Elke Reva Sudin: “I Found My Connection to Judaism Through Art”

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The Art Sprinter Awards finalist Elke Reva Sudin is a truly inspiring artist. She is an artist, business woman, educator. Moreover, she is one of the artists that managed to develop her unique voice at the early stage of her career and achieve recognition by art critics and media. Among Elke Reva’s new successes is her nomination for the Art Sprinter Awards. In this interview, Sudin shares her thoughts on the importance of juxtaposing the traditional and the contemporary in arts.

Please introduce yourself to The Art Sprinter Blog readers. What is your background in art?

I am a Brooklyn based painter and illustrator. My passion is in drawing people, urban landscapes, and abstracted conceptual landscapes, often with Jewish inspiration. I did not grow up with much art but a couple of friends from high school encouraged me. I then attended a pre-college summer program at an art school. I finally “got” drawing during six weeks at the Rhode Island School of Design.

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Kindly tell us more about paintings that you are creating. Why did you choose this medium and format?

My tried and true favorite is working on paper with watercolor and ink. I love the immediacy of the line and transparency of the fill. The nature of it allows me to flow and trust my instincts.

There is also something very intimate working so closely with your tools where every mark makes such a difference and there is no erasing. I also work in acrylic for my street art inspired works and oils for traditional painting techniques, such as indirect painting which uses thin layers of glaze to create the variation in color, hue, and value.

Do you have formal art education? In your opinion, is education important for artists (and why)?

I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration from Pratt Institute in New York. In my personal experience, a formal art education is critical for an art career. Even if you have a hit artwork or series, without education, you can become a one hit wonder and lack the ability to push yourself into unfamiliar territory and grow as an artist. Artists who do not have experience with the critique process can become defensive about their work and resist changing things that they don’t think need to be changed. There is an immense amount of vocabulary and historical reference points that give art multi dimensions of depth. No one tells a rabbi he can do his job without training. It is the same thing. Knowledge doesn’t limit you to working in only one way or another. It frees you from the same stupid style you have been copying from other amateur artists since you picked up a pencil.

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How can you describe your art? What do you expect viewers to explore in your artworks?

My artwork is half real life subjects, and half abstracted designs. The subjects are from my life, or what my life looks like in my head. The latter produce images full of complicated interlocking patterns, with lots of movement and detail. It is complicated. Like me. In my Hipsters & Hassids and We Are Patriarchs series I reduce multi-faceted realities down to a specific scene. My experience as an illustrator allows me to tell many stories in one image or use a series of works to tell a single story. In the Hipsters & Hassids series each painting is paired so that you view reflective compositions. It says that the same story is being told on either side of the boarder.

What is the message that you are trying to present through your works?

The message I hope to convey with my works is that what could appear as opposites can actually coexist in a shared space. The works show that people different from one another are equally valued. I do this by painting my subjects in separate paintings, but directly speaking to one another. I this way I have a traditional looking rabbi and a girl with long dreadlocks and tattoos, complimenting each other, and giving validity to each other’s existence.

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What inspires you as an artist? How do you choose the subject of your paintings?

People inspire me. The people who inspire me in real life become my muse on the canvas. At this point in my career I have multiple artworks on some of the same people who I don’t even see very often, but they are continuing to grow in their own journey and it continues to inspire me at each stage.

My work is inspired by the motifs in art history and the real world. If you are familiar with Japanese art you will see much influence in my work. It is a vocabulary that I feel I inherited even though im on the other side of the planet. All artists, art histories, and contemporary artists can become inspiration in my style, though I usually pick apart their pattern, structure, and texture.

Many illustrators have that same passion to draw every detail and connect all the dots together. I think this quality makes me good at being detail oriented in the business side of being an artist.

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How has your style changed over the years of working as a professional artist?

My style has changed considerably in the diversity of mediums I work in, but my watercolor and ink style has remained pretty consistent, just more developed. When I started working on canvas I was forced to use acrylic paint in another way. When I moved on to working in oils I changed again. Oils have much more flexibility in how you use them than acrylic and became a new favorite. The pigment is also vivid and doesn’t get lost when mixing. I continue to work in all of these media but now I am getting the most attention for my work on iPad. The iPad mimics my style in real life, but has allowed me more experimentation and the ability to study master artists in museums, picking out the colors and textures used by the greats. I was just written up on the blog of the Getty Museum in LA about this, you can check it out here: http://blogs.getty.edu/iris/jmw-turner-now-for-ipad/

What is the most comfortable environment for you to work at?

My most comfortable environment is to work is on-site in front of my subject. Even the smell of the air and the sounds around me influence the work.

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What is your connection to Jewish culture and art? What are some of the Jewish artists that inspire you?

Like most people, I used to believe that Judaism and art were separate aspects of life. Ten years ago that all changed. I was just starting out in art school when I began learning ideas in Kabbalah for the first time. At the same time, I had a professor who taught drawing through we he called Transformationalism. It was immediately clear that these were coming from the same wisdoms and it gave me a way of relating to Judaism that I found meaningful, and a way that it integrated seemlessly  with the art practice that I most connected to. From that point forward my art and my spirituality became to seamless integrate until a point where I could not distinguish one from the other.

That being said, Just because I found my connection to Judaism through art, doesn’t mean that I like what other people do with it. I really hate most of Jewish culture. I think it lacks a complex understanding of art and becomes an abomination of both. On the other spectrum I am connected to many talented Jewish creatives who infuse Judaism within their craft. I like their culture. I’m inspired by these artists, writers, musicians, dancers, and chefs. My favorite contemporary Jewish visual artists are Siona Benjamin, Ken Goldman, Jacqueline Nicholls, and Isaac Bialik-Brynjegard.

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Do you find art contests helpful for the artists? If so, why are they important? What would you suggest to the artists who are thinking to participate in The Art Sprinter competition? What kind of artworks would you recommend to submit? 

I used to apply to many contests and it felt incredibly futile. I recommend that artists spend 95% of their marketing time building up personal connections and their name in press. Then they can apply and have some better chances at getting in! A contest such as the Art Sprinter is different as you know you are amongst a limited pool of applicants and the focus is much more directed.