Suzy Birstein is one of the many Jewish community artists taking part in this year’s Eastside Culture Crawl Visual Arts, Design & Craft Festival, which runs Nov. 16-19. (photo by Britt Kwasney)
The 27th annual Eastside Culture Crawl Visual Arts, Design & Craft Festival takes place Nov. 16-19 and features almost 450 artists, including many from the Jewish community. Among the community members opening their studios to visitors are Suzy Birstein, Olga Campbell, Hope Forstenzer, penny eisenberg, Robert Friedman, Lori Goldberg, Lynna Goldhar Smith, Ideet Sharon, Stacey Lederman, Shevy Levy, Lauren Morris and Esther Rausenberg.
“We welcome the public to dive back into the Culture Crawl this fall to experience and be inspired by our artists’ growth and discovery. [The pandemic] has been a time of change for many of us and I believe art is a conduit for moving forward together,” says Rausenberg in the event’s press release. Rausenberg is a photo artist, as well as artistic and executive director of the Eastside Arts Society, which puts on the Crawl.
The Independent spoke with a few of the participating Jewish artists about what visitors to their studios can expect to see, and whether creativity is a place of refuge or if it is harder for them to create in times of conflict, including but not limited to the Israel-Hamas war and the war between Ukraine and Russia.
Visitors to Birstein’s studio will see her “figures from fired clay infused with aged and lustred surfaces, which inspire paintings in oil, cold wax and collage.”
The artist is currently working on two series, which will merge into the solo retrospective at Il Museo Gallery, curated by Dr. Angela Clarke for 2025.
“Both series evoke my art/travel adventures to Europe, Mexico and Cambodia,” said Birstein.
“‘Ladies-Not-Waiting’ reference the gazed-upon women by old master painters – Velasquez, Fouquet and Manet – alongside self-portraits painted by masterful female artists, Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington and Leonor Fini,” she said, while Tsipora (her Hebrew name, meaning Bird) is a series of loose self-portraits, which “embrace an exotic earthiness living within my poetic imagination.”
Both bodies of work, she said, “speak to nesting and transcendence, the mirror and reflection and celebrate the individual and universal.”
For Birstein, in times of conflict, “be it COVID, warfare, personal challenges – the only thing that centres me, coming directly from within me, is the creative refuge of my studio and making art. As I say this, I must stress that the love and compassion I feel for and receive from my family, friends, students and peers is the other half of that equation. I can’t imagine one without the other and I am extremely grateful.”
Friedman describes himself as “a muralist-styled stained glass artist.” He has worked in stained glass for more than 40 years and has recently added a blown glass dimension to his work, according to his website, which is also a recent addition.
“My studio is a great place and haven for creative thought and output,” he told the Independent. “[T]hese troubled times just [add] more impetus for me to have it reflected even more so in my artwork.”
Goldberg also finds herself more driven.
“My work is about vitality, life, vibration forging connections and bringing two opposing energies together as a way to find potential for resolution,” she said. “I have a responsibility as an artist to respond. I am more motivated. Expressing ‘Heaven on Earth’ is one way I respond to pain and suffering.”
Goldberg had a three-month residency on the North Shore, which she spent painting the forest – work that studio visitors will see.
“I was recently reading the book Speak for the Trees by Diana Beresford-Kroger about how the roots of the trees, the mycelium and plants and trees talk to each other,” said Goldberg. “By painting in the forest, I learnt how to listen, experience the tranquility, vitality and interconnectedness of the forest and to myself.”
Since the spring, Goldhar Smith has been “creating minimal colour-field style landscapes based on the idea of the shape of light and the colour of shadows,” she said. “The paintings are rendered in soft blues and pastels or deeper mysterious tones and suggest memories of places real and imagined.”
She acknowledged, “The conflict in Israel has, of course, been enormously upsetting and I find myself in despair for both sides of the conflict. My paintings do not yet reflect these emotions, but they will in coming months. I don’t yet know what I will be painting but I will be exploring more difficult terrain.”
For Forstenzer – a glass artist and director of the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery – creativity can be a place of refuge, but also more challenging in times of conflict.
“Making work when I’m feeling the stress of all that’s going on personally and globally is truly healing,” she explained, “but when I’m feeling overrun with those things, it can be a lot harder to fully concentrate at times.”
Lately, Forstenzer has been making glass clocks, something she describes as “incredibly fun.”
“I can experiment with colour and pattern in the glass, and I’ve learned a lot about clockwork mechanisms, which is also an exciting thing to dive into – I’ve been down many rabbit holes online about clockmakers,” she said. “I’ll have a bunch of clocks on display and for sale at the Crawl.
“I also have spent a lot of the last year generally playing with colour and pattern,” she added. “I’ve made vessels – vases, bowls, cups – that experiment with a particular colour or look or pattern or stripe in glass. Once I have a colour process in place, I often go on to use those colours, patterns and processes in sculptural pieces. Since I’ve done so much experimenting this year, there will be a lot of pieces on display and for sale at the Crawl as well.”
In addition to opening their studios, Forstenzer and Birstein are part of the Crawl’s juried exhibition, which has the theme “Out of Control.”
“At a time when we start to celebrate our freedom from pandemic restrictions, it’s an opportunity to reclaim experiences that were denied for so long, a chance to think outside of the box and just let go,” says Rausenberg in the press release.
The exhibition features the work of 80-plus Eastside artists and takes place at multiple venues: Alternative Creations Gallery and Strange Fellows Gallery (both until Nov. 19), the Pendulum Gallery (until Nov. 24) and the Cultch (until Nov. 25).
For more information, visit culturecrawl.ca.