Two-and-a-half years ago, Sossie Vanek was living in Santa Monica, California, and dreaming of starting a new life. She seems to have succeeded.
Vanek made aliya, settled down in Jerusalem, and now has a new art studio, several new paintings, a newly published book, a clothes-designing and local arts-andcrafts business and, as if all of that weren’t enough, a new husband. And she is just getting started.
Vanek is 55 years old, looks around 30, and laughs frequently with the voice of a girl in late adolescence.
“I’m kind of a late bloomer in many ways. So I’m sort of going through a delayed adolescence right now,” she says. “It might also be good genes.”
She was born into a modern Orthodox family in the heavily Jewish Fairfax neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Her father was a Holocaust survivor from a town near Prague. Named somewhat loosely after her paternal grandmother, Vanek grew up attending Hebrew day schools and was active in Bnei Akiva. She came to Israel for the first time when she was 15, and attended university here for two years in the 1980s. “But my father, a clinical psychologist, wanted me to go to grad school in the States and become a clinical psychologist too.” After a stint at New York University, Vanek obediently got her master’s degree at Yeshiva University’s Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology. “Because I was brought up as a good girl,” she says with her infectious laugh.
But folk wisdom teaches us that what is within you will sooner or later find its way out. And thus it was during those years in New York that Vanek realized she wanted to be an artist and not a psychologist. She began taking classes at Parsons School of Design and at the New School. She got married, had two children and lived in the US for the next 17 years, slowly developing her art.
And then her life changed. “I split up from my ex-husband and I decided to come back to Israel.
When I was married, it wasn’t an option. But when we divorced, my first thought was, ‘Oh my God, I’ve always wanted to live in Israel!’ I never forgot about it.
I even used to listen to Israeli music when I painted. It was a dream, and I made it happen.”
A large part of what is making that happen is art.
Vanek cites Matisse and Chagall as being major influences, but says she is trying to find her own voice. And thus far she has been looking for that voice in cafés, painting café scenes with oil and acrylic on canvas. “I like cafés. I feel that a café is like an oasis. Whatever is going on in life, a café is a place where people seem to be able to relax. You can be solitary, or you can be with someone. Either way, you can feel comfortable. I also like the whole observation aspect, to see other people interacting. And I enjoy seeing different examples of friendship between people. You can look at a couple, their body language, and tell that they’ve been friends for a really long time. You can look at another and tell they’re on their first date. These are the kinds of things I like to capture in a painting.”
Vanek has been a figurative artist for most of her career, she says, but has been exploring abstract for the past four years. “This reflects a different approach, a different side of me. There’s no conceptual aspect to this growing body of work – pure color and form, and seeking to give delight. I hope that when the painting is on the wall, it’s bringing life, vitality and beauty to the room.”
Asked whether talent can be taught or must be innate, she replies, “I think that all you need is the desire.
I strongly believe in intuition and being led by certain feelings. I think that desire itself indicates whether it’s apparent yet that there’s some sort of hidden ability, or something that needs to be expressed. That’s what may be even more important than talent – the drive.”
Moving forward in her development as an artist, Vanek hopes to continue both her figurative and abstract approaches to painting, and perhaps get them somehow to merge. “Up to now they’ve been sort of parallel. I’d like to get them to meet, maybe in some paintings of abstract cafés,” she says.
But painting is not the only iron that she has heating in the proverbial fire. She has just completed a book, both in English and Hebrew, of her artwork, and has opened an art studio – to which everyone is invited. With the help of a grant from the Aliya and Integration Ministry, Vanek has created the The Pink, Yellow and Blue Philosophy Studio, in which, she says, “I have my work space where I can paint and also do clothing design. There’s a couch where people can hang out and make themselves some coffee or tea in the kumkum while they are watching me work.
“Once a month, on the last Friday of the month, from 11 in the morning till 12:30, I will experiment with hosting ‘The Artist’s Way’ gatherings. The group will be free and people just need to reserve a spot.
There are nine spots. I’m hoping this could become a friendly, supportive new circle for the numerous eccentrics in Nahlaot and Jerusalem. For purchase in the studio are pieces of art, from original paintings to hand-printed coffee cups, journals and clocks – all made in Israel to support the local economy.”
Vanek has a personal reason for wanting her new venture to succeed. She is now married to Rabbi Micha Odenheimer, founder and CEO of Tevel b’Tzedek, a non-governmental organization based in Israel that promotes sustainable development in Nepal through community assistance projects and training. She says, “I got married this past summer, and now my new husband is hoping he can retire and become a writer, now that I’m starting my business. I like that he believes in me! And I hope I can support him in his new career by being successful.”
And with that kind of drive and commitment, successful she will be.
The Pink, Yellow and Blue Philosophy studio is at 18 Nissim Behar Street, Jerusalem; 058-624-6811, firstname.lastname@example.org.