“She Was Like a Walking Flower, Centred by a Rod of Steel,” by Suzy Birstein, inspired by Frida Kahlo’s “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940.”
“She Was Like a Walking Flower, Centred by a Rod of Steel,” by Suzy Birstein, was inspired by Frida Kahlo’s “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940.”
In her artist’s statement, Birstein writes about this ceramic work: “‘Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940,’ is one of my favourite Frida self-portraits. In it, she is at her most beautiful, surrounded by flowers, butterflies, her monkey and cat. Her direct stare compels us to reflect upon her body in pain, her complex relationship with Diego [Rivera] and her relentless drive.
“The metal headdress references an iron-clad spirit, topped with a golden bird holding my mother’s pill box. Both Frida and my mother required medication to alleviate their pain, which they housed in these beautiful containers.”
“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
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.”
Victoria artist Tanya Bub’s current exhibit at the Art @ Bentall Gallery features life-size works of animals that occupy land, sea and air. (photo from Tanya Bub)
“Working with driftwood has given me a great appreciation of the power and beauty of nature. The shape and colour of every stick of driftwood hints at its history. Maybe a root had to bend around a rock while it was growing, maybe sand and water smoothed its edges over a period of many years. Then,” said artist Tanya Bub, “I combine all of these diverse natural sculptures to create an animal or person that looks alive because it borrows from the evident life forces that shaped the wood. There is something almost magical about extending the life of once-living wood by turning it into art. I’ll keep making driftwood sculptures as long as I am able.”
Victoria-based Bub currently has a solo exhibition on display at the Art @ Bentall Gallery. Called Mind Games, Defying the Art Space, the exhibit – which runs to the end of the month – features life-size works of animals that occupy air, land and sea.
In addition to the Art @ Bentall show, Bub has two separate outdoor installations of her sculptures. A large driftwood cat can be found at Kits beach (at the corner of Whyte and Arbutus) and a driftwood “giant” lives between Wreck and Oasis beaches (at the corner of N.W. Marine and Agronomy).
Bub studied oil painting and ceramics at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and did figurative work based on life drawings. She has a degree in fine arts from Emily Carr, as well as a degree in the philosophy of science from McGill University in Montreal. She worked as a computer programmer for a couple of decades and had her own website development company. The finding of a piece of driftwood during a walk on the beach was a game changer. Since 2019, she has been making her sculptures depicting various creatures, including the occasional human.
“I came to Victoria in 2003 with my husband and daughter to be near my mom,” Bub told the Independent. “I wanted a second child and realized I needed family and community nearby to raise a family with grace. I passionately loved art as a kid but shelved it as a young adult to pursue a more practical career in programming. Now that my kids are all grown up, I’m allowing myself a second childhood and spend about 12 hours a day creating art with absolute abandon!”
Also on Bub’s CV are two physics books that she co-authored with her father. While perhaps not immediately evoking any connection with her artwork, Bub explained, “Both the relativity and quantum mechanics books begin with a simple premise and extend from there with small logical steps, building complexity bit by bit, to tell the tale of the universe. My sculptures also all begin simply, by combining one piece of wood with a second. Then another is added and another, eventually resulting in a complex unified form made up of a thousand different pieces, that tell a unified story.”
And part of Bub’s story is her Jewish heritage.
“I’ve always identified strongly with Judaism, which for me is more of an approach to life rather than strictly religious beliefs,” she said. “My grandfather, Percy, was the embodiment of Jewishness. He had an irrepressible curiosity and an almost childlike joyfulness, which allowed him to marvel at and appreciate the simplest things. That, combined with a deep respect for intellectual pursuits and, above all, the high value placed on family, was at the core of hisJudaism. These ideals inform my approach to art, physics, family and life in general.”
Esther Rausenberg, Eastside Arts Society’s artistic and executive director. (photo by Adam P.W. Smith)
The Eastside Arts Society welcomes art enthusiasts to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Eastside Culture Crawl Visual Art, Design & Craft Festival in-person and online over two consecutive weekends, Nov. 12-14 (preview by appointment) and Nov. 18-21. The event’s landmark edition will offer arts patrons an enhanced opportunity to fully customize their experience and visit the studios of 400+ artists.
“As we look back on the past 25 years of the Eastside Culture Crawl, we are incredibly proud of the strong, resilient and inspiring visual arts community we have helped to support,” said Esther Rausenberg, artistic and executive director of the Eastside Arts Society, who is a member of the Jewish community.
“Through our annual Culture Crawl celebration,” she said, “we have not only boosted the careers and livelihoods of countless artists who enrich our city through creative vitality, but we have provided an essential outlet for the public to experience artistic expression and creative connection. The 25th annual Culture Crawl presents a special opportunity to acknowledge, pay tribute to and showcase the extraordinary talents and accomplishments of the visual arts community, while looking forward to an even brighter future ahead with the development of the Eastside Arts District.”
To maximize the Crawl experience and open accessibility for all patrons in Metro Vancouver and beyond, the Eastside Arts Society has created further improvements to its digital presence, including a newly designed and user-friendly website, an artist livestream schedule, appointment booking software and increased access to artists through 360° virtual studio tours.
For those visitors who wish to attend in-person, the Culture Crawl features two options. Based on overwhelmingly positive feedback from 2020, when studio appointment bookings were created for the first time, this year’s event will once again provide a preview weekend Nov. 12-14, reserved for appointments only, cultivating an intimate, interactive experience for both artists and guests. For those Culture Crawl enthusiasts wishing for a more traditional event experience, open studios will return for the event’s main weekend Nov. 18-21.
The Eastside Culture Crawl presents unparalleled access to visual artists practising a variety of different art forms, including painting, sculpture, pottery, photography, jewelry, glass art, furniture, and more. Visit culturecrawl.ca for all the festival details.
Suzy Birstein in her studio, with works featured in her solo exhibit Tsipora, now at the Zack Gallery. (photo from Suzy Birstein)
Suzy Birstein’s Hebrew name – Tsipora – means bird. The artist’s new show, Tsipora: A Place to Land, which opened at the Zack Gallery on May 20, expatiates on her name’s meaning and its connection to the winged creatures of the sky.
“I love feeling like an exotic bird,” Birstein told the Independent. “I like bringing colour and joy to the people who visit my shows.”
Birstein’s art is bursting with bright hues and glitter. Both her sculptures and her paintings seem to aspire to one purpose only: to instil gladness in people’s hearts, which feels especially important during COVID and all its associated hardships and anxieties.
“The show’s idea was born out of a personal tragedy,” said Birstein. “A few years ago, one of my close friends passed away. I grieved but I knew I didn’t really lose her. She stayed right there, always with me, like a bird on my shoulder, and I thought: what a wonderful concept. I decided to create a series of sculptures of women, with birds incorporated into the whole in different ways.”
Almost every sculpture in the show has a bird. Sometimes, it is a tiny golden bird peeking from behind a woman’s shoulder or hiding in her skirt. Sometimes, it is an elaborate hair ornament. And, sometimes, it is implied rather than shown. But the idea of a bird is always there.
“When I started this series in 2017, my thoughts were all about freedom and travels – flying like a bird,” Birstein said. “I’ve always liked to travel and visited many countries: Europe, Asia, Mexico. I like seeing something new every day.”
Accordingly, the first few sculptures of her new series were reminiscent of her travels, their dark texture a reference to the ancient sacred sites she had visited. Their diaphanous tutus a playful metaphor of dance and flight, a symbol of the weightless grace of a ballerina.
“In 2020, I was planning to travel to the south of France, with a show scheduled in Cannes, when the pandemic hit, and all travel stopped,” Birstein said. After that, the focus of her art changed, becoming more home-oriented.
“Instead of flight, my sculptures became about nesting,” she said. “I couldn’t teach anymore because of the pandemic, didn’t teach for a year due to the school closures, so I took the opportunity and the time to indulge in self-exploration. I asked myself: what is beautiful? And my answer was: birth. And rebirth. Each sculpture I made during that time was of a pregnant woman. Not flights anymore but home and harmony.”
Many sculptures also have mirror fragments embedded in them, making them festive, shining. “The mirror shards help me bridge the inner world of a woman, her home and soul, with the outer world of traveling and flying,” Birstein said.
The show includes not only sculptures but several paintings as well. “The sculptures always come first,” she explained. “They are inspirations for my paintings. After a sculpture is ready, I sometimes paint it: like another version of the sculpture, an exploration of a unique perspective. It is a different experience – working on a flat surface with no fear of breaking the fragile pottery. I don’t use a brush. I paint with a tiny palette and my fingers. It feels almost like working with liquid clay.”
Clay was the medium that catapulted her into the art world, and she feels a deep affinity for it.
“When I was a child,” she recalled, “I couldn’t draw realistically. I thought I couldn’t be an artist. I danced and I modeled for artists. I was about 22 when I started working as an artist model full-time for an art school in Toronto. The administration of the school offered me any art classes I wanted for free, and I decided to try pottery. Clay spoke to me. I also took up weaving and fibre art and liked it. Later, when we moved to Vancouver because of my husband’s work, I wanted to take more art classes. There was no fibre art school at the time, but I enrolled in Emily Carr as a sculptor. They accepted me on the basis of my portfolio – the pieces I created in Toronto.”
Birstein uses white clay for her pieces and paints them before she fires them. “Sometimes, this process has several iterations,” she mused. “I paint the sculpture. Then I fire it, but firing is unpredictable. Colours might burn out or melt into each other in unexpected ways. Then I paint the piece again, maybe add some elements. Fire again. Some pieces take five or six times in the kiln before I know they are ready, but I don’t do perfect. I make mistakes sometimes and then play with my mistakes. I love quirkiness and imperfections.”
It helps that she owns her own kiln. “My kiln is in my basement,” she said. “It was a wedding present from my parents. They knew pottery made me happy.”
It is significant that the most important tool of her art was a gift to celebrate her family.
“I feel free like a bird in my art, but only because I have such strong support from my husband,” said Birstein. “I have stability in my life, a safe place to return, a secure home, and that allows me my freedom of artistic flight.”
That’s why the only image in the show with a man in it is her husband’s portrait.
“I was looking at all those sculptures and paintings of pregnant women in this series and thought: who made them pregnant? There must have been a man,” she said.
“It depicts my husband and my art,” said Birstein of the portrait painting, which features a man standing beside a sculpture of a pregnant woman.
The show Tsipora runs until June 27. In addition to being able to book a walk-through of the exhibit with the gallery, people can arrange a personalized tour with the artist via her website, suzybirstein.com, or by calling her at 778-877-7943.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Barb Choit’s “Ravenous Appetite and Boundless Energy” features a chimney swift that can only be recognized as such from one vantage point. (photo from Barb Choit)
Last October, in a year that could be considered one of the worst in history for artists overall, Vancouver artist Barb Choit completed a large public art project in Oakville, Ont. “Ravenous Appetite and Boundless Energy” is the image of a bird, a chimney swift, created from hand-drawn, coloured, lead-glass tubing filled with neon. It is installed in the Oakville Trafalgar Community Centre.
“Most public art projects are by invitation only. However, for this one, I responded to an open call put out by the Town of Oakville,” Choit told the Independent in an email interview. “With this process, the first step is to send a letter of interest describing your qualifications and approach. From that, a public art jury selects a smaller group of artists to create a design for an artwork, which is called a ‘concept proposal.’ Each artist makes a presentation of their proposal and one is selected to create their proposed project.”
Winning the competition, it took her one-and-a-half years to convert her original idea into the final installation, a bird in flight, soaring just under the ceiling of the community centre.
The chimney swift has special significance for the Oakville community, said Choit. “The work responds to the transformation of the adjacent, abandoned Oakville High School into a habitat for a colony of chimney swifts, a threatened migratory bird. Every year, residents of all backgrounds come to watch birds roost in the chimneys of the former school. The community’s galvanization around birdwatching inspired me to represent the chimney swift as an ‘artifact’ of the culture and spirit of Oakville.”
In Choit’s installation, visitors to the centre can only see a bird in the design from a certain perspective. If they look at it from other positions, all they see is a wriggle, written in shining neon.
“For ‘Ravenous,’” she explained, “I used a display strategy employed by science and nature museums to spark the viewers’ interest in the natural world – an optical illusion, anamorphosis. It is a visual illusion in which an object is distorted so that it can only be recognized from a specific vantage point. The sculpture appears abstract to viewers moving through the space. Yet, from a specific vantage point, a representation of a bird appears. Many people find optical illusions particularly engaging. Creating a visually striking piece was crucial to engaging a multi-generational community. And the glowing yellow form complemented the space for which I was designing the work.”
The word “illusion” suits the chimney swift as a species. According to Wikipedia, during flight, the birds often appear to beat their wings asynchronously, but photographic and stroboscopic studies have shown that they beat them in unison. The illusion that they do otherwise is heightened by their speedy and erratic flying, with many rapid changes of direction.
Choit’s choice of medium for this work necessitated collaboration with the manufacturers of the neon-filled tube.
“Different projects require a different balance between collaboration and delegation,” she said. “My recent project uses neon, which requires a type of industrial fabrication that includes hazardous materials and live electricity. It wouldn’t be practical or advisable for me to carry out this part of the fabrication myself. However, one needs a grasp of how materials work in order to create a feasible design and communicate with fabricators.”
She compared it to the architectural process. “In order to design and build a successful building, an architect does not show up at the building site with a hammer and nails,” she noted. “However, she must know how a building is constructed, as well as the properties and possibilities of the materials used.”
As she has done for other works, Choit did extensive research for this installation.
“People know me for my photographic work, but I have worked in most mediums at one point or another,” she said. “Within my work, I look at how communities and individuals imbue objects with meaning. Most of my major projects involve cultivating collections and working with archives. I explore this theme in a variety of media, such as photography, installation, performance and sculpture. Recently, I have had commissions for 2-D and 3-D public artworks.”
Choit’s interest in collections is longstanding. She has a master of arts in critical and curatorial studies from Columbia University in New York. “At Columbia, I researched institutional frameworks for art,” she said. “I wrote my thesis on the history of collecting. This area of academic research still drives my work as an artist.”
Public art is a relatively new area for Choit and she is exploring the possibilities. “I primarily make works to be shown in galleries; it is only recently that I have moved into public art. I like public art because the projects can be much more ambitious than something that would be purchased by an individual. However, I still enjoy making smaller works that can be appreciated privately and I am open to larger site-specific commissions to be installed in privately owned buildings and outdoor spaces.”
She is planning to do more work in the public sector, despite the challenges. “Usually, public art projects are by invitation. There are also a few websites that list opportunities for artists to submit their qualifications, with the intention of being shortlisted to create a proposal for a specific project,” she said, noting the need to be wary of fraud.
“Artists need to be careful of websites that list art opportunities because there are dubious organizations out there to exploit them,” she said. “For example, some art ‘opportunities’ ask artists to pay a fee to be considered for a project. Artists should never pay a fee to have someone look at their work.
“Also, some organizations solicit full proposals from artists. Creating a proposal is an immense amount of work and a highly specialized skill. For legitimate public art calls, artists who are shortlisted to create a proposal are paid a fee for this work. I discourage any artist (or anyone, for that matter) from engaging professionally with an organization that expects unpaid work.”
Among Choit’s previous public works is the photographic project “Campaign,” a billboard series commissioned by the Capture Photography Festival in Vancouver in 2017. “It was a series of outdoor billboards based on my 2015 photography project where I remade Andy Warhol’s shoe Polaroids from the 1980s. I documented a collection of vintage women’s shoes using discontinued instant film and a vintage Polaroid camera from the era.”
Despite her extensive education, experience and obvious talent, Choit considers luck as one of the best ingredients for artistic success.
“Luck is crucial,” she said. “It is not necessarily about chance but infrastructure – family and community support, education, healthcare, even freedom of expression, can be just as crucial as talent and skill.”
Sorel Etrog’s sculpture in Odette Sculpture Park, in Windsor, Ont. Etrog was one of four artists featured in Prof. Jennifer Eiserman’s March 7 lecture, Is There Such a Thing as Canadian Jewish Art? (photo by Matt Glaman)
Is there such a thing as “Jewish art” in Canada? Dr. Jennifer Eiserman explored this question in a March 7 Zoom lecture organized by Victoria’s Kolot Mayim Reform Temple.
Eiserman, an artist and an art professor at the University of Calgary, shared some of the preliminary findings of her investigation. She pointed out that, with respect to the concept of “Jewish art,” she was not referring to Judaica or Jewish themes in art. “I’m curious about whether artists with some kind of Jewish background make art that is qualitatively different from other artists. If so, I am interested in how these Jewish artists speak and think Jewishly,” she explained.
She began by providing a background to Canadian art history and, specifically, how it has been taught. There has been a profound shift, to put it mildly, in focus, she said. Prior to 1990, the study of Canadian art was a colonial one, concentrating mostly on male artists of European descent. Now, the works of women, Indigenous people and others are part of the curriculum.
Eiserman then discussed four artists and how they speak both Jewishly and as Canadians. She started with sculptor Sorel Etrog (1933-2014) and his contribution to Canadian Modernism. Etrog was a Romanian-born Holocaust survivor who spent time in Israel before immigrating to Canada. His biography is one of movement from place to place.
“The way I see Etrog speaking Jewishly is through the tension between tradition and innovation and the notion of interweaving roads, the idea of the new, which occurs in Etrog’s work,” Eiserman said.
His work, she added, also speaks Jewishly, in that it maintains certain core principles of the genre of public sculpture while addressing the contemporary context in which the sculpture is being placed. Just as we place Jewish law from generation to generation into contemporary contexts, Etrog’s art innovates while carrying on traditional elements.
The figurative art of Betty Goodwin (1923-2008) was demonstrated as being the work of “an outsider, someone not part of the Old Boys’ Club and one who had to find her own way.” Her work, according to Eiserman, contributed internationally to how drawing was defined and what it was to become.
“Her floating figures might express the experience of being in a world that does not welcome one’s experience. The experience of being neither here nor there. Her work speaks to the experience of losing and finding,” Eiserman noted.
Sylvia Safdie’s video installations of flowing water, sand, light and sound advance the traditional concerns of Canadian art with landscape and nature, most commonly associated with the Group of Seven. Safdie was born in Lebanon in 1942 and her family moved to Montreal in 1953.
Safdie’s video can be perceived as exploring a variety of themes that allow her to bring her own voice into the world. “Her work is part of a post-colonial narrative in which some people have experienced harm as the nation of Canada came into being, and speaks Jewishly of the central issues of living in the Diaspora – how to adapt and yet maintain our identity,” said Eiserman.
The distinctively Jewish fantastical creatures of sculptor David Altmejd (born 1974), who represented Canada at the Venice Biennale in 2007, were the final set of slides shown by Eiserman. She described Altmejd as the “quintessential 21st-century Canadian artist. He is bicultural, multilingual, internationally known and now lives in another country (United States) yet is still deeply rooted in Canada.
“Life is complicated, Altmejd reminds us, we can’t have the good without the bad. Yet, always in his work, life shines through. While he rarely discusses his Jewish roots … one can see that his works speak Jewishly in many aspects,” Eiserman said.
Growing up in Montreal, Eiserman experienced the national influence that the Saidye Bronfman Centre had in disseminating Canadian Jewish art. She received her bachelor’s in art history and master’s in education through the arts at McGill University in Montreal, and a bachelor’s in fine arts (visual art) at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan. Her doctorate, one of the first to use studio art as its method of inquiry, is from the University of Calgary, where she is now an associate professor. Her current research is in North American contemporary Jewish art and community-based Jewish art.
In her artistic endeavours, Eiserman uses mixed media, crochet, watercolour, installation and public art projects to explore issues related to Jewish theology, philosophy and identity. She refers to her work as “visual Midrash, an artistic response to sacred Jewish texts.”
Sam Margolis has written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
Left to right: Oree Gianacopoulos, Chali-Rosso Gallery director; James Sanders from Dali Universe (Switzerland); and Susanna Strem, president of Chali-Rosso Gallery. (photo by Shula Klinger)
May 17 and 18 saw the unveiling of two sculptures by Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali, which will be on display until September. The sculptures were brought to Vancouver by the Chali-Rosso Gallery on Howe Street, the site of the annual Definitely Dali exhibition. More than 100 Dali originals are on display at the gallery, along with 20 smaller versions of Dali’s bronzes.
On May 17, “Dalinian Dancer” was revealed at the corner of Thurlow and Alberni. “Space Venus” was unveiled on the next day at Lot 19, on West Hastings at Hornby. The unveilings were accompanied by flamenco music, which Dali loved.
Oree Gianacopoulous, Chali-Rosso’s director, spoke before the unveiling of “Space Venus.” Describing it as one of Dali’s “iconic” pieces, she expressed her gratitude to Beniamino Levi, director of Dali Universe, the foundation that lends out the artwork. Levi worked with Dali himself to develop the collection of 29 sculptures.
This is the third year that Dali sculptures have traveled to Vancouver, under the leadership of Chali-Rosso president Susanna Strem, a member of the Jewish community. Working in close collaboration with Dali Universe in Europe, which loaned the sculptures to Chali-Rosso, Strem’s initiative has helped establish a new cultural tradition for the downtown core.
This year, the gallery also worked with Virtro Games to develop a smartphone application to enhance viewers’ experience of the sculpture. Definitely Dali is an augmented reality app – when a phone camera is focused on the image of Dali’s face, the dancer begins to move her arms and spin.
Alex Lazimir, who developed the app, talked about the privilege of spending many hours looking at Dali’s dancer. “I really like this piece because it was like going into Salvador Dali’s mind. The first thing I thought was that she has to be spinning.”
After the unveilings, Chali-Rosso hosted a champagne reception and a talk by James Sanders of Dali Universe (Switzerland). With reference to the sculptures at the gallery, Sanders spoke about Dali’s life and the tremendous influence of his surreal imagination on the world of art. Sanders is responsible for sourcing locations, sponsors and partners for exhibitions all over the world.
Originally from Europe, Strem came to Canada 25 years ago, via a spell in Israel. Formerly an information technology professional, Strem spoke about the challenge of bringing world-class art to public spaces in Vancouver.
“These sculptures are traveling all over the world. They’re exhibited in many major cities. Vancouver has to compete with cities like New York, London and Paris. These are major art hubs, so we are very happy that we managed to get two sculptures.”
Last year, Definitely Dali featured “Woman in Flame” and “Surrealist Piano.” More than three million visitors saw the sculptures.
Bringing monumental works of art here is a labour of love, however. “It takes almost a year to organize something like this,” said Strem. “Last year, when we had two other sculptures here, we were already talking about this year’s exhibition. It all depends on what is available and circumstances in other cities.”
The logistics of moving bronzes like “Space Venus” – which is 3.5 metres high – can be tough. “These sculptures were transported by ocean freight from Italy, then traveled through the Atlantic to the Panama Canal, up the Pacific Ocean past Mexico and California to Vancouver,” she said. “It’s a long journey. We experienced a delay. There was a traffic jam in the Panama Canal.”
These exhibits are both the impetus for, and a sign of, urban growth – “for a real city,” said Strem, “public art is a natural part of its evolution.” She spoke of the collaboration with the Downtown Business Improvement Association. “They were full-force behind it from day one, which helped motivate us. They were really enthusiastic,” she said.
Part of Chali-Rosso’s community involvement includes supporting Recovery Through Art, a charitable organization in Vancouver that gives individuals struggling with mental illness and addiction a chance to heal through the creation and appreciation of art.
Strem is already seeing the impact of the Dali pieces on public display. “If somebody is looking at their phone and they walk by 10 times but, this time, they look up and their face changes, even for a fleeting moment, that’s important. Or they might stop for 30 minutes. There are many ways to enjoy art,” she said.
Strem explained that, to truly become part of life, art should not just be locked away in special locations.
“It’s not about having a destination for art, where you allocate time and energy to it,” she said. “When we don’t engage with art like this, in public, people are missing out.”
Shula Klinger is an author and journalist living in North Vancouver. Find out more at shulaklinger.com.
The Schara Tzedeck Shoah Survivors Tribute Wall was created for the congregation by John Nutter. The sculpture, which includes the names of 230 survivors, was dedicated May 3. (photo from John Nutter)
Congregation Schara Tzedeck has a new art installation in its main sanctuary. The Schara Tzedeck Shoah Survivors Tribute Wall – a Tree of Life rendered in sandblasted glass – includes the names of 230 survivors. It was dedicated May 3.
Full of shared memories and friendship, the pre-Shabbat dedication ceremony featured several speakers: the synagogue’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt; its executive president, Howard Kallner; younger family members of the survivors; Ed Lewin, co-chair of the project with Hodie Kahn; and the man who started the entire project, Dr. Robert Krell, a child survivor.
“We wanted to honour the Holocaust survivors who found their way to Canada, before and after the war, and wound up as members of this shul,” Lewin told the Independent. “Most of them came here in 1948. Their names are all there, on the wall. My parents’ and grandparents’ names are among them.”
Explaining how the project started, Lewin said, “We had this empty space, and Krell suggested a tribute to Holocaust survivors. It was several years ago. It took us awhile to find the talented glass artist, John Nutter, who transformed our ideas into a sculpture.”
The synagogue is publishing a commemorative book about the installation, as well. While the Tribute Wall features survivors’ names only, the book also contains photographs of the survivors; there are family and group photo pages. Together, the book and the wall serve as a memorial to those who not only survived the Shoah but contributed greatly to Schara Tzedeck and to the development of Greater Vancouver and the province over the past seven decades.
One page of the book is dedicated to Nutter, who has created numerous art installations for churches and synagogues, mostly in New York. His works decorate many institutions in the United States and Canada: hotels, museums, hospitals. He collaborated with local artist Bill Reid on a glass sculpture at the Vancouver International Airport. A few years ago, Glass Magazine named Nutter one of the top three architectural glass artists in the country.
About how he came to design the Tribute Wall, Nutter said, “A few years ago, I did a small glass sculpture for the Louis Brier Home, a collaboration with a wonderful artist and friend, Diana Zoe Coop. Camille Wenner, Diana’s daughter, works for Schara Tzedeck. I’ve known Camille since she was a young child. She contacted me about this project and, of course, I said, yes.”
He explained his work process. “They knew exactly what they wanted – a Tree of Life, made like a Vancouver cherry tree in bloom. Usually, I start with a small draft, show it to my clients, make changes until they’re satisfied, before I transfer the design to glass. But the people from Schara Tzedeck were very nice. They approved my first draft of the design.”
The first step in making the sculpture was creating a life-size drawing out of the small-scale draft. “I hire a company for that,” said Nutter, “give them my small drawing, and they blow it up to the size I want.”
Once he has the full-size paper draft, he starts working on the glass. For this sculpture, he used nine separate glass panels. The three bottom panels are roots. “The words ‘Schara Tzedeck’ are carved among the roots, to symbolize the Jews who had set their roots with the congregation,” Nutter explained.
The middle panel is the trunk, and the five panels around it are carved with leaves and flowers. “I sandblasted each petal of each flower individually,” Nutter said. “It gives more depth to the sculpture.”
The work is made of 15-millimetre laminated glass; two layers joined together. The carving is on the back, and the names of the survivors are written on the front, in black, which adds to the visual depth.
Nutter has been working with architectural glass for decades. “I started as an architecture student at the University of Manitoba,” he recalled. “A couple years into my studies, I took a summer job with a stained glass company. I loved it so much, I left my schooling and stayed with the company for several years, before I founded my own company. I never finished my architectural degree, but I taught stained glass making at the same faculty years later.”
He loves architecture, and most of his works are large-scale glass. “Sometimes,” he said, “my background in architecture helps me to win the contracts. I often build small-scale models of my proposed installations when I bid for a job. I like the details and hardware used in the models. I learned that during my years of architectural studies.”
Frequently, Nutter’s sculptures and windows tell a story, like the one he created for Schara Tzedeck. “In the past, when artists made glass installations in churches and other religious institutions, it was always to tell a story, as most of the population were illiterate,” he said. “Now, people can read, so the art became more decorative, but it still tells a story.”