Budding reflections: Maureen Fain sheds light and plenty of color on our lives

The multi-hued petal spread comes courtesy of Maureen Fain, a longtime Jerusalem-resident South African-born artist with the creative means and skills to impart it palpably to the public.

 FADED BOUGAINVILLEA. (photo credit: MAUREEN FAIN)
FADED BOUGAINVILLEA.
(photo credit: MAUREEN FAIN)

There is plenty of color to be had over at the Jerusalem Theatre these days. As you enter by the revolving door, hang a right and mosey over to the whiteboard-backed display area, just off the foyer, and enter a world of scintillating polychromatic flora.

The multi-hued petal spread comes courtesy of Maureen Fain, a longtime Jerusalem-resident South African-born multidisciplinary artist with a rich professional and personal backdrop, and the creative means, skills and seasoned nous to impart it palpably to the public. 

The current exhibition on the ground floor of the theater complex is well-named. Reflective Meditations says it all although, when you think about it, that could apply to just about any work of art. But, in Fain’s case, it is well deserved.

There is so much going on in Fain’s watercolors. The paintings are awash, if not swamped, with different shades. But, somehow, there is no sense of being assailed by all the details that, presumably, were painstakingly applied.

Reflective Meditations was spawned in trying circumstances. OK, again, one might venture that all creative processes involve some sort of labor pains. However, in Fain’s case, the trials were both corporeal and very close to home. “These works were all painted during the last two-and-a-half years,” she explains in her exhibition notes. “My darling husband of almost 50 years, Dick, (of blessed memory) was ailing. We were largely confined to our home and I was his sole caregiver.”

 MAUREEN FAIN. (credit: Fain family) MAUREEN FAIN. (credit: Fain family)

This, of course, was all being enacted while the outside world was in complete disarray, as lockdown followed lockdown, with all kinds of Health Ministry-imposed strictures on the normal run of things. 

Fain has talked about how she doesn’t work too hard on her creations. She says the paintings, sculptures and ceramics she produces sort of make themselves. She adds she had a beloved partner in fruitful crime. “I used to call my husband ‘the enabler,’” she chuckles. That, she notes, is a direct result of the support Dick provided, on an emotional and fundamentally existential level. “He was financially successful, so I was free, free of the constraints of having to sell.”

That reminded me of one of these proverbial email bottom liners that used to do the rounds. It ran something like: “Dance as if no one is watching you. Love as if you have never been hurt. Work as if you don’t need the money.” Sage advice and all well worth putting into practice, even if it is easier said than done.

There is, indeed, a feeling of lightness about Reflective Meditations with curator Dr. Batsheva Goldman-Ida, tellingly, translating the title from the Hebrew “He’ara” – Enlightenment. There is, indeed, something light – in the emotional and physical illuminative sense of the word – about the couple of dozen or so strong spread.  

BUT ANY idea that Fain just picked up a paintbrush one fine day and set off on her creative path should be summarily scotched. The woman has paid her educational, and hands-on, dues. Fain hails from Durban, South Africa and graduated, with honors, from Natal College of Art. She took advantage of an overseas study scholarship and spent a year at the Central School of Art, in London, learning about the ins and outs of stage design. 

Fain's background and aliyah process

The political situation back in South Africa was not too healthy – apartheid was a constant ugly and violent presence across the country – and Fain duly made aliyah in 1969, settling in the German Colony, then not even a shadow of the desirable real estate stronghold it eventually became.

 SUNSHINE PLATE. (credit: MAUREEN FAIN) SUNSHINE PLATE. (credit: MAUREEN FAIN)

Ever eager to delve into related fields, Fain earned a degree in art history from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and set about carving her own niche on the Israeli arts scene. Between producing watercolors, oils, sculptures, illustrations and pottery items, she has imparted some of her accrued experience and life wisdom to younger generations, including as a staff member of the Israel Museum, to advanced students in the Adult Art Program.

She took her bow, as an exhibitor, at the Israel Museum in 1994, and has had shows in the US and Germany. Her work also resides in private collections in North America, Europe and Africa.

That is pretty impressive, especially as the world might have easily missed out on the beauty of Fain’s pictures. “I stopped working in art for 20 years,” she notes. “My husband didn’t even know I’d been an artist when we met.” 

That was not just down to family responsibilities – Fain has four children. There were extraneous conditions, as well as personal perceptions, which stymied her way forward in her chosen field. “I just felt I wasn’t good enough,” she states.

I found that hard to digest as I looked around at the delightful, deftly crafted paintings in the theater exhibition space. I asked for a bit of clarification. It seems it wasn’t just about how Fain viewed her output. “I realized you had to be really ambitious. You had to be a star and you really had to promote yourself aggressively.”

 COBALT VASE and lemons. (credit: MAUREEN FAIN) COBALT VASE and lemons. (credit: MAUREEN FAIN)

That wasn’t Fain’s cup of tea but, thankfully, a couple of decades on she rediscovered her bent for creative endeavor. It would have been a shame, to say the least, not to have caught her current floral rollout.

She studied anatomy and has a penchant for nudes and portraits. A leaflet at the exhibition bears a wonderful example of the latter on one side. You don’t just get the facial topography, you almost feel as if you know the sitter. Emotional expression and character come powerfully through.

NOW IN her seventies and, despite her recent travails, exuding plenty of joie de vivre, Fain is a dab hand at portraying the passage of time, including the ravages thereof. The “Faded Bougainvillea” item in the exhibition clearly conveys that, especially when set against another watercolor with the same floral genus, at an earlier more colorful stage of life.

Perhaps it is Fain’s deep understanding of the nuts and bolts of the objects she paints, and an innate grasp of color, that enables her to present them in much of their finer detail, especially in an ostensibly crowded setting, but without giving the viewer a sense of information overload. Reflective Meditations leaves you feeling happy, calm and enriched.

“These paintings are an affirmation of life and its joys, in spite of its desperate sorrows,” Fain says. Well and encouragingly put.

Reflective Meditations closes on September 12. For more information: https://maureenfainart.com/maureen-fain-cv/