Curatorial Texts

The Unimaginable Horizon by Dr. Michael Schmitz| 2022

In her new exhibition, Maya Gelfman explores deep psychological states through a series of non-objective paintings. 
These works can be seen as a form of cartography, maps to hidden places, to blocked paths, to new roads.

 

This marks a shift in Gelfman’s repertoire. Her practice was figurative, symbolic, rooted in researching mythologies as a reference point
to understanding trauma. But in these new paintings, she renounces such practices. This corresponds with profound shifts in her life.

 

In 2017, Gelfman and her partner embarked on an ambitious performative experiment.
They donated their possessions, moved to a foreign country and took an old van as their home. They invited strangers to dictate their route and next interactions, and they created public works that reflected those experiences. The “Serendipity Experiment” lasted 4 years across 100,000 km in the USA. The pandemic found them still on the road. Without a home-base to quarantine in, without the safety net of a family or income, the notion of “embracing uncertainty” took on an even deeper meaning.

 

Having recently settled down again, Gelfman could finally go back to studio work. There, she encountered an inner blockade – past inspirations, techniques and means were no longer accessible. "I felt they were frozen inside me, or rusty. Not being able to fully process all the experiences and changes I had gone through, I could not just pick up from where I left.”

 

The breakthrough came when she stopped trying to “paint something” and shifted to conveying that “rusty, frozen feeling”, when she allowed the subconscious to manifest directly onto the canvas. This unleashed an uninhibited creativity. Fragments of the last five years started stacking on top of each other, layer upon layer. Gelfman painted 25 paintings in 4 months.

 

In a way, her work correlates to current affairs. Our reference system for understanding and dealing with reality no longer applies - strategic concepts are collapsing, conceived certainties disappear, and rationality reaches its limit. Gelfman’s stubborn attempt to find order in the chaos is understandable, as is her desire to believe that these processes of dissolution and disintegration could generate a possibility for re-creation.

 

For Gelfman, as for Hans Hartung or Gerhard Richter, non-figurative paintings are a visualization of inner states as a reaction to the external ones. Each painting is a relationship. A dynamic dialogue between colors and textures, shapes and lines, edges and empty spaces. Without an apparent anchor in the representational world. There are no clear instructions, nor representational keys to read, but these works outline a path, nonetheless. Access arises solely from contemplation, facilitating an entry to the viewer’s own emotional world.
As Frank Stella said: "You see what you see." And we may add: "You feel what you feel."

Metamorphosis by Dr. Rangsook Yoon | 2019

The Metamorphosis exhibition is a part of the 2019 Female Curatorial Series, curated by Dr. Rangsook Yoon and presented by the Downtown Arts District. This Spring-Summer series aims to celebrate the great strides made by women in the art world - in particular, recognizing the contributions made by female curators in the Orlando area.

The Metamorphosis featuring three dynamic women artists, Sun K. Kwak, Maya Gelfman, and Kelly Joy Ladd, highlights the contemporary artists’ use of utilitarian materials for artistic transformation, whether to address personal experiences, metaphysical questions pertaining to the humanity and universe, or art itself as the subject.

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Gelfman’s hand-sewn soft sculpture, Laocoöna and Baoba, pieced together from old leather found among remnants of her partner’s

Russian-Jewish grandfather, poignantly investigates history, identity, representation, and mythology.

The forms and names of the two female figurines, interconnected by their red yarn hair, refer to, critique, and expand the narratives

of these mythological characters drawn from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Gelfman’s expressive abstract paintings, dense with overlapping layers of interlaced networks of various patterns, shapes, and textures,

and obsessive mark-making (which she calls “handwriting”), reject explicit meanings, and rather, invite the viewer to find their own interpretations. Embracing automatism and mapping her journey to make a sense of it, the artist tries to explore her psychological state of mind and create compelling images that convey such emotions.

About her artwork, Gelfman eloquently states, “My work doesn't revolve around my personal story but rather uses it as a trigger and a catalyst

to create objects and spaces that encourage deep contemplation. Through them I want to deal with the dichotomy that one reality can reflect many and that there is no one definition. In that spirit I explore how extremities collide and more importantly how this collision ignites a change,

thus opening a window of opportunity for something new to occur. I see my role as an artist to open as many of these windows as I possibly can.

I wish to be more than an observer, more than a critique of phenomena and cultural mechanisms.

My goal is to suggest and hopefully generate a shift in perspectives. I want to facilitate an honest discussion of fundamental issues such as pain, violence, innocence, diversity and acceptance. All the things we consider clichés gained this dubious status by virtue of being simple truths.

These truths, while subtly altering from person to person, still hold a common thread between us all.”

Split Ends by Raz Samira | 2016

...The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider's web... Pablo Picasso

Maya Gelfman's solo exhibition, as its name implies, deals with the split ends of life, above and below the surface.

Gelfman's works are attracted to powers larger than life: the Greek gods and heroes of mythology, monsters and demons, terrifying forces

of nature like strong winds, quicksand waves. She examines the impact of these forces on the humankind, from the dawn of days to the present day, and argues that the familiar existential struggle, of mortals against external formidable forces, is in fact an internal one.

Split ends will exhibit paintings from the past two years and two large installations. All works are new and have never been exhibited.

The paintings are big, spontaneous, done with bold, expressive colors. They are laden with layers and materials, from acrylic paints to industrial markers and masking tape. …The dichotomy is evident in all layers of the work; both thematically and in the mixing of medias. They juxtaposition strength with fragility, sustenance versus annihilation... (From: Maya Kashevitz, Rise!)

What unites the paintings with the installations is the use of the primary color - red. This color embodies a double meaning - as a color that symbolizes the energy of life (love, youth, blood, fertility, sexuality. It also protects against "evil-eye") and as the color of death (anger, destruction, war, funeral wreaths). Although red permeates the entirety of the work, it is different in each one. A line laid on paper with a brush turns into a line pulled from a ball of yarn. A soft material falls on the floor than suddenly grips things tightly and levers them in the air. The meaning changes and its effect accumulates from painting to painting to installation. This is characteristic with Maya’s work. ...The color is woven into the exhibition and creates a connecting thread, visually and mentally, between the viewer and the work... (From: Maya Kashevitz, Rise!)

At the center of the space there are two installations: Promathea in Chains & Laoocona and Baubo. These large works feature red braids.

In One the braids are dangling from the ceiling, wrapping themselves around a felt rock, in the other, they are swirling in and out of sewn dolls.
Both pieces are intricate, meticulous, and laborious works. …An inherent contrast of techniques creates a tension that reflects a connection: between the subconscious and the perception of reality from a rational, conscious and goal-oriented point of view... (From: Maya Kashevitz, Rise!)
Gelfman, while playing with materials and colors, manages to create harmony and flow.


In Promathea there is an apparent up & down movement, while still maintaining a balance of the stone. In Laoocona and Baubo the balance point is struck between the figure that is upright to the one sprawled on the floor. The installations are loaded with cultural and social meaning; masculine and feminine, classical and contemporary, common and private. The braids represent the female force as a powerful one. An idea of the hair as a container of power can be found in various stories. From the Bible, to Greek and Roman mythologies, folk tales and through children's books - stories such as Samson and Delilah, Rapunzel, Pippi long stocking.

The braids are a symbol of innocence, of childhood yet they are defiant. They are an extension of the artist just like Laocoon’s children are an extension of the Prophet. This struggle is passed down from generation to generation. In Gelfmans’ own words: Laocoon is the epitome of a protagonist; a dramatic icon of a male figure, muscle tense, carrying the human burden of faith and struggling against all odds. This symbol is re-claimed, transformed, into “Laocoona”; a dark, rugged, voodoo-like doll. The god sent snakes become thick braids, which transports the tragedy to dwell within us. Fueled by us, caused by our inner struggle and not by forces outside of ourselves.

The same internal struggle can be identified in the painting Outside looking In, 2014. Painted mostly in bright red and black hue, it resembles an opening of a space that threatens to pull the viewer in and "swallow" it. It’s the only painting in the exhibition that has no figures, human or otherwise. This emptiness is filled by the viewer body, standing in the entrance of this cave. The viewer is positioned much like Plato prisoner

in the "Allegory Of The Cave". One aspires and struggles to see inside and beyond but encounters the closed "doors of perception. 

The parable of the cave, presented in Plato's book "The State" (Chapter 7), is one of the well-known metaphors designed to simulate a reality of ignorance, in which people remain dark if they do not receive the revelation of the light of wisdom. Its purpose is to explain that what we see and perceive by our senses is only a copy of the real thing.


The act of art, by nature, is a sensory representation of a timeless idea. The artist and the viewer live in the real world. Their lives are full of struggles, anxieties, and the pursuit to define identity.
Similarly, to the brutal reality, as described in Tony Morrison's book, Grace, men do not even know their own names, who are their parents or where will their children end up. Human life as a story full of holes, erasure of memory, of desperate attempts to fill the void that cannot be filled.

 

This body of work comes together as one in attempt to create an almost impossible synthesis:

between the inner savage/monster, the ancient/brutal instinct and the bedrock of a civilization. The body of the artist is absent, but its’ presence is felt through the large gestures like in a ritualistic form of a dance. The works, according to Gelfman: embroider a new mythology in which I am at the center. Yet, I am not only a mere 'I', but also a representation of femininity.

Rise! by Maya Kashevits | 2012

'Rise!' by Maya Gelfman exhibits a visual autobiography. The artist combines naive art with symbolistic and formalistic languages.

The beautiful use of everyday materials along with child-like figures lures the viewer in. Once in, the seemingly innocent message is brought to light and exposes itself.

Gelfman describes a series of experiences that are portrayed as personal and intimate, but in fact form a repertoire that stems from the collective consciousness. Human existence ultimately concentrates on the dialogue between survival and death and the discourse that the exhibition produces revolves around the same issue. It explores the various dealing mechanisms, the breaking points, the moments of crash-and-burn and the subtle yet crucial moments of getting back up again. Its focus is not on the tragedy but on the psychological work that one does in order to survive.

The exhibition consists of delicate paintings that combine pencil drawing with embroidery and collage work. The large installations are made with the same Sisyphean techniques and with found objects.
The common thread can be found in the name of the exhibition – Rise. The act of commanding oneself to push through. The very moment in which a conscious choice is being made. The choice between becoming a victim of circumstance or taking responsibility. Gelfman makes a clear statement and chooses to rise above.

The dialogue between a childish and an adult worldviews is expressed well in the correspondence between the intuitive paintings and complex installations. The former are expressive and spontaneous the later are based on calculated and laborious work. An inherent contrast of techniques creates a tension that reflects a connection: between the subconscious and the perception of reality from a rational, conscious and goal-oriented point of view.

The creative process, which began as a therapeutic and personal act, became inclusive within the context of the whole.

Transformed into an abstract experience whose function is to evoke in the observer feelings of kinship in the face of destiny.

The internal thoughts and conflicts evolve from work to work. While ephemeral in nature, in the painting, they are made concrete through the installations. The drawing ManMachine presents a figment of the artist's imagination, which becomes a 'real machine' in another installation. The Machine is consisting of dozens of metal parts that have been neutralized from their original function and reassembled to an entirely new but dysfunctional machine. The metal gears illustrate the same mechanics that Gelfman draws. Physical or figurative, the subject has ceased to exist, and all that remains are undefined parts of machinery.  Whether it’s gone out of use or it faces a new challenge is yet to be discovered.

The character in Red Heart #37 serves as an allegory to a state of mind. At the same time, it’s a tribute to the mythological story of Icarus and Didlos. The myth refers to the price of recklessness, or "hubris". the sin of pride that’s attributed to human beings that causes devastating consequences. The same figure loses its physical identity at a later stage of the process, leaving behind a pair of monumental wings. The piece made of thousands of handmade paper feathers, yarn and clothes hangers is the only proof of the fall that has taken place. The fall that has not yet transpired in the drawing, but was foretold. In this way, the work is a direct continuation of its predecessor. In this former, Gelfman emphasizes the courage of taking the leap rather than the danger. In the latter, the scars act as a a physical reminder of the price of daring. Still, neither of them advocate against trying to fly.

The dichotomy is evident in all layers of the work; both thematically and in the mixing of medias.

They juxtaposition strength with fragility, sustenance versus annihilation. The color red is woven into each of the works, and in their core lies an image that is the root of Gelfman's creative process - a red heart.
The heart emerges over and over again in her works, whether distinctly or in as a mere color. Through the color red - a primary color that is loaded with innumerable cultural-social meaning, and even more so in close proximity to the heart motif - Gelfman connects between the collective and the individual. She weaves the personal and the general into the works, and creates a common thread, visually and mentally, between the viewer and the work.

The exhibition is adjourned with the installation Work Station, which hides behind a wall, standing alone in a small, intimate space. The work reveals a new pair of wings, still in the initial stage of making. They resonate the older ones, that are done and over with, and imply that this process is never ending.

The viewer gets an up-close look at the raw materials of the creative process. A behind the scenes of sorts, a glimpse into how the internal process is being translated into objects, that in turn, serve as a conduit through which the message is conveyed. The viewer usually enters this scene in the last stage, but here, now it enters the story just before begins anew.

Spark by Hana Koman | 2013

With crimson yarn, gold threads and silver cutouts, in delicate yet powerful drawings - Maya Gelfman creates a primordial world. A world before its creation. Gelfman, who is also known for her tangible street-art, with which she’s dotting the city with dripping red hearts, enters the gallery space for her fifth solo exhibition. An exhibition that takes on the myth of creation and employs wisdom and emotion to deal with that challenge.

The exhibition is consisting of three series of drawings and an installation. In these Gelfman reveals the three elements that make up her work: the desire to be heard, the practice itself and the choice of the image.

The desire begins as a cognitive process in which the artist responds to reality. She strives to have a dialogue with her environment. This is the initial motivation for the deployed practice.

The act of working, for Gelfman, is an ideological labor. The weaving, embroidering, drawing, the toiling away with fine threads and precise pencil lines, are a conscious choice. They are an antithesis to the having it easy and dwelling in one’s own comfort zone. In an age where art is applied momentarily, she chooses a long, arduous, almost tormenting process. Yet, it is also a rewarding, ecstatic, purifying one. Her process weaves a trajectory, a new-ancient way of perceiving art.

In Bialik’s ars-poetic poem, “I didn’t win the light in a windfall”, the poet's actions are equated to a spark igniting - a flame that torments as much as it liberates and drives the poet to come to terms with its faith. For Gelfman it’s much the same. She’s aware of the load that weighs on her heart and the arduous road she must take to unburden herself. But unlike Bialik who puts his own portrait at the center, Gelfman chooses images as a metaphor for her feelings.

The images come from different sources of inspiration.

In the Cranes series, Gelfman is drawn to the skyline of Tel Aviv, to the sky scrapers, the cranes that build them and the idea of "leverage": rising high. A concept that connects both to a capitalist and competitive society and to the quest of a young artist in the art field. Gelfman's cranes are delicate pieces of tin foil, located in a desolate space, empty of buildings. The cranes are broken, shattered, they fail to reach the sky. Yet they are spectacular. They are Jacob’s ladder without the angels, making their way through a vastness, dense with particles and pink moons.

In the drawings The Blackening of the Suns, Gelfman portrays her feelings as a creator. Her solar system consists of flaming masses,

of shimmering buttons and golden threads. They form the fabric of time and space. Amongst them, the largest shiniest button of all is the sun. The theologian Dionysus Araopagis described the sun as the divine representation in the hierarchy of celestial wisdom. That inconceivable fire ball that spreads light and heat. That’s at its core is just a large black lump of coal that burns itself, and in that act of self-destruction enables our survival. The mere existence of the sun is temporary. It is dying out and it will burn through everything in proximity.
So does the work and its creator - what came from darkness into light, began in black, flickered, shimmered, shone in thousands of colors - will end in black and go back to darkness. The series creates a cinematic feeling, starting with a Fade-In, to tell a story and end with a Fade-To-Black.

A cocoon, a shell, the viscera, a fetus, a tangle, Gelfman uses them all to capture the moment of creation. The manifestation or embodiment of a work of art, from the abstract to the physical, and the fragile condition of the artist at this moment of chrysalis. These ideas can be found in a series of drawings and in an installation. Gelfman likens herself to a pupa, defenseless and incapable of movement. But this is a temporary stage, by nature, and at the end of the process it becomes an adult. The moment of expiration of the work of art, as in birth, as in spark, is a decisive and fateful moment. The moment in which an artwork burst forth is like a birth, like a tiny yet intense spark of fire. It’s a moment pregnant with potential, a fateful stage. Once it matures it is released into the world and is placed to shine in the gallery space.

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