Merle Linde, working out of Malka’s Studio in Steveston Village, chose four symbols of Rosh Hashanah for her painting.
The shofar: the mournful cry, sounded 100 times during the traditional Rosh Hashanah service, evokes the freedom we gained when we returned to the Holy Land.
The pomegranate: a symbol of righteousness, knowledge and wisdom because it is said to have 613 seeds (arils), each representing one of the 613 mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah.
The apples: slices dipped into honey are eaten to symbolize the desire for a sweet new year.
The honey: given to us by the bees, who can inflict pain with their sting and yet produce delicious honey. Linde would suggest that we eat only “sustainable” honey (the food of the bees) so that the bees can survive and continue to pollinate the pomegranate and apple trees.
L’shanah tovah u’metukah! Wishes for a good and sweet new year.
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].
Vivian Claman was one of the founders of Shalhevet Girls High School and served on the school’s board for 14 years. (photo from Vivian Claman)
Vivian Claman was one of the founders of Shalhevet Girls High School. More than 14 years later – during which time she has served on the board of the school, including until recently as president – she is being celebrated at the school’s 2022 gala celebration May 22.
Leslie Kowarsky, president of the Shalhevet board, credits Claman with the school’s very existence.
“There is no one in our community who has not benefited from Vivian’s efforts, whether for Schara Tzedeck, for the Jewish Federation, or for many other worthy causes,” said Kowarsky. “I can say with confidence that Shalhevet would not exist without her tireless commitment.”
Shelley Rivkin, vice-president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and the honoree at last year’s gala, echoed those words.
“Vivian has shown unswerving dedication and passion to maintaining and strengthening Orthodox education for girls in Vancouver,” Rivkin said. “She is a dynamic and energetic volunteer and she brought this commitment to her work on Federation’s allocation committee and other community organizations.”
Claman reflected back on the school’s creation. Ten parents, including Terrance Bloom, who would serve as the first board president, came together to address where their daughters would continue their education after they completed Grade 7 at Vancouver Hebrew Academy (VHA).
“My daughter was one of six girls in the Grade 7 class,” Claman said. “We had a little evening meeting to discuss the idea of doing a high school for the girls. My daughter said, I’m willing to try and convince the other girls to try, so we started the school.”
The availability of Orthodox Jewish education in Vancouver has been a recurring challenge and is among the range of issues being address by a new initiative called Torah West, which seeks to retain and attract more Orthodox Jews to live in Vancouver.
VHA now offers Orthodox education for boys up to Grade 10 and Claman said talks are underway to move the boys school and Shalhevet under a shared administrative umbrella.
“It makes the most sense, certainly for the donors,” she said. “They would prefer to have one institution so that we are not separate institutions going to the donors and asking for money.”
Whatever administrative structure is adopted, there will always be a separate boys school and girls school, adhering to Orthodox standards, she said.
Shalhevet is experiencing challenges that reflect larger trends in the community. With the departure of the Pacific Torah Institute yeshivah, some Orthodox families have left Vancouver.
“We absolutely need to have a strong Orthodox community and the only way we’ll do that is if Vancouver Hebrew Academy thrives and Shalhevet thrives,” said Claman. “Right now, though, to be honest, we’ve had a lot of attrition in the last couple of years. We are down numbers in our school. It is very upsetting, but that’s the reality of Vancouver. We kind of have waves. We have ups and we have downs. Right now, we are in that slump. That’s one of the reasons why Torah West is being created.”
In the school year now winding down, there are 10 students across five grades at Shalhevet, down from a peak of 25 or 27, she said.
While those numbers are disappointing, she said, there is a silver lining.
“Because of small numbers, we really can cater to the individual needs of each girl,” she said. “That’s really important. There are a lot of girls who have different issues and it’s really wonderful that they get that kind of attention. At a normal high school, there could be 30 kids in the classroom. The competition is pretty fierce.”
She added that single-gender education has been demonstrated to be advantageous, especially to girls.
“Studies have shown that girls do extremely well when they are on their own without feeling the competition or the pressure of being around boys,” said Claman. “It really does make a difference.”
On being recognized at this year’s gala – the first in-person gala in three years – Claman said she is “overwhelmed, to be honest.”
“I just announced my retirement plan – I had warned them I was going to be leaving the board after 14 years. I thought it was enough – so they decided to honour me. I’d really prefer not to be, but I didn’t really have a choice in the matter,” she said, laughing.
However, she acknowledged: “It’s a really nice way of the school showing appreciation for the many years of really hard work I put into the school.”
As past president, Claman still attends every board meeting and remains very active in school affairs. Nevertheless, as time permits, she plans to devote more hours to her emerging role as a painter.
“I was a fashion designer by profession for many years,” she said. “I retired because it was just too much time away from being a mother of three kids.”
Because she likes being busy and creative, Claman took up painting about seven years ago.
“I had taken a class many years ago in acrylic with a teacher here for one year but this time I decided to take it seriously and I’ve been painting ever since,” she said.
After a friend’s dog died, Claman painted a portrait of the pet and gave it to the grieving friend. That has led to a raft of pet portraits, but she is also receiving commissions for other works as well. (Her portfolio is at vivianclaman.com, though she acknowledges she has not had time to keep it up-to-date.)
Although she is concluding her time as a board member, Claman’s commitment to the school remains steadfast.
“To me, the most important thing about Shalhevet is we provide an Orthodox education for the Orthodox families here,” she said. “It’s wonderful to have a pluralistic community, but we absolutely must have the common denominator of the Orthodox community here. Orthodox families will not live here unless they know that they can send their kids, their girls and boys, to a high school that caters to their guidelines as to what an Orthodox Jewish education should be.”
For tickets to the May 22, 6:30 p.m., gala, which takes place at Schara Tzedeck Synagogue, visit shalhevet.ca.
“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
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!”
Liba Baitelman, the 2021 JI Chanukah Cover Art Contest winner, was commissioned to create this year’s cover of the Jewish Independent’s Passover issue. (photo by Merle Linde)
Liba Baitelman, daughter of Rabbi Yechiel and Chanie Baitelman, is a fun-loving, always religiously correct and mischievous 10-year-old. Her artistic talent and vision of a completed painting is not taught, it is spontaneous. She is so receptive to learning new techniques and this year’s Pesach cover showcases her skills.
When Liba started her Pesach painting with pencil sketches, she knew she wanted: two candles, four cups of wine, six seder plate symbols and three round shmura matzos. What worried her was her lack of drawing skills. To overcome this, she used templates throughout the design: margarine tub lids for the curves of the ribbons, flattened paper cups for the goblets, small plastic cups dipped into silver paint for the dishes, self-adhesive vinyl letters used for outlines and diligently painted with a very thin brush.
Her joy and pride with the completed painting should spearhead a lifelong hobby.
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.”
Pnina Granirer launches her new book, Garden of Words, at the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival Feb. 9. (photo from JBF)
“Unexpected and unplanned, like small gifts offered by a kind friend, poems have been forming in my head ever since I was a child,” writes Pnina Granirer in her most recent book, Garden of Words. “Unexpected” is the perfect word for Granirer, who continually reinvents her artistic self.
Garden of Words is a beautiful mix of Granirer’s painted “words” and her written ones, her more distant past and recent experiences, including the loss of her life-partner of more than 65 years, in August 2020. The book is dedicated to Eddy and the final poem (“Goodbye”) and image (“Eddy Studying During Power Outage,” 1957, charcoal on paper) are of him.
This collection is a very personal work that shows Granirer’s powers of observation, both in her paintings and drawings, as well as in her poetry. It also shows her strength via her willingness to be vulnerable.
Two poems are part of the book’s foreword. The first, explains Granirer, who was born in Romania, “expresses the joy and happiness of a 10-year-old when on August 23, 1944, the Soviet Red Army entered our town, on the day that the cattle cars were waiting at the train station to take us away to the concentration camps. It had been a narrow escape, indeed!” The second is the title poem, in which Granirer notes that she is a painter, “I speak with paint and brush / my words are written / with colour and with line.” But, she recognizes the power of words, their ability to “conjure a Universe”: “I should so like to plant / a garden of words / in my field of colours // and watch them grow.”
Garden of Words has six sections: Sea and Stones; Pandemic; Dancers; Memories of Spain; This and That; and Closure. Her poems are short, concisely capturing the ephemerality of life – not even stones are permanent, the ebb and flow of water covers and exposes them, reshapes them, while they absorb past lives (fossils) and form sculptures. Stones offer inspiration and company to Granirer, who listens to their “quiet whispering.”
While all of the paintings Granirer has selected for this book interact wonderfully with her poems, reinforcing their themes, particularly powerful is the interplay between the poems about COVID-19 and artworks that had, of course, other meanings when they were created years ago. The new poem “All Together Now,” which starts, “This novel enemy is democratic. // In its indifference / all prey is equal,” is followed by the 2008 painting “Utopia – All Together Now,” which features four people dancing within a diamond-shaped boundary. One dancer’s head and their left foot cross the barrier. With dancing as one of the activities that has been restricted during the pandemic and the fact that we’ve all had to create bubbles (diamonds?) within which we can socialize safely, this probably once-joyous painting takes on a more sombre joy.
There are also sparks of sombre humour in various poems, including “Visit with El Greco” and “City Woman.” And the fear is palpable and relatable in the prose poem “Grenada,” which includes the stark reflection: “Five hundred years after the Inquisition, the burnings and autos-da-fé are pushed out of memory, conveniently forgotten, but the ceremonies persist; the dark past is not taught in Spanish schools. It has been turned into an Easter celebration, a parade, a fun event.” But, for Granirer, the crowds are ominous, evoking images of the Inquisition: “I am a Jew and it is coming for me. I am a Muslim and I am afraid. I am a Black woman and here is the KKK coming. I am terrified. The sight of those pointed hoods unleashes a flood of emotion I did not know I was capable of. My anxiety is close to panic.”
There are happier reflections. “Pas-de-deux,” for example, describes two men, each flying their own kite, but close together: “They leap / they dance / they bend and kneel / they sway from side to side / and turn as one.” When the men and their kites finish their dance, they receive “scattered applause from the small gathered crowd.”
At age 86, Granirer continues to create in new and meaningful ways. She launches her new book at the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival on Feb. 9, 1 p.m. Visit jccgv.com/jewish-book-festival.
Inspired by real people, Jai Chakrabarti and Michaela Carter have written novels that explore the Holocaust and its impacts. Their books also happen to share common themes. Notably, the power of art to change the world, and the power of love to change a person.
Chakrabarti (A Play for the End of the World) joins Gary Barwin (Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted: The Ballad of Motl the Cowboy) on Feb. 6 in a Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival event, moderated by Helen Pinsky, called Mythical Quests. Carter (Leonora in the Morning Light) and Meg Waite Clayton (The Postmistress of Paris) take part in the event Art and War on Feb. 9, moderated by Hope Forstenzer.
In Chakrabarti’s A Play for the End of the World, the quest is that of child survivor Jaryk Smith, who travels from New York to India in 1972 to collect the ashes of his best friend and fellow Holocaust survivor, Misha, who died of a heart attack. Misha had ventured to India to help a village mount a production of Rabindranath Tagore’s Dak Ghar (translated as “The Post Office”), which Jaryk and Misha had performed when they were under the care of Janusz Korczak (aka Pan Doktor by the children) in Warsaw in 1942.
While Jaryk, Misha and all the other characters are fictional, Korczak and Dak Ghar were very real. “The play is about a dying child living through his imagination while quarantined,” writes Chakrabarti in the author’s note. “Pan Doktor chose to stage the play to help his orphans reimagine ghetto life and to prepare them for what was to come.”
The Indian villagers are also being prepared for what is to come – they are under threat of expulsion, or worse, from the government; already, protesters have been imprisoned, even killed. The Indian professor promoting the play wants to bring international attention to their plight.
Tangled up in all this is Lucy, who Jaryk loves but abandons in New York when he hears about Misha’s death. One of the many choices Jaryk faces is whether he can accept the happiness that Lucy and life in general can offer him.
Happiness is a rare and difficult-to-achieve state in Carter’s novel, as well. The Leonora of the book’s title is artist Leonora Carrington, who was born in England in 1917 and died in Mexico in 2011. An unofficial part of the Surrealist movement (because women weren’t allowed), Carrington was an acclaimed painter and writer. Of her relationships, the most famed would be with fellow Surrealist Max Ernst, who was twice her age at their time of meeting.
“I was drawn to Leonora Carrington before I even knew who she was,” writes Carter in the author’s note. “Long intrigued by the Surrealist artists, by their playful take on creativity and their celebration of surprise and strangeness, I had set out, in 2013, to write a fictional story placed among them, set between the wars and with a young woman at its centre.”
It was only later that Carter, at the Tate Gallery, came across a piece by Carrington, as well as the book Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art by Susan L. Aberth. For months, Carter says, she resisted the idea of writing a novel, but “read everything about Leonora I could get my hands on, as well as everything available about Max and Peggy Guggenheim, who was, I realized, an integral part of their story.”
Ernst had many lovers, including Guggenheim, who helped him get to the United States, but Carter’s novel posits that Carrington was his true soulmate, and that he was Carrington’s. Their affair is interrupted by the Second World War, however, and, after we get to meet the couple in 1937, the novel mainly alternates between Carrington’s story from that point and Ernst’s from 1940, as he is trying to escape from France. While the two met in London, they moved to Paris – Ernst first (Carrington’s father apparently had a hand in Ernst’s work being declared “the product of an immoral mind,” which was an arrestable offence at the time in London), then Carrington.
Leonora in the Morning Light – which is named after a painting Ernst made of Carrington – takes readers to 1943, by which time Ernst is in Arizona and Carrington is in Mexico; both married to other people.
“During her 94 years on this earth, she created thousands of magical, mystical works of art – drawings, paintings, statues, masks, plays, short stories and her masterful novel, The Hearing Trumpet,” writes Carter of Carrington. “She was also an eco-feminist who fervently believed in the innate rights of all individuals – of humans, animals, plants and the earth itself.”
Sky Lilah’s new exhibition, Quantum Sky, is at Art @Bentall this month. Quantum Sky is an exploration of consciousness and what that means to the artist. This self-study is done using various mindfulness techniques, then interpreted through visual art. One dominant theme is the use of chakras, with 21 separate works, three per chakra, dedicated specifically to interpreting the meanings held within. As such, the exhibition is an exploration of an aspect of themselves through her art and letting others into that process, with the intention of creating a space beyond time.
“A lot of it is just trusting the process, which is I guess why I paint in the first place, which I find funny because I’m so organized in life. And when it comes to artwork, I find I just need to start and figure it out as I go, as opposed to planning it all and then starting,” said Lilah.