Have I got a treat for you today! JLP Profiles must be my favorite part of JewishLatinPrincess. I really get to meet such interesting ladies with so much to enrich our lives. Today, we have with us Brazilian artist Deborah Rolnik Raichman whose art is not just beautiful, but full of meaning and purpose. I couldn’t have been more inspired. Let’s meet Deborah.
What is your goal as an artist?
My goal as an artist is to inspire curiosity in other Jews about their culture and heritage. If through my art someone becomes more interested in learning more, in discovering more, in taking a class, in reading a book, then I’ve accomplished my goal.
Your art is full of symbolisms and meaning, tell us a bit about how it all comes together.
When I do my art, I don’t want it just to contain some Jewish symbols. I want its essence to be Jewish. Sometimes people paint something abstract and then put a menorah and that makes it a Jewish painting. I seek that the essence of everything that I’m creating in my work be Jewish. Thus, I study a lot before I create a piece. I plan everything that goes in it, and make sure it communicates a Jewish message.
At the same time, I also want the piece to be contemporary; something that the young generation will be attracted to and will be pleased to showcase in their homes. It should also inspire people to ask the questions- why is that there? why did she choose to show this in this way? Everything I put in a work is planned and has a purpose.
Where does your inspiration come from?
First of all, my heritage as a Brazilian woman, born to European immigrants who escaped the Holocaust, comes through in my use of color and in the themes of my works. A lot of my inspiration comes from things I read and learn. For example, when I first started making ketubot (sin. ketubah, marriage contracts), I learned a lot about the meaning of a ketubah, its history and its holiness.
When a couple comes to me to make a ketubah, I want to make a piece that is unique to the couple and has a Jewish essence. Thus, we discuss things like their color and style preferences, stories of how they met or that are meaningful to them, their Hebrew names, their Jewish background, and so on. I try to incorporate all these elements into the ketubah’s art so that it’s a piece of art truly custom- made, and that reflects the Jewish essence of that couple.
I see it as a holy work. I’m creating something that represents the marriage between a Jewish man and woman, and something that will remain as a heritage in their families throughout the generations. One thing that I like to do in many ketubot is something I learned from the Ketubot of the Jews from Iran. That is, to incorporate around it, berachot (blessings) for the couple, each a word in Hebrew calligraphy and corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
More recently I started working on a series about Yiddish expressions. I’ve collected books about Yiddish sayings and expressions for a very long time. I always wanted to incorporate the wit and humor of Yiddish sayings into my art somehow. It took a long time for me to find a way to depict the meaning of some of these expressions in a visual way. I am very excited about this new series. I think Yiddish is so much a reflection of how a Jew thinks, and I’m excited to be able to capture that and inspire people to look at Yiddish as something relevant to their lives and not something of the past. There’s a wonderful interview that talks about this new series that I’m so excited to be creating currently. (You can find it here.)
Tell us about your progression and development as an artist.
I grew up in a very artistic home. My father was a Yiddish poet and my mother was a painter and they were art collectors. Our home was filled with art. They loved to buy art from emerging artists and see how the artists progressed over time. I always drew and took art lessons, but I studied Architechture. When I was doing my masters in Urban Design at Washington University in St. Louis, I came across an exhibit by an Israeli artist who did ketubot and amulets. In South America, I had never seen such Jewish art. I had seen work by artists that painted images of Rabbis and things of that nature, but it wasn’t something that I was ever attracted to. I loved what I saw there.
I started reading about ketubot and I took Hebrew calligraphy classes. When my sister got married I made her ketubah. I started making ketubot for friends and family. When I moved to Houston, I enrolled in the Glassel School of Art to improve the art of the Ketubot. My first professor was one of the best watercolorists in Houston, Mr. Arthur Turner. He made us choose something that was important and significant, something very personal, and do art on that subject throughout the semester. I wanted to do something Jewish.
As I was thinking, I came across a book explaining the meaning behind the Hebrew Alphabet. I had never known how much meaning and depth there was behind the Hebrew letters. So, I began my work on art based on the Hebrew letters.
At the same time, I became friends with an Israeli lady from Afghanistan and she showed me her great-grandmother’s ketubah and it was breathtaking. It was elaborate and beautiful. I thought to myself, that making a ketubah is not just like making a painting that people can change here and there as tastes or decor might change. A ketubah is not just art, it’s part of the Jewish heritage of that family. And that idea really stuck with me. And, as I progressed with my work with the letters, I started incorporating Hebrew sayings and blessings into my art.
Recently I’ve done anniversary ketubot. These are beautiful because I’ll incorporate symbols that speak about the couple, as well as their children.
Who is your favorite artist?
My favorite artist is Marc Chagall. He is the perfect Jewish artists. His art always incorporated his Judaism. My father knew him. They were part of the same social circle back in Paris. My father would say he could recognize all the Jewish sayings and ideas that were incorporated within a piece by Chagall. Maybe that stuck with me as a young child as inspiration.
Any tips you can give JLP readers?
1- Perseverance: when you’re attracted to doing something, persevere. Keep at it. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it, the more creative you will get, and the more you will achieve.
2- Explore the richness of our heritage: in anything you do, you can find how to imbue it with Jewish meaning and wisdom.
Thank you, Deborah!
Today’s profile is just a snippet of how much Deborah has to teach us about her work. Deborah’s work can be found private collections in the U.S., South America and Israel, as well as several synagogues and Jewish buildings. Finally, I want to add that Deborah’s beautiful work on the three mitzvot of the Jewish woman was made into a beautiful mosaic that adorns Houston’s women’s mikvah Tahraras Yisroel. It is just breathtaking!
You can see more of Deborah Rolnik Raichman’s work in her website www.rolnikraichman.com and FB page. I think her work is so beautiful and after talking with her and having had a personal tour through her work, I am just mesmerized with the creativity, the depth, and devotion that goes into each piece. I would love to own a piece of Deborah’s art one day in my home.
Enjoy this wonderful video on Deborah.
Have a beautiful Shavuot and a Kabalat Ha Torah B’Simcha U B’Penimiut!