The eleventh commandment: Thou shalt paint

Local artist Elisheva Shira speaks about infusing art with Torah as part of her first big exhibit.

‘I ALWAYS felt like I’m not doing anything really new. I just take impressionist style and I put it into something Jewish and connect it to ‘kedusha’ or Eretz Yisrael. That’s always been my thing,’ says painter Elisheva Shira (photo credit: BENITA KURSAN)
‘I ALWAYS felt like I’m not doing anything really new. I just take impressionist style and I put it into something Jewish and connect it to ‘kedusha’ or Eretz Yisrael. That’s always been my thing,’ says painter Elisheva Shira
(photo credit: BENITA KURSAN)
Beginning Monday and running through the 29th, the Gallery Al Ha’agam in Ra’anana Park is hosting the multi-artist exhibition, “Moments of Happiness.” The exhibit features sculptors, photographers and painters. One of the featured painters, Elisheva Shira, talks about her artistic journey from America to Israel, incorporating Torah into her paintings, and preparing for her first big show.
When did you first realize that you were an artist?
I started painting at the age of three. I remember my first time, I was in gan [kindergarten] and they put paint in front of me, and I thought, “This is it, fingerpainting!” So my first medium was acrylics.
Growing up, I was always drawing. I didn’t think of myself as an artist then, but I always wanted to do art. Then at 14, I took a craft class.
The teacher was a real artist who was just making money from this class for little kids, just like I do today, actually. She saw that I was really bored, and asked if I wanted to learn to paint. She told me what to buy and I got my first set of oils.
I was really serious about it. I painted my first oil painting and I was hooked. I started painting every chance I got.
When I got to college, I was trying to figure out what to study. I didn’t think art was a “real” direction; it’s just playing with colors, how can I major in that? But then I thought about it, and I realized that I needed to go to art school because that’s what I do. So that was the first time where I really took myself seriously as an artist. I started out at Corcoran, and then I decided to move to New York City because that’s where all the art was happening at the time. So I transferred and graduated from Parsons School of Design.
How would you compare the artist community in New York to the one here in Israel?
I never really found an artist community in Israel! I do like some Israeli art, but the problem with a lot of it is it’s an imitation of American culture and everything I saw back in the states. When I got to Israel and I saw a lot of that stuff it felt not only old, but second-hand.
That’s not to say that there aren’t Israeli artists who are really fine artists. There are a lot of sincere landscapists and Judaica artists who make beautiful, heartfelt work.
Those are the two types of art that most speak to me here. Landscapes are very connected to Eretz Yisrael, and the Judaica artists are very creative and always coming up with new ways to connect to our tradition.
It’s very gutsy and fresh.
It’s also not lost on me that the two types of art I most prefer are the ones I do myself! I don’t feel a connection as much to the more modern secular art because I had already done that in New York. I was looking for something more here.
Can you describe what the preparations have been like for your first big show?
Losing sleep, biting my nails (laughs). I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what’s going to go in the show. Thank God, I have a lot of work and a lot of different kinds of work, so I’ve been choosing how I want to represent myself. It’s my chance to say, “This is who I am.”
Also, I’ve been thinking about how I want to display the pieces.
I’ve chosen 10-12. Basically, having a range of sizes and styles is key to try and give an idea of what I do, which is Judaica, still-life and landscapes.
What are your expectations for this show?
My highest expectation is that I sell every single piece. My lowest expectation is that I get out there, and kind of wet my feet. I feel like I worked really hard to produce and develop my art over the years. So it’s exciting to put it out into the public.
I hope that people come and see it, and that I get a good response. I’m also excited about seeing the other artists’ work and meeting them. I’m glad to be a part of something bigger than my own studio and my own little community.
Who is your favorite artist of all time?
My work is pretty influenced by the impressionists. I particularly love Degas, although I just found out he was an anti-Semite, so that dampened my enthusiasm a little bit. Degas’ paintings were always very inspiring for me. He’s just a master and I read a lot about his process in the past, which heavily influenced my own. The way he uses light is amazing; he’s got this kind of shimmery thing happening.
It’s like the way Jewish musicians will take secular songs and redo them with Jewish words. I always felt like I’m not doing anything really new. I just take impressionist style and I put it into something Jewish and connect it to kedusha [holiness] or Eretz Yisrael. That’s always been my thing. I never claimed to be highly original, but I have my own style, which is to draw from the impressionists and infuse it with Judaism.
Can you talk about your Torah and Art class that you teach at Midreshet Be’erot Bat Ayin?
When they first asked me to teach the class, I was so happy because that’s what it’s about for me: Torah and art. I did have a bit of a challenge at first because I’m not very conceptual. I’m always trying to figure out how to give over a concept in a way that will inspire women to do something. But in the end, just to get people to do art and to connect it to Torah is my goal. In every culture, there are three things: art, music and dance. My feeling is that our culture is so disconnected. They think you have to be the best to do art, but in teaching this class to women of all skill levels, it’s my way of saying that we should all do art because it’s part of life and connect it to Torah because it gives it more meaning.
What is your favorite piece out of all the ones you’ve ever done?
It’s funny because there is one piece that I’ve always been really attached to, and I don’t even know why. I must have done it six or seven years ago now. I always had this strange attachment to it because I feel in some ways that it’s the perfect piece; everything about it works. It’s a woman [reciting] Tehilim [Psalms] while holding a baby. Yes, it’s in the show, but I had a hard time putting it in because I didn’t want to part with it. So I ended up painting a second version, so that I could keep the original.
It’s very personal to me. In a way, it’s a self-portrait. Usually, as time goes by, I like things less, but I never stopped loving this one.
For more information on Elisheva Shira and her work, please visit