Friday, July 29, 2016

This Jerusalem Morning I've Got It Covered

Pleased to share with you Israel's 3rd largest daily newspaper Makor Rishon, has featured a painting of mine on the cover of its weekly magazine Shabbat. The painting, Jerusalem Morning, is oil on linen, 2004, 110 X 90 cm. It is on view by appointment at Artspace Gallery in the German Colony in Jerusalem. Anne Sassoon's solo exhibit continues through the summer.

Please contact Artspace Gallery: 972-2-5662423 ARTSPACE 5 Hazefira Jerusalem.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Anne Sassoon and Studio Visitors at Artspace Gallery

Town Planners, oil on canvas by Anne Sassoon

Anne Sassoon presents her third solo exhibit at Artspace Gallery in the German Colony. Characters who fly in through the door picks up where her last exhibit at this venue, in 2012, left off.

Artspace Gallery, very close to the beaten track of the German Colony’s popular Emek Refaim Street, is a destination in itself. Gallery owner Linda Zisquit started exhibiting contemporary art here in 1994, and for 22 years has been showing art in her Jerusalem home, with its high-ceilings, arched windows, carpet style-tiled floor, and natural sunlight pouring into the exhibit rooms. The gallery gives a glimpse into Yerushalmi homes from an earlier age.

Zisquit, is a published poet, literary translator, editor, and teacher of creative writing at Bar Ilan University. One of her great talents is bringing people together. Exhibit openings often become an oasis for conversation, with the artworks propelling discussions between lovers of contemporary painting and drawing.

In Exiles, 4 years ago, much of the focus was on people set adrift in boats, which is as timely now as ever. Now, in Characters…, the emphasis shifts to bureaucrats and officials that come to the artist in an almost stream-of-consciousness process. Sassoon shows 18 paintings in this exhibit.

Though I discussed her background here, her fascinating life bears some repeating.

Born in North Wales, UK, and educated in art schools in Great Britain, Sassoon lived for blocks of time in apartheid Johannesburg, post-apartheid Cape Town, Boston, London and Jerusalem. Then as now, her art reflected her world. Her drawings in the 80’s were of black defendants on trial, and she found herself exhibiting with artists of the South African Resistance Art Movement, including Robert Hodgins, Deborah Bell, and William Kentridge.  At the time, Kentridge, an animator, was known only locally, but in the 90’s catapulted to international recognition. Despite the compelling art environment, the political situation deteriorated, causing her and her husband, journalist Benjamin Pogrund, to say their good-byes to their jailed friend Nelson Mandela and re-locate first to London and later to Jerusalem.

All these parts of her life serve to invigorate her visual memory bank and are used to address social and political tremors she senses. Sassoon finds embryonic sparks for her paintings through visual prompts from a variety of sources, including drawings from life, memory, YouTube, and scraps of photographs from around the studio.

She allows the characters emerging on her canvas the flexibility to shift, change, and develop with some fluidity into the final image, sometimes asserting more of a presence, sometimes diminishing into more subdued roles in service to the finished work.

Trio, oil on canvas by Anne Sassoon

Her involvement in these works is more like that of a choreographer than an artist. She is not specifically invested in formal structure, or in a laborious process. She is an observer of people and is attuned to body language in their movements, and says in her statement:
The movement between the characters as they relate or turn away from each other creates a kind of dance, which interests me. It’s about public or social performance and self-awareness, political and theatrical gestures, people attempting to approach each other.
Gesticulating bureaucrats speaks of an all too familiar world of officialdom. Absent are women at these tables of insistent people. Masks carry over from the previous exhibit as part of her arsenal of revealing and concealing expression. She shows many paintings of paired people that either connect or fail to connect to each other, creating insights into the relationships.

As is her custom, Sassoon commits herself to painting a self-portrait once a year on her birthday. One of the many things we learn from the great Dutch master Rembrandt is his personal practice of painting self-portraits over his life time. Individually, they were paintings of that moment, recording himself. Together, they form a continuum of the artists’ self-awareness as he changed in age, maturity, and psychological state.

Self-portrait, oil on canvas by Anne Sassoon

It is not unusual for painters to do self portraits; the artist is the model that always shows up and is affordable. Nothing else about the endeavor is easy. The artist-model may not talk too much, but on the downside, she never stops moving. When painting a different sitter, the artist may mark the pose with tape, chalk, plumb lines or other devices to get back in position, but when the model is also the artist, she, out of necessity, is in constant motion, mixing colors, stepping back from the canvas, and if a mirror is used, then every slight shift creates a challenge to return to the same view. This can be an exercise in frustration for a less experienced painter.  Sassoon overcomes this challenge by painting from intuition  with confidence garnered over time.

Sassoon’s self-studies serve as documentation of likeness, but much more. She is not so much interested in meticulously copying life. She knows this model inside and out. That self-knowledge comes across with a seemingly facile burst of interconnected strokes, unifying the figure to her environment in a cohesive whole.
Uninvited subjects fly in through the door. This exhibit brings us into Sassoon’s world.

The exhibition is open at Artspace Gallery through the summer: in June during gallery hours Tuesday and Thursday 5-7 and by appointment and continues in July and August by appointment.

Artspace Gallery
02 566-2423
HaTsfira St. 5
Jerusalem, Israel
All images courtesy of Artspace Gallery

This was originally published on Times of Israel here or

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Women’s Work (Never Ends) and Maya Angelou

Building the Sukkah, photograph, Yael Danino

I recently curated an exhibit in honor of International Women's Day at the American Center in Jerusalem. The invitation is posted here.

Sharing my text and a few of the varied works from the exhibit.

Women’s Work – Heddy Abramowitz, Curator

There's only one thing in life for a woman; it's to be a mother... A woman artist must be... capable of making primary sacrifices. – Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926.

When I was in my studio I didn't give a damn what sex I was... I thought art is art. – Alice Neel, 1900-1984.

Excellence has no sex. – Eva Hesse, 1936-1970.

Do I even think about myself as a woman when I go to make art? Of course not. – Judy Chicago, born 1939.

A creator requires much time and space to pursue her muse – to think, try, make, discard, try and fail, try better, until the results satisfy. Can the creating person be true to her art if she is also responsible to other compelling calls on her time, spirit, thoughts, and abilities? This exhibit, through the eyes and hands of these 19 contemporary artists, responds.

A previous exhibit was the kernel from which Women’s Work grew. Amphi-bion was the inaugural exhibit at the Studio of Her Own’s gallery space (A group promoting professional Jewish religious women artists. Full disclosure: I serve voluntarily on the Advisory Board). It explored multiple, often competing, facets of women as creators, with a curatorial team including Julia Aronson, Yael Buchbinder-Shimoni, Noga Greenberg, Avigail Fried, and Batnadiv HaKarmi, who served as co-curator for this exhibit.

Herzl Says mixed media 2013 by Avigail Fried

I grew up in the US during the social revolutions of the 60s and 70s. American rights enshrined in the Declaration of Independence to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” stood in sharp contrast to populations which lived less-entitled lives. That “all men are created equal” rang hollow to women, long after the Suffragettes won the right to vote.

The quiet rustlings of coming change came in the form of a question for women after 1945: After seeing battle, nursing soldiers, running factories, doing serious research and working in non-‘womanly’ pursuits, could women happily go back to living barefoot and pregnant and in the kitchen, as the rankling phrase goes?

Jean Baker Miller (1927-2006, American psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, editor, teacher, and author) said in her classic work Toward a New Psychology of Women, 1976:
“Most so-called women's work is not recognized as real activity. One reason for this attitude may be that such work is usually associated with helping others' development, rather than with self-enhancement or self-employment.”
Was it any wonder the rustlings became a storm?

Spouse mixed media assemblage, Elinora Schwartz

By my generation, the storm rumblings of what women could or could not do were already gale force. Shortly after my childhood ― replete with memories of wearing short white gloves, riding in the front while Negroes, in the parlance of the day, sat in the back of Washington, D.C. public trams and buses, and women worked in a narrow range of acceptable ‘helping’ fields ― the skies broke. By dint of hard work and by demanding change, the ‘firsts’ were achieved. Women’s work options widened and we got on the playing field, however uneven.

Women artist activists struggled to be seen in a macho art world. In 1987, the National Museum of Women in the Arts was established in Washington, D.C., giving a stage for women creators, and its existence was followed by other institutions cracking open the door to women.

Jewish women traditionally take on religious responsibility from the age of 12, and as young women they are expected to soon take on roles as wives and mothers.

The term, מעשה כפיה (ma’aseh capeya), work of her hands, is a phrase from The Woman of Valor, sung at the Shabbat evening meal in many traditional Jewish homes,
“She considers a field and buys it; from the fruit of her handiwork she plants a vineyard. She girds her loins with might and strengthens her arms”
    – A Woman of Valor, Proverbs 31.

We glean that women’s creativity was valued in Jewish tradition, if it was to help the family. Encouraging creativity for her personal fulfillment?  Not so much.

As seen in the above quotes by famous American women artists, perspective shifts with each generation.

Though women artists “have come a long way, baby” since the Virginia Slims ad was popular, the religious woman artist in Israel faces a steep climb in a largely secular art world.

In Women’s Work, we see the artist facing her practical limitations with eyes wide open. We see the artist as sexual being, the artist facing her biological clock, the artist in her primal role of life-giver, the artist qua mother, the artist as caretaker, the creator, the artist caught in a cul-de-sac of domesticity. Each reflects both a universal look at women in society and her personal take as each artist grapples with her challenges.

Some of the artists include a nod to the global economy in their works, including American-made products as a seamless part of their world. Some of the artists use traditional needle works in a contemporary twist, elevating women’s crafts to a higher level of expression. Instead of facing the children or art question as an either/or decision, we see women who work their passion alongside familial and economic responsibilities ― not as an obstacle ― but as an integral given.

Women’s Work is the ‘work of our hands’ in its narrow sense, but also the work of our minds and our souls.

Woman Work

I've got the children to tend
The clothes to mend
The floor to mop
The food to shop
Then the chicken to fry
The baby to dry
I got company to feed
The garden to weed
I've got shirts to press
The tots to dress
The can to be cut
I gotta clean up this hut
Then see about the sick
And the cotton to pick.

Shine on me, sunshine
Rain on me, rain
Fall softly, dewdrops
And cool my brow again.

Storm, blow me from here
With your fiercest wind
Let me float across the sky
'Til I can rest again.

Fall gently, snowflakes
Cover me with white
Cold icy kisses and
Let me rest tonight.

Sun, rain, curving sky
Mountain, oceans, leaf and stone
Star shine, moon glow
You're all that I can call my own.

                            – Maya Angelou

Friday, February 5, 2016

Loud Whispers: Renana Laub at Artists' House

Like sotto voce hisses meant to be heard, Renana Laub presents her first solo exhibit Whispers at the Jerusalem Artists’ House, part of the Nidbach series in the entry-level space that is devoted to debut exhibits.

Whispers shows the visual expressions of inner thoughts, half-thoughts, and murmurings which seem to percolate from just beneath the artist’s skin.

Laub, a recent graduate of Emunah College, focuses on “the possible space between innocence and the wild.” Curator Maya Israel  notes that the artist is examining the edges of life, conservation, and withering:

"The attempt to conserve and repair emphasizes the gap between the world of the living and the world of the dead."
Without having read the exhibition notes, I responded to it more as an exploration of erotic awakenings within the constraints of a conventional world. Perhaps subconsciously, this theme comes through as well.

Dear Girl 2014 Mixed media Renana Laub

The far wall of the exhibit is entirely wall-papered by a reproduction of a Moshe Castel painting altered by Laub showing a brushy wedding dress, or spirit, which engulfs the whole setting, unites the exhibit, and sets the tone as one anchored in tradition. Laub stretches the borders of the two-dimensional through found objects and confidant extensions of images, inviting us into her world.

Her journals and sketch pads are open for perusal. We can observe the chains of thought that lead to her more developed works. She includes the stains of Sabbath challah bread on parchment papers and finds in the remnants of her baking a stepping stone in her search. Jerusalem artist Motte Brim recently exhibited works from the same source of inspiration at this venue.

She conjoins dead fish shells, classic paintings, children’s story illustrations, red blossoms, dry twigs, bridal gowns, with red threads and red resin pulling the eye across the room from piece to piece. Paradoxically, the reds that guide us from work to work recall Corot, an artist who dealt predominantly with visual observation. He was known to include red points to bring the eye through his paintings, as one would “follow the reds.” In Laub’s approach the image is an initial jumping-off point to reach deep within to what is felt.

A shallow terrarium created in the deep window ledge of the building’s Ottoman era window, echoes the rhythms she created in the room, which includes a tree-like object created from a twig that is repeated in some of the works. The live plants in this miniaturized space are grasses sprung from the raw earth, but in this garden of bonsai proportions they evoke wider and wilder open spaces.

The small expanse is echoed inside a re-purposed wooden cuckoo clock in the adjacent room (which could have benefited by some additional lighting). The normal is reversed; the outdoors comes into the house-like setting, as if uncontrolled nature has taken over domesticity and as we peek in we become voyeurs.

Dear Girl 2014 Mixed media Renana Laub

Associations bounce between the optimism of white wedding dresses and new beginnings set-off by blood-like stains, perhaps referencing virginal sex or violence; red threads which evoke symbols of either good fortune or protection from evil; dried twigs, plant remains, empty fish bones are shards of decay and absence.

Though Laub speaks softly in Whispers, she is carrying a big emotional and visual stick, leaving the viewer with much to ponder.

Jerusalem Artists’ House

Gallery Talk 18.2.2016 5 pm
Closing 27.2.2016

This was originally published on the Times of Israel here or

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Holocaust Remembrance: Dugo Does it with Falafel

Stone on Loan I, Shlomo Feig 2008 graphite, sumi ink on paper 65 cm X 50 cm
© 2016 by Heddy Abramowitz 

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is upon us. This relatively new day in the international calendar, passed by UN resolution in 2005, falls on the day that the notorious death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated by Soviet troops, January 27, 1945.

Current events seem to hurtle at me like a rain-swelled river that is rushing and pushing beyond its banks. A convergence of items drew my attention. Angela Merkel, the mama of open arms welcoming the Arab refugees with generous government giveaways came out with this statement, as reported in Times of Israel here:

“Anti-Semitism is more widespread than we imagined. And that is why we must act intensively against it,” Merkel, who on Monday will inaugurate an exhibition in Berlin titled “The Art of the Holocaust,” said in her weekly video podcast.  
Ya think? I don’t know what I find more appalling, the ignorance, feigned or otherwise, of one of the leaders of the free world to the depth of the oldest hatred, or that the leader happens to be the German Chancellor.

Merkel, is one of the more strident amongst world leaders in naming the evil that is on her doorstep. Her statement comes on the tails of the re-publication of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, a mere 70 years after the Holocaust, still within the lives of many protagonists and surviving victims. But, not to worry, now you can read the mad man’s words with annotation to fill in the context for you for the Weltanschauung that was responsible for the murder of millions, innocents, predominately Jews, in the name of a dark ideology. It sold out within hours its first day on the shelves. If these readers are as lazy about reading as I once was, those annotations will hardly be noticed, thus bringing the nefarious message of the original to new and younger audiences.

Should she really want to understand the depths of antisemitism, I suggest that she and her parliamentarians start wearing Jewish symbols. Star of David necklaces, yarmulkes, kippot, and hair coverings will be an instant way to heighten awareness, as was briefly undertaken this month by two French parliamentarians in protest of the call for Jews to cease identifying outwardly with their religion.

And less than two weeks ago, Iran, after signing the much-touted nuclear pact promoted by Obama, Kerry, and their European partners, sponsored a contest for cartoons denying the Holocaust. With a $50,000 grand prize, that is no laughing matter. Just when I think crassness has reached its limits, I am newly surprised. Oh yes, the same Iran that is the focus of a coming US policy of normalization.

I wonder whether it is just me that connects the dots. Normalization with Cuba, a poor country not yet propped up as it once was in the Cold War by the USSR is not the same as normalization with Iran, with a nuclear program in (apparent) hiatus, and huge sanction sums now released back into its economy, an active aggressor in the Middle East and exporter of terrorism worldwide. This same Iran vocally and publicly calls for the annihilation of Israel. Call me Chicken Little, but my internal red flags are waving wildly.

Among the innocents who were murdered in the Holocaust that is marked today were my maternal grandparents, my mother’s 6-year old twin sisters (never becoming old enough to become my aunts) who were murdered at the hands of the depraved Dr. Mengele as part of his ’research,’ aunts, uncles, cousins, and nameless and faceless relations now lost to memory. Those were the ones who were burned on the pyre of Aryan philosophy. Official ceremonies, wreath-laying, and museums cannot bring them back. And the evil that led to their deaths is being resuscitated. Even Angela Merkel noticed.

What about the ones who lived? It should go without saying that the brutality of those times was inhumane and beyond comprehension.

Some people became broken, some became embittered, and some very special people learned to be optimistic and loving.

My mother who survived Auschwitz was emotionally scarred for life. Yet, she lived, had a family, and rebuilt her life from nothing.

My own grandfather, Shlomo Feig. z”l, was on the same death march as Dugo in the clip below, and was killed, shot by a Nazi soldier, two days before liberation, on January 25, 1945. Above is a drawing I made in his memory from my series "Stone on Loan." I used a rubbing from a cemetery headstone in Prague to serve as a substitute head stone for him, who had no permanent resting place. That was all I could do to serve his memory.

Another way is to rejoice in life.

And so we find inspiration in a falafel stand in Ashdod. "The People of Israel Lives Is Content and Eats Falafel." So says one Dugo of Ashdod, originally Duvid of Bulgaria. This week he felt himself privileged to celebrate his survival of the most deadly of the death marches, from Auschwitz-Birkenau on January 18, 1945.

How does one celebrate a personal miracle? On the anniversary of that day last week, Dugo invited all comers to join him and eat falafel at his stand to celebrate life. In the short video clip of the occasion,  his glowing face is shown, referring to all the kids and adults as all his children, delighting in the joy of sharing his good fortune to have survived. He shows his innate humor and optimism when rolling up his sleeve to reveal not one but two tattoos on his left forearm. The story of how he got them is not shared, only joking that it was a two-for-one special. Singing “The People of Israel Lives” ("Am Yisroel Chai") and noting the correlation of the word chai, meaning life, with the number 18, which symbolizes life in Hebrew, as he marks the 18th of January as a confirmation of full stomachs, happiness, and sharing his love for his people.

Though the clip, produced and directed by Yankele Klein, is in Hebrew, it needs no translation to understand the outpouring of support and love for him from his steady clientele who joined him in dancing and singing, and, especially eating.

When I think of the headlines and news stories of the day and the foreboding I have about the future I gain comfort from people like Dugo who manage to bring optimism and appreciation to their lives, despite harsh turns, and even in light of bleak news with echoes of the bad old days.

Dugo is an inspiration. Next year in Ashdod.

This post was originally published on Times of  Israel here or:

Monday, January 18, 2016

Will the Real Me Stand Up? Tannhauser and Drori at Barbur Gallery

Self Portrait Crying, 120 x 85 cm oil on canvas 2015 by Nomi Tannhauser

Nomi Tannhauser and Adva Drori joined forces recently to create a two-person exhibit, Cindyrella, at Jerusalem's Barbur Gallery.

The exhibit was a sort of homage to Cindy Sherman, the influential American photographer who dressed-up as changed personae in Film Noir-influenced self-portraits shown in her exhibit Untitled Film Stills 1977-80 (the full set acquired by MOMA).

Those photographs were ground-breaking and have since become contemporary classics. As curator Pesach Slabosky noted in the exhibit catalogue: 

“It is always a woman alone: she is an ordinary person caught in a drama not of her own making. ...What I had not known was the extent to which the work of Cindy Sherman is iconic for women.”

The title Cindyrella makes reference both to the fairy tale which contrasts to the harsh reality of some childhoods, and refers to the art world idol that is an unseen presence in this exhibit. Artists from two generations, one Sherman's peer, the other decades younger, both found much to draw from her work.

Tannhauser often engages in subject matter concerning women and their bodies, the covered and the revealed, and the ways formal painting concerns (e.g. flat or with brush stokes, painting thinly or in impasto) may overlap with social issues she feels they symbolize; the strong versus the weak, men compared with women. Here she showed paintings influenced by Sherman’s photography, based on a palette of intentionally-ironic pinks, creams, and golds.

Paradoxically, Sherman herself was once a painting student, and turned to photography as her preferred medium ostensibly due to frustrations she saw in the limitations of painting, saying later 
"[T]here was nothing more to say [through painting]. I was meticulously copying other art and then I realized I could just use a camera and put my time into an idea instead.”
Tannhauser turned the tables yet again, taking her inspiration from Sherman’s conceptual still photos, and reinterpreting them as oil paintings, in a sense reverting to the medium once rejected by Sherman. No meticulous copies were shown, the works explored her own identity. She showed herself variously as an artist at work; a woman portrayed in front of a typical shikun building (brutal social architecture of the 50's) with all the windows ominously barred; as a woman capriciously holding a pencil (instead of a cigarette), set in a chair over a patterned carpet and once-ubiquitous speckled floor tiles, a stylized still portrait of her mother looking on, and so on. She let go of close observation and used a simplified graphic approach to find a pared-down and strong representation of herself, a good new direction for Tannhauser.
Kitchen Towel oil on canvas 2015 by Nomi Tannhauser Photo: Bishko

The search for the real Nomi included studies of simple kitchen towels set off against gold paint – at once glamorously raising the mundane object and also seeing it for its most basic geometric shapes, while considering the towels as emblematic of the kitchen, a room that becomes a cul-de-sac for many.

Installation view Barbur Gallery 2015-16 Photo: Bishko

Performance artist Adva Drori took the influence of Sherman off the walls entirely in her work Doll-Woman-Doll with objects culled from flea markets and other sources, making theatrical groupings set on oriental-style carpets or mattresses. These indicated a troubled inner world despite being based on playthings and toy-sized objects. They made for tableaux that dealt with an uncomfortable confusion of memory and identity. Red yarn and embroidery embellished the adult and doll-sized dresses and served as unifying color which pulled together the mostly floor-level displays.

Tannhauser’s paintings can stand on their own, and while Drori’s installations further extend the examination of girls’ and women’s places in the world, they also fought to get one’s attention in the space. A sense of emotional clutter and unease pervaded.

Exhibiting in Jerusalem gave another context to the position of women in society. One could reflect on the times Sherman drew from and from the time her photos were first exhibited, and compare them with the world the artists’ live in, replete with fears and lack of stability. Tannhauser considers the shikun building and the limited lives of the original inhabitants, poor Jewish refugees from surrounding Arab countries, but now a building in a gentrified and trendy neighborhood, a happy ending. One could widen the comparisons to close-by Arab or haredi communities, where women continue to have limited options. All is not yet rosy.

For many women, there is room to stand up and self-identify with more surety, less contrivance and posturing than Sherman’s original subjects required, allowing Tannhauser and others to "breathe," as she describes it, just knowing there are more out there like her.

Sherman’s legacy, in a sense, could be recognizing that it does not take a fairy godmother to make changes, one can grant oneself permission to change identity as needed for the many stages in a life, or just for no reason at all.

A fairy-tale ending in itself.

This was originally published on the Times of Israel here or here: