Going to Israel changed Dara Alter’s life. Many people say that, but in her case, she can offer visual proof.
Alter went to Israel for four months in 2007 to do an internship in genetics, her major in college. She came back convinced that her passion lay not with genes but with art. She became a fulltime painter, and now — at just 23 — she has her first major solo show at The Jewish Center of Princeton. “My Heart Is Here” opened on Feb. 13 and will run through March 31.
Many of the pictures are aerial views of Israel — distilled from memories of that trip, and the thoughts and passions it evoked. “They’re not objective Israel,” she said, “but more images and icons representing my ‘perfect place.’”
Alter grew up in Toronto, in a Conservative Jewish home with a passion for Israel. She went there with her family once, and again on a student trip before that momentous 2007 visit. “I’ve always wanted to go on aliya,” she told NJ Jewish News in a Feb. 3 phone interview.
The trip was filled with all kinds of passion. She also fell in love there, with an American, Eugene Tsuprun, who was also on a JAFI internship. She returned to Canada and switched her major to art. “I’ve always drawn,” she said. “It’s something I did with my mother, as a hobby. In Israel, I realized how much I loved it. People kept telling me about artists I should see. I met such fascinating people, and I realized that this is what I wanted to do.”
After two years of visiting back and forth, a year ago she married her American. Alter came to live with Tsuprun in Princeton, where he works for an educational testing company. With his work and both their families in North America, they aren’t about to leave just yet, but she has remained fascinated by the pull to Israel, “my home that isn’t my home.”
She said she regards herself as blessed to be able to focus on her art. She goes every day to her studio in Hightstown. It’s hard work, she said. “With every picture I hit a bad stage where I get stuck, but I’ve come to realize I need that to happen, for a picture to reach its full potential.”
As for her aerial perspective, she said she has always been fascinated by the view from a plane. “I take special notice of the structures, layers of land, colors, and forms that I see,” she said. “I travel frequently and to countries all over. I love comparing what land mass looks like in one country versus another from above.”
Alter was back in Israel this past December for a week and a half. It was just as wonderful as before, she said, but things looked different. “It was funny and amusing, realizing what memory does to things,” she said. “Where before gold was the dominant color — I play ‘Jerusalem of Gold’ all the time when I’m painting — this time there seemed to be so much more silver.”
No doubt that will work its way into her images. It delights her that as personal as they are — with recurring themes like cypress trees, stones, and walls “dividing or protecting” — they evoke different feelings in viewers. “I love hearing people’s perspectives,” she said.
Speaking a few days before the opening, Amy Rubin, the center’s director of administration, said, “We’re pleased to be able to support young artists in the Princeton community, and we’re delighted to be showing Dara’s works, with their Judaic images and Israeli scenery. They are so stunning, and we’re looking forward to having people come see the exhibition.”