Knife/Paint/Word: Art by Deborah Ugoretz

A new exhibit “Knife/Paint/Word” at the Henry S. Miller Judaica Research Room at Fordham’s Walsh Family Library features the work of Deborah Ugoretz, a Brooklyn-based artist, whose expressive work deals with the exploration of feminism, her concern for and fascination with the diversity of the natural world, and social issues. The exhibit is accompanied by items from the Judaica collection in the Special Collections at the Walsh library, chosen and research by two undergraduate students Hannorah Ragusa and Elizabeth Rengifo-Vega. The manuscripts and printed books on display include one from Yemen, a recent acquisition, eighteenth-century books illustrating Jewish ceremonies, and medieval manuscript facsimiles that speak to the themes of Deborah Ugoretz’s art: the blessing of the New Moon, the story of Creation, and Lilith, the mythical primeval woman, traditionally imagined to have been the first, disobedient and rebellious wife of Adam.

The exhibit opened on February 8th and will be on view until May 20, 2024. On April 7th, there will be a papercutting workshop with Deborah Ugoretz at the O’Hare Special Collections. You can learn more and sign-up here.

The Artist’s Statement

I have two loves in my artistic life: working in cut paper and painting in acrylics.

I use the first to explore my fascination with negative and positive space. Because cut paper reveals the beauty and mysteries of what has been taken away, negative space is not empty or meaningless. It exists to support what it is possible for us to see. The act of cutting away is a process that reveals the graphic form of things, and illuminates the concept of balance through structure. In the way I work, line becomes thick, morphs into the armature that holds and unifies the work.

The ancient Kabbalists believed that it was possible to find meaning in the empty spaces around and within the letters of texts. The Japanese concept of Notan views the relationship of negative and positive space as reciprocal and necessary for harmony and balance. These two world views deeply influence my work.

The simplicity, flexibility and strength of paper enables me to transform it into multi-dimensional art with a limitless range of expression. I love the challenge of solving the problems inherent in working with paper and particularly the challenges of working in three dimensions. In my piece Sanctuary, inspired by Psalm 27, I depict fear, chaos and the promise of a place of security in three-dimensional form. Part of the pleasure of creating is the discovery of materials that enable me to bring my ideas into reality. The craft of building and forming becomes a way to express ideas.

Sanctuary

In my paintings, I work to engage the viewer in a celebration of the spectrum. Color is the way that the mysterious is revealed to the world. It is rather spiritual; if white light is invisible – in the same way that the LIFE FORCE is invisible- then it is through the spectrum that that spiritual force is revealed to us. My goal is to delve into the physical, tactile nature of painting as I develop themes that express my concern and fascination with the natural world.

Much of my work is born from the written word. I take texts — poems, prayers, ancient writings — and translate them into a visual language that infuses those words with deeper meaning because visual language touches me on a richer emotional and intellectual level. My painting, The Six Days of Creation based upon the Genesis story, uses my theory of color and finishes off the painting as a comment on the ravages of disposable culture. This is how I connect texts, my interpretations and social comment through art.

Deborah Ugoretz’s Six Days of Creation displayed at the Walsh Family Library with medieval Hebrew facsimiles showing the same story in writing or in image: the Sarajevo Haggadah, the North French Miscellany, and the Kennicott Bible.

About the Artist

Deborah Ugoretz is a Brooklyn-based artist, born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She holds a B.S. in fine art from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her expressive work deals with the exploration of feminism, her concern for and fascination with the diversity of the natural world, and social issues. Since 1978, Ugoretz has been a master cut paper artist and teacher. Her work was featured in the monograph In the Tradition of Our Ancestors – Papercutting (Folklife Program of the New Jersey State Council of the Arts, 2006) and the catalog of the exhibition “Slash! Paper Under the Knife,” held at the Museum of Art and Design in New York from 2009 2010. She has designed stained glass windows and synagogue art for the Russ Berrie Home for Jewish Life in Rockleigh, New Jersey, and other houses of worship. Other commissions include the Tenement Museum, University of Michigan, Jewish Theological Seminary, YIVO Institute of Jewish Research, and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Ugoretz’s work has been exhibited at the Milwaukee Jewish Museum, the Monmouth Art Museum, the Hebrew Union College Institute of Religion Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art, The Museum of Biblical Art, the UJA Federation Gallery, and others. Ugoretz is recognized by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts as a master cut-paper artist.

The exhibit has been made possible through the generosity of Fordham’s Trustees Henry S. Miller and Eileen Sudler, Mr. Eugene Shvidler, and Anonymous donors.