For her latest creative motivation, artist Florence Weisz has trained her artistic sights on Israel. “I am now working on a new series of collages whose imagery and inspiration come from Jerusalem,” said Weisz. “Like all my art, these abstract works are composed using a grid structure, building square by square until a whole coherent composition is produced. What is different here is that I am for the first time creating work with content important to me as a Jew.” So said local artist Florence Weisz in a recent discussion with NJJN of her latest series, “If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem.”
Weisz has been creating mixed-media collages since the early 1980s. As she explained, “I pour alcohol-based inks onto paper and let the intricate, organic colors and textures form on their own. Then I incorporate other media, such as photography, into the pieces.”
The next step is arranging the resulting images into a nine-squared grid: “I love the flexibility of the grid,” said Weisz. “With this format I can arrange and rearrange the individual squares in any order. I try to integrate the photos and the ink so that you can’t tell which is which. I may flip a photo or use only part of it. In the end, even I don’t know the source of the image.
“My work doesn’t fall into neat categories,” said Weisz, whose work can currently be seen at “in’ter-ak’tiv,” a show at Seton Hall University’s Walsh Library Gallery in South Orange that will run through mid-December. She has completed commissioned works for corporations and public spaces, and her paintings can be seen in museums and galleries in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.
Layers of meaning
Weisz has been working on her “Jerusalem” series for about a year; the idea came to her following a trip to Israel she took with her synagogue in December 2004. “The Rabbi volunteered me to be the trip photographer, so I dutifully took pictures of everything we saw,” said Weisz. “A few months later, we had a reunion and I saw the photographs. The pictures I had taken of Jerusalem stones some from the Western Wall, some from other structures were particularly moving to me. They planted the seeds of an idea for a new series.”
Unlike other works Weisz has created, “If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem,” a series of nine (and counting) grids, is not a commissioned work. She said, “One of the most wonderful aspects of this series is that I’m working without a deadline. There are no distractions or outside influences. I’m doing this to please myself, letting the art direct me rather than having outside pressures interfering.”
Jerusalem clearly looms large in Weisz’ consciousness. As she explained, “I lived there for eight years several decades ago; this series is based on my experiences there. It has layers of meaning for me intellectual, aesthetic, and emotional.”
Weisz first arrived in Israel in 1962 as part of a ZOA summer program. She fell in love with Jerusalem and returned four years later under the auspices of Sherut La’am, a yearlong volunteer program sponsored by the World Zionist Organization. “I asked the program leaders to be in or near Jerusalem, having something to do with art. I was placed in a Youth Aliya village and became an art teacher within a special-ed framework. My program ended in 1967, right after the Six Day War.
“It was so exciting to be in a united Jerusalem that I wound up staying another seven years. I met my husband there; we bought our first apartment in Beit Hakerem. He had studied industrial and environmental design and wanted to get some experience in the field in the United States or Europe.”
Weisz had moved to South Orange as a teenager and her parents still lived there, so, she said, it was a logical place to relocate to. “We’ve lived here for 32 years and raised our two sons here.”
Weisz returned to Jerusalem in the spring of 1995 as one of 17 artists from nine countries selected to participate in Israel’s Second International Ceramics Biennial. Working at the Negev Ceramics Factory in Beersheva, she created Rainbow for Beersheva, a 193.5-foot-long ceramic tile mural using all the colors of the rainbow for the west fence of the Yad LeBanim cultural center there. “I was not a ceramicist, yet in five weeks I had to complete a work two-thirds the size of a football field.” While the studio provided her with space, materials, and technical assistance, “it was still one of the scariest, most difficult, and ultimately most rewarding things I’ve ever done.”
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