Category Archives: creativity

Quilts by Men

During a visit to Civil War sites in Winchester, Virginia, I learned that convalescing Confederate veterans were encouraged to work on quilts.  The wartime headquarters of Stonewall Jackson (1861-62) had such a quilt on the General’s personal bed, made by an amputee.

Traditionally women’s work, quilting was recognized for its therapeutic benefit to wounded soldiers, who were undoubtedly suffering from PTSD, as well as physical injuries.  Artists and crafters know well the meditative zone one enters while immersed in repetitive, creative work.  We forget to eat, we forget to stop working, we forget the world.

Casting Love Ketubah

Casting Love Ketubah, sumi ink and egg tempera on ragboard, 18" square, 2014

Casting Love Ketubah, sumi ink and egg tempera on ragboard, 18″ square, 2014

I enjoyed transforming the story of a couple, Anna and Andrew, into visual motives for this ketubah (Jewish illustrated marriage contract).  Andrew works in his family’s steel business.   Casting steel is a wonderful metaphor for creating a new, strong relationship.  Thus, the foundation of this design is the glowing forge, where a steelworker is pouring molten metal into the mold of a heart.  The forge also symbolizes the hearth, source of warmth and sustenance in the home.

Extending the “building” metaphor, reading counter-clockwise from the bottom, there are steel girders, followed by a pair of bower birds.  The male of this species creates an elaborate nest, which he decorates with colorful bits of paper and plastic, in hopes of wooing a mate.  So romantic!

Above the birds is a huppah, symbol of the home Anna and Andrew will create together.  Flying above the jasmine and hibiscus flowers is a hawk, a personal symbol for them.  Chicago’s majestic skyline at sunset surmounts the circle.  Continuing the circular motif are golden rings:  wedding bands, symbols of eternal love. Here they double as microscope lenses, through which we see slides of healthy breast and cervical tissue.  This represents Anna’s profession as a medical doctor, specializing in women’s health.

Returning to the personal narrative of Anna and Andrew, the circle is completed with a Lake Michigan sunset, as seen from the eastern shore, where they go to relax and unwind.

Finding a way to incorporate such disparate elements as the steel industry and gynecology was a wonderful challenge!  Anna and Andrew gave me free rein, which helped me fulfill the commission while allowing my creative stream to flow, unimpeded.

Really Big Woodcut Prints

Sometimes invitations that appear in my inbox are too tantalizing to hit “delete”.  About six months ago, I received a “Call For Artists” for an event called “Really Big Prints” in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.  It was described as an opportunity to create a huge (3′x 5′) woodcut print and have it printed by a steamroller!

steamroller

The thought of seeing a steamroller re-purposed as a press to create huge works of art was irresistible.  Being inexperienced as a woodcut artist, naturally, I jumped at the chance(!)  I conferred with my experts, who were generous with their knowledge and time:  Ellen Holtzblatt, who makes exquisite woodcuts; and Alex, the owner of McClain’s Printmaking Supplies.

The event requests that each artist (there will be 45 working over 5 days) create an edition of 4-5 prints and donate one copy to the Rahr-West Art Museum in Manitowoc.

I did the drawing and carving in 3 1/2 days.  My cutting marks improved as I got a feel for the tools, and gained some fluidity and expressiveness.  The final day I started at 10 a.m. and finished at 8 p.m., and didn’t feel the day pass by.  Carving is wonderfully addictive; what a joy to lose myself in work that way, and have the calluses on my hands to show for it.

I will post again after the event, with photos and videos.

Artists’ Blog Tour

BLOG TOUR . . .

Studio of Judith Joseph, 6-2-14

Studio of Judith Joseph, 6-2-14

A wonderful artist and compassionate spirit, Catherine Meyers, from Catherine Meyers Art Blog,  invited me to participate in a Blog Tour.  It’s been going on for a while, with many wonderful studios involved!  So in order to participate, I’ll answer a few questions and then introduce the next couple of artists who will be the next stops on the Blog Tour.

What am I working on?  I have been creating works of calligraphy and illumination.  I specialize in the Ketubah (illustrated Jewish marriage contract, a folk art.)  Since marriage season is in full swing, I’ve been busy writing out texts by hand in calligraphy with hand-painted, customized illustrations.  I’ve also been producing art for reproduction, where the image is printed with a digitally-produced text that I generate in a graphics program.  Here are some recent works:

I also participated in a gallery show in March at ARC Gallery called Fractured Yet Rising, about violence against women, where I hand-wrote one of my poems on the gallery wall.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?  I think of myself as a painter who includes calligraphy, rather than a calligrapher who decorates text.

Why do I write/create what I do?  I was raised in a family environment that was richly steeped in my Jewish cultural heritage, and text (reading lots of books, learning to read and write Hebrew as a child) was a big part of this.  So, it seems natural that text would be an integral part of my artistic expression, along with narrative imagery.  I also am a people person, and I find the collaborative aspect of my work to be very joyous and inspiring.

How does your writing/creating process work?  My commissioned work begins with people requesting a ketubah.  I interview them and sketch, which leads to the finished work.  For work I produce independently, I work with ideas or materials that engage me, and this feels more like play.

Ghost Scroll, cut and painted,mixed media, 3' x 4'.  Judith Joseph, 2014.

Ghost Scroll, cut and painted,mixed media, 3′ x 4′. Judith Joseph, 2014.

So, now you know a little more about me, let me introduce you to the next amazing artists in the tour.

Peggy Schutze Shearn is a Chicago area painter whose work incorporates letterforms, abstract calligraphy and text into colorful semi-abstractions.  Her sense of color and pattern is gorgeous.

Nancy Charak is a committed abstract expressionist who makes paintings and drawings in Tucson, Arizona, recently transplanted from Chicago.  Her watercolors are sensitive and reflective of nature.

The Political Freight of Letterforms

Book Cover Design by Jan Tsichold

Book Cover Design by Jan Tsichold

Are you interested in the socio-political aspects of typography and calligraphy?  Check out this article about Jan Tschichold, calligrapher and graphic designer:  persecuted by the Nazis for his modern, sans-serif, asymmetric design (and Communist leanings); later distrusted by the English while he worked for Penguin Books (as a German.)

The article touches on the Nazi relationship to black-letter type.  On the one hand, they promoted it as part of their national identity; on the other, it ran counter to the fascist embrace of the streamlined style of Futurism.

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

REVIEW

JAMEEL PRIZE EXHIBIT, VICTORIA & ALBERT MUSEUM, LONDON (through April 21, 2014)

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

Judith Joseph Solo Exhibit in New York

The Jewish Art Salon and the Kraft Center present:  Get Lucky:  Amulets and Ketubah Art by Judith Joseph.

amulet_water


 Art Exhibit curated by organized by the Jewish Art Salon.

Contact: Yona Verwer jewishartsalon@gmail.com  917-447-8567

Location: The Columbia / Barnard Kraft Center, 606 West 115th Street, New York, NY 10025

Date: Thursday April 18, 2013

6 – 7 PM Opening Reception, Free & Open to the Public

7 – 8 PM Panel Discussion Still, Small Voice in a Noisy World: Jewish Heritage and Contemporary Art. Panelists: Judith Joseph, Alison Kruvant and Isaac Peterson, moderated by Buzz Slutzky.

Exhibit Hours: April 18 – May 20, Sunday – Thursday 9-8, Friday 9-1.

The art of Judith Joseph springs from illuminated manuscripts:  decorated, hand-written texts.  She loves miniature medieval illustrations with their quirky, often bizarre imagery that ranges from holy inspiration to bawdy violence.  Her love of letters encompasses both their calligraphic form and the story they tell.

She started making ketubahs (hand-written, decorated Jewish marriage contracts) at the age of 17, beginning a journey with this art form that has lasted decades and produced some 500 commissioned, original works.  She has grown up with the ketubah, and it has grown with her.

Judith’s paintings often contain Hebrew lettering.  Her series of hamsa (amulet) paintings began when she painted one for each of her three adult sons, when they moved far from home. She used unstretched canvas, so the paintings could be easily rolled and transported from place to place. She used thehamsa symbol: a hand blocking the evil eye, an ancient image found in Mediterranean countries.  The hamsa is often worn during childbirth. 

Judith believes in the power of images as a way to focus our intent and will, and the power of words to guide us. Each hamsa image is encircled with a ribbon containing Hebrew inscriptions of the names of archangels (Michael, Raphael, Yuriel, Uzziel, Ezriel, etc.) The letters create a dynamic, dancing border, stand-ins for human beings, as we are expected to create a “fence around the Torah.” (Pirke Avot, 1.1)

More project info:

Jewish Art Salon (with web images): http://www.jewishartsalon.com/2013/03/get-lucky-amulets-and-ketubah-art-by.html

Directions: #1 Train to 116 St, Buses M4, M5, M104 to 116 St. M60 Bus from 125 St Metro-North.

606 West 115th Street, just west off Broadway.

The Jewish Art Salon is a global community of artists and art professionals. It organizes exhibitions, panel discussions and programming with leading international artists and scholars, in order to create an appreciation for innovative Jewish art in the contemporary art world.

http://jewishartsalon.com

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Yona VerwerPresident, Jewish ART Salon
http://jewishartsalon.com

Seasoned Painters Step Outside Their Comfort Zone

… and try painting with egg tempera, instead of their usual media (oil, acrylic).  It was a joy to share my favorite medium with my critique group (Ellen Holtzblatt, Monica Sageman, Gabriella Boros, Colleen Cox and Jackie Eddy.)  We enjoyed the hospitality of Cindy Jevon’s PerficalSense Studio and Art Salon.

Egg tempera can be purchased in tubes, but the traditional (and most rewarding) way to use it is by mixing pure pigments (the color ingredient in all paints) with the yolk of an egg on a glass palette.  A little water is added to thin the paint, and the result is a brilliantly vivid, water-soluble paint that allows for transparent glazes and layers, opaque paint when desired and incredibly fine lines for detail.

Here are some examples of how I have used egg tempera:

… more can be seen on my website.

Re-Drawing the Map of the Art World

In her NY Times review of Saul Steinberg:  A Biography, by Deirdre Bair, Deborah Solomon reminds us that Steinberg was most famous for his “View of the World From 9th Avenue”, a Manhattan-centric remapping of the world.

Steinberg was a prolific cartoonist for The New Yorker.  In addition, his drawings and sculptures were shown in high-brow galleries and museums, and prized by art collectors.

Solomon, who authored a forthcoming biography of Norman Rockwell, has good reason to be well-versed on the topic of “fine art” vs. “illustration”.  About Steinberg, she comments:  “In his heyday, art critics butted heads over whether his drawings should be considered cartooning, illustration or museum-worthy art.  By now such attempts at classification seem beside the point.  Most of us do not believe that an invisible velvet rope separates museum art from magazine art, or that a painting hanging at the Museum of Modern Art is automatically superior in aesthetic terms to a children’s book illustration.  The truth is that any genre can produce works of enduring power” (italics mine.)

Solomon cites an anecdote from the biography that mirrors this pedestal-busting view of art:  “(Steinberg) once described Picasso, after visiting him at his villa outside Cannes, as ‘an old Jewish man in the Florida sun– all torso and shorts.’”

What do you think?  Is there an important distinction between illustration and fine art?  Does it matter?