October 29, 2014 § Leave a comment
Ellen Holtzblatt is a Chicago-based artist who creates paintings, woodcut prints and artist books. She has exhibited her work nationally and internationally at venues including the Museum of Biblical Art in New York, Inselgalerie in Berlin, Harold Washington Library and the Chicago Cultural Center. Her work is also conserved in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection and The Center for Book Arts in New York. Many of her paintings utilize religious texts and old photographs to reveal a paradoxical access to and disconnection from the past. In preparation for Holtzblatt’s exhibit From Birth to Memory, opening at Josef Glimer Gallery on November 21, assistant director Nicole Rhoden sat down with the artist in her Rogers Park studio to discuss how her practice is shaped by spirituality, familial dynamics and the mystery that lies between personal and collective memory.
Nicole Rhoden: Can you talk a little about what you’re trying to summon or access by creating these images?
Ellen Holtzblatt: I’m trying to summon my dead relatives. They’re like a séance! [laughs] I’m just joking. I think, not just with these images, but every time I’m painting, I’m working from a pretty internal place. So it’s mostly about making connections. When I’m painting, that’s when I feel the most connected to myself emotionally, with who I am as a person, and in general—just feel connected to living. When I go through periods when I’m not painting, I feel very disconnected. There’s a discordant quality to my life.
NR: All of the paintings I’ve seen do have a similar feeling of connecting with ancestors.
EH: When I first started my other series, Yizkor, my father died on my birthday. He had been sick for a while. There were a few years that had sort of a surreal quality, because you’re supposed to celebrate your birthday. I’ve heard that people who are dying, if there’s an event coming up, often will die on that day—on an anniversary, or on a birthday, something that has some emotional meaning. Of course I would think of him on the day he died, but now it’s especially built into my calendar. I can’t celebrate my birthday without also remembering the day of his passing. They’re eternally connected.
After he died, I said Kaddish [a ritual prayer] every day for a year—that’s a Jewish tradition. There are many purposes for it, but one of the purposes is when you’re mourning, like the anniversary of someone’s death. It depends on who it is and your relationship to them; in the case of a parent, you say it for eleven months. Then there’s another prayer you say four times a year to remember people from your life who have died—it’s called Yizkor. I remember the first Yizkor we had after I finished saying Kaddish. It’s actually more about life than it is about death.
Then I started also painting images of my mother when she was younger, after going through old photographs and taking some photos from her house. She kind of wondered [why I was painting her] because I had titled the series Yizkor and she’s a living person [laughs]. But it started becoming not just about people who had died, but also about the spirit that was—the spirit of a person.
At different points in our lives, we are these different parts of ourselves. It’s kind of a strange thing. I have memories from when I was younger, where I can’t imagine why I behaved in certain ways. I’m trying to access that, to remember, “Where was I at that point?” I think everybody at different points in their lives has that. We evolve, but as we’re evolving, we really don’t lose those parts of ourselves. We are still that person, but we also become different people. « Read the rest of this entry »
October 16, 2014 § Leave a comment
We thought we’d take a look back in the spirit of our 35th Anniversary Special Exhibition, coming to a close in November. This photo features owner and director Josef Glimer with former partner Jeffrey Gusfield. The pair are shown admiring a unique 1890 Mary Cassatt pastel that had recently been acquired by Gusfield-Glimer Galleries in Skokie. The piece would be one of countless important 19th and 20th-century works sold by Gusfield and Glimer over the next three decades.