Painting for her life

After losing two sons to cystic fibrosis, beginning to paint in her 50s has been a life saver for Michal Sharan.

Michal Sharan (center) at the exhibition opening with some of her childhood friends (photo credit: Courtesy)
Michal Sharan (center) at the exhibition opening with some of her childhood friends
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It is not uncommon to come across artists who are totally dedicated to their creative output and declare that their art is their raison d’etre. But for Michal Sharan, her art is quite literally a lifesaver.
On Sunday, the 58-year-old Jerusalemite opened a new exhibition of her work called “Going against the Wind” at the Beck Science Center in Har Hotzvim. The show will run for three weeks.
“This art thing is very new for me,” says Sharan. “Four years ago I knew nothing about all this art.”
It was in 2010 that Sharan’s world began to fall apart.
She had already been through a harrowing divorce, but that year the first of her identical twin sons, Tal, died due to complications brought on by cystic fibrosis at the age of 25. Tal’s brother, Amir, who was also born with CF, died two years later. Sharan was left alone in the world.
“It was an emotional release for me to create,” says the artist. “Before my sons died, I had no idea I had this artistic talent.”
Sharan had actually already tried her hand at photography and writing. The latter began long before, and she received a nudge in the direction from a graphologist.
“He told me I needed to do something with my hands,” recalls Sharan. “I laughed at him. I had no idea what he was going on about.”
But she suddenly remembered her incipient literary exploits, and it seems they weren’t too bad.
“I started writing when I was 12,” she says. “One thing with me is that I don’t mess around. I always come out with my own truth, no matter what. My writing is uncluttered. I say what I mean, and I mean what I say.”
The same can clearly be said about her art, which covers a range of disciplines and genres. While “Going against the Wind” is an exhibition of paintings – 100 of them – Sharan’s ever-burgeoning artistic oeuvre also incorporates ceramics, photography and sculpture, which includes works made from stones she finds on the beach. It is as if once she discovered her artistic bent, the valve simply flew off the pressure cooker of her emotions and her creativity, and she threw herself into her newfound avenue of expression.
That is patently evident in “Going against the Wind.” There are paintings of simple joy, of seemingly bottomless anguish, love, despair, innocence and rage.
Sharan also has no boundaries when it comes to genre.
In fact, she does not even acknowledge them. There are pictures that seem to feed straight off Cubist ideals, there is the odd Surreal-oriented effort, colors and sentiments that tend towards the Impressionist area, abstract works and others that appear blissfully naive.
In many ways, the latter ethos appears to be the most fitting for Sharan. Despite all the trials, tribulations and pain she has experienced, she retains somewhat of a childlike approach to life. When she discovers something new, she pounces on it, and all her ideas and emotions come out in torrents.
“Everything I do starts from emotions and goes to emotions. It’s the same with my poetry and my photography, as well as my painting,” she says.
Sharan has an unquenchable thirst for exploring new ideas, new creative departures.
“I can go down to the seashore and pick up stones and make sculptures out of them,” she notes. “I also sometimes pick up things from the street, such as old posters, and fuse them into a work of art.”
There is a poster-based painting in the exhibition.
As if the dire condition of her sons and her painful divorce weren’t enough, when Amir’s health took a turn for the worse and it was decided that he should go to a hospital in Pittsburgh to have a double transplant operation, Sharan was diagnosed with cancer. She eventually made it over to the States, where her exhusband and Amir’s girlfriend were. The latter helped to keep Sharan’s spirits up during the long, drawn-out deterioration of Amir’s condition.
Her road to artistic development has been helped by Yossi Nahari, an art teacher who gives classes at a senior citizens’ home in Gilo, where Sharan’s mother lives. It was there that Sharan and Nahari’s paths first crossed.
Nahari attended the exhibition opening and told the audience about Sharan’s impulsive approach to art and how he was happy to let her go with her natural flow.
Sharan eventually began going to art therapy sessions at the Israel Cancer Association’s facilities in Talpiot, given by Rutie Davis.
“Rutie taught me how to breathe when I paint. She has given me so much and helped me grow, and she has done that for all the other women in the class,” says Sharan.
The “Going against the Wind” exhibition also includes a small area with works by some of Sharan’s art therapy session colleagues.
She says that today, far from feeling cursed by contracting cancer, after all the grief she has endured, she feels it has been a boon.
“I would say I have been blessed by cancer because I have learned so much from it,” she says.
The opening of the exhibition was attended by Sharan’s friends, old and new, her mentors and relatives, including her mother. Sharan’s address at the opening of the event included reference to her sons and the process she went through with them. The two boys are featured in some of the paintings.
“I am so happy to have this exhibition, to show my work to the public,” said Sharan on Sunday. “My sons would have been 30 years old last month. I think they are happy about this, too.” •