A life outlined by the paintbrush

With one foot well into the 10th decade of her eventful life, Bloch looks back on years of work as she paces through her crowded living room.

Art by Anne Bloch (photo credit: DORIT RITVO)
Art by Anne Bloch
(photo credit: DORIT RITVO)
The story behind every artist’s craft is intimately linked with her biography.
It is the whimsical outcome of a lifelong interplay between the creator’s own personal experience and the work of her paintbrush upon the canvas.
At the remarkable age of 90, artist Anne Bloch attests to having invested “all [her] deepest passions, imagination and impressions of the world” into her work, chronicling a personal story of tides both high and low through a lifetime’s worth of art.
Born in Mandatory Palestine to Lithuanian immigrants, Bloch, as an infant, moved with her family to South Africa, where she was raised in the Jewish community of Cape Town. Having exhibited from an early age a nearly instinctive bent for painting, Bloch was encouraged to pursue art studies as a schoolgirl, and her latent talent shone through soon thereafter, marking the first few humble steps in a lifelong romance.
But against the backdrop of the tectonic shifts of her day – the Second World War, the Zionist movement rising across the Jewish world and its ultimate vindication in the birth of the State of Israel – Bloch’s personal story became inseparably interlinked with the history of her generation.
At the age of 25, she was betrothed to a young, ambitious doctor and ardent Zionist-Socialist whose sole condition for marriage was that they would make aliya right after their wedding.
So it came to pass that in 1952 the newly minted couple, fresh off the boat, settled in Ashkelon, where Dr. Aaron Bloch was among the founders of what would become the Barzilai Medical Center.
Though she had devoted herself almost entirely to the raising of her three children, Anne never forsook her ardent passion for art. As she herself recalls, “the painting set was always in the living room.”
In the quiet of her private sphere, Bloch slowly honed her skills in a variety of genres, and her repertoire branched out into many exciting new directions. Starting out with oil paintings and later with acrylic, she has explored a myriad of different themes over the years but recounts that trees, plants and all manifestations of nature in general “draw inspiration straight from the depths of [her] heart.”
Her preoccupation with the peace process in more recent years is mirrored by a series of paintings featuring Jews and Arabs, religious and secular folk, blacks and whites, huddled in harmony waving the flags of the world.
An insatiable curiosity for new art forms led Bloch to experiment with embroidery and patchwork, which quickly were numbered among her main crafts. Her insistence on recycling used materials that she deemed reusable was quite unusual at the time; for years she has been soliciting friends and relatives to turn over unwanted clothes and other high-quality fabrics for her creative genius to make something out of.
The delightful results never failed to awe the spectators of her art, particularly those whose old dresses were miraculously reborn as beautiful tapestries and ornaments.
Among her most impressive pieces of patchwork, diligently stitched by hand, is a lively room-sized wall hanging depicting the Genesis story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, with a conniving serpent lurking in the corner.
True to her penchant for recycling, Bloch had toyed with the idea of fashioning countless practical objects out of used materials. Old stockings were stuffed with Acrilan to make charming dolls, whereas used textiles of sundry origins were refurbished to make a seemingly limitless variety of colorful hats. Viewed with her resourceful eyes, what may first appear a useless old garment could prove a treasure if only turned over to the right pair of hands.
The best of Bloch’s work was at last offered for the public to enjoy in a series of exhibitions in Jaffa and Caesarea, orchestrated by her spirited daughter Nava. In her hometown of Ashkelon, it was displayed in open galleries on several occasions over the years, earning her much acclaim in the local community as a fiery-eyed woman with an indefatigable passion for her art.
Any visitor to her house will be awed by the multitude of paintings, tapestries and other delicate pieces that cover the walls and every available spot on a shelf or counter; it is, in Anne’s own words, “nothing short of an art museum.”
But Bloch’s name is well known among Ashkelonites for other reasons. She is still remembered by many as the idiosyncratic art teacher whose unconventional pedagogic methods back in the 1970s at a local junior high school managed to imbue scores of students with a love of art. Presented with some of the local disadvantaged neighborhood’s most unruly teenagers, Bloch routinely employed games and creative exercises to capture their interest and attention.
“I diverted their energies to creating something with their hands – teaching through experience,” she recalls.
To start off a shoe-making workshop, for example, Bloch invited her students to take off their shoes and jumble them all in a pile. Each student was then blindfolded and charged with matching different pairs with the guidance of sense of touch alone. Only then, after having experienced firsthand the different textures and shapes of the materials used to make their own shoes, were the students bidden to design new pairs entirely on their own.
“I loved teaching,” Bloch reminisces. “It was spontaneous and challenging, and demanded constant creative efforts and original thinking.
There was nothing more satisfying than seeing my students dive into the work for four hours straight, even skipping their breaks without noticing.”
Some will be surprised to discover Bloch nurtures yet another lifelong passion in her spare time. Singing, the way she looks at it, is simply yet another channel through which she can express herself creatively. Having worked on the side as a professional opera singer for many years, she has recently begun to use her booming singing voice for new purposes altogether.
She now volunteers as a teacher in a local junior high school, teaching English to eighth-graders interactively through song. It seems that, yet again, her artistic skill and knack for teaching combine to form a distinct style which only she herself can perform so gracefully.
With one foot well into the 10th decade of her eventful life, Bloch looks back on years of work as she paces through her crowded living room, decorated floor-to-ceiling with her own colorful creations.
“I’ve said all I have to say through my artwork,” she concludes decisively.
For more information: www.annebloch.com/index.html