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.”
Lori Goldberg’s artwork reminds viewers that “that which we discard doesn’t disappear.” (photo from Lori Goldberg)
If you attend a performance at Queen Elizabeth Theatre, you will see the artwork of Lori Goldberg. She is one of the artists whose creations are at the theatre for another couple of weeks. The exhibit opened Oct. 29.
“Queen Elizabeth Theatre has a program for exhibiting artwork by local artists,” Goldberg told the Independent. “There was a call that was sent out a few years ago and I responded. I was accepted and the work was to be installed just when the pandemic began, so it was postponed until this year.
“It is an ideal venue,” she continued, “as thousands of people a week attend events at the Queen E. My art has a message about climate change and it is important that it gets seen by as many people as possible. My pieces are on exhibit until Dec. 19, and people are only able to see it if they have a ticket to an event. Alternatively, I am available to take anyone interested on a private tour.”
The paintings in the exhibit come from three ongoing series: Plasticity, Poetics of the Discarded, and Reconstructing Nature.
“For many years, I have been investigating what happens when two opposing places – cities and nature – collide, connect and transform,” said Goldberg. “Through more awareness and experience firsthand, many of my works have ultimately been about the precarious relationship that we have with our natural world. Seeded in environmental advocacy, an animating factor in my practice has been reclaiming, recycling and reimagining refuse.”
In the description of Plasticity on her website, Goldberg mentions her discovery that ink can be transferred from, say, a plastic bag, to canvas. Her creative process invites such discoveries.
“I am a diverse artist and my ideas dictate my art,” she explained. “My practice has primarily focused on painting, but I have had to explore other mediums to adequately express my concept. Besides paint, I have explored photography, assemblage and sewing. I have worked with clay, glass, so-called ‘trash’ from my studio, single-use plastic bags that I fuse on canvas, and I have stuffed lost socks with fabric remnants given to me by tailors.”
For Goldberg, the camera is her “sketchbook” and a photo is generally the starting point for her painting.
“My work references the physical world at one point in my creative process,” she said. “When I research and gather information, I look for source material that is usually filtered through my own photo documentation. Other photo images can come from friends, the internet or by random discovery. I also use memory, dreams – and always my imagination. I take parts of photos that resonate for me and incorporate that visual language – usually recontextualizing and altering it – in my work.”
As an example, Goldberg spoke about the series Reconstructing Nature, which references nature/urban tensions found in Vancouver. “There is no lack of trees here and our city is in constant state of flux, with the demolishing of buildings and the construction of new ones, so I take photos of the nature that is all around me, but also of the scaffolding and cranes that are so prominent in the city as well,” she said. “In the Poetics of the Discarded series, I started by visiting a number of refuse sites, with an interest in memory and objects. Within the refuse, there were mounds and mounds of history: the detritus of days spent, life and death, business, conveniences used, sentimental things and so much more. I would photo-document these toppling heaps of refuse and re-contextualize and resurrect them as a visual reminder of the ongoing narrative between humans and their environment, reminding us quietly: that which we discard doesn’t disappear.”
While Goldberg does not paint on location often, she said, “My creative process is to go out into nature or the city, experience it, document it and return to my studio. Having said that, making work outdoors is becoming more interesting to me and it is a future direction that I plan to spend more time doing.”
With her art, Goldberg said, “I would like to think that I am creating work that is impactful to the viewer and especially the younger generation, that they will be empowered to take action towards making a difference as they engage with the world.
“The works are meant to be educational and I hope that they impart to the viewer a sense of personal responsibility – that they put to action what they feel and be one small ripple of change to create a better future for themselves.”
An educator for more than 30 years, Goldberg has taken her classroom outside and into the public arena, where, she said, “I create hands-on workshops using materials that address repairing the planet and healing ourselves. I created a project titled Lost Socks, where the public stuffed and sewed lost socks together to create a long tubular form that stood for connection, diversity and difference. Recently, I have used single-use plastic packaging to create wearable art. What I enjoy about these workshops is that they attract all ages and so it is intergenerational and accessible to all.
“Artists are essential in our communities,” she stressed. “Some of us choose to create work that challenges topics that are highly charged and sensitive, but, without venues in which to work and to exhibit, the messages cannot be passed on. I appreciate the exhibits I have had over my life at the JCC – I cannot imagine what would happen if we lost such a significant public space as the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery. It is a venue for Jewish artists and Jewish content. It reinforces Jewish identity, conversations and connections. It is a gallery that has assisted me in my journey as an exhibiting artist and has given me opportunities to work with preschoolers, seniors and poets.”
Goldberg believes in giving back and donates her work frequently to different organizations, such as Big Brothers. “My recent donation was to Tikva Housing,” she said. “I gave them three paintings from my Judaica series. There is a satisfaction that is hard to explain, but it is a joy to be able to offer something of value to make others feel uplifted.”
Goldberg is currently applying for artist residencies in different parts of the world.
“I am interested in responding to the environment that I would be in and allowing it to dictate the direction of my work,” she said. “I want to contextualize my work in such a way that I am creating awareness about our healing of our planet but indirectly, through healing ourselves. Artist residencies offer opportunities for new perspectives and fewer distractions, so you can shed the restraints and discover what is there, but has been hidden.”
Margaux Wosk makes pins, magnets, necklaces and other items. (photo from the artist)
Last year’s Affordable Art Show at the Zack was such a success that the gallery is repeating it in 2022, just in time for the winter holidays. Gallery director Hope Forstenzer hopes it will become an annual tradition.
Everything in the show is less than $250, and the selection is wide enough to appeal to a variety of tastes. The participating artists are a mix of repeat appearances and newcomers. Some of the newcomers have exhibited in Zack group shows before. For the others, this is their first event at the gallery.
Margaux Wosk is one of the new artists. Their company, Retrophiliac, produces pins, magnets, necklaces and other items, many of which are priced below $20.
“I’m an autistic, self-taught artist, designer, writer, entrepreneur and disability advocate,” Wosk said. “I have been a ‘retrophiliac’ for a long time. I am inspired by retro and vintage styles, but I also want to celebrate neurodiversity.”
In addition to their company’s distinct merchandise, Wosk creates vibrant, retro-inspired paintings and mixed media work. “I hope to break down barriers and eliminate the stigma of neurodiversity,” they said. “With my art, I want to open a dialogue about what autistic and disabled people are capable of.”
Aimee Promislow, another new artist, works with glass. Her company, Glass Sipper, produces reusable drinking straws. “I met Hope [Forstenzer] a number of years ago,” she told the Independent. “We were both members of the same glass co-op. When she joined the Zack Gallery, she began reaching out to me for various events and shows. Last year, I participated in the Hanukkah show here. I’m excited to be part of the Affordable Art Show this year.”
Promislow summed up her creative path and why she chose it. “I have always, since a young age, dabbled in art,” she said. “My mother is an artist, Nomi Kaplan. She had introduced me to various art forms. After high school, I tried pottery, then glass enamel, then I played with resin. Eventually, about 15 years ago, I started melting coloured glass. I love colour and I love watching things form in fire. Glass is hard when cold, but, once heated, it is malleable, and I love moving it around.”
At first, Promislow made glass beads and sculpted little animals out of glass: dogs, cats, turtles. “At the same time, our family enjoyed smoothies,” she said. “The kids wanted straws for their smoothies, but the only smoothie straws I could find were plastic ones.”
Concerned about the environment, she combined her passion for glass with her care for nature. “I had a ‘eureka’ moment,” she recalled. “I realized that, instead of making glass beads, I could make reusable glass drinking straws and decorate them with my tiny creatures. That night, Glass Sipper was born.”
She also makes glass mezuzot and yads (the pointers used to read Torah). “They are perfect gifts for bar and bat mitzvah,” she said. “And everything I make is under $100, ideally suitable for the Affordable Art Show.”
Another glass artist in the show is Sonya Labrie. Her company, SML Glassworks, produces vases and other elements of home décor, as well as jewelry. “I’ve always created pieces that could be in anyone’s home,” she said. “The idea that art is to be loved and available to everyone in our community is very important to me.”
With such a mindset, when Forstenzer invited her to participate in this show, Labrie’s answer was an unequivocal yes.
“I started working with glass in 2005,” she said. “The first glass class I attended was at Red Deer College in Red Deer, Alta. Then I went on to complete a three-year advanced diploma in craft and design at Sheridan College, majoring in glass. I’ve also had the opportunity to study glass at the renowned Pilchuck Glass School in northern Washington.”
Labrie said she can’t imagine her life without creating beautiful things out of glass. “My body of work includes blown glass, flamework and kilns-cast items,” she elaborated. “Glass has endless possibilities, it is a challenging medium, and I keep discovering new ways of working with it.”
She also teaches glasswork for the Vancouver School Board. “I teach students grades 8 to 12 and I teach continuing education workshops for adults at the Terminal City Glass co-op.”
Unlike these company-owning creators, fibre artist Deborah Zibrik doesn’t consider herself a full-time artist. Not yet.
“I am a registered dietitian,” she said. “I’m still working part time, finishing a career that started in 1975. I will retire soon, after a research project at the B.C. Children’s Hospital Research Institute is completed. Until then, I simply don’t have enough time each day to work as a full-time artist. However, I consistently carve out ‘me time’ every day to complete some stitching. Ideas are constantly percolating in my head. Typically, many pieces are framed up or in the sketchbook phase at any one time. Perhaps the best descriptor for me is a part-time artist.”
Zibrik makes elaborate embroidered pieces. Some of them are like miniature tapestries, landscapes emerging out of fabric and threads. Others are tiny blossoms, beetles and butterflies that could be used separately or together, each one a delightful surprise. She also does golden embroidery.
“Smaller pieces are often whimsical and stitched quickly, with a minimum of stitches. On the other hand, my gold work requires hours to complete, and the materials are much more costly.”
Zibrik started learning needlecraft when still very young. “Like many girls growing up in rural Canada, I was taught by my mother and grandmother. They wanted to make sure I had all the critical homemaker skills, from crocheting blankets to mending socks…. Later, after 10 years of part-time study at Gail Harker Creative Studio, I completed Level 2 Design (based on a City and Guilds of London Institute in the U.K. curriculum) and Level 4 Diploma for stitch. Luckily for me, the studio is located in La Connor, Wash. That made it possible for me to attend sessions in-person to complete the evidence-based curriculum.”
After receiving her diploma in 2015, Zibrik decided to share her skills with others. “Time permitting, I have been teaching workshops for specific needlework techniques,” she said. “Guild members are my usual students. There is currently a discussion among the guilds about the lost generations of children who haven’t learned any of the needle arts, including embroidery; they haven’t had the exposure. Because of that, membership in the guilds is declining, as members age. I am considering ways to fix that. Perhaps I could offer embroidery classes to youngsters, maybe at the community centre level, to teach basic skills and prime creativity to future artisans.”
When asked where they see themselves on the scale of art versus craft, artists’ replies varied.
“I’m an artist and a designer,” said Wosk.
Promislow said, “I am a craftsperson. I use my medium to make things that are functional and beautiful.”
“My work rides a fine line between both,” said Labrie. “There is a fluid movement in my practice.”
“My personal journey suggests that, especially for women, craft and art are inextricably linked,” offered Zibrik. “More, they have been connected for thousands of years. They are but different places on the same continuum. In that sense, I am privileged to say: I am an artist.”
The Affordable Art Show continues until Dec. 30. And, if you’re visiting the exhibit Dec. 5-7 or 12-14, check out the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver’s Chanukah Marketplace, which takes place in the centre’s atrium.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
An oil painting by Germany-based artist Gennady Karabinskiy.
Vancouver’s Furniture & Art Concierge, owned by Elliot Nitkin, has received the sole right to bring the work of Germany-based artist Gennady Karabinskiy to Canada.
Karabinskiy, a Russian Jew, uses diverse techniques to express his artistic ideas: oil on canvas painting, tempera, pastel, ink on paper and lithography. In his work, Karabinskiy follows the artistic tradition of Eastern European Jewry, carrying on the work of Jewish painters such as Marc Chagall, Amedeo Modigliani and Anatoli Kaplan.
Since 1989, he has participated in more than 200 solo and group exhibitions, including ones in Norway, Germany, Holland and the United States, and he has been featured in numerous newspaper and magazine articles. His works are exhibited in museums in many countries, and are part of private collections around the world.
Suzy Birstein amid her work, some of which visitors to her studio will see during the East Side Culture Crawl. (photo by Britt Kwasney)
“I am most looking forward to healthily connecting with fellow artists and art lovers in real time, real space. Art is always more powerful in person,” artist Suzy Birstein told the Jewish Independent about the East Side Culture Crawl Visual Arts, Design & Craft Festival, which returns to its traditional format Nov. 17-20. Some 400+ artists will open their studios to the public.
“The sense of community, commitment, excitement, inspiration, appreciation – all that brought me to Parker Street [Studios] and East Side Culture Crawl originally is happening again,” she said. “It feels like a renaissance.”
“After the two-year pandemic rollercoaster ride, I am thrilled we are back to a ‘new normal,’” said Esther Rausenberg, artistic and executive director of the Crawl, as well as a participating artist. “I do say ‘new normal,’ as we don’t have a crystal ball and I can’t really speculate how this year’s Crawl will play out. Personally, I am excited to get out and see all of the new and amazing art that has been created and to catch up with the artists. It’s also a real pleasure for me to meet members of the public as they share their enthusiasm for the event, the art and the connections they will be making with the artists.”
Birstein (clay, painting, sculpture) and Rausenberg (photography, Georgia Art Studios) are only two of many Jewish community members who will open their creative space to the public over the four days of the festival, which also features gallery displays, and artist demonstrations and talks. Other community members include, from Parker Street Studios, Shevy Levy (painting), Olga Campbell (clay, mixed media, new media), Mia Weinberg (painting) and penny eisenberg (drawing, painting); from Eastside Atelier, Lauren Morris (mixed media, painting), Ideet Sharon (assemblage, mixed media, painting), Stacy Lederman (mixed media, painting) and Karly Leipsic (mixed media); and, from the Arc, Lynna Goldhar Smith (installation, painting). Overall, festival-goers can explore about 68 buildings and studios in the Eastside Arts District, the area bounded by Columbia Street, 1st Avenue, Victoria Drive and the waterfront.
“This year’s event has a distinctly celebratory tone,” said Levy. “It is a reunion for Vancouver’s established art community, a chance to reconnect, to have meaningful discussions around art, not just with artists, students and educators, but with those who display art, like galleries and art management, and everyone who is excited to work together again.”
Thinking of the last couple of years, she noted, “What was fascinating about the immediate impact of COVID-19 was the sudden loss of collective connection – both human (face-to-face) and the collective understanding of what the future might bring…. When we were forced to isolate, I appreciated the introduction of art to the digital and virtual world, and how it helped the art world, in many aspects, to find new ways to connect with society. However, now I understand how much I, like so many of my colleagues, urgently need constant interactions with the community – 2022 Crawl is here to fill some gaps.”
Goldhar Smith – a multi-disciplinary artist who has spent more than 30 years in theatre performance with painting very much in the background – is excited about the chance to show her visual art to a lot of different people. “I especially love the opportunity to see their responses to the work and engage in lively conversation when it’s possible,” she said.
Interested in integrating her visual art practice with her performance practice, Goldhar Smith said, “I have been building installations in my studio to that end and so, among my paintings and prints, visitors will see the beginnings of more conceptual ideas in some of the physical objects and paper sculptures in the studio.”
Whether abstract or figurative, Goldhar Smith seeks to express the intangible qualities of human experience in her work. “If I paint a landscape, it is as much an emotional or psychological landscape as a place,” she said. “Yet, at the same time, if I paint an urban crow or a heron, it is more an expression of honouring the urban wildlife, and reminding myself that I am in their domain. I hope that makes sense. Whatever I paint, I am like an improvisational actor, responding to the moment, with one brushstroke informing the next. The meaning emerges after the fact. It is not so much I make my art, as my art makes me.”
For Goldhar Smith, the pandemic was a dramatic reminder “that we need to behave more responsibly, more cohesively, with more compassion and care for each other – with more understanding of our connection to each other – and to view ourselves as part of nature and part of one planet all together. Yet, we are so divided. If there was ever a time for artists to get focused, this would be it.
“Artists, and art, have the privilege and responsibility of their voices,” she continued. “We need to use our voices to contribute to the global change that is necessary. We need to speak up with courage and make brave art.
“We need to be endowed with the respect that what we do is of great importance and we need to be valued, supported and encouraged because artists bring meaning and perspective and also disruption and confrontation with the status quo. We need to see how our art fits, not so much into the art marketplace, but as a central driver of change that can address the pressing needs of our time.”
Levy expressed a similar view.
“So many artists, myself included, produce artwork with an outcome in mind, such as an exhibition or career step,” said Levy. “The challenges of the past few years forced me to take the time to reflect on my own art practice, taking it to the next level by exploring new avenues and fresh approaches. I had to remove and free myself from that outcome. I was able to experiment and create work that connects me better to the meaning of being a better human and better artist, as opposed to a ‘professional artist’ operating within the structures of a commercial art world.”
Birstein also used the pandemic period for self-reflection. “The enforced isolation of the pandemic,” she said, “gave me the gift of time: time to create, experiment, reflect, all day, every day. This is a first in my art practice and I was very productive.”
Birstein created two bodies of work for two solo exhibits in 2021 and 2022.
“Tsipora: A Place to Land was exhibited at the Zack Gallery,” she said. “Tsipora is my Hebrew name, meaning Bird. Pre-COVID, the bird symbolized a freedom of spirit while taking flight. With COVID, it was a time to nest, to find a place to land.
“Frida: When I Have Wings to Fly was exhibited at POMOArts. Frida is a continuation of my art historical portraits, Ladies-Not-Waiting, inspired by Velasquez’ masterpiece ‘Las Meninas.’ This series speaks to Frida Kahlo as a symbol of feminine strength and empowerment: a person who transcended tragedy and transformed it into beauty. My sculptures and paintings invite the viewer to converse in intertwined stories of myself, my mother, Frida and other historic figures that embody resourcefulness, resilience and beauty.
“Materially, both bodies of work involved much experimentation with structural techniques, surfacing with fired and cold materials, addition of repurposed objects.”
For Levy, the last couple of years allowed her to start a new direction with her abstract work. “Slowly, I developed large-scale canvases that were marked by bold and expressive brushstrokes,” she said. “I am excited to share with the public my new collection, A Portrait of a Flower. My work demonstrates the flowers as a source of lines, shapes, negative space, gesture, colour and value, or another source of abstraction.”
The pandemic period also gave Levy the chance to explore more remote art communities. “Pre-COVID,” she said, “I used to share and exhibit my art within my immediate community. In the last two-plus years, I had more time to develop my social media presence and expertise. As an outcome, 2021 was the best year ever of showing and selling my work.”
Birstein also pointed to the technological silver lining of COVID. “With the necessity of communicating virtually while globally isolated,” she said, “I see the world of art opening in terms of compassion, imagination, inclusion, respect – all of this so apparent at this year’s Venice Bienale, from which I have just returned.”
In addition to the open studios Nov. 17-20, the East Side Culture Crawl features a multi-venue, salon-style curated exhibition called NEXT, which “explores the after-effects of living through a pandemic as we long for and ponder about what’s next.” There are also several other events. For more information, visit culturecrawl.ca.
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!”