Heather Ellyard Photo Title : Heather Shain Ellyard
Link: home
link: exhibitions
link: visual notations
link: texts
link: cv
link: contact


notes on Judaic work 1990 –2000

Q. Where are you going then?
A. Always home. Philosophy is in essence
homesickness, a longing everywhere to be at home.

Everyone comes from somewhere and that place leaves marks. I grew up in Cambridge Massachusetts. Four streets from Harvard, the oldest university in America, founded in 1636. And two more streets from Christ Church where George Washington prayed. I was not a Jewish Princess. But I did go, three afternoons a week, to Hebrew School and I did fill the coin-tree with my ‘dimes’ to send to Israel. Until I was 14, I observed the Judaic way of my grandparents, by choice. After that, I went further and further away until by 17, I was gone from the Tribe into a bohemian zone, where poetry was my spiritual guide.

I will tell you about my Tshuvah, Return, because I have been invited to write about my ‘art practice’ and it is through art, particularly since coming to Melbourne, that I have reclaimed my Tribal roots. For decades I was a lapsed Jew, though I have been told that there is no such thing. During those years, I was not only secular but also oblivious to the Calendar and its Festival intent.

Not until preparing my first show in Melbourne, from ash into metaphor, at Luba Bilu Gallery in 1991, did I actively begin to think about my Jewishness. I have written notes and statements for each show. The following excerpts mark some of my journey.

I want, by way of empathy and metaphor, to reach out and find my way home: to satisfy that terrible longing for roots.

this work is about unnatural suffering and destruction. I am using the HOLOCAUST as metaphor because that terrible even in human history is the one closest to my own cultural roots.......I need an art which engages in dialogue with contemporary art issues and also stands outside. I need the soul’s language, metaphor, for both art and its contents to work. it is a root-effort: to remember the HOLOCAUST. to transfigure the travesty. to honour the victims. the survivors. and some sense of HOME. the exhibition is called: from ash into metaphor (Luba Bilu Gallery, Melbourne).

I am steeped in trying to learn and absorb and remember the 4000 years of cultural history that are my roots. the millennia are dense with commentary, apparent contradiction, information and sheer poetic license....it seems my way of ‘return’ is through art. (from commentaries in another language and permanent Judaic timeline Jewish Museum of Australia)

I am working my way HOME through art. I am learning who the Jew was and is through this ongoing work (commentaries). I read a lot and forget a lot. I never could hold on to facts. my destiny is metaphors. but I read the facts over and over. I am astonished to the bones to learn how much suffering and persecution there was throughout the Middle Ages for European Jews. how many centuries passed before we were given ordinary rights which, more often than not, were taken away again. it’s not surprising that some of it led to heroic Jewish secular socialism in the 20th century. Hitler’s final solution comes at the end of a long line of ‘solutions’....there is too much to know and I know very little, but I am trying to honour my roots and at the same time say something about the need for Reconciliation.

I am dealing with Jewishness. with Jerusalem, then and now, the Holy City. with gestalts from the Texts. with myself as a lapsed Jew. with art as a process, conceptually based.

1998 (excerpt from Artlink magazine Vol 18 No 1)
the current work finds me at an intense nexus: the place where the real & the invisible meet. the state-of-consciousness where clarity & reverie connect. I gobble whole books of history & mysticism, so that I have both pictures, and then I wait, empty & restless. finally I write. the writing opens the images & I invent little associative visual narratives that move metaphorically into place, the way fragments of condensed language do. this seems to be the way that I love. you know, artists say: I love the smell of turps. or I love colour & form. or I love the way volume appears on a flat surface. or I cannot live without brushstrokes & texture. or I adore light & give my life to it. or I’m zapped by the computer’s versatility. and I too love colour & form & light etc. but it is the associations that link up in various ways, urged by an intensity of consciousness, that I cannot do without. I am crossing a Judaic threshold, not via Observance, but through art. the search for my cultural roots engages my imagination. (from entering the Hebraic-Zone Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide and Span Galleries, Melbourne and from commentaries...)

I believe that knowing the place where one comes from, being at peace with that Tribal identity, gives one the freedom to roam very far, beyond the exclusive cultural boundaries of the Tribe, into the unknown. That is where I trust the soul, that heightened consciousness, to guide me. (from forum on Art & Judaism conceived by Rabbi Shimon Cowen, Melbourne)

Art is a language. a way of absorbing and expressing reality. both inner and outer. Art serves itself, aesthetically, through formal devices; and serves meaning through its intentions, metaphors, signs and icons.

It turns out, finally, after much mapping elsewhere that my language engages with the Jewish Root. Even now, there is still what I call seepage. It enters through a knowing which cannot be erased.

Jewish Museum of Australia
Journal (Vol 8 No 3, october 2003)

  copyright: www.hse-art.com