p.m., with the official opening weekend June 4-5, 2-4 p.m., with artists in attendance. Visit parkerartsalon.com for details.
“At Rest” by Dov Glock, mixed media. Glock is one of several Jewish artists participating in this year’s West of Main Art Walk. (from artistsinourmidst.com)
The West of Main Art Walk Preview Exhibition and Sale kicks off at the Roundhouse Community Centre May 18-19. The West of Main Art Walk itself welcomes guests into artists’ studios May 28-29. Among the artists participating are many from the Jewish community, including Michael Abelman, Olga Campbell, Dov Glock, Pnina Granirer and Lauren Morris.
The preview – which is open for visitors 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. both days – features a reception at the Roundhouse on May 19, 7-9 p.m. Preview visitors will be able to buy the work of some of the 80 local artists taking part. There will be paintings, ceramics, jewelry, textiles and photography, as well as free art demos.
Artwork will also be for sale on the walk, which includes studios from Point Grey to Main Street, and from Granville Island to 41st Avenue over the May 28-29 weekend. Dozens more artists are showing their works all under one roof in larger hubs like Aberthau Mansion, Art at Knox and Pacific Arts Market. There, you’ll also find art demonstrations and more. At Lord Byng Mini School for the Arts, you’ll discover young emerging artists.
Also part of the month’s events is the annual (since 2018) Art for All Fundraiser. More than 70 artworks have been donated – and all are on sale for $50 each. Proceeds will go to the art program at Coast Mental Health. Its resource centre’s art room opened in 2000, and is a place where clients discover their creative potential while developing new ways of expressing emotions, healing pain and growing their self-esteem and self-awareness. Supported by volunteers – including clients and professional artists and art instructors – who give their time, feedback and encouragement, clients are able to work in a number of media, including paint and sculpture; supplies are provided. An annual art show brings together the artists, other resource centre members and Coast clients, family and friends and the general public to celebrate their work and their journey towards recovery.
Granirer, who was a co-founder of the very first open studios walk in Vancouver in 1993, is doing something a little different from the main event. On May 18, 7 p.m., at the Roundhouse, she is launching her poetry-art memoir, Garden of Words. (For more on the book, see jewishindependent.ca/poetry-and-painting-flourish.) Some of the paintings featured in the book will be exhibited and the books will be available during the whole time of the preview and at Granirer’s studio during the walk weekend.
During the walk, Granirer is inviting people to her studio, where she will be offering her works for 50% off, with proceeds being donated to Stand up for Mental Health, which has helped people suffering from mental health issues to do away with stigma all over Canada, the United States and Australia.
Artists will be opening their studios from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on May 28 and 29. This is a unique opportunity to meet the artists, enjoy the art and ask questions. More information and the interactive online map can be found at artistsinourmidst.com.
– Courtesy Artists in Our Midst and Pnina Granirer
In DANCE:CRAFT, dancers Heather Dotto and Joey Matt interact with and reinterpret five elements – glass, metal, wood, fibre and ceramics – created by B.C. crafts artists. (photo by Michael Slobodian)
After years of development, DANCE:CRAFT will see its world première May 20-22, 7 p.m., at the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre. Among the craftspeople who contributed their creativity to the show is Hope Forstenzer, a glassworks artist, who also happens to be the director of the Gertrude and Sidney Zack Gallery.
“I was asked to be part of the project in October of 2016 and, at the time, the thinking was that it would take about two years to develop,” Forstenzer told the Independent. “It wound up taking longer than that for lots of reasons – I think one of the primary dancers went on maternity leave and, then, right as the project was about to begin rehearsals, COVID shut everything down.
“Initially, Joe [Laughlin] and I had all kinds of discussions and brainstorming sessions about ways to incorporate pieces into the dance. We rethought quite a bit of it when we started up again, and we wound up with some very interesting stuff that was quite different in some ways than we originally imagined. I think it’s going to be quite a bit different than any of us originally thought – the world isn’t what it was in October 2016.”
DANCE:CRAFT is described as “an exploration of two dancers interacting with numerous craft objects in a reconfigured theatre setting. It’s craft seen through the lens of dance and remixed, a look at our relationship to objects, creating and interacting with them.”
Presented by Joe Ink – which is led by Laughlin – and SFU Woodward’s Cultural Programs, DANCE:CRAFT also features five virtual reality films that give viewers a look into the artists’ studios.
“I’ve made six large blown glass rock-like pieces with lights inside of them, a large acrylic box full of glass balls, and 12 hanging cylinders in various sizes,” said Forstenzer.
The whole creative endeavour began as a research project focusing on dance and art. Laughlin conceived of the concept and the dancers are Heather Dotto and Joey Matt. They worked with five B.C. artists, facilitated by the Craft Council of British Columbia, curators of the show. In addition to Forstenzer, Stefanie Dueck (metal), Patrick Christie (wood), Deborah Dumka (fibre) and Debra E. Sloan (ceramics) provide the five elements that the dancers and Laughlin reinterpret.
“I have been thinking about the earth, the environment, the elements, evolution, geography, migration and humans,” says Laughlin in the press release. “The tactile sensation of handmade objects juxtaposed with the ephemeral quality of the dancing body triggers a memory experience. Being immersed in an environment and watching the body respond to texture and colour is what anchors us in time and space. We are looking for connections between communities and the natural world, geography and the human family.”
Laughlin added, “The process for creating a dancer incorporates fibre, sinew, muscle, bone, water, pressure, agitation and repetition. Craft is a transformative process that incorporates stone, fibre, wood, metal, water, pressure, agitation and repetition.”
DANCE:CRAFT asks audiences to consider, “How do objects further extend the language of the body and its narrative possibilities?”
“I come from a theatre background and have done a great deal of work with dancers and actors,” said Forstenzer in contemplating this question. “Objects – props, costumes, sets, and all things like them – become part of a performance completely. A knife becomes part of an arm, to use for harmless or harmful purposes; a table becomes a second stage if someone stands on it; a mask hides a face. The best performances use performers, environments and objects to tell a story fully. I think what we’ll see with DANCE:CRAFT is a full storytelling collaboration, in which the artists have given works to Joe, and he has created a story to tell with them.
“This has been a fun project to work on,” she continued. “It’s not that often you get to do a collaboration like this. I’m really excited to be part of it.”
Tickets for the performance are $30 ($25 for students and seniors) and they can be purchased at eventbrite.ca.
Art Vancouver returns after a two-year COVID-imposed hiatus. Artists and galleries from across Canada and the United States – as well as from countries including Argentina, Cuba, Iran, Kenya, Mexico, Taiwan and Zimbabwe – are scheduled to exhibit at the Vancouver Convention Centre May 5–8. Several of the artists are members of the Jewish community, and they spoke with the Independent about their art and the return of the event.
The international fair, first held in 2015, is the main annual event of the Vancouver Visual Art Foundation, which was formed in 2017. The foundation has not let the pandemic quash its momentum.
“The creation of Art Downtown was introduced as a safe space during COVID, where people could have a place to get out and enjoy arts and culture,” Art Vancouver founder Lisa Wolfin told the Independent.
The summer outdoor festival invites artists to create art in various public spaces in downtown Vancouver. People can come and see the creative process in action and speak with the artists. The artists’ works are exhibited, and available for purchase.
“There is an area where people can sit down, get their hands full of colour and learn how to make art at no cost, as this is sponsored by Opus Art Supplies, giving people an opportunity to try things they may have never done before,” said Wolfin. “Live music is part of the festival. Each week, there are two new musicians, including singers, guitarists, bands, and duets, in all genres.”
During the pandemic, the foundation also offered online art classes. Since the easing of health restrictions, in-studio classes have started.
“People from all over B.C., Canada, the United States, Costa Rica, and as far away as Australia, [have] registered for the classes,” she said. “The instructors are professional local artists, teaching in a variety of different styles – florals, landscapes, abstract, graphite, neurographic, impressionism and figurative are some of the subjects demonstrated, with acrylics, watercolours, oils, markers, palette knives and metallics … [being] some of the materials we use.”
Wolfin herself has taken more than 100 classes over the last two years.
“There are stations all over my art studio with different mediums waiting to be experimented with,” she said. “In every class I took, I received a golden nugget that has added to my repertoire and moved my work in a different direction…. Each instructor had their own style and colours that they preferred, which took me out of my comfort zone and back to kindergarten to start all over again, being open to trying new things.
“Neurographic art is a new direction my work has shifted into,” she continued. “Russian psychologist Pavel Piskarev coined the term neurography, or neurographica, in 2014 – it helps us engage more neurons. By this, he specifies how using the simplest tools to draw, through this technique, is a link between conscious and unconscious. This connection is made by the brain cells called neurons being activated in a way that brings forth awareness and mindfulness…. This is a healing project for people of all ages, no artistic abilities are required, only the interest in creating an artwork that is not only intuitive but greatly beneficial to our emotional and calming states…. Neurographical art is a way to transform the stress, fear and chaos of our world into something more calming and peaceful. Art is always about expression and finding that inner peace.”
While still undecided about exactly which art pieces she’ll be showing at Art Vancouver, Wolfin described a new tree series she has been working on.
“I start out with acrylics using bright colours instead of the neutral and natural colours found in nature, including various mediums and acrylics because they create more depth and richness to my work, which is meant to be more realistic,” she explained. “Life is colourful. I look deeply into the forests and feel the colours, then transfer what I pick up onto the canvas. Next, I add Posca paint pens, dabbing colours all over the canvas for an added dimension. Then I go over the canvas with oil pastels and add another texture to it. The pastels skip over the gaps in the weave, leaving little dots of another medium. Lastly, a layer of resin is poured over the canvas and spread out to create a luscious thick layer of gloss which intensely brings out the layers of the colours, making the colours pop.”
She also has been creating florals with KrinkNY paint markers. “Because the tips are much thicker than a paintbrush, I have had to loosen up and go with the flow of the paint,” she said. “This paint mixes with itself when you go over it and it gets wet again. You can blend as you paint, and it is a challenge to get what you think you want [based on the] traditional way of painting.”
Artist Sky Lilah also has used the pandemic years to branch out. “I am continually striving to do something new,” she said. “Over the past few years, I have started to teach online art classes, for youth and adults. I have done a series of abstracts with the theme being on consciousness. For Art Vancouver 2022, I am doing a new series of mixed media, with the focus on love, thoughtfulness and manifestation. I have also been spending more time creating a unique fashion line and hand-painted clothes.”
The work she’ll be bringing to Art Vancouver is a new style of mixed media, she said, “with the focus being on my family – making unique pieces based on each member, including components from their past, present and future. I am fascinated by time and consciousness and how our minds create our reality.”
In addition to her art, Lilah will be bringing to Art Vancouver a personal development workbook that “includes self-awareness exercises and creative exercises to help one further develop themselves and live their best life,” she said.
“My personal development practice always influences my style of artwork,” she added. “The constant strengthening of my creative muscle, I believe, helps me in all areas of life.”
Lilah is excited by Art Vancouver’s return.
“I love the thrill of prepping for a show, and the impact that the show has on the community is so rewarding. It is always a pleasure to connect with each attendee and hear different perspectives from the art world.”
“When creating the pieces for the Art Vancouver exhibition, I was on Cloud 9,” said Taisha Teal, explaining the title of one of her series of works.
“When I create art, I am in the flow,” she said. “I am in a meditative state where time does not exist. On Cloud 9 has a deeper meaning – of being in another space in time, in the ninth dimension of pure bliss and happiness. When I am in the studio, I am at peace. There is no stress. It is where the magic happens. My name, Taisha, also means number nine in Hebrew; so the title felt pretty perfect.”
During the pandemic, Teal said, “I had the chance to really experiment with new materials and the courage to play around with no judgment.”
The Naked Line Ladies, also known as her “sparkle ladies,” are women in her life “promoting body positivity and female empowerment,” said Teal. Reminders, she said, “that you’re beautiful no matter what, and your body is the only one you’ve got…. We’re embracing our uniqueness, celebrating who we are.”
About her Spraypainted Hearts series, Teal said, “Infinite hearts, infinite strength. There is enough love to go around.”
And the Abstract Alcohol Ink collection is dedicated to her travels. “During this pandemic, I have felt very stuck,” she said. “I have been reminiscing about the places I’ve been and the colours I’ve felt along the way. This abstract series has really helped my mental health in overcoming the chaos in this pandemic. Not having to create the perfect realistic image, I use colours and gestural marks to create a piece that resembles places I have been.”
Artist Monica Gewurz also has been doing more abstract work over the pandemic, focusing more on the feelings generated by the landscape than its literal appearance.
“During the lockdown,” she said, “I continued to explore new techniques and tools, incorporating heavy textures and thin veils, to capture moments that uplift and refresh. We have all been held back from so many important things in life and, hopefully, these paintings can bring some uplifting and beauty to people’s lives.”
Gewurz is planning on bringing a new collection of more than 30 works to Art Vancouver.
“I paint primarily in acrylic,” she said, “but combine this with a variety of other media such as gesso, mediums, glazes and inks. I also like to use materials that excite me, like gold leaf and unusual acrylic mediums.”
During the pandemic, Gewurz said she has taken several online courses and “successfully increased the number of virtual juried exhibitions in B.C. and the U.S.” She also has “participated in numerous art shows conveying the climate change and our large carbon footprint in our planet. I am now being recognized as an eco-artist in the U.S.,” she said.
The environment is a top concern for Gewurz. For example, a piece of hers, “Ebbing,” was chosen for “the label of Safe Haven fortified wine of the 40 Knots winery,” she told the Independent in an April 2020 interview. “A portion of the wine sales goes to support salmon habitat restoration. I donated the artwork.”
Gewurz is one of 11 artists – with her painting “SOS” – in the year-long touring exhibit Diving In: The Art of Cleaning Lakes and Oceans’ Art Tour, an environmental art campaign initiated by the Sea to Sky Arts Council Alliance with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans, Return-It and local artists. It showcases “stunning pieces of art by selected artists created from a range of objects recovered through clean-up dives at local lakes and ocean sites.”
For a professional artist, said Gewurz, “it is important to exhibit at high-calibre international art exhibition shows. Art Vancouver provides me with a platform to display my works as well as sell them – this will be my fifth time exhibiting there.”
Grateful for the opportunity, she said, “To showcase my work in person was something I truly took for granted. Over these last few years, I have found a new appreciation and gratitude for events like this. To be able to connect, converse and exhibit amongst other creative people in my hometown is such a great opportunity.”
Given the continuing pandemic, safety won’t be lost in the excitement.
“We have a larger room in the Convention Centre West building so we can create a safe, socially distanced exhibition with more space between the aisles,” said Wolfin, acknowledging the work of the women-led organizing team of the event and the many volunteers.
The art exhibit is but one of the weekend’s activities. There will be a talk on non-fungible tokens (NFTs), for instance.
“There will be a whole section with NFTs for people to enjoy and learn about this whole new direction in the arts,” said Wolfin. “Art classes are going to feature non-traditional art mediums so anyone interested can try their hand in art…. Opening night starts off with The Face of Art, our runway show that puts a face to the artwork. Friday night will have an all-new art game feature – teams of three people will compete with each other for one hour to build a sculpture out of Lego…. Saturday night is Art Masters, a one-hour painting competition where the artists are given a theme and one hour to create using non-traditional tools, as there are no paintbrushes included!”
Some of Tara Pawson’s Human Beams. (photo from Tara Pawson)
Tara Pawson’s fascination with glass began when she was in high school.
“My dad was a welder,” she said. “He would bring home some metal pieces, and I would fabricate some garden art in our garage. Then, I got a birthday present – a weeklong class of glass-blowing – and I knew that was what I wanted to do with my life. Before that class, I was planning to go to a culinary school after graduation. After it, nothing else but glass.”
Pawson’s solo show, Human Beams, opened on March 22 at the Zack Gallery.
“Glass is a fascinating medium,” Pawson told the Independent. “It combines all the elements: air, fire, wood, metal, water. It is labour-intensive and demanding, and the results are beautiful and fragile. There is a contradiction there.”
Pawson enjoys the process of glass-blowing – despite its inherent danger. “It’s like a game to me,” she said. “I’m not afraid of getting hurt. I have been once or twice, but I love doing it all the same…. When a piece is finished, I always want to do it again, in a different way.”
She loves the functionality of glass, its accessibility to everyone in the forms of glassware or candelabras. “I’m not drawn to huge installations. I want to make art for the people,” she said, “for their homes and their hearts.”
Pawson doesn’t have a classical art education, but she has taken many workshops in a wide variety of glass-blowing techniques over the years. “I apprenticed and I learned,” she said.
At 21, she found a job with Robert Held Art Glass.
“The company created giftware and home decor,” she said. “I learned a great deal there. It was a full-time job, and I did everything: glass-blowing, sales, cleaning. I stayed with them for about eight years. During the week, I worked for the company, but on the weekends, they allowed me to use their glass-blowing equipment, and I started making things for myself.”
Then she moved to a company that created glass light fixtures. “There, I learned to work with a different type of glass, different styles, different process,” she said.
About six years ago, Pawson decided to become an independent glass artist. “After my youngest son was born, it was time,” she said. “I wanted to make my own hours and [have] no commute to work, so I could spend more time with my family.”
For the equipment, she joined Terminal City Glass Coop and rents time when it suits her schedule. She makes some unique artworks.
“I make glass gifts and I make memorial pieces that are very popular,” she said. “Those memorial keepsakes are small glass baubles – hearts or orbs or coins – which incorporate tiny amounts of cremains within the glass matrix. The result is a treasured heirloom. I can make them for several family members, so they will always have a keepsake to remember their loved ones. People love them. One client of mine said she always wanted to travel with her father. After he died, she took the glass marble with his ashes on her travels, so he was with her everywhere. This way, she had no problems with customs – an urn with his ashes might be much harder to pass through customs.”
Pawson’s giftware includes vases and glasses, paperweights and funky little “monsters,” candleholders and Christmas ornaments. She sells her glass in several stores in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, as well as online, through her website and her Etsy shop. She is also an active participant in many seasonal markets. Recently, she created a new collection of glass beams, which are included in her current show at the Zack.
“My mother passed away shortly before the COVID lockdown started,” Pawson explained. “I was dealing with my grief and I felt alone in the pandemic. Everything was closed. So I started working on these glass pieces. They helped me process my grief. I thought, maybe I could share it, help others. I never had an art show before. I started asking around how to go about it, whom to approach. I know Hope [Forstenzer] through the Terminal City Glass Coop. I asked for her advice, and she said: ‘Why don’t you apply at the JCC? We have a gallery there.’ I did. This is my first show.”
The show at the Zack, where Forstenzer is director, displays three distinct lines: Human Beams glassware, Thought Towers sculptures and Pearls of Light wall decorations. The Human Beams series works are tall cylindrical glasses of different colours, decorated with mandalas.
“The cylinders start as dark shadowy forms and flow into the bright beams of light,” Pawson said. “They reflect the timeline of the dark days, when the trauma begins, and grow organically towards the light days, when you find peace.”
She explained the symbolism of a mandala, which “represents the universe in Hinduism and Buddhism,” she said. “Their circular design without beginnings or ends is a symbol of a spiritual journey. They illustrate the events, memories and thoughts we have when the emotion of grief consumes us. Some days are darker than others, but, with time, work and support, we learn to ride those waves…. I hand-carved every mandala on every glass. It took me about four hours for each mandala. I think I’m done with them for awhile.”
The Thought Towers are sculptural compositions, orbs of various sizes and colours growing like a tree out of each other. The lighter, bigger orbs echo lighter emotions, like hope or joy, but they are always interspaced with small dark orbs of desperation, guilt or anger. “The Thought Towers convey a spectrum of emotions,” said Pawson. “As we deal with grief, we have good days and bad days. Anything could trigger a crippling emotional response – a song, an image, a TV episode. But we have to remember that good days always follow the bad ones.”
And then, there are the Pearls, each one hand-formed, each a complex and beautiful glass tablet. “Each one is a person or an event we encounter in our daily lives,” Pawson said. “Pearls of Light, or Baily’s Beads, are a phenomenon seen during a sun eclipse. These spots of light encircle the moon. They resemble a string of luminous beads, visible immediately before and after a total eclipse. They are the people around us, our family and friends.”
Pawson’s exhibit is on display until April 28. For more information about her and her work, visit her website, tarapawson.com.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
New docent program at the Zack gets underway. (photo from Zack Gallery)
Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery director Hope Forstenzer recently instituted a new docent program, to train guides for the art gallery.
“I came up with the idea of creating a group of volunteer docents for the gallery right after I got here, which means right before the pandemic,” Forstenzer told the Independent.
Unfortunately, the pandemic made it impossible to implement the idea at that time, and the initiative only became reality in the past few months.
“My job as the gallery director is only half-time,” Forstenzer said. “Even when I’m working, I’m frequently in meetings or visiting studios or doing other work that takes me away from engaging the people in the gallery. I created the docent program to make sure the gallery was staffed with friendly and available faces, with people who knew about the shows, could make sales, and could answer questions.”
Initially, about a dozen people responded to her invitation to become volunteer docents at the Zack. “Some dropped out for various reasons as we were getting underway,” she said. “Others have come along since.
Currently, we have six docents on our active roster.”
Before the docents could perform their assigned duties, they needed a certain amount of training on the gallery rules and procedures.
“The docents each attended two training sessions, both lasting about an hour,” said Forstenzer. “Sometimes, we’d do the whole training in one session, but it varied. The second training shift was usually about our sales system, which isn’t difficult, but isn’t something most of the docents have seen or used before. In the first training session, I explained what their responsibilities were, we discussed scheduling, and I’d either show them how to use our sales system or invite them back to learn it on a different day…. Then they did a shift with me in the gallery as backup. Then they were ready to go.”
The first docent started at the Zack last October. “Some of them have taken breaks due to the Omicron,” said Forstenzer, “but others have stayed throughout.”
She has lots of plans for her volunteer docents. “The primary purpose of having the docents in the gallery right now is to have a knowledgeable and friendly presence that welcomes visitors,” she said. “They can also make sales. As the restrictions due to COVID lift (hopefully), the docents will also help me run events in the gallery, both for kids and for adult groups. Eventually, I hope they’ll be able to run some of these events themselves. We might even schedule some docent-led viewings of shows.”
At the moment, most docents do one shift a week, each shift three or four hours long, but Forstenzer is flexible about that. “Some do two shifts a week. Some split their shifts and go for a swim or a workout in the middle and then come back. It is up to them, and I create a schedule based on their availability and the gallery’s needs.”
She added that all the docents take their volunteering seriously. “If someone can’t make their shift, they let me know,” she said. “If I can cover it, I will. If not, the gallery won’t have a docent that day.”
The docents vary widely in age and experience. Some are students. Others are retirees or people participating in various community centre programs. Gail Bloom shared with the Independent a bit about herself and why she became a docent at the gallery.
Bloom worked as a city planner in San Francisco. “I studied city planning in college and then worked as a practising planner,” she said. “I love cities and was interested in public utilities. My chief role for over a dozen years was sorting out public financing of major infrastructure projects in San Francisco. It was very satisfying to see the fruition of that work across the city.”
She retired about 20 years ago. “My home is still in the Bay Area. I live there with my husband, and my son’s family also live nearby, but, last fall, I came to Vancouver for an extended winter visit with my daughter – she lives here and teaches at Emily Carr.”
Bloom, who turns 70 this month, has been volunteering in many fields since her retirement. “I lead the Board of Children’s Book Project and presently serve on a regional public health agency at the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District,” she said. “I have also enjoyed working on state, local and federal election campaigns, mentoring youths, and helping with the major fundraising event for the Oakland Museum of California.”
She has always been interested in art. “I love cities, as I said, and the museums are a big part of that – especially art museums. In the last couple months, I visited the Vancouver Art Gallery and a small community gallery at the Deep Cove Cultural Centre. There is a show at the VAG now that I’d recommend – Emily Carr and Edith Heath. Heath was a local San Francisco ceramic artist; she started her iconic tile and pottery company out of her little apartment in San Francisco in the ’40s.”
Of course, when she visited the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver for the first time, the Zack Gallery attracted her. “As I’m interested in the arts personally and enjoy art museums, their new docent program seemed like a good fit,” she said. “And my family were thrilled that I found the gallery and something meaningful to do with my time. Now, I’m at the gallery every week. My docent days are Mondays.”
Besides volunteering, Bloom takes advantage of several other programs the JCC offers. “The aquatics program is pretty great,” she said. “I also attended several sessions of the book fair last month, and I just started watching VJFF [Vancouver Jewish Film Festival]. I’m fortunate to have time to participate in them all.”
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Community Longing and Belonging is a community art show in celebration of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month. It opened at the Zack Gallery on Feb. 14.
Curated by Leamore Cohen, inclusion services coordinator at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, the fourth annual exhibit once again considers the questions, How do we make meaning of the concept of community, the real and the imagined spaces we inhabit? What does community longing look like and what are the possibilities for belonging in an ever-changing world?
Many of the pieces on display were made by artists from JCC Art Hive, a free and low-barrier program for artists with diverse needs. The collection comprises the work of diverse artists, with different levels of experience, perspective, faith and social location.
One of those featured is award-winning artist and writer Sandra Yuen, who is a member of Kickstart Disability Arts and Culture. Her piece, “Exploded,” is based on the prose of Derrick Bauman, an artist and writer, and influenced by pop art, Roy Lichtenstein, and graphic design. In her artist’s statement, Yuen writes, “As a person with schizophrenia, I wanted to express the fractured mind, the cut edges, the shattering of my life experience because of mental illness. However, this rendition is more a poetic image versus the cruel reality of living in madness, paranoia, hysteria and anger. The colours are sweet, the black lines clean and sharp, creating a mythological or romanticized view of insanity. I try to whitewash my life, sanitize the pain out of it, deny the diagnosis, but the illness remains, the weakness, the flaws, the humanity.”
Mike Levin’s “Waiting for the Train” is about being shrouded in darkness, yet feeling the abundance of sunshine not far away. It is a metaphor for the continued longing for COVID to end so that we can get back to normal living.
Levin’s paintings are often abstractions of nature or city life that conform to structure of composition. They are amalgamations conjured from his imagination, photos he has taken and memories of his experience of exploring.
Growing up in Calgary, Levin has practised art from a young age, and also plays clarinet and saxophone. He attended the University of Calgary’s fine arts and urban studies programs and, after moving to Vancouver, completed his bachelor’s degree in fine arts at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in 2020.
For the past 20 years, Levin has lived with schizo-affective disorder, which he controls through medication and being active in the arts and mental health communities. He has taught drawing and painting at Vancouver General Hospital, the Art Studios, Gallery Gachet and privately within the community; he also works part-time in carpentry. His art has been sold in Canada and the United States to more than 70 private collectors.
Mark Li is a Vancouver-based visual artist whose narrative-focused work creates a whimsical world filled with colour and imagination, as his untitled work in this exhibit shows. Every painting is a tale of friendship and acts of kindness: a bear might be best friends with a cat; a T-Rex smiles with shy humour and sweetness at the viewer; a lady bug and a cat might go dancing in the sunlight; a simple walk in the park with a friend and his dog is a delightful adventure – anything could happen and they could meet anyone.
Rickie Sugars’ “Like Minded” is an example of his unique style of painting in abstract cubism expressionism, using bold colours and black outlines.
A seasoned professional artist, Sugars had his first gallery showing, and sold his first painting, at the age of 17. Since then, he has displayed and sold his art in several galleries and art shows throughout British Columbia.
Sugars is a classical animation graduate from Vancouver Film School. He started creating animated characters well before graduation, resulting in a partnership in an animation company that went on for many years. Continuing his artistic path, he began tattooing in 2004 and has his own tattoo shop. He also designs sculptures created from broken toys.
A few years ago, during an attempt to assist a woman who was being attacked, Sugars received a traumatic brain injury. He had to re-learn everything, including how to talk – however, it did not stop his artistic endeavours. Today, you will find Sugars painting on canvass (or any surface, really), crafting stickers, postcards, wall murals, sand and wood sculptures, and interior/exterior commissioned graffiti.
“My artwork is influenced by media, fads, plus social, political and cultural issues,” he writes in his artist statement. He wants viewers “to look past the obvious, to treasure and celebrate the unique, the unconventional, the familiar: and to be nonjudgmental. Respect others and support them for who they are. Find the beauty in broken toys, an old door, a broken guitar – take time to look more carefully at things around you and you’ll discover beauty in unusual places.”
Another of the artists contributing to the Community Longing and Belonging exhibit is Adrianne Fitch.
Born in Kew Gardens, Queens, N.Y., Fitch studied English and writing at Pennsylvania State University and has traveled all over the world, including living and studying in Israel. She has lived in Vancouver since 2008 and pursues a number of other art forms. She is also a writer and desktop publisher.
“Having lived with a hearing disability and also struggled with depression all my life,” she writes, “I definitely know what it means to feel isolated. As hearing loss is invisible, people frequently make assumptions about me (e.g. they think I’m stupid, stoned or purposely ignoring them). As I did not begin learning ASL until adulthood, I occupy that grey area between the hearing and deaf worlds. I miss a great deal of communication, both spoken and signed, and have often felt as though I don’t belong anywhere.
“That’s why this art show’s theme, Community Longing and Belonging, is so significant and meaningful to me. Indeed, I have always longed for community and belonging. The Jewish community, with its wonderful heritage and incredible diversity, is very precious to me. In creating these three ceramic menorahs, I have tried to express this diversity, as well as my love for the Jewish people.”