Lynn Rae Lowe’s exhibit at the Tucson Jewish Community Center is much more than a collection of beautifully depicted Hebrew letters paying homage to 12 iconic Jewish artists of the 20th century. “Illuminations: Aleph to Tav” is a fitting celebration of the Tucson artist’s 70th birthday, bringing together a multi-layered expression of her vision, knowledge, spirit and artistry. It’s tempting to call this a culmination of her journey, but that’s not entirely accurate. For Lynn Rae, the journey is perpetual, so let’s call it a significant milestone instead.
“It’s the result of my years of study and passion for ancient wisdom that’s prompted me to use my artistic gifts to reveal layers and dimensions connected to the Hebrew alphabet,” says Lynn Rae, summing up her inspiration for the show.
This part of Lynn Rae’s journey began when her father died 10 years ago. Her cousin, a Hassidic rabbi in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, offered to study with her once a week for 11 months to honor her father’s memory. He said that she could ask any question she wanted.
Lynn Rae grew up in a Reform Jewish home, where her mother integrated teachings of Buddhism and yoga. “I had this great ecumenical background, which led me, eventually, into metaphysics, astrology, numerology, palmistry and tarot. So I asked my cousin questions about how this esoteric knowledge was seen within the Jewish lens and through halachah, and through Midrash and through actually the Torah,” says Lynne Rae.
At the end of the 11 months, she was inspired to continue studying, so her cousin told her it was time to visit Israel. While they were in Jerusalem, she felt a pull to visit the northern town of Safed (Tsefat) and went to spend a week there.
“When I was a child I dreamt about a city that had white paths, white stones and was on a hill. And it wasn’t Yerushalayim [Jerusalem] when I saw it, but as soon as I came to Tsefat, I realized that it was the city of my dreams. When I realized it was also the city where the kabbalists [Jewish mystics] lived, … I felt that I was reconnecting with knowledge that I already knew,” Lynn Rae recalls.
As she began studying the Hebrew alphabet (known in Hebrew as the alef-bet) for her bat mitzvah at the age of 67, Lynn Rae discovered that she could use her artwork to open up the world of Jewish mysticism, which so many consider unfathomable, through the symbolism of the alef-bet.
“I want to leave a legacy of understanding something that I feel is inspirational. I believe it’s creative wisdom. … I wanted to create something that people would be able to access; a visual key to let you open up a door or go through a gate, so that you could take a personal journey, not as dogma, but just as an expansive way to see the richness of the Jewish alphabet,” says Lynn Rae.
When she started exploring the potential scope of this exhibit, Lynn Rae realized that it might take longer than the 18 months she had to fully realize the legacy she envisioned. So she scaled back her expectations a little bit. “This show is merely the beginning – for me as well as, hopefully, for the people who see this exhibit – of what this potential, creative knowledge can do in making our lives richer, fuller, more meaningful and connected, using symbols.”
In preparation, Lynn Rae went back to Israel for three weeks this past August and September to study with a sofer stam (Torah scribe) and return to Safed. While she was there, she identified her own symbol from the alef-bet.
“In Israel, the biggest thing I was aware of was that I was seeing things differently. At some point I realized that this is my 70th birthday and the symbol for 70 is [the Hebrew letter] ayin, [which means] eye.” Making the bridge between “eye” and its synonym “I,” Lynn Rae notes the connection “from seeing to self. That number 70 is resonating with me.”
She wanted to show the various ways in which the Hebrew alphabet is an esoteric science through its connection to numbers, the four elements (earth, air, fire and water), colors, music, the names of the letters and more. She chose 12 Jewish artists of the 20th century whose styles she felt would best depict those characteristics, and created a set of Hebrew letters in each of their styles. For example, she used comic-book type illustrations inspired by Roy Lichtenstein to portray the alef-bet as words.
The master artists represented in her exploration of the alef-bet are Jim Dine (colors), Audrey Flack (the beginning of wisdom), Adolph Gottlieb (planetary glyphics, celestrial otiyot [letters]), Keith Haring (graphical alef-bet), Franz Klein (etymology), Ida Kohlmeyer (traditional symbols), Roy Lichtenstein (alef-bet as words), Morris Louis (vowels), Louise Nevelson (parts make the whole), Jules Olitski (gematria, numbers as letters) and Mark Rothko (spiritual resonance). The show includes bronzes, metal sculptures, paintings with mixed media, 2D and a sampling of her Judaica as well.
“I don’t think anyone is more excited than I am (except, perhaps, the artist herself) to see this show installed. In the 18 months that Lynn Rae and I have been planning this show, she has traveled down numerous avenues – artistic, philosophical, religious – in order to create the exhibit that she envisions. I can think of few times when I have seen an artist pour so much heart and soul into a project,” says the Tucson J’s Director of Arts and Culture Lynn Davis.
“Illuminations: Aleph to Tav” runs from Nov. 23, 2016 – Jan. 29, 2017 in the Tucson JCC Fine Art Gallery. A series of events are planned with Lynn Rae, including a free Brown Bag Lunch and Artist’s Talk on Wednesday, Nov. 30, from 11:30–1 pm; Aleph Bet Day for children on Sunday, Dec. 4 at 1 pm, with yoga and Hebrew letter bracelets ($2 per child); and an artist’s reception from 2-4 pm on the same day. In addition, Lynn Rae is available to meet with small groups on Dec. 7, 14, and 21, from 1–3 pm by reservation – call 520-299-7900.
The Tucson JCC Fine Art Gallery is open Monday through Thursday 9 am – 9 pm, Friday and Sunday 9 am – 6 pm. Closed Saturdays and Jewish holidays. 3800 E River Road, Tucson. For more information, visit tucsonjcc.org or LynnRaeLowe.com or follow Lynn Rae Lowe on Facebook.