Painting the better angels of our nature

Although it appears somewhat unusual now, Lela Migirov’s life began conventionally enough.

‘Kafka In the Train,’ acrylic. (photo credit: MICHAL SADAN PROART)
‘Kafka In the Train,’ acrylic.
(photo credit: MICHAL SADAN PROART)
Although it appears somewhat unusual now, Lela Migirov’s life began conventionally enough.
Born and raised in Georgia in the former Soviet Union, her family was Jewish, and both of her parents were engineers. At the age of 17 she moved to Russia to study medicine in the city of Nalchik. She graduated summa cum laude with a specialty in otolaryngology.
Migirov married, and in 1992 immigrated to Israel with her husband.
They had a son, now 19 and living in Tel Aviv. At the age of 44, she became a distinguished professor of otolaryngology at Tel Aviv University and a world-renowned ear surgeon at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, shortly thereafter.
In 2011, Migirov found herself in Paris, on sabbatical from TAU and working at the Rothschild Foundation Hospital.
As might be expected of anyone living in Paris, she spent much of her free time exploring the City of Light, visiting its great museums and important art galleries.
With no prior interest in art, Migirov was instantly drawn to the genre of painting and found a teacher after no more than a month in Paris.
“When I arrived at her home, she told me that everything is possible,” says Migirov, by Skype from her current home in Paris. “I asked whether I was too old to begin as an artist, and she said that one can begin anything at any age. So, I started painting there in Paris in 2011.
When I came back to Israel, I took art courses at Wertzberger College School of Arts in Ramat Gan.”
For the next four years, Migirov continued her well-regulated life as a professor at TAU, a surgeon at Sheba, a wife, a mother and an occasional dabbler in art.
There is a now a famous story that when Harry Truman was told that Franklin Roosevelt had died and that he was now president of the United States, he said, “I felt like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me.”
Lela Migirov suddenly had occasion to feel exactly the same way one day in 2015.
“On January 1, 2015, my husband passed away from complications of kidney transplant surgery. To me, this was a sign, perhaps from God, to stop doing all the things I was doing before and turn to something else. Everything I’d been doing before lost its significance to me when my husband died. It was a very dramatic event, and I was deeply depressed. I left medicine and Israel. I arrived in Paris three months after the tragedy.”
In an almost knee-jerk effort to break with her past, Migirov turned first to an artistic exploration of Paris’s culinary delights. Her intellectual curiosity about the workings of some of the best Parisian patisseries resulted in a book, Paris, Eclairs & You: An Artist’s Guide- Book of Haute Pâtisserie Parisienne, published in English, French and Russian editions.
And then she began to paint – and paint and paint and paint. Migirov has managed, in the space of the past 18 months, to organize no fewer than four exhibitions in Paris. One exhibition last March featured 29 paintings, another in June displayed more than 40 paintings. Several more group shows have followed, leading up to her current exhibition at the Ben Ami Gallery at 12 Hahashmal Street, right here in Tel Aviv. Displaying some 50 recent paintings, the exhibition is titled “Suddenly Angels: Intermezzo.”
Migirov explains, “In the past year I’ve been very interested in the writings of Franz Kafka. In one of his stories he says that angels don’t fly, and that it’s only we observers on earth who are unable to imagine them otherwise. This took me to a world of Kafka, an emotional place.
“Angels came suddenly to me in my paintings and I can tell you how it happened the first time. I prepared some gray background on a canvas, and then left it overnight. When I came back in the morning, I took a brush with some black acrylic and discovered angels there. They were there; I merely discovered them. Here in Paris the angels come and go. They go fast, they go slow.
They go like the light of the sun.”
Asked whether there are angels in Tel Aviv, Migirov thinks for a moment and replies, “Yes, I guess there are also angels in Tel Aviv. But here in Paris, this is a city for lonely people. And I was here, lonely enough to accept Kafka’s world. These angels help us to see our inner perfection. They help us survive.”
That explains the “suddenly angels” part of the exhibition’s title, but what about “intermezzo”? Migirov says, “Intermezzo is about this being a short period between ‘two pieces of something.’ I am now in some place, some period in which I have discovered angels. And this is an intermezzo in my life. I don’t know what happens next. I am very eclectic, so I don’t know what I will do in one month.” Indeed, a recent exhibition was inspired, she says, by the song “Black Magic Woman” by 1970s rockand- roll legend Carlos Santana.
“I am very influenced by the people in my life, people I love, music I hear, books that I read. I get inspiration from mind, from soul, from happiness, things around me. So I don’t know what will be in two or three months. So this period of angels, of Kafka, is an intermezzo in my life.”
If this is an intermezzo, it is a very busy one. Her exhibition at the Ben Ami Gallery, running from November 2 to 15, will be followed by another Kafka- inspired exhibition, called “Angels Don’t Fly,” at the Czech Embassy in Tel Aviv on November 22. After that, Migirov has to fly back to Paris, where she is part of a group exhibition of paintings.
Angels are evidently at work here, assisting Lela Migirov.