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The True Mysteries, Not Celebrities, of Kabbalah

October 12, 2005 By:
Harriet Goodheart, JE Feature
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“Persephone’s Meal (Qoph),” from the Angel Alphabet series of Tasha Robbins
"The Hidden Garden: Three Artists Explore Kabbalah," the current exhibition at the Gershman Y's Borowsky Gallery, offers an open invitation into the spiritual mysteries of Kabbalah through the work of three women artists who have used it as a touchstone in their lives.

A fascinating thread of Jewish spirituality for centuries, the ancient tradition of Kabbalah and its vocabulary of images provides fertile ground for their aesthetic expressions. Their three artistic voices may be distinct and disparate, yet they are clearly linked by the Kabbalistic themes and iconography they explore.

In Beth Ames Swartz's richly layered acrylic and mixed-media works, she draws the viewer into the shimmering surfaces she creates, incorporating gold leaf and a medieval palette. Represented here are samplings from the several series she has produced. You need not be a scholar of Kabbalah to engage in the spirituality of her densely colored paintings. By layering color and texture, she effectively discloses her internal - and eternal - world.

Tasha Robbins ventures into cosmic terrain in her paintings that focus on a central image against a dark background that evokes a nighttime sky - or the endless universe beyond. A wine goblet with a twisted stem stands starkly in "Word of Mouth (Tzaddi)," from her Angel Alphabet series.

Her personal exploration of an alternate alphabet - a variation of the Hebrew alphabet said to be of angelic origin - these works take a disturbing, and distinctly modern approach to ancient ritual. In "Begin Again, I Tell You, Begin Again (Tau)," the image is a tree stump with a superimposed diagram of the traditional Tree of Life. In "Persephone's Meal (Qoph)," a blood-red pomegranate dominates the canvas.

Layers of meaning and revelation are embedded in Cheselyn Amato's works on paper. Her collages rely on a grounding in strongly geometric shapes, and utilize wallpaper and printed images that she layers for a "through the looking glass" effect.

Peel Away the Mysteries?
Can you discover the mysteries of Kabbalah, if only another layer is peeled away? The graphic-design elements that she assembles in unexpected combinations are an intriguing juxtaposition to the ancient themes she ponders.

The exhibit includes more than a dozen pieces from Amato's "Dot Collages/Tree of Life Chronicles" series. They are an eclectic grouping with such literally descriptive titles as "Sports Cars Over Wood Grains," "Stripes With 19th-Century Shul Painting" and "Purple With Blue & Red Threads and Emanations," a series of patterned circles displayed in a tree of life mandala.

A centerpiece of the exhibition discreetly tucked away in a corner of the gallery is Amato's multimedia installation "Effluxes," a site-specific work that suffuses its space with lights, color and texture.

Through their distinctive artistic vocabularies, these three artists each have one foot firmly rooted in their shared fascination with the mystical traditions of Kabbalistic meditation. Yet each has found a way to walk along a deeply personal expressive path.

"The Hidden Garden" continues at the Borowsky Gallery through Sunday, Nov. 13. Gallery hours are Sunday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

 

 

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