By Duncan Elkinson
It was Jan. 19, 2010, when Bruria Finkel and a friend were driving to a luncheon in Palm Springs. Just after leaving Interstate 10, they began the last leg of their journey on Highway 111.
Shortly after making the merge, the pair encountered rain and heavy wind. The car they were in began to swerve. Finkel slammed on the brakes. The car skidded, left the road and rolled over as it bounced down a ravine.
In that moment, Santa Monica artist, feminist, and activist Bruria Finkel’s life changed forever.
Bruria Finkel’s “The Past Four Years: Shadows, Skins, Meditations, Videos” is an exhibition of the pieces that Finkel has produced in the four years since her accident.
The show, which opened this past Saturday night at Santa Monica’s ARENA 1 Gallery, is worthy of scrutiny not only to celebrate the healing of a beloved artist and neighbor but as a valuable look at the recent works of an artist who is in her prime.
In “Shadows,” Finkel gives us a forthright accounting of the accident and the struggles which followed.
In digital prints we witness the car on its side, the X-ray of her now fused vertebrae, photographs of the medical halo that was affixed to her skull and even views of scars left by the surgery.
We feel Finkel’s agony that comes with losing 40 per cent of mobility in her neck. The effect is one of numbing reportage worthy of the best police blotter or insurance adjuster’s summary.
In the same room are Finkel’s iPhone photographs of her own shadow. Her shadow, always with knit cap, halo and frame, is seen specter – like by pools, palm trees and grass, serving to remind us that life moves on and new mediums are to be utilized.
One symbolic shot, “On the Wall,” finds an elongated shadow peering at a grapevine in winter, espaliered like the Tree of Life against the artist’s garden wall.
“Skins” finds Finkel revisiting old themes with new mediums.
Hands have been a recurring subject in the artist’s work, no doubt a testament to her fine training at New York State’s acclaimed Alfred University.
Here, she has paired digital prints on handmade paper of hands with tree trunks.
Old hands, withered hands, young, smooth hands and tattooed hands – both decorative and polemic are paired with corresponding barks in a playful yet prayerful metaphor of the diverse and temporal nature of life.
In the same gallery, Finkel displays her noble, seven digital print series “Pear Time.”
The three-month shelf life of a single pear is recorded on three-foot high prints.
We watch as the fruit fades from majestic splendor to petri dish specimen. The illuminating series is not so much the chronicle of a withering pear as an example of nature’s powers of transfiguration.
In “Meditations,” she returns to trusted themes, processes and mediums.
Finkel draws on her decades old Kabalistic relationships in her series “Permutations on the Hebrew Alphabet.”
A native of Jerusalem, she has both studied and drawn that alphabet since her youth.
In these pieces, she allows herself the parameters of circles, colors and a grid; then losing her mental self she is touches a deeper resource to produce the finished work.
Here, she uses handmade and hanhnemuhle papers with colors from acrylics, gold paint, gold leaf and permacolor pencils.
At times the shapes and colors obscure the grid; other times, the grid encloses the circles and colors. The result is a mind map of the transcendental landscape of the artist’s soul.
During her recovery from the traumatic accident, Finkel accompanied fellow artist Astrid Preston on monthly visits to Southern California’s famous Descanso Gardens.
In “Videos,” Finkel adds movement to her mix of color, light and form.
Her use of an iPad video camera summons the artist in all of us to a day of contemplation on the powers of renewal to be found in nature.
An artist walk through and gallery talk is scheduled for Saturday, July 12, from 2-3 pm. The exhibit runs through July 26, 2014.
ARENA 1 Gallery is located at 3026 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica. For more information, call 310.397.7449 or visit arena1gallery.com.