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Rich use of colors unites gallery works
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Rich use of colors unites gallery works

Three local artists exhibit at Cooperman JCC

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Andrea Epstein said creating her abstract expressionist artwork is “a very intuitive process.”  Photo by Johanna Ginsberg
Andrea Epstein said creating her abstract expressionist artwork is “a very intuitive process.”  Photo by Johanna Ginsberg

A palette full of color and shapes and curves and lines wandering in and out of abstraction, narrative still lifes, and Hebrew letters rich with mystical overlays are all part of a new installation at JCC Metro-West in West Orange. 

The use of color unites the three exhibits. In her abstract expressionist paintings and collages, Andrea Epstein uses intense colors and contrasts; Jeri Greenberg’s rich pastels set the tone for her visual stories that are all about textures, light, and color; and the bright hues of Analesa Berg’s Hebrew letter mandalas jump off the canvas.

The works of Epstein and Greenberg are in the Cooperman JCC’s Gaelen Gallery East on the second floor; Berg’s letters are hanging in the Arts/Theater Lobby on the first floor.

All three installations opened Jan. 7 and will run through Feb. 25. 

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Epstein, of Berkeley Heights, said she’s not musical at all, but her work has a kind of rhythm in the conversation among the shapes and colors and even in the depth of the paint. She prefers to start a work by covering the surface and then choosing colors to work against what’s already on the canvas, she told NJJN. “It’s a very intuitive process; it’s very much about the layers and building up the layers,” she said. She counts among her influences Jackson Pollock and Pablo Picasso, and takes a physical approach to painting. “I’m always moving,” she said. 

One of the most arresting pieces in her show is a serigraph called “Storm.” A ferociously vibrant center of color, shape, and movement is surrounded by the calm presence of layers of rice paper colored with iridescent ink. “I do see a lot of my work as landscape, and this piece really felt like a landscape to me,” she said. “I’ve spent a lot of time at the beach in my life, and that just felt that a storm was brewing over the landscape.” 

* * *

In contrast to Epstein’s abstract expressionism, Greenberg’s image-driven creations always carry a narrative. “Whether it’s a still life, portrait, or landscape, I need to find a story in my subject matter,” said the Mountainside resident. “Otherwise, I’m so bored I could scream.” And in her view, she said, anything can tell a story, “even an apple or a lemon.” 

Greenberg has been working with pastels for about 10 years, intrigued by the spectrum of possibility they offer. “Pastels can range from very extremely soft and buttery to very hard and crisp,” she said. “You can add water to watercolor and an oil-based medium to oil paints, but you can add whatever you want to a pastel
painting.”

Greenberg’s “Wedding Bands” is eye-catching. Two arms form the central focus of the canvas, one hand clasping the wrist of the other. One arm is bare; the other is clad in the same yellow sweater as the partial torso in the background. There’s a wedding band on the ring finger of each hand. It’s unclear at first if both arms belong to the same person, or if the bare arm, which also wears a wristwatch, belongs to another. 

Closer inspection reveals both belong to the person whose torso is cut off just above the chest by the painting’s edge. Greenberg’s explanation is poignant. “The hands are those of my mother. My dad had just died, and we were sitting at the kitchen table, and she was playing with her wedding band,” said Greenberg. “The loss of my father has been one of the most devastating and driving forces of my life recently.” That second arm might just as easily have been her father’s arm, from a viewer’s perspective, reaching in to comfort them.

* * *

The inspiration for Berg’s “The Alphabet of Vibration” came at a low moment in her life, she said, when she called out — mostly to the Atlantic Ocean — “What’s next?” 

“You’ll go to the Hebrew texts and paint” was the response, said the West Orange resident. It was not something she was comfortable with. For starters, she doesn’t write Hebrew. What’s more, she said, “Hearing a voice in my ear is a little new.” Deciding to trust what she calls this “sixth sense,” she was determined to follow the advice. 

She spent 30 days in silence, surrounded by Hebrew books, paint, and paper to “see what happens.” Her colorful Hebrew letters were the result. Along the way, she said, she took inspiration from mystical scholars, particularly Isaiah Horowitz, whom she claims as an ancestor. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, Horowitz was a 16th-17th- century kabbalist born in Prague who served as a rabbi in prominent cities in Europe. 

Throughout those 30 days, Berg said, “I kept hearing voices in my head” that she believes offered guidance. She has come to see the alef-bet in a new light. “The letters have sacred energy,” she said. “When combined they create vibration that heals the soul and uplifts the spirit.” 

For some of the paintings, Berg had “powerful” dreams; for others, she drew what she felt as she spent time with each letter. For example, when it came to the yud, the first letter she drew, “I danced around with it for days [and] saw hieroglyphics and Sanskrit and Hebrew raining down.” The image she produced includes bits and pieces of each, including “manna coming down,” a green letter with a third eye, blue gates, and golden droplets meant to be the manna. 

Berg has invested each letter of the alef-bet with new meaning and an explosion of color, including a 23rd letter (the Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters) meant to invoke peace. “There’s no right or wrong, there’s no up or down, everything is in harmony,” she said.

All exhibits are free and open to the public.

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