Digital prints that give thanks
by Laura Bartlett
It's not surprising that local artist Miriam Brysk's artwork is all about life. As a child she was one of an estimated 500 Jews who escaped the Nazis' Jewish ghetto in Lida, Byelorussia, about 200 miles northeast of Warsaw. It is said that about 300 people, including Brysk and her family, managed to find sympathetic partisan forces hiding in the forests around Lida. Most of the rest of the ghetto's roughly 10,000 residents were executed or shipped to the Majdanek concentration camp. When Lida was liberated by the Russians in 1944, the survivors in the forests numbered around 150.
Blessings, Brysk's exhibit of nineteen digital art prints on display at the Jewish Community Center's Amster Gallery, represents a departure from her earlier works that, in her words, "depicted the raw pain of childhood experiences." Created with graphic illustration software on a computer, the prints show joyful psychedelic images of plants or glowing abstract, fractal-like designs.
Mysterious Source nests yellow rings around a central seedlike form. The plantlike image resembles the poetic nature images of Georgia O'Keeffe, who Brysk says "more than anybody" became an influence on her during a sojourn Brysk made in New Mexico after immigrating to America in 1947.
The Radiance shows a cluster of pitcher plants blazing in unrealistic parrot colors of turquoise, fuchsia, and cobalt blue against a bubbly background of cream and pink blotches. This dazzling version of an everyday plant suggests that life might look this way if its beauty were fully appreciated.
As in all digital artworks, the prominence of the medium threatens to eclipse the subject matter. Their unfamiliar newness and artificial, computer-y look distract the viewer from the subject and raise the question of whether a digital image, created and colored with software, is really art. But to Brysk, "it's every bit as real. It's just a new medium you can use a pencil to draw, or a computer."
Small cards with devotional thoughts next to
each work help refocus the viewer on the subject matter. The card for Ode to Joy echoes Psalm 126: "Our mouths filled with song, our tongues overflowing with joy." Another reads, "It is ours to praise, the beauty of the world." The cards continue: "The divine abounds everywhere and dwells in everything," "The sun rises and the sun sets, and glides back to where it rises."
Sunrise (above) shows radiant beams flooding a sky filled with ribbonlike multicolored clouds that suggest hymns in visual form. Three incongruous and ominous stripes of shadow accompany the beams of light. Given that Brysk says the Holocaust has "colored everything in my life" and was "the driving force behind all of my art," the shadows suggest vestiges of a childhood terror that six decades later is ineradicable.
The works are on display through February 28.
[Originally published in February, 2003.]