Gila Issenberg has always loved art, but it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that she decided to do something about it.
When her three children were growing up, Issenberg would “take lessons, but not paint,” she said.
Now a grandmother of four, she is making up for lost time, creating about six paintings a month.
An exhibit of 29 of her Jewish-themed watercolor paintings is currently on display through the end of this month at the South Hills Jewish Community Center, Pesach-Michal Gallery.
Her works feature vibrant colors, abstract landscapes and Hebrew letters spelling out words or phrases evoked from the moods of the paintings.
Her lettering, often enhanced by gold paint, is inspired by the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages, as well as by the work of Carnegie Mellon University professor Ed Fisher, Jr., from whom she took lessons, and who died in 2007.
“Ed Fisher was particularly interested in lettering,” Issenberg said. “Only he did English, and I did Hebrew.”
Issenberg often invents entire alphabets from an example of only a few letters that she sees in another painting or a book. She then creates her letters by hand on watercolor paper, cuts them out and glues them onto colorful backdrops. The paintings are sometimes enhanced by small Swarovski crystals.
Growing up in Newburyport, Mass., “a little Yankee town built in 1634, with hardly any Jews,” Issenberg says she has always felt strongly about her Judaism, and that is why she incorporates it into her art.
“There’s a spiritual feeling to my paintings,” she said as she looked at one of her canvases, “Shema Mountaintop,” an abstract landscape with the word “shema” superimposed.
“Here, I just did a mountaintop,” she said in describing the painting, which has an undeniably ethereal quality, “and felt like a ‘shema’ should be there.”
Other works on display are more whimsical, including “18th Hole,” a painting depicting chai flags on a golf course, and “Aleph Bet Soup,” a brightly colored work with Hebrew letters spilling out of a soup bowl.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)