| email: joe@joeglantz.com

by Joseph Glantz

© 2020
 Joseph Glantz. All rights reserved.

I loved Sara's paintings. I was inspired by them – but I couldn't afford them. She told my husband how to buy me really good paint, brushes, and paper and she encouraged me. After a few months of breakfasts in the garden, Sara said I was the only person who ever learned how to paint by having coffee with her. When my mother died, I inherited Sara; I recognized that my mother had been Sara’s Green Bubbie! I also learned that painting was not just about technique. So, I started with the watercolors.

It was Sara who suggested I begin to work in oil. For me, when I was using watercolors and painting flowers, I was trying to draw or paint what I saw in front of me - even if I was changing the colors or intensifying the color combinations I was still painting from the outside in. There is something outside of me that I was trying to represent. Whether it's a tulip, or a rose, didn't really matter, I was trying to grasp or convey their essence. I think I was successful because of my sense of color.

I really didn’t feel comfortable with my skill level, and while I had never taken an art class, I was afraid to start - I was afraid I might lose whatever “talent” I had. That’s why I decided to take a class in collage! Then the collage teacher said my work was very “painterly” and that was really the beginning of my journey as a painter!

When I first saw your paintings, there was one that reminded me of Monet. I'm wondering which landscape and garden artists have influenced you? Are the influences related to technique, to subject matter, or to other things?

Thank you - the reference is humbling. There's something about seeing/experiencing Monet’s water lilies, in particular his huge works at MoMA when I saw them. I just sat down, in awe; mesmerized. I entered that painting, and I think a part of me has remained in that painting ever since. It was all encompassing - no horizon - just immersion into the world of water lilies all with bits of colors - bouncing off of each other, layering and creating a depth beneath the waters, and almost simultaneously into the unseen sky. A Oneness in nature. 

When Monet earned enough money, he built up his home and his gardens. You can see the reflections of these gardens in much of his work. I wondered for a long time how could I ever hope to paint, or garden! like that.

 I love all references to Giverny - Monet’s Gardens. Of course, I wanted to be like Monet-and have continued to tend my own garden - until I learned that he had over 100 gardeners working for him! And with that, the pressure was off.

Ultimately, the connection between art and gardening, for me, is religion. The world could have been black and white but God the Creator created all these amazing colors. I’m just blown away by all of nature - whether it’s the flowers or tropical fish, or the sunsets, actually, everything. The colors, the levels of brilliance, especially the changing seasons. Miraculous! mind-boggling. It’s the intermix of art and nature, creativity and gratitude. I am truly awe-struck; the magnitude of God’s creation and God’s gifts - to appreciate, to create, to be able to communicate, and to transport the viewer - as I too am transported to another dimension of life and its many meanings.

What haLag BaOmer Oil on Aluminum

Episode 2: Yellow Fever 1793

A Great Cry Was Heard Throughout the Land
Acrylic on canvas

The Mountains Skip like Rams
Oil on Aluminum

You spent a lot of time before launching your art career teaching aspects of Judaism throughout the country. Where did you travel to? What were you teaching? Did you teach the same thing in every city you went to or was there a variation?

Thank you for asking about my previous life! The truth is, as you know, I just celebrated my 70th birthday so my bio is quite long. I think the best way to explain my ‘previous life’ is to connect it to what I do now. I would say that the connecting link in all that I have ever done is my ‘search for meaning’ and my interest in human development. Ideas and people, through a ‘spiritual lens.’ Even in college, I graduated with a double major in Philosophy and in Child Study from Tufts ’71.

What you are referring to is my last full time job as Director of Early Childhood Education for the Jewish community Centers of North America. So yes, I did travel all over the continent. My position enabled me to create curricula and programs for young children, their parents, and primarily professional development for their teachers. My forte was to take ‘big ideas’ and ‘translate’ them into language young children could grasp, and so adults could feel competent understanding and transmitting through their own creativity. I tackle concepts like the sanctity of time and ethical behavior - always based on classical Jewish texts and timeless Jewish values.

How did that job come about?

Immediately prior to my Director position, I was part of an enormously generous and prestigious Grant called The Jerusalem Fellows Program which was designed to take outstanding Jewish educators from around the world and invest in them - by bringing them to live in Jerusalem and engaging them with the most outstanding teachers in the world!

The goal was to invest in educators with different fields of expertise, expose them to major themes of Western and Jewish civilization, and educate them how to turn their visions into practice. As a leader in the field of Jewish Early Childhood Education my goal was to redefine that field.

When I finished the program, I had the opportunity to implement a new vision for the North American early childhood community. In my case, and here is the link throughout out all of my work, that vision is to explore deep ideas and translate them into multiple languages - music, art, drama, metaphor, etc.

For me it is always about translation and interpretation. As a Jewish educator, my starting point has always been the Bible, the Jewish Prayer Book, classical Jewish wisdom and philosophy. As I learn and try to understand, to then find ways to express these subjects and teach them to young children - and to ourselves. It is what I do now as a painter.

I’d like to ask a few questions about your Green Bubbie book which you wrote after your position at the JCC Association. You’ve said that your art is very visually imaginative and that you get many ideas from both classical Jewish biblical text and mysticism. Can you explore those concepts – particularly the relationship between Jewish thought and mysticism?

First, to be clear, I’m not a scholar of Jewish thought. I think metaphorically and creatively. The book I wrote was an example. I continued to be interested in conveying Jewish wisdom and engaging children, and building community and relationships, So, the question was - how to do it?

The “Green Bubbie” was created during the financial crisis, around 2010. I basically created something that everyone needed - and it had nothing to do with money. Essentially, I created a name for a relationship. “Bubbie” is a Yiddish word for Grandmother but a ‘green bubbie’ is not a biological relative. It is a special relative that you meet on the way to finding yourself! — A “Green Bubbie” is spiritual not biological. The ‘green ‘refers to growth - even growth of the elderly. If you continue to learn, you continue to grow. The relationship between nature and God; I believe the physical world is a manifestation of the spiritual world. For me, the Torah (Bible) and the world as created reinforce each other. The Green Bubbie book is all about that relationship. It is not about how to grow a garden, but, rather about how we can grow- from what we learn from the garden!

Mysticism is about the Mystery, what we don’t know. I am more interested spirituality - the universal search for connection with God, communicating with God, recognizing God’s involvement with the universe and trying to live up to our potential as human beings created in the image of God.

In the Green Bubbie, you talk about gardening from a few different perspectives. For example, you point out that there are different types of peas - edible peas and sweet peas. The edible peas are functional. They provide dietary sustenance for the physical body. The sweet peas provide spiritual sustenance – a way of looking beyond the self to the Creator. So, I'm wondering, Is there a correlation between the edible functional peas and representational landscape art versus the sweet peas in your abstract art?

That is a really great insight. Thanks. Yes, That's beautiful.

If I had to make an analogy, I would say the edible peas are more related to realism - but the landscape part of my work is not realistic. I’m not actually trying to replicate nature. I’m trying to interpret nature. I’m trying to use the landscape as a reference for ideas of our place in the universe and our ongoing efforts to understand our place in Creation. Some of my work actually looks like a landscape - even an abstract version of a landscape. When I paint something that the viewer thinks or ‘reads’ as ‘tree’ it is a function of the viewer’s brain, built from the viewers experience with the natural world - more than of my effort to draw an actual tree.

The reference to the sweet peas sparks a spiritual conversation in me. The fragrance, the colors - attract all the senses. It's beautiful to see, to smell. The sweet peas spark the idea that all of the senses are part of nature and art. It's like the honey which draws us in. Viewers should bring the senses of smell, hearing, touch, and taste – not just vision. So, the abstract for me is Beauty and almost like you can't describe the smell of a sweet pea, it can, in turn, be intoxicating. Not like liquor but there's intoxication of some sort. It’s something you can’t name, but you feel it in a very deep way.

For me, inhaling the incredible fragrance of the garden, my lungs fill up and my mind drifts to the early passages in the Biblical Creation account where God breathes life into the nostrils of Adam. That is what I mean. For me, nature is spiritual - the ideas and the sensations and it is those sensations that fuel my imagination and create my abstract paintings.

I think that my abstract paintings pull you in, like nectar to the bee - they are arresting, they are awe inspiring. I’m not looking to have you say there’s a tree. I’m looking to have you say, “Wow! I can’t even put it into words.” That's what I'm looking for.

My mother, of blessed memory, was a dental hygienist and created a program to train dental assistants. She had a student who was a very talented artist. Apparently, my mother once lovingly said to her, “Sara, you’re no dental assistant, Believe in yourself and believe in your art,” That student, Sara Steele, is now one of the most outstanding watercolorists and a widely recognized American painter.  

Can you discuss the role of texture in your art and what sort of techniques do you use to add texture?

The texture of my work is all about creating surfaces so that the light can bounce off it. As much as I’m fascinated by gardening, I'm also fascinated with light and the theme of natural light, spiritual light, light as illumination, light as movement, light as revelation, and of life itself.

Monet painted the same thing at different times of the day because he was interested in painting the light, right? I'm interested in painting so that light becomes an element within the painting.

Light changes with the surface. Painting on metal changes the quality of the painting. I'm interested in what happens when you use light. I’m curious about the changes and effects of natural light, and of artificial light.

Light makes a painting look completely different. You can look at a painting and think it’s nice but then when you see it in light, you think – Whoa!, this is completely different.

I like seeing my paintings in my living room because the light comes in nicely at 10 o'clock in the morning. I can see the paintings just light up. My paintings are just so much different when you see them in light. 

The textures are a way to incorporate the light. Mostly I have to be honest and say I think this is a complete miracle gift that light and texture so dominate my works.

If I can follow up on that a little bit, you started out on the landscape side, the realism side, and then you switched over to the abstract side. What motivated the switch?

After I wrote my Green Bubbie book, I began exploring the art scene in Philadelphia. One day while walking around 3rd and 4th Streets above Market, I went in and out of the amazing galleries. At the time, I had no thoughts about ‘abstract’ art. I was just roaming around appreciating the work of incredible artists and crafts people. Then I walked into the MUSE Gallery, an artist’s co-op. I can only describe it as ‘love at first sight’ - that is, between me and a color: BLUE! It was as though I had never seen this particular color before. Just as your eyes can meet someone across a crowded room, this ‘blue’ literally jumped out at me from the midst of a huge abstract painting. I was smitten! After staring for quite some time, I realized the gallery was filled with several of these incredible intense color paintings all by the same artist, Patricia Burns. I began reading her bio and saw that her teacher was Kassem Amoudi and that he taught at PAFA (The Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts) and several local art centers. I ran home and immediately signed up for the next available course that Kassem was teaching - this one at Main Line Arts Center. Over the next few years, I studied with him at Wayne Art Center and Woodmere Art Center as well.

As it happened, Pat Burns was in that first class that I took at Main Line. She was an extraordinary woman - accomplished in so many ways. I think she was 78 or 79 when I met her - full of energy and creativity - and I wanted to be her! She took an interest in me and my work, and when I had a show she came and then took me to lunch for a crit!

She became for me, a Green Bubbie - and I cherished her as a mentor. One day in class, she was uncharacteristically complaining about her health, and two days later we learned that on the way to the airport to attend a family celebration, she went to the hospital instead, and within days would pass away.

I visited her in those last days. I knew there was to be an opening for her art at a small gallery featuring her work, and another painter, Melissa Bollmann-Jenkins. I had heard of Melissa from Pat, who painted with her. I ran to the gallery where Melissa was finalizing the show - and I bought one of Pat’s small paintings. $95.00. More than I could afford - but I did it - and I asked Melissa to call Pat in the hospital and say that one word artists love to hear, “SOLD!” Pat passed away the next day.

I like to think she heard Melissa’s voice. Pat’s painting hangs in my studio and I still see Melissa. The power of connections.

Now, back to Kassem. From the first day, I should have realized from his name that we come from different faith traditions and ethnicities. I was not sure how we would communicate on any level. As I stood at the easel painting mindlessly, he came by and simply said, “You paint like a house painter” I immediately realized my fear level rising.

As we spoke and got to know each other, we began to trust each other. Trust is an important ingredient in any relationship. In a teaching relationship it is essential - and as it is achieved, that trust can maximize the potential of the learning. You have to learn how to be someone’s student. For me to learn to be Kassem’s student meant I had to trust him. I had to “see” with his eyes in order to understand his direction. Seeing the painting from his perspective, and sharing mine - that back and forth built the trust which became a foundation for our relationship. Our differences were no longer barriers, they were vantage points and blessedly headed in the same directions toward love and peace.

We created a deep friendship of trust. I began to understand him as a teacher. It wasn’t about clarity of language, it was going past language, to that deep feeling of trust. That’s always where the painting comes from, and continues to live in its many iterations in becoming itself. I began to see with his eyes. He's the one who kept saying “you're a colorist.” 

Illuminated Forest, Acrylic on Canvas 

You recently worked in Israel. Can you talk about the process of painting in a different location? Do you take photographs? Do you start a painting and finish it while you're there? What sort of methodology do you use?

I take a lot of photographs. I do try to see things from different angles. I can only paint from my own photographs. I try to remember how I feel when I’m looking at my subject. Israel is a small country but it has so much beautiful and varied terrain. I like to paint what’s unusual. Everybody paints the Western Wall, so, I want to do something different, something maybe I see in a different light or from a different perspective, literally and figuratively. So many artists paint the same scenes in Israel - and each is unique - and fantastic!

I don't do realistic perspective. I have absolutely no interest in drawing the way the world looks. There are so many absolutely awe-inspiring sights especially at the top of a mountain in the Holy City. Many of my works are inspired by the mountains. Though, I’ll maybe paint them with a result that the viewer recognizes as a reference to a mountain.

One thing very exciting is the Jerusalem light. It's very blinding, very bright. Ideally I would be outside. One of the reasons I paint from photos is that, at this stage in my life, it's hard to schlep everything. You're not going to find me with an easel in the middle of the desert, or under a scorching sun.
The Light of Tzfat, Acrylic 

You paint in different mediums – watercolors, metals, oils, acrylics. Can you talk about these different mediums?

With watercolors, it’s very relaxing in a weird way. You have to really focus to get watercolors right. What I like about acrylics is that it’s a totally different experience - it's the easiest to build up the layers. I also like the metallics that are available as acrylics. 

I love the oils. I call painting in oils - the “smush factor.” If it doesn’t look right, you can keep changing it and you can deconstruct it - you can make it and destroy it. You can keep going and going. It’s easy to layer things with acrylics. There's something about working with the oils that is a totally different experience. I just love that.

I like to create texture. Using cold wax and oil takes a longer time to dry – which helps create more texture – since you can add things or do whatever you want while everything’s still wet.

You can put fragments of things into acrylic when it's wet. It's like adhesion. When I was in New York, I looked at all the Jackson Pollock paintings at the Museum of Modern Art. There’s a whole exhibit of his works. I looked at one and it had all kinds of things embedded in it, like old coins, paper bits. It had cigarette butts and all kinds of found objects. I could hardly wait to get home after I saw it. In my next paintings, I put in rhinestones and pearls and little flecks of gold. It's beautiful. 

I do so many different techniques. That’s part of the fun. I like to be challenged.
I don’t feel like I have one style. I feel unbounded – that I have lots of styles which can change from one day to the next. I am also not ‘skilled’ I live for experimentation, and I love the risk taking. For me, the freedom, the unknown is the technique - letting and continuing to work, and rework paintings - for weeks, sometimes months 
Still Untitled, 36x72 Oil on canvas 

You describe yourself as a colorist. Why do use that word? Also, many current artists describe themselves as colorists. Is there any sort of common thread?

In addition to thinking of myself as a colorist, I am toying with creating a name for a new art genre- which I would like to call, “AbstractSpiritualRealism.” I realize it sounds somewhat like an oxymoron. For me, it describes what I am exploring with my paintings. The “abstract” part is obvious."SpiritualRealism” refers to the sense I have that my paintings are reactions to, or translations of, thoughts—that is, spiritual ideas or concepts that emerge from the prayers, Psalms, biblical references, and everything else that might be described as ‘Jewish ideas’ found in many generations of our wisdom, including Chasidic literature.

I don’t try to illustrate these ideas in any literal way, Rather, what I try to do is explore ideas in paint, with color. This is similar in a sense to the school called ‘abstract expressionism’ which emphasizes non-representational emotive components. I'm exploring and trying to express concepts that augment, enhance, or contrast emotions associated with them.

As I began to see with his eyes. Kassem was the one who kept saying, you're a colorist. I’ve learned far more than ‘painting’ from some very special teachers. But it was Kassem Amoudi who introduced me to the Color Field Painters, the style of Rothko and Jackson Pollock, among others. There’s no focal point with color field. It’s sort of an overall view, essentially creating a ‘surface’ a ‘field’ of color.  

As I progressed as his student, he began to refer to me as ‘a colorist’ and recognized and supported my emerging style. For me, the constant ‘editing out’ of a painting, reducing it to its essentials, creating by removing the paint as opposed 
to applying the paint, was very liberating. On another level, it was like letting go of my ego - allowing the painting to speak for itself. As the painter, I was getting out of the way of the painting itself!

If we are talking about colorists, let me also say a word about Bill Scott, Philadelphia Painter!

I never studied with Bill but I am totally inspired by him. His colors speak to me. I feel like I have a friendship with the colors in his paintings. I can recall them; I think about the pink in his paintings or the blues; and I can see his lines in my mind. His paintings stay in my head. My paintings look nothing like his but it is what I can only refer to as his ability to use paint as a language - I can only say they speak to me - and I love the lyricism, the abstraction, the emotions in his painting. He inspires me. 

The other major teacher that I must credit is David Dunlop, a landscape painter. He was the writer of the 13-show national PBS television series, Landscapes Through Time with David Dunlop, for which he won an Emmy and a CINE Golden Eagle Award in 2009. A second series which aired in 2017 was also nominated for an Emmy.

David taught a course at the Hudson River Valley School, in upstate New York. I knew about the Hudson River School of painters - a mid-19th-century group of artists who painted the enormous landscapes (on huge canvases) of the rivers and mountains. They were part of the Romanticism of that era.

Those paintings were discussed in his PBS program because the Hudson Valley views are part of what’s extraordinary, so uniquely beautiful about America. The Hudson River School is also known for its spiritual component because of the vastness of the mountains and the landscape and the light.

In the course, I wasn't so interested in technique as I was fascinated by why is it spiritual? How is that light seen in the mountains, in the skies portrayed in their paintings. I went to experience the light- learning to see and paint in those particular landscapes was a bonus!

David is also the one who introduced me to painting on aluminum and other slick surfaces. I also learned from him that the importance of photography is learning how to look and see options within a landscape. I went back two years later for another week-long session to learn more about abstraction in landscape painting. 
David also inspired my paintings of waterfalls. His ability to weave art history into his painting classes is legendary. I continue to take his classes, learn from his DVDs, and now on Zoom as well! I love listening to him!

Can you discuss your painting titled Jerusalem's Light? Why did you choose the colors you chose? What factors went into that painting?  

That's the gold one? The light in the city of Jerusalem is white. The stone is white. You’re in the dessert off of the Mediterranean. It’s a blinding white light. 
But Jerusalem is not only a city in the here and now - it is also an ideal, the “idea” of Jerusalem. There’s a lot of reference to Jerusalem of Gold and the Golden City. Not as in a city built out of gold but as gold in the Majesty of Jerusalem. So, the intensive gold in that painting is Jerusalem's light from the Jerusalem of Gold. It’s meant to be very majestic.

Can you discuss why people tell you they buy your art?

I don't want anybody to buy my art because they think it's going to be a good investment. I like when people buy the works just because they love them, because they want to live with it. I’ve never had anyone say - Can I exchange it or sorry but I spent too much money. They tell me how much joy the paintings bring them. That makes me very happy.

I recently heard from a couple who bought a painting of mine from a show in South Philadelphia about 5 years ago. The painting was called Tree of Life, or Burning Light - and as many of my acrylics tend to glow in different light, they have mentioned how much they enjoy seeing the painting at different times of day. “We love it. It has a special place in our home. We have people for lunch and when the light hits it, everybody is mesmerized. The painting seems to be moving and changing.” (and many of their guests have reported that to me as well) They recently downsized into an apartment, and sent me the following note, “Just had to share this with you. We have been given the great blessing of learning with our grandkids each week…in preparation for this week ’s Torah study, I put together a worksheet about the burning bush using three different views of your painting. Your art is not just treasure, it has added depth to our teaching of Torah. The painting has in so many ways added to the Kedusha (holiness) of our home.”

As a painter, educator, and Green Bubbie; I know my work is being heard! I could not be more grateful.

Interviewer Joseph Glantz is the author of Philadelphia Originals and the creative profile series Original Philadelphians.. 

Still Untitled, 36x72 Oil on canvas 

Jerusalem's Light