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Arad’s desert landscape inspires local artists
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Arad’s desert landscape inspires local artists

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

A desert-inspired watercolor by Marilyn Rose of West Caldwell 
A desert-inspired watercolor by Marilyn Rose of West Caldwell 

Abstract painter Gail Winbury of Westfield discarded at least five standard landscape paintings before realizing she needed to paint an emotional landscape of her trip to Arad last summer. She then found her style suddenly shifting in unexpected ways, she told NJJN, from the colors to the layers of paint she was using. 

Experimental sculptor Ellen Hanauer of Livingston sought out entirely new palettes to reflect the colors of the desert landscape in her scrumbling, a free-form version of crocheting and knitting that she has recently begun doing. She left behind her trademark bright colors, opting instead for browns and tans and a splash of green. 

Anne Luria Burg of West Caldwell was so inspired, she started printing her designs on cloth and creating an entirely new medium for herself — wearable art. 

On Jan. 8, at the opening of “DesArad: Negev-Inspired Artwork” at JCC MetroWest’s Gaelen Gallery East in West Orange, each of the artists presented the work that resulted from a nine-day artists’ exchange program in Arad, a southern Israeli city bordering the Negev and the Judean Desert about 15 miles from the Dead Sea.

The work will be on display there through the end of February. It will also be shown at the JCC of Central New Jersey in Scotch Plains at a pre-Shavuot event in the spring. 

The exchange was one of several projects designed to bolster the relationship between the Greater MetroWest NJ Jewish community and its sister community in Arad, part of the GMW federation’s Partnership2Gether projects in Israel, which also include the community of Ofakim/Merchavim. Arad had been a partner community of the historic Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey. Following its merger with the MetroWest community in 2012, a decision was made to “upgrade” the relationship, as Randi Brokman, federation Global Connections associate, put it. “We felt we needed to renew and upgrade the relationship,” she said. She has spearheaded the effort, which was planned through a year-long exchange involving 10 leaders from each community to determine the most effective ways to partner.

“Because Arad is known for its arts quarter, this is one of the projects we decided to fund,” Brokman told NJJN. A second art exchange is being planned for 2017. Other projects included an Arad-Greater MetroWest book club; a young family mission that brought young parents from Arad to Scotch Plains; a half marathon from Arad to Masada; and a youth exchange between a West Orange Jewish Boy Scout troop and the Tzofim (Israel Scouts) in Arad.

Artists were selected last spring from among a pool of about 20 candidates. They spent just over a week during the summer living with host artists in Arad, touring their studios, taking in the colors of the desert, volunteering at the Arad-to-Masada half marathon, attempting to launch a festival for the arts, and engaging with the larger community, for example, by visiting a local elementary school. 

It was at the elementary school that photographer Gene Lowinger of Short Hills found his groove for the visit. 

“I could have spent the whole nine days just with those kids taking pictures. That was the highlight for me,” he told NJJN. “And there was such a mixture of kids in the class — Russian Jews, Yemenite Jews, Ethiopian Jews. Just like a vegetable soup.” 

Several of the participants felt going to Israel with a purpose — living with other artists — made the experience different from previous trips as tourists. Watercolor artist Marilyn Rose of West Caldwell has been to Israel many times, but this was her first not as a tourist. “I felt that living with people I really got a sense of what was going on, the history of Arad and the settlements,” she said. “And the language of art brings you together immediately.” Now, she said, “I feel like we have family in Israel.”

Meanwhile, Burg forged such a close connection with her host that she dedicated one of her works to her, adding, “I found myself in Arad in her home and found my own true art.” Burg included in her piece a digital image of her own work placed behind a cutout image of the gates of her host’s home. 

But it was the Israeli approach to life that inspired her the most. She modeled a dress made of fabric she had printed with her artwork at the gallery opening.

“Israelis are so much more fearless,” she told NJJN. “It is very scary to do this. It’s expensive to have fabric printed. It’s confusing to figure out how to mirror-image [the fabric] width-wise and length-wise. And then to cut into it to make clothing that may not work is terrifying.” But she said, “I kept holding onto what the Israelis did.”

Other participating artists included Jared Green of Montclair, a textile artist who taught in Arad in the 1990s; and photographer Carol Berman of Livingston, who, as manager of the Gaelen Center for the Arts (and director of both the School of the Arts and Triple Threat Theater Camp at JCC MetroWest), served as point person during the trip. 

Among the visitors to the exhibit was Noah Korin Gilady, 18, from Arad. He is working as a rishon, or young ambassador from Israel, spending a year in the Greater MetroWest NJ community between high school and his mandatory army service. He is more used to having no one recognize his hometown than viewing an exhibit featuring the elementary school he attended. “Some of the paintings made me a little homesick,” he acknowledged. Pointing to Marilyn Rose’s watercolor work, he said, “These — I know where they were painted, which is really nice.” 

But one of Gene Lowinger’s photos, featuring several students, including a young girl in the background, gave him a start. “I used to go to that school. And for a second, just for a second, I thought that girl in the back was my sister.” It didn’t take him long to realize it wasn’t her. But just for that moment, he said he was thinking, “Oh, it’s my sister; she’s going to freak!” Overall, he was thrilled “to see all connections; everything gets together” between Arad and the Greater MetroWest community. “I’m going to hold onto that,” he said.

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