“Jerusalem Market, 1959,” watercolour and pencil, by artist Pnina Granirer, a graduate of Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem. Granirer will have a table of her artwork for sale in the atrium of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver on Dec. 3, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., as part of the Chanukah Around the World party marketplace. The works will be unframed, priced from $100 to $500, with all proceeds being donated to Israel, in the hope that the donation will help it in its hour of need. For more on Granirer, go to pninagranirer.com.
The party is a joint event with multiple community partners: King David High School, Vancouver Talmud Torah, Richmond Jewish Day School, PJ Library, Camp Miriam, Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia, and the Kollel. In addition to the marketplace, it will feature games, iSTEAM activities, food, arts & crafts, museum displays, entertainment throughout, a community singalong and a JCC membership sale. Visit jccgv.com/jcc-chanukah-carnival.
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).
“Shabbat Saskatchewan,” by Esther Tennenhouse. Part of Otiyot (Letters), a joint exhibit with her son Joel Klassen, which is now at the Zack Gallery.
Colourful and playful, dark and ominous, Esther Tennenhouse’s artwork is engaging and thought-provoking, as she offers her take on Torah and midrash, immigration and language, orthodoxy and modernity. Otiyot (Letters), an exhibit she shares with her son Joel Klassen, opened at the Zack Gallery last week.
Tennenhouse’s sense of humour, curiosity, imagination and sincerity come through in the work on display, and in her responses to questions about the exhibit.
“Ot means ‘letter’ (of the alphabet) – it also means ‘sign’ and ‘signal,’” she told the Independent. “It was my first choice of name for the show: Ot – Starring the Letter Shin. Sounds like ‘ought,’ as in ‘thought.’ Ot was visually terse (and sounds adorable). That was why it was Ot in [the] JCC program book – I had to provide that bit before these pieces were made! Yikes! But it got changed to the longer plural in Hebrew and lost its zap. More truthful, though, as I have so many (too many) words of explanation on the wall beside each piece.”
All the works were made specifically for the exhibit, said Tennenhouse, “only for this place, for anyone who happens to walk into the JCC,” where the Zack Gallery is located.
“I was driven by my own relationship to the alef-bet: me, a quite secular, second-generation, Winnipeg-born Jew living in Vancouver, of prairie-born parents, who learned my aleph-bet as a child, quite long ago. I think many like me, with my sort of education, walk by these gallery doors, so I thought they might wander in and relate.”
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Tennenhouse went to Talmud Torah there from age 4 to 11, then to public school. She earned a bachelor’s in English and, while working at the Winnipeg Free Press, majored in sculpture at the University of Manitoba School of Art.
She moved to Aklavik, in the Inuvik region of the Northwest Territories, and then to Yellowknife, where she learned about ceramics at the Yellowknife Guild of Arts and Crafts. She later worked with translucent clays.
Moving with her family – husband Ron, son Joel and daughter Timmi – to Vancouver in 1995, Tennenhouse found a home at Or Shalom, participating in the Talmud and Torah study offered there, reengaging in Jewish education after a break of some 45 years.
Klassen also attends Or Shalom. His art background includes having drawn at home and working with painter Sylvia Oates – who he describes as a mentor – in her Parker Street studio. Klassen has had a one-man show in artist Noel Hodnett’s Parker Street studio, and he was in the Kickstart Disability Arts and Culture’s 2019 group show Nothing Without Us at the Cultch. For the past four years, he has attended the JCC’s Art Hive, which is facilitated by Kim Almond.
Klassen’s Hebrew letters and drawings are in five of the pieces at the Zack Gallery, said Tennenhouse.
“Making letters as individuals, each with their own character, was the most fun to do,” she said. “Jan Wilson, a friend and quilter, offered to help if I drew out the correctly sized letters backwards for transfer and picked the fabrics.”
The letters comprise eight of the works on display, and offer much to think – and smile – about. Klassen’s aleph is filled in with leopard print fabric, surrounded in black with a flowered border. The word “wild” comes to mind as one looks at it, not just the wildness of animals and nature, but of human beings. The piece is called “Aleph in the Garden.”
“I did not shy away from diversity,” said Tennenhouse. “It’s sort of an underlying element. I felt the show had to offer something to any individual, whatever their history with the alef-bet, and it deals with very well-trodden themes. I felt a need for an element of surprise, which is one reason why Joel’s aleph became a leopard in the garden (of Eden?).”
A last-minute addition to the depictions is one of the 12 new letters for gender-neutral word endings that were created by Israelis graphic designer Michal Shomer a few years ago.
“They appeared in welcome signs outside schools and on IDF buildings, etc., but the kabbalist idea of the power of the alphabet lives on – the new letters were vigorously rejected by religious factions,” said Tennenhouse. “‘Changing the letters removes any kedusha (sanctity) the words have or any ability the words have of channeling God’s energy into the world,’ said sofer Rabbi Abraham Itzkowitz. ‘This project essentially makes Hebrew like any other language.’ Some of the signs were taken down. Religious schools were forbidden to use them.”
That said, Tennenhouse told the Independent, “What first tickled me into this aleph-bet project was the poetry and passion of the ideas of the early mystics. They conceived of letters of the alef-bet existing even before the creation of the world – all 22 were vessels of the divine, all things were created by their combinations. Meditative/ecstatic kabbalah taught that individual letters were something to meditate upon, which led to ecstasy, one of the steps to sense of union with G-d. American calligrapher Ben Shahn, who titled one of his books Love and Joy About Letters, quotes the 13th-century Rabbi Abulafia, who said the delight in combining letters is like being carried away by notes of music.”
Tennenhouse and Klassen’s “Shir” (song, poetry, chant, in Hebrew) is truly delightful, like a page out of a children’s book. A multimedia piece, it depicts several animals and the sounds they make, both in Hebrew and in transliteration, though the giraffe just “hum[s] at night.”
Two other works are striking, both on their own and in contrast to each other: Sinai 1 and Sinai 2.
The latter features three bright yellow flowers, surrounded by green. “It is a triangle canvas which is about the mountain bursting into bloom when Moses came down with the Ten Commandments – this was a midrash from the 1500s. The triangle has flowers by Joel. I asked him to put flowers on it, envisioning little flowers here and there – he just went swoosh woosh on it.”
Sinai 2 is a vertical rectangle with whites, greys and blacks depicting a furious ball of activity on top of the mountain that includes the Hebrew letters.
“The Torah tells of fear, awe, the shaking mountain, seeing sounds, lightning, Moses’ anger, the breaking tablets,” said Tennenhouse. “Looking back, I overburdened the canvas [with] anger, though laying on the 231 Gates – a diagram from the Sefer Yetzirah which shows each letter combining with each other letter of the alef-bet – because I see the story of the giving of the Torah as a sort of creation story for our intense embrace of literacy. The diagram relates to Rabbi Abulafia’s talk of combination of letters but distracts visually from the anger/violence, [the] mountain, fear.”
There is so much more in this exhibit.
“Cursive Handwriting: Kovno Testament” is a stark, unfinished work, featuring the words, written in his own hand, of Lithuanian writer Eliezer Heiman, who died in the Kovno ghetto during the Holocaust. It was to have three more samples of cursive, said Tennenhouse. “I left room for them before I put on the image of Heiman’s tablets. Those spaces stayed empty. Everything else edited themselves out because of what happened in Israel on Oct. 7.”
There is the multimedia triptych “Shabbat Saskatchewan,” which Tennenhouse said “is me trying to use real photos and documents to create some presence of my mother’s grandparents and parents.”
“It ended up being centred on great-grandmother Esther Dudelzak Singer, Baba Faige (Fanny) Singer and my mother with her sisters,” she said. “Yiddish was their mamaloshen (mother tongue) and the Sonnenfeld community was religiously observant.”
“The Owl and the Pussy Cat” adds colour and vibrancy to Edward Lear’s black and white drawing of his nonsense poem, the Yiddish translation of which – by the late Marie B. Jaffe – fills the two side panels of this triptych. Tennenhouse couldn’t find much information out about Jaffe, she said, “But, thanks to Eddie Pauls at the Jewish Public Library in Montreal, [I] learned she immigrated to New York in 1909 from Lithuania.”
Tennenhouse began to see the owl and the cat in their boat as sailors braving the rough seas, traveling around the world to find “Di Goldene Medine,” “the Golden Land,” America.
“You might say ‘Saskatchewan,’ too, is about leaving home, traveling across seas and finding a new place but keeping your language and culture,” said Tennenhouse.
Otiyot (Letters) is on display at Zack Gallery until Nov. 12.
Sorour Abdollahi’s solo exhibit Intersecting Landscapes is now at Zack Gallery. (photo by Olga Livshin)
Over the years, Iranian-Canadian artist Sorour Abdollahi has participated in several group shows at Zack Gallery, but the current exhibition, Intersecting Landscapes, which opened on Sept. 7, is her first solo show here.
“Sorour is definitely not the first non-Jewish artist with a solo show at the Zack,” said gallery director Hope Forstenzer. For years, the mission of the Zack Gallery, which is in the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, has been to showcase Jewish artists and art dedicated to Jewish themes, she said. Non-Jewish artists were not excluded, but they usually appeared in group shows.
“The big difference in the past few years,” said Forstenzer, “has been an expansion of the definition of a Jewish theme to include a wider variety of human universal experiences that reflect on Jewish cultural history and traditions.… Sorour’s work, while not as overtly Jewish as some, addresses the concept of diaspora and its impact on culture and memory. When we made the decision to show her work, it was based on the concept of a cultural nostalgia for home as an inherently Jewish theme. And the response to it, so far, has borne that out – it has had a very strong emotional impact on the community here at the JCC and has already engendered discussion of the Jewish diaspora.”
Abdollahi has been a professional artist all her life. “I’ve always painted, since I was a child,” she told the Independent.
She received her art education in Iran, and her first solo art show happened there in 1987. A successful artist, working in mixed media and acrylics, she regularly exhibited in Iran, participating in multiple group and solo shows in various cities, including Tehran and Isfahan. The only big gap in her exhibiting schedule occurred when she immigrated to Canada. “We came here in 2000,” she said. “We did it for the children.”
Like all immigrants, she struggled with the new language and new culture. “It was several years later, when my children grew older, that I enrolled in Emily Carr [University of Art + Design] part time,” she recalled. “I wanted to become familiar with the local art scene, with the educators and the artists. I wanted to become a part of the local artistic community. And it worked beautifully. My friendships with wonderful Vancouver artists Devora and Sidi Schaffer stem from those days.”
Five years after her immigration, Abdollahi felt immersed enough in the British Columbia art vista to open her own studio and gallery in Yaletown.
“People would pass my gallery on the street, and some would come in,” she said. “They asked questions. I felt that my art connected.”
That connection gave her the courage to join the Eastside Culture Crawl – the biggest visual art festival in Vancouver – 10 years ago.
Abdollahi’s current show at the Zack represents the scope of her art perfectly. It consists of old and new paintings from several different series. A blend of abstract and figurative art, her paintings are airy and bright. Most of them have vague architectural connotations and employ a predominantly blue and green palette reminiscent of spring and rebirth. The abstract forms, sometimes utterly modern, often reveal faint outlines of ruins, shimmering in the mist, in the background.
“I grew up in the land of contradictions, where a traditional way of living juxtaposed a modern, Western lifestyle,” she said. “Those contradictions manifested in the landscape surrounding me, the historical against the contemporary, with layers of change and transformation.”
Immigration to a new country profoundly impacts her imagery.
“In my paintings, I examine the relationship between memories and the external landscape,” she said. “My Iranian background and my Canadian experience have had an enormous influence on my works. They inspired a negotiation between the modern and the ancient, the old and the new, the West and the East. Ancient ruins and Persian architecture play a pivotal role, too. They have enabled me to express the conflict and the negotiation process that often exists between two different cultures or societies. While the ruins speak of a mysterious, pure and mystical past, they also illustrate the corrosive effect of time and modernity, the constant reconfiguration of a country’s landscape, architecture and culture. The dripping paint in many of my pictures also illuminates the process of renewal. The old slides down, while the new grows over it. My paintings attempt to form a bridge between the past and the present.”
Two of the paintings particularly stand out. “The Magical Carpet” is a collage, full of the whimsical patterns, warm hues and bright shapes of a traditional eastern bazaar, with the artist’s customary ruins in the background.
Another painting, “Letters from Beyond”, with its strong punch of red paint, uses fragments of writing that are wholly imaginary. “The language and the letters in that writing don’t belong to any nation,” Abdollahi said. “I created it because I believe that we are all the same people. We should have no borders and no different languages separating us. That’s why I wanted to have a show here, at the Jewish Community Centre. I feel like my art is a link that connects us all.”
Abdollahi’s works can be found in private collections in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Creativity manifests itself in people’s lives in different ways and at different times. For Enda Bardell, various forms of art occupied her for decades, while Mike Cohene discovered woodcarving only a few years ago, on his way to retirement. Their double show, Artistry in Wood and Water, opened at the Zack Gallery on July 26.
Bardell told the Independent that she was born in Estonia. In 1944, when she was a young child, her family fled from Estonia, then occupied by the Nazis, to Sweden. Her mother worked at a paper factory there, and Bardell played with paper dolls she made herself. She also drew all the dolls’ colourful outfits. “I gave the dolls away to other girls, to make friends,” she recalled. “My first attempts at fashion design.”
A few years later, the family was forced to move again. The Russian communist government wanted the return of all the Estonians who had escaped the Nazis during the war, and Sweden was going to comply with that demand. But Bardell’s father didn’t want to live in communist Russia, so they became refugees again, this time ending up in Canada.
“In 1951, we came to Winnipeg,” said Bardell. “I went to school there and I desperately wanted to fit in. To belong. To be Canadian. I participated in many school clubs and activities. Entered an art class, too. My teacher praised me and recommended that I send one of my drawings to an interschool art competition. I did. And I won. I knew then that I was an artist.”
Interested in landscapes and abstracts, Bardell painted a lot as a teenager, but, after her high school graduation, she became deeply involved in fabric art. “I sold my batiks at craft fairs and house parties. People liked them, and someone suggested I should open my own store,” she said. “I did. I designed lots of different textile objects: skirts, pillowcases, aprons, etc. I felt that I needed a business course, in addition to my art education, so I took it. My store was very successful.”
But, as soon as the store achieved that success, running it lost its challenges. “I became bored,” said Bardell. “It was time for a change.”
She sold the store and did many other things in her professional life. “I always want to try something new, something I’ve never tried before. At one time or another, I was a lamp designer. I worked in banking. I was a realtor. I designed costumes for the Vancouver movie industry,” she said.
She also traveled a lot. “I have visited 38 countries. I like adventures, like it when I can’t speak the tongue. Then I have to express myself through body language. I have to be creative,” she said.
Art always shimmered on the periphery of her life, a constant creative supplement to her various commercial careers. First, abstract oils and acrylics, and, later, watercolours. Painting eventually metamorphosed into the focus of her existence. In the past two decades, she has participated in multiple solo and group exhibitions in Canada and abroad. In 2008, she even participated in an art show in her native Estonia, the Estonian Art in Exile exhibition at KUMU, the National Museum of Art in Tallinn. KUMU acquired one of her acrylic abstracts for their permanent collection; another of her paintings is in the Tartu Art Museum in Estonia. Her paintings are represented by many local galleries.
The current exhibition at the Zack is the result of a trip Bardell took to Yukon shortly before the COVID pandemic temporarily closed all travel. “My son lives in Yukon,” she said. At his prompting, she applied and was granted residency for one month at Ted Harrison Cabin in 2018. “We hired an RV and traveled there for two weeks,” she said. “Yukon was amazing: mountains, rivers, lakes. The place resonated with me. I took 1,400 photos during our travels. Based on the selection from those photos, I painted 40 watercolour pieces during my stay at the cabin. It was a privilege to stay in that wonderful place, especially because I had met Ted previously.”
Many of Bardell’s paintings in this series involve rivers and lakes. “I like water,” she said. “I have always lived on the water, except for one year in Winnipeg. I swim year-round here, summer and winter. Sometimes, I have seals swimming with me. It feels magical.”
When she submitted her Yukon series to the Zack Gallery, it was accepted, on the condition that it would be a double show, as gallery exhibitions must have a Jewish connection. Bardell’s Jewish connection became Mike Cohene, a local woodcarver. His colourful carved fish complement perfectly Bardell’s watercolours of Yukon’s rivers and lakes.
Unlike Bardell, Cohene didn’t do anything artistic until 2009. “I had a solid clothing business,” he said. “Awhile back, I started thinking about retiring and selling the business.”
In the summer of 2009, Cohene visited Steveston Farmers Market. “They had a booth of the Richmond Carvers Society – I thought their works were outstanding,” he said. “I always whittled but I never considered myself artistic. I started talking to the man in the booth, expressing my admiration. He said anyone could learn to do it. He invited me to come to the club meeting in September. I went.”
Since that day, he has learned a lot about the artistry and the technique of woodcarving. His journey began with woodcarving classes at the society. Later, he took a course at Emily Carr University of Art + Design and enrolled in carving workshops.
“My first carving was a bear cub,” he said. “Then I made a dolphin. Then I started carving fish and birds…. I’ve always been a fisherman, but I never studied fish anatomy before. I caught a fish and tossed it into a bucket. Now, I catch a fish and study it: the fins, the tail, the scales, how the colours change. I look at fish from a new perspective.”
In 2017, Cohene participated in his first two-artist exhibition at the Zack Gallery, with photographer Joanne Emerman. Since then, his art has become even more refined. “I learned more sophisticated techniques and tools,” he said. “I got several residencies in B.C. and Oregon.” Three years ago, he began teaching woodcarving to other Richmond Carvers Society members.
To create his wooden creatures as life-like as possible, Cohene uses various reference materials. “Mostly I use my own photographs,” he said. “When other people photograph wildlife, they give it their own interpretation, but I want to follow my own vision.”
His statues of fish include rocks and corals, all carefully carved and painted in bright, realistic colours. “Sometimes, one statue takes up to 20 coats of paint – different wood parts absorb paint with different intensity,” he explained.
He also uses tree branches as mounting blocks – they are not carved, just sawed off, polished and lacquered. “I only use dead wood for my statues. I often walk along the beach and pick up interesting pieces of driftwood. I’ve never harmed even one living tree,” he said.
Recently, Cohene has started exploring First Nation carving. The motifs attract him, and he has several pieces on display at the gallery, including two decorative oars.
He also creates Judaica – mezuzot, chanukiyot and dreidels – some of which can be seen at the gallery. Cohene has been to Israel 34 times. “Once, I brought 12 kilograms of olive wood with me from Israel, and I make many of my Judaica pieces from the reclaimed Israeli wood,” he said. “Olive wood has such a beautiful texture. And dreidels are fun to make.”
Whatever he works on, Cohene always gives it his all. “For me,” he said, “woodcarving is a form of self-fulfillment.”
Esther Rausenberg, artistic and executive director of the Eastside Arts Society. (photo by Wendy D)
Eastside Arts Society (EAS) presents the return of its two-day summer art-making event, CREATE! Arts Festival, taking place at Strathcona Park on July 22 and at various Eastside Arts District studios on July 23.
A community initiative designed to welcome guests to explore, learn and create art together with local artists, CREATE! features a variety of accessible visual and performing arts workshops for adults and youth, including watercolour painting, needle felting, indigo dying, pottery, glass fusing, photography, ukulele, Salish singing and storytelling.
“In addition to a variety of art workshops, demonstrations and public participation art installations, we are also incredibly proud to introduce our brand new festival art shop, featuring a curated selection of arts and crafts all handmade by local artists,” said EAS artistic and executive director Esther Rausenberg, who is a member of the Jewish community.
On July 22, there will be a series of outdoor art-making workshops taught by more than 15 artists who live and/or work in the Eastside Arts District, many of whom will be participating in CREATE! Arts Festival for the first time. Adult and youth workshops will be hosted by Taaye Wong, Tanna Po, Suzan Marczak, Nima Nasiri, Naomi Yamamoto, Niki Holmes, Ross den Otter, Daphne Roubini, Russell Wallace, Jewish community member Naomi Steinberg, Nicole Caspillo, Nathaniel Marchand, Eri Ishii and Chantal Cardinal (FELT à la main with LOVE). A children and youth workshop will be hosted by Amberlie Perkin and an all-abilities workshop by Alternative Creations Studio.
Saturday festivities will also include a general admission CREATE! Art Zone. Art demonstrations include painting, pottery and glass beading from Francis Tiffany, Julia Chirka (summer skool) and members of Terminal City Glass Co-op. Public participation art projects include a life-size colouring mural with Serena Chu of Chu Chu, squeegee art with Joanne Probyn, and the building and performing of two giant crow puppets – in honour of EAS’s unofficial mascot – with Jacquie Rolston. Opus Art Supplies will have a hands-on block carving and printing activation: carve and pull a mini-block print, and contribute to a collaborative printmaking collage.
A selection of local handmade artworks and goods, curated by OH Studio Project, will be available at the festival shop. There will be a fully licensed beer garden, serving beer, cider and wine from Strange Fellows Brewing, as well as an assortment of food from a collection of food trucks, including Earnest Ice Cream, Wak Wak Burger, Mahshiko and Camion Café.
On July 22, the 8th Annual Art! Bike! Beer! Crawl Brewery Tour & Fundraiser will, for the first time, end at the festival grounds.
Activities will move indoors on July 23, connecting participants with art production spaces in neighbouring Eastside studios, with additional art workshops hosted by members of the Terminal City Glass Co-op, Richard Tetrault, Sonya Iwasiuk, Grace Lee (eikcam ceramics) and Naomi Yamamoto.
Workshops are $35 (plus GST) for youth/adults, with the exception of Perkin’s workshop for children/youth at $20 (plus GST); children under the age of 12 must be supervised by an adult. The general public can access festival activities at Strathcona Park for a $5 general admission fee (children under age 12 are free). For full festival details and workshop registration, visit createartsfestival.ca.
Art House SF’s Max Khusid is one of several artists who will be at Art Vancouver May 4-7. (photo from Art House SF)
Once again, galleries and artists from across Canada and around the world will come together to exhibit their work at Art Vancouver, which takes place May 4-7 at the Vancouver Convention Centre West. At the annual fair, attendees can join the opening night party, purchase art, listen to various talks, take part in classes, and more.
Other participating Jewish community members include Max Khusid of San Francisco gallery Art House SF (arthousesf.com) and a couple of the gallery’s artists, Tavalina (Rinat Kishony) and Max Blechman, who, with husband Kazu Umeki, comprises the duo BLECHMEKI (a portmanteau of their last names).
Khusid spent the first 20 years of his professional career in the world of technology, and plans to spend the next 20 years diving into the unknown and immeasurable world of art. He is inspired by the mystic art and adventurous life journey of Russian painter, explorer, archeologist and philosopher Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947).
Tavalina lives in Israel and her work “Jerusalem” was recently featured on the cover of a book by the late Amos Oz. A graduate of the Israel Institute of Technology with a bachelor of architecture, she worked in the field for several years. After a personal crisis in her 30th year, she began to paint, devoting herself to art. At the same time, she embarked on a journey of personal discovery and traveled many places, eventually returning to Israel, where she continues painting and presenting her work, as well as teaching art.
Blechman, originally from New York, lives in San Francisco. He and Umeki use mass-produced American pottery from the 1930s to 1980s to create photo tableaux. At first glance, the individual pieces of pottery appear identical, but closer inspection reveals variations both in form and colour. Indeed, the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi (appreciating beauty that is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete in nature) reverberates throughout their pottery.
For the full list of Art Vancouver artists and classes, as well as tickets for the fair, visit artvancouver.net.
For the this year, Steveston, B.C., artist Merle Linde, chose to create a Haggadah cover that would look old and hand drawn. To achieve this authentic feeling, Linde used Taiwan linen paper, traditional Chinese watercolour paints and brushes.
The calligraphy letters in solid black Hebrew-like text feature peacock blue flashes, often seen in antique manuscripts. Yom Tov candles sit on candleholders that borrow their design from ancient Egyptian columns. The traditional Four Cups of Wine are inspired by a set of old silverware featuring raised grapevine leaves and grapes. And a silver seder plate holder has space for the three traditional shmura matzot, the shank bone, the burnt egg, haroset, bitter herbs, green vegetable and salt water for dipping.
“Nostalgia” by Lovena Galyide (photo by Olga Livshin)
Community Longing and Belonging, the fifth annual exhibition in celebration of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, is now on at the Zack Gallery.
Curated by Leamore Cohen, coordinator of Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver’s Inclusion Services, the participating artists demonstrate a range of artistic levels, abilities and social affiliations, but they all strive to answer the same questions in their artwork: What does community longing look like? How to find a place to belong in our ever-changing world?
Cohen has been the driving force of this show for five years. For her, an unjuried exhibition is the best way to honour the commitment to remove barriers and celebrate community members’ creativity. If an artist wanted in, they were in, professional artist or amateur, Jewish or non-Jewish, young or old. Cohen stressed that inclusion is the basic principle, and participation is what counts most.
Many artists in the current show have participated in the Inclusion Services exhibit before. Although most of the works on display are paintings, there are also photographs and drawings. There are portraits and landscapes, figurative and abstract imagery. Some items are for sale, while others are not.
Many of the portraits are disturbing in their naked emotional anguish. The faces are jagged or crooked, angular or cubical. One of them is clearly inspired by Picasso, but all of them portray loneliness, a search for belonging.
Most of the abstract images are similarly angry or sad. Very little figurative recognition manifests, but the emotions explode out of the pictures, multiplied by dark colours and sharp lines. They depict the pain of isolation, the desire for acceptance.
Not every work is bleak. Clare Palmer’s photograph “Red Maple” is full of natural serenity, as if the photographer found her community in nature and recommends it to everyone.
Roi Alexander M. Sanchez’s painting with a long and winding title starting with Clean Environment shows a man and a woman cleaning the land, collecting garbage into sacks, together with their friends in the background. The cleaning they are doing is obviously a community event, and the artist emphasizes this with bright colours and cheerful composition. The painting radiates gladness, with a child-like flare. The author seems to say: we clean our home together.
Togetherness also seems to be the main meaning of Aileen Leong’s untitled piece, where two hearts are pierced by one arrow. Connected by this arrow of love, the hearts fly above the mountains on the golden wings of joy.
Lovena Galyide, on the other hand, doesn’t speak of love in either of her two paintings. Both are larger than most of the others in the exhibit. Both feature a single woman. In one, called “Say Yes to Your Open Door,” a girl lifts the curtain of night above her head, allowing in the light of the morning. She welcomes a new beginning and abolishes darkness. The painting thrums with hope. The girl is alone, with her back to viewers, but maybe the new day will bring her a new friend. Or a new love is waiting for her on the sunny side.
Another of Galyide’s paintings is “Nostalgia.” It is less exuberant than the first. The woman in this canvas stands in the rain outside the window of a flower shop. The viewers are “inside,” looking out. All they see is a blurry female silhouette under an umbrella. But, inside the shop, flowers bloom. Is that pensive, lonely woman going to enter? Buy flowers? Or is she just passing down the street? So many stories could start with this painting, all going in different directions. It is up to viewers to finish those stories.
Flowers are also the focus of Sandra Yuen’s “Bias.” This painting is large, and the close-up flowers are accordingly huge and gloriously pink, blooming in splendid isolation on the blue background. The painting is reminiscent of Georgia O’Keeffe’s gigantic flowers, capturing the beauty and vastness of nature.
Unlike Yuen’s exposition of colour, another large painting, by Rodrigo Perez Parra, seems composed mostly of melancholy, echoed by its subdued, earthen palette. Its title, “The Dance in the Dream,” reflects its subject: a woman standing thoughtfully beside an open door. Does she dream of a dance in her past? Does she hope to dance again? Where is her partner? Only a hat, hanging beside the door, reminds us about them. Are they coming back? Again, stories abound from this painting, some of which might even have a happy ending.
In the middle of all the images on the gallery walls, two 3-D exhibits stand out. Andrew Jackson’s “Folk Guitar” and “Tree of Life Paddle” are tongue-in-cheek, almost goofy. Both are real-life objects, painted in a distinctive folksy style. The guitar flaunts soaring gulls gobbling fish. The paddle is painted with the Tree of Life. Although the guitar lacks its strings, perhaps the artist considers music our inescapable community. Or sports (for the paddle)?
Another unique item on display is a small clay tablet called “The AHA Community.” The artists who created it belong to the Artists Helping Artists (AHA) collective. The plaque doesn’t list any names, but Cohen said each of the 11 little colourful figures placed on the tablet’s surface, all engaged in different artistic activities, were made by different members of the collective. They are merry self-portraits, making the tablet itself a representative of all the artists in this show.
According to their website, AHA is an art studio collective in Burnaby, where artists of all abilities and skill levels are encouraged to come together to make art – visual art, music, writing, anything goes. The studio provides space, affordable materials and the opportunity to pursue the individual artist’s aspirations. A large percentage of their membership is artists with complex needs.
Like the JCC Inclusion Services, AHA believes that art is a vital element in our lives, and that inclusion is mandatory. Their mandates are congruent – each invites people to share their feelings through art.
Earlier this year, Claire B. Cohen published a book of her 30-plus years as an artist. She made it for family and friends, as a record of her artistic legacy.
“Art is a powerful and a creative force of self-expression. To create art is to develop an ability to communicate visually what cannot be expressed in words.
“By creating the process of art, we change the way we see the world,” Claire B. Cohen told the Independent. “In understanding ourselves, we find areas where we feel limited. In understanding ourselves, we stand up for ourselves and can present ourselves authentically to others. An artist’s creation is unique and original to their work.”
Earlier this year, Cohen published a slim volume, mainly with images that burst from the pages, outlining her 30-plus years creating art. We glimpse the range of her work – landscapes, portraits, semi-abstracts, flowers, multimedia collages and a compartmental series, in which colourful abstract canvases were “connected sequentially in a zigzag for using piano hinges.” Flow and fun describe this series, her portraits – both colour and black and white – capture the personalities of her subjects, her landscapes and collages are bold and full of movement but also balance. The book touches on her work as an art therapist.
Originally from Israel, Cohen came to Canada in 1964. She studied fine arts at York University in Toronto and the University of Ottawa, and later earned her master’s in art therapy and counseling from U of O in 1987. She had many solo exhibits and group shows in Ottawa, and elsewhere, over the years. The book takes readers to 2006, with an exhibit list to 2009. She moved to Vancouver in 2012.
“I continued to paint after moving to Ottawa, but my move to Vancouver changed my focus, since joining my family had taken much of my time, being richly involved with newborn grandchildren,” said Cohen. “However, I still continued painting and showing new work in Vancouver galleries, as well as donating paintings to different organizations in Vancouver, such as hospitals, Louis Brier [Home and Hospital], friends, and creating more collages and multimedia-based work. I participated in group art shows and sold some to the public.”
Cohen said her reason for producing the book “was to create a place to keep all of my art as a legacy to leave to my family inremembrance of my story. COVID times were affecting my spirit, my mood was down and … the idea came about to focus on creating the book for my family and friends.”
During the pandemic, Cohen said she started to lose her connection to creativity.
“Friends cut off from each other, as much as children and family,” she said. “I slowly lost my energy and interest, as well as the need I once had to be close to my easel. The paints, the brushes, the colours all lost their meaning and the need I had to paint slowly deteriorated.”
She began to look back at her past, which, she said, “led me to wake up from my dormancy and questions such as ‘what is my meaning of life?’ I discovered my paintings in storage and wanted to create a book.
“I reflected further on my body of work and questioned: why did I dedicate my years to painting? Was there any purpose to it? The answer eventually arrived – yes. There are many purposes to be alive, and work as an artist, investing my life in art. In my case, most of it was to leave a memory to my next generation.”
Cohen’s most recent exhibit and sale was at Britannia Community Centre in 2021. Art can be cathartic, whether one is making it or experiencing it.
“The process of creating art has a great intensity and full force of emotions that lead to a freedom and release when the piece is complete,” she explained. “Looking at these pieces that I created many years ago leads to a sense of nostalgia and a softening of that intensity. These pieces have followed me through many moves and lives, and have a story of their own that has evolved with the emotions that once created them. The language of art cannot be explained in words, the language of these emotions is form, line, colour and brush strokes.”
This language can help heal, as Cohen well knows from her art therapy practice.
“The more we know about ourselves, the more we learn to grow and develop our abilities to stand our ground,” she said.
Describing art as “a powerful and unique way to explore our creative forces,” she explained that people who participate in art therapy use the “materials to express the self and communicate visually,” composing stories. In a group setting, they “collaborate and share with others … connect and integrate parts of his/her inner self, gain confidence and reduce stress in a supportive environment, with the aid of the instructor.”
It was both a dream and a need for Cohen to do art therapy and counseling.
“I realized that art is not just for selling and decorating homes, rather it was a way to find myself, to grow and see who I am, and to help others with their healing.”