Artist’s Statement

Lori Loebelsohn

I fell into the world of Judaic Art by chance. I had been painting traditional oil and watercolor portraits, but I wanted to focus more on my subjects’ spiritual side, rather than their physical looks. I began to paint pictures that I called, “Life Cycle Portraits.” My first paintings were reminiscent of American folk art quilts. A client who had seen these works asked me to do a painting for her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah.  We decided the painting should meld elements from both the girl’s personal life and her Torah portion, which fortuitously,was the Creation (Bereshet).

That painting led me to think about connecting my art with Judaism and particularly how Torah stories tapped into an artistic idea that has intrigued me since college. Certain universal themes touch chords within us, though we may not fully understand why. These archetypes often refer to themes in nature and life cycle events that helped earlier civilizations make sense of their world.  They include birth, coming of age, marriage and death, as well as natural phenomena like the sun, moon, stars and the seasons.  Although I was familiar with imagery in Western art, I had not previously thought about applying these archetypal forms to Judaic Art.

Coincidentally, while I was working on this painting, my daughter was actively preparing for her Bat Mitzvah. I watched her stand on the bemah and become a Bat Mitzvah. This inspired me to research ancient and medieval Judaic Art. I found myself fascinated by medieval Ketubot and Mizrach, ancient paper cuttings, while I continued to study American folk art painting and quilts.

Visually, the ancient Ketubot were intricate and rich with symbolism. They are often embellished with wonderful decorative designs, and even the tiny details are full of meaning. The swirls that define the border are often based on the patterns that were representative of the friezes or tapestries of that artist’s particular geographic region. The Jewish imagery is integrated into and not separate from those decorative elements and regional influences. Anchored by ancient Jewish symbols, there is a kind of experimentation and merging of the local culture with the age-old imagery found in Judaic art from all over the world.

Each new painting that I do teaches me about my heritage and the idea of communicating the rituals that are central to our lives.  My commissioned work for the B’nai Mitzvah paintings involves a collaborative process between the parents, the child and myself, in which I ask them to think about the significance of the event and how they want to incorporate objects or interests of personal importance into the theme of their Torah portion. I use a similar approach when I am creating a Ketubah.  As I interview my clients, they often recollect stories from their past, and memories that may have been buried for years. Ideally as part of this process, my clients think about the deeper meaning of their lives and relationships.  I have the privilege of helping to translate these thoughts and ideas into visual images, pulling from a reservoir of ancient symbols. I also enjoy weaving symbols that contain secret meanings, like a Mexican wedding urn in a Ketubah, numbers that have significance, or a child’s favorite possession.

Although I use many ancient symbols in my paintings, I also bring new images and symbols that reflect our time and place. I recently painted a picture based on the Celtic Traveler’s Prayer for a young man’s graduation.  For me, each piece that I undertake is a journey and exploration of how to use symbolism to reflect each client’s unique life experiences.