TV star Lisa Edelstein’s art exhibit shows her Jewish family

TV star Lisa Edelstein’s art exhibit shows her Jewish family
TV star Lisa Edelstein’s art exhibit shows her Jewish family

JTA — Like many of us left without plans during the initial COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, Lisa Edelstein spent some of her time digging through old family photographs. But instead of just basking in nostalgia, she was also on the lookout for her next painting project.

Since then, the actress, known for her often-Jewish roles on several hit TV shows — from “House” to “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” to “The West Wing” and “The Kominsky Method” — has produced paintings that recreate old photos of his Jewish family. She’s showing them at her first solo art exhibition, titled “Family,” at the SFA Advisory Art Gallery in midtown Manhattan through Jan. 25.

“I don’t think there’s any way my Jewishness is part of what I do or do, whether or not I intend to be part of it,” Edelstein says. “Almost every role I get becomes Jewish if it lasts long enough. I don’t consider myself a Jew so obviously, but my name definitely says so and I don’t mind.

His Jewish identity also shines through in his paintings. Like the photos they are inspired by, they capture family members in candid moments, often at group events. There are works of men in yarmulkes kissing family members on the cheek at a party, of a woman in the middle of a phone call, of children and adults stuffing their faces in a pizzeria.

“What I’m looking for are those images that tell a more honest story, a captured moment, an odd angle, an awkward pose,” Edelstein said. “We don’t have pictures like that anymore, the world is too good with cameras and our phones are so high-tech that we can just delete things that tell stories we’d like to forget or filter them into something else. . Back when we were shooting photos on film, each photo took time, effort and money to produce, so even though we hated it, we tended to keep it, at least in a box somewhere. These are the ones I’m looking for. »

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Edelstein, 56, grew up in Wayne, New Jersey, in a conservative Jewish family observing all holidays and Shabbat.

“Although I was raised with a healthy Jewish identity, it was not without embarrassment and apology,” she said. It didn’t help that the local school board leader, who later became mayor, published an article in a local newspaper telling people not to vote for Jewish school board candidates because they would cancel Christmas.

Alan Arkin and Lisa Edelstein play father and daughter in “The Kominsky Method,” from creator Chuck Lorre. (Mike Yarish/Netflix/JTA)

“The way people talk about Jewish women in particular, with for example the word JAP [a derogatory term used to describe young Jewish women], is really disgusting. On some level, I think there was a feeling that I had to disassociate myself from that identity so that I wasn’t that thing that people associated with that identity,” she said.

She considered changing her name when she moved to Los Angeles in 1991, thinking it might help her career. But she said that would have taken away any sense of real success. It was letting Hitler win, she said.

She has since faced anti-Semitism in her career, from being lumped into a non-specific “ethnic” category early in her career, to not getting a job because they already had a Jewish actor – and two Jews were also considered one Jew of many.

A few years ago, Edelstein posted an old photo of herself with her mother and two siblings on Instagram for her mother’s birthday, and it happened to be in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. . She received death threats in public comments, which she deleted, on the post.

“And lately, painting a yarmulke seems like a radical move, not to mention painting an El Al logo or even just Jewish faces. It’s suddenly bold to be publicly Jewish,” she said.

“Celebration”, by Lisa Edelstein. (Courtesy of SFA Advisory via JTA)

But she wasn’t afraid to exhibit Jewish-themed artwork. She was more nervous about the whole project in the first place.

“Actresses are a breed that people love and love to hate, so you just don’t know what the public reaction will be. But I felt very supported within the arts community, at least the one I’m in,” she said.

Edelstein enjoyed drawing as a child and teenager, but she didn’t continue after high school. It wasn’t until the pandemic shut down that she returned to the art form in earnest. It started out by buying adult coloring books to pass the time, but she didn’t like the pictures in them and decided to create her own. Her husband, Robert Russell, an artist himself, pushes her to do more, and the images get bigger and bigger, until she moves from magic marker to watercolour.

Russell always encouraged her to do things – when they first started dating, he asked her to draw him a picture about a week into their relationship. Always adept at using photography as a starting point for her work, she presented him with a drawing of herself as a four-year-old sitting on the beach holding a crab. (He had given her a painting of two doves on their second date.)

“Suddenly I realized that I had permission to do this stuff, not because he gave it to me, but because I always had it,” Edelstein said.

She will continue to act, write and direct, but she also wants to continue in her new career. Edelstein is toying with the idea of ​​adding designs to a Passover Haggadah she wrote for her family and updated every year. If she published the Haggadah for public consumption, the designs could turn the Seder book into a kind of coloring book for little children.

“I have a lot of energy, so I’m ready for anything,” she said. “And I think it’s important to consider all of those things as one. It’s just different ways my body comes up with ideas. Each feeds the other. »

. The exhibition art star television Lisa Edelstein shows family jewish

. star Lisa Edelsteins art exhibit shows Jewish family

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