"In The Studio With:..." is a weekly feature that takes us into the private creative spaces of emerging artists to discuss their work and career.
Israeli-American artist Shira Toren began pursuing her painting full time after a career in fashion more than a decade ago. In that time her works have been featured in exhibitions in New York, California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and New Jersey, and she has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors. Her practice is primarily based on the act of working with the materials she uses, discovering how they react with one another and to the various techniques she applies. But far from being simply process driven, she also seeks to address societal and personal themes in her paintings.
Her piece, "Airmail II" is currently featured in "Life Sized II: A Small Works Invitational" on display through August 26.
Anthony Philip Fine Art: Your background is in fashion design and textiles. How did you decide to pursue painting and working with the materials you use in your art now?
Shira Toren: My interest in making art started long before I had an interest in fashion. For a period of time it was a way to bring the two disciplines together and earn a living. I was always attracted to tactile materials and reached for them in my design work: linens, jutes, and fine-count cottons. At the same time, I was immensely drawn to monotone prints and woven cloth in stripes and plaids. Looking back, these are through-lines in my work today. I brought my distinct perspective and focus as an artist into my fashion design work, and now I bring my stylistic sense of texture, fibers, and pattern into my painting.
Unusual materials were always of interest to me. I discovered Venetian Plaster and Graphite accidentally about 10 years ago, and developed an eclectic method of applying it to canvas. In some of my recent Envelope paintings, ("Airmail 2" currently at the Anthony Philip gallery) I selected a very fine linen as canvas, and left the base fabric raw and exposed.
APFA: You've said that your art is process driven. How does that relate to the conceptual themes you explore in your paintings
ST: My work starts with the process. It provides a framework for reflection on contemporary issues in abstract form. I may choose to approach and explore different topics like migration, memories, uncertainty about the future, but my practices and process stay pretty much unchanged. It is what grounds me, provides boundaries and lends a layered depth to each piece. At the end of a series of works, I tend to come full circle. In the envelope/migration series I chose to use elements from personal memories and visual imprints.
APFA: One series you have mentioned, the "Envelope Series", deals with migration, immigration, and sense of place. How have your family and your own experiences informed this body of work?
ST: My parents were refugees from Europe following the Second World War and the horrors of the Holocaust. My family suffered great losses of life, poor health, and loss of wealth. I am an immigrant from Israel. Although my own journey was not as hard, I connect deeply with the stories of generations before me and those who make that journey today. The Envelope Series reflects the connection of those who left a place and the ones they left behind. There was always a dual feelings of longing to ones birthplace and the desire for safety in a new land.
I have memories of my parents corresponding by mail with their relatives who were left behind the Iron Curtain. Much anticipated letters appeared at our mailbox few times a year, quite literally bridging worlds. The letters in 'Airmail' envelopes were written on onion skin paper and were routinely censored by the communist governments. It delivered good and bad news, and created a flurry of joy and worry in our household.
APFA: Where do you look for ideas and inspiration before you begin new work?
ST: Inspiration truly comes from everywhere. As I go through the day, travel in the subway, listen to the news or tune inward in my studio. Ideas come. Often they appear quicker than I can put them down on paper. I keep a sketch notebook and visit and revisit my drawings few times. Some will turn into paintings and some will not.
APFA: What do you want viewers to take away from your art?
ST: I am fortunate to be able to express my thought and feeling in a visual way. I would like my work to be part of the conversation about current issues, and at the same time I would like the paintings to invoke connection and feelings of beauty. My work lends a great deal of respect to interpretations by the viewer.
If you would like to find out more about Shira and get art, please visit: shiratoren.com