Revisiting Old Work

Ketubah, Judith Joseph, 1983. Watercolor, ink, ricepaper, ragboard.

Ketubah, Judith Joseph, 1983. Watercolor, ink, ricepaper, ragboard.

I get a funny feeling when someone brings me a piece of my work from decades ago.  I’m nervous.  Will the work look awkward?  Will it look amateurish?  Will this work of art be the painted equivalent of looking in a mirror and seeing a juvenile version of myself, with braces on my teeth and pimples on my face?

The oddest thing is when I don’t even remember the work.  I look at it, and I recognize the style, it’s unmistakably mine, yet I have no recollection of having made it.

The ketubah pictured here was made for a dear friend’s wedding in 1983.  I must have been in a hurry, because I didn’t get a photo of it, which is very unusual for me.  She moved with it far away, and I didn’t see it (although I have seen her) for at least 25 years.

She recently loaned me the ketubah so I could photograph it for my portfolio.  I never did a similar work, before or since.  The arches in the ketubah are cut into 4-ply ragboard, so there is a layered, dimensional quality.  I used metallic gold ricepaper, which is still shiny.  I was in a phase of using silhouetted dancers in my paintings, they appear here.

I look in the mirror of the past, and I see my younger self, smiling and joyous for my friend.

What is it like for you, when you see something you made many years ago?

Letterforms prominent in “Fractured Yet Rising” exhibit at ARC Gallery

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“Fractured Yet Rising” is a juried multi-media exhibition of works on the subject of violence against women.  In addition to works submitted by artists, the artist-members of ARC, a women’s co-op gallery, worked with residents of a domestic violence shelter on collaborative pieces, giving voice to their experiences.

Dates:  March 5-29, 2014.  Details here.

Calligraphy Inspires London Exhibit of Islamic Art



The Victorian & Albert Museum is focused on design and decorative arts.  According to the V&A website, the Jameel Prize “ is an international award for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic tradition. Its aim is to explore the relationship between Islamic traditions of art, craft and design and contemporary work as part of a wider debate about Islamic culture and its role today.”

In addition to viewing the exhibit, I attended a panel  discussion at King’s College, London, about the exhibit.  The panelists I quote here were:

  • Tim Stanley (Curator, Victoria and Albert Museum)
  • Reedah El-Saie (Director, MICA Gallery)

According to Tim Stanley, the history of the V&A is bound up with Islamic design from the beginning.  In the 1830’s, Britain realized it had industry, but no design education.  Owen Jones, the author of the classic Grammer Of Ornament, was a Welsh architect who travelled to the Middle East in the 1830’s.  He published a work about Moorish ornament on the Alhambra, which led to his involvement with the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Government School of Design and the creation of the V&A Museum.

The Jameel Prize, an international award for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic tradition, began in 2006.  Curators, gallerists and art historians from around the world recommend artists for participation.

Reedah El-Saie, Director of Mica Gallery, said  the strongest unifying theme in the exhibit is calligraphy, which brings the past into the present.  She pointed out, “Calligraphy is the strongest tradition of Islamic art.”  As a gallery director, she says that calligraphy sales in auction houses are huge—“booming.”  She said that her gallery can’t keep up with the demand.  Forty percent of the collectors of Arabic calligraphy served by Mica Gallery are from the non-Islamic world.

The V&A website has wonderful videos about each artist, but I will mention two here:

NASSER EL SALEM:  He presents the world “Kul” (all) in hand-written, contemporary calligraphy: black ink on white paper, very stylized, both modern and traditional.  Next to it, a devotional phrase is created by the peaks on a heart monitor.  As Ms. El-Saie pointed out, “The heartbeat shows Islamic art is alive—the past is so relevant to the present—it is a living organism.  You can’t separate Islamic calligraphy from the Divine message in which it’s rooted.”

PASCAL ZOGHBY is a font-designer.  Arabic fonts are very new—they were only created in the 18th century.  Zoghby created a huge concrete carpet, similar to tatami mats from Japan (his birth-place) and also traditional Islamic carpets.  Each panel of “carpet” contains Arabic letters in fonts by his design.  Each section has one letter that is inlaid with mother-of-pearl.  The “fringe” on the “carpet” is made from strings of steel ball-bearings.  He incorporates the play of hard materials against expectations of softness, and puts letters where we would not expect to see them.  One could say that the letters  underfoot are our foundation.

In addition to the Jameel Prize, I observed Islamic ornamental design as an influence in the current fashion collection of designer Roberto Cavalli, in the shop windows of Knightsbridge.

(also see this review on The Culture Trip )

Peacock fan in S. Asian collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Peacock fan in S. Asian collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Technical Resource for Painters

Golden Paint Company, which makes acrylic paints and Williamsburg Oils, has a wonderful resource:  Just Paint, their newsletter.  They provide a lot of technical information about their products.  Click here for a link to the current issue, as well as all their archived issues.


Random Creative Stuff

Wedding Centerpiece/ Table NumberI now understand why mothers who plan weddings end up becoming professional party planners.  My son and his fiancee planned their wedding, for the most part.   Since I am a painter and calligrapher specializing in the Ketubah (decorated Jewish marriage contract), I happily volunteered to help with the d.i.y. creative touches.

The wedding was at a very colorful restaurant venue in Chicago.  The environment was over-the-top colorful and gorgeous, so it didn’t seem necessary to spend lots of money on decorative flowers, aside from the bouquets and boutonnieres, which were beautiful.  We only had to come up with something for the tables.  Here is the  colorful, low-cost centerpiece I designed, which doubled as a table number marker. for their wedding.  I have included sources  for materials:

I ordered cobalt blue wine bottles from by the case, bought artificial Gerbera daisy flowers on sale at Hobby Lobby, and filled it out with tissue paper flowers I made with the bride and her mom (a fun afternoon!)  I prepared for our flower making by covering  3/4″ wood drilled balls (Hobby Lobby)  with white glue and glitter.  Next, I threaded a pipe cleaner through the glitter ball  to create the flower center.  We folded the tissue paper, accordion-style, and wrapped the pipe cleaner around it before fanning out the tissue around the glitter ball.

For the bottles, I painted a number on one side of the bottle and a monogram I created with the couple’s initials on the other.  The acrylic paint will wash off, and I can repurpose the bottles (I have two more sons, unmarried as yet!)  This was a very inexpensive centerpiece and we got lots of compliments–very festive and colorful.

May The Stars Twinkle For You In 2014!

May The Stars Twinkle For You In 2014!

May The Stars Twinkle For You In 2014!

Toasting the Bride and Groom

Toasting the Bride and Groom

Toasting Ketubah, 2013

Adom Ketubah

Egg tempera, watercolor and ink on Arches rag paper.  Calligraphy by Lori Gershon, mother of the groom.

Egg tempera, watercolor and ink on Arches rag paper. Calligraphy by Lori Gershon, mother of the groom.

Judith Joseph Painting in Benefit Auction for ADL