Myriam Nafte is one very busy artist. She can hardly keep up with the demand for her work at Jewish museums and galleries across North America.
Fulfilled, one of Myriam Nafte’s paintings
She says she’s relieved that many of her shows are booked a year or two ahead because “it takes a lot of labour to build up the collection.”
Right now, she has an exhibition at the Fine Museum at Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco, and she’s finalizing dates for shows in Pittsburgh, Connecticut and New York City.
Despite these commitments, Nafte has, since 2007, been allocating a number of her works for an annual fundraiser for the Downtown Jewish Community School, which her daughter and son attend.
She is donating 50 per cent of the proceeds from her upcoming show, Mystics, Medics and Merchants, to the school. The show opens 11 a.m. on Jan. 25 in the Jacobs Lounge at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre and runs until March 8.
Nafte, who has a graduate degree in forensic anthropology, combines her knowledge of human anatomy and Hebrew text in her visual art. She incorporates precision drawing and Hebrew inscriptions with layers of acrylic paint – some are in metallic hues – that add texture and luminosity to her work.
Much of this work explores Hebrew letters as imagery, however, her upcoming show at Miles Nadal marks a new direction, she says. “I’m still integrating Hebrew text, but I’m integrating it into fabric of what individuals wore.”
Nafte says she’s concentrating on portraying people from the Middle Ages such as astronomers and medics, many of whom were Jewish. “The portraits are not facial, but the emphasis is more on what these individuals wore.”
Nafte explains that from a distance, the letters in the piece, The Astronomer’s Robe, look like a constellation of stars, but in a close-up view the stars are actually Hebrew and Greek lettering.
In this exhibition, she pays homage to the Jewish scientists of the Middle Ages. She notes that for 900 years, Hebrew was considered to be a scientific language. “Many scientific treatises were translated from Hebrew into Greek and Latin,” she says.
The Toronto-based artist – she has studied human anatomy, skeletal biology and forensics – has been working as a full-time artist for more than 20 years. However, in the last 10 years, she has focused on Judaic art.
Raised in an Orthodox family, Nafte, 43, trained in Judaic art with her father, Max Bensabat, a retired commercial artist and a scribe. In 2000, she apprenticed with him to learn how to do halachicly correct Hebrew text.
“My father has been very supportive. He checks all my layouts and he looks for accuracy.”
Nafte says she is grateful that her work has been so well received in the United States and Canada, but that means she has a tight work schedule to meet the demand.
“If you don’t show, you don’t exist. It’s like publish or perish. I love being busy.
“My work may be labour intensive, but it is truly a labour of love.”
To view the works in Nafte’s show at Miles Nadal, visit www.myriamnafte.com. For more information about the exhibit call 416-924-6211, ext. 112.