Artist Robyn Gahr is expanding insight into Judaism
By KIM HENRY
This spring, the aptly named local galley, Art in Bloom, will be collaborating with the 6th Annual Jewish Film Festival by hosting “Jewish Journeys: An Art Exhibit.” Among the featured artists who aim to expand an understanding of Jewish culture and art, is water-color painter Robyn Gahr. Her dynamic body of Judaic art is as full of celebration, layers of history and symbolism as the culture she is representing.
Born in Fayetteville NC, Gahr was one of three children of an artistic mother who inspired Gahr’s life long love of art. “My mom wouldn’t tell us exactly how to do something, she would provide the materials and encourage us to try things for ourselves,” smiles Gahr. Branding herself an artist from the age of four, Gahr studied art all through high school and went on the Virginia Commonwealth School of Art and then to Chicago where she completed her studies.
Watercolor, ink and pencil are her primary choice of materials, although there are often surprises in the vibrant collage and layered effect of some of her pieces. “My art has nothing to do with reason,” she laughs, “I always say that the ideas move though my hands.” Amid the riot of colors and hidden symbolic details in Gahr’s work, you may find a scrap of writing from an old Hebrew book, some glitter or textured handmade paper.
Like most artists, Gahr has had different phases in both her personal and artistic life and her most recent work is a clear reflection of her ever evolving exploration of what it means to be a Jewish woman in 2019. “I identify first and foremost as a Jewish woman. Being Jewish is my history. Judaism is such a rich culture, and I love to share this through my work,” explains Gahr.
Bursting with a sense of celebration, Gahr’s work often features items used in Jewish rituals such as the Shabbat candles, the prayer shawl, (called the ‘talis’ in Hebrew) and the Torah, the Jewish book of prayer. You’ll find delicious looking apples for the Jewish new year and depictions of the changing cycles of the moon to reflect the fact that Judaism follows a lunar calendar, with 13 months in a year.
However, Gahr also points out that most of her current Judaic work begins with a base layer of black and white to represent the more tragic aspects of Jewish history. Not wanting to focus of the holocaust, but certainly wanting to acknowledge its importance, the black and white layer is the starting point for most of her recent work. “There’s a richness in black, it’s very powerful and truthful,” explains Gahr.
Another example of her latest work honoring history, and one’s personal story was inspired by a letter that she wanted to write to her daughter and granddaughter. Rather than merely typing an email, she found herself drawing the letter, highlighting significant components with illustrations and adding layers of details to make the words literally leap off the page. For Gahr, arriving at such a prolifically creative time in her life is a direct consequence of her growing connection with Judaism.
While the age old question of whether art reflects life or life reflects art remains, Gahr is a clear testament to the inextricable linking of the two. “It’s taken a long time to get here,” reveals the artist, while at her home/studio where she is surrounded by her dynamic work, “but I finally feel that there is no separation between different area’s of my life. My spirituality, my history, my work, my culture – they are finally all connected, and I love it. It’s a very exciting time for me!” This excitement and rapid sense of movement in Gahr’s work is undeniable. She also tributes this to the fact that she was a sculpture major, (“I learned to paint from being inside everything I made!”) a dancer and that she has a slight tremor in her right hand. Rather than experiencing this as a disability, Gahr feels that it informs her work with a vital energy.
Reminding us of the importance of diversity and taking time to understand different cultures, the Art in Bloom Exhibit is a welcome local event. “When people think of the Jewish people, they rarely think of artists,” a final word from the artist herself, “I think this exhibit is a wonderful way to expand our insight into Judaism and is an ideal complement to the film festival. I hope that people will enjoy it!”