YU art exhibit is born out of 10 sleepless nights in the Galilee
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YU art exhibit is born out of 10 sleepless nights in the Galilee

Detroit-based book artist Lynne Avadenka explores the life of Israeli poet Rahel Bluwstein and the landscape where she wrote

Lynne Avadenka at her 'How a Poem Begins' exhibit at Yeshiva University in New York on February 28, 2016. (Courtesy)
Lynne Avadenka at her 'How a Poem Begins' exhibit at Yeshiva University in New York on February 28, 2016. (Courtesy)

NEW YORK – For Lynne Avadenka, a Detroit-based printmaker and book artist, words and letters have long been the keys to unlock the worlds and lives of others. Her latest work is no different.

In “How a Poem Begins – Lynne Avadenka and the Poet Rahel,” Avadenka explores the life of the seminal Israeli poet and early Zionist pioneer Rahel Bluwstein and the verdant landscape of the Galilee. Through large-scale etchings she highlights the beauty of the region and the aesthetic of the Hebrew language.

“I’ve always been interested in Jewish women and the lives they led, and the creative choices they made,” said Avadenka during a conversation at a mid-town Manhattan café about her newest exhibit, which will be displayed at the Yeshiva University Museum through July.

Her inspiration for the show came while working at the Gottesman Etching Center at Kibbutz Cabri in 2011 when she was a fellow of the American Academy in Jerusalem. The modern space, full of light and glass, peaked her artistic interest.

Upon her return to the US she started drafting grant proposals, and in 2014 the Covenant Foundation awarded her a grant that helped support her short stay at the center.

Lynne Avadenka's 'How a Poem Begins' exhibit at Yeshiva University in New York on February 28, 2016. (Courtesy)
Lynne Avadenka’s ‘How a Poem Begins’ exhibit at Yeshiva University in New York on February 28, 2016. (Courtesy)

“I had a lot of sleepless nights. I only had 10 days to produce something,” Avadenka said. “There is a fair amount of discipline that goes with the creative life,” she added, putting any romantic notions of what life is like for the professional artist to rest.

Avadenka said she’s always felt the pull of the printed word. It’s something she traces back to her childhood in Pontiac, Michigan, when in the fourth grade she received a Speedball pen and ink kit complete with interchangeable nibs. Soon she started crafting her own books.

Rachel Bluwstein, the muse for Lynne Avadenka's 'How a Poem Begins' exhibit at Yeshiva University in New York, which opened on February 28, 2016. (Public domain)
Rachel Bluwstein, the muse for Lynne Avadenka’s ‘How a Poem Begins’ exhibit at Yeshiva University in New York, which opened on February 28, 2016. (Public domain)

Born in 1955, Avadenka studied printmaking and letterpress at Wayne State University. Her work has been exhibited in many permanent collections, including The New York Public Library, The Jewish Museum of New York and The British Library in London.

Today she lives in Detroit where she is the artistic director of Signal-Return, a community letterpress shop in Detroit where people learn to handset and print.

Throughout her decades-long career Avadenka has produced limited edition books where she combines her own images and words, as well as editions of work by noted writers, using multiple printmaking techniques. She has worked on paper, collage, mixed media and also glass.

While the medium may change, her muse – words and letters – remains constant.

One of her earliest works delved into the ways Judaism and Islam overlap; in “Root Words: An Alphabetic Exploration,” she and American Muslim calligrapher Mohamed Zakariya collaborated and created a book of art focusing on seven words filled with meaning for Jews and Arabs – language, human being, trust, student, book, wisdom and sky.

‘The root word for compassion in Hebrew and Arabic are the same’

“What was revelatory for me, but not for someone who knows both languages, is that the root word for compassion in Hebrew and Arabic are the same,” she said. “That work led to ‘Bound to My Life by a Thousand Mysterious Threads,’ an artistic book about Queen Esther and Scheherazade and the commonalities of culture.”

While at Kibbutz Cabri, Avadenka mined area archives, read Rahel’s poetry and followed a literal map of the poet’s life in Israel. The result is a series of large-scale etchings in which Avadenka reflects on Rahel’s life, art and the places in Israel where she lived. There is also a multimedia installation that Avadenka sees as an imaginary library for Rahel.

One work “You Are Yourself a Map” consists of three prints, each measuring 24 x 72 inches. The pieces’ lush greens and blues evoke the verbena and mint that dotted the landscape where Avadenka worked. Each print incorporates elements of letterpress prints on Japanese paper that she produced in her Detroit studio and brought with her to Cabri. Among the prints were images of handwritten drafts of Rahel’s poems.

To help give context to Rahel’s artistic legacy, Avadenka curated an installation of historical materials – photography, posters and ephemera – from Yeshiva University Museum’s and YIVO’s collections.

“I don’t try to tell you everything,” Avadenka said. “There should be a place where viewers can enter the work and see it in their own way. Everyone comes to the art from entirely different places.”

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