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‘El Viaje’ exhibit shares influence of Hispanic culture

Each person’s life and personality is shaped by a myriad of experiences, but only a rare few are able to express the culmination of those influences.

“El Viaje” is an exhibit soon to open at the Gotthelf Art Gallery that will showcase five Jewish artists who traveled from their Hispanic roots to Southern California.

“El Viaje is ‘The Journey’ in Spanish,” said Eve Childs, cultural arts administrator for the gallery, “and it represents Latin American artists who have journeyed to San Diego to continue their work.”

The show will open with a free reception to introduce the artists to the community on Sept. 6 at 8 p.m. and run through Oct. 26.

More than 50 pieces of artwork, most offered for sale, will be on display. Artists Becky Guttin, Claudie Oliver, Lizet Benrey and La Jolla residents Pepe Zyman and Vivien Ressler represent a variety of media, including oil on canvas and acrylic paintings, bronze sculpture, photography and mixed-media pieces with leather, paper, fabric and glass.

The show was curated by the gallery’s chair, Randy Savarese, after she attended a similarly themed exhibit in Miami.

“It was really developed through a show Vivien Ressler and I saw in Florida,” Savarese said. “We took that concept and redesigned it to fit our community here. Certainly we have a tremendous Latino influence here in San Diego.”

A committee of six community volunteers recruited the participating artists. In setting parameters for the show, the gallery sought Jewish artists living and working in San Diego who had traveled from a Spanish-speaking country. They wanted diverse media that would reflect each artist’s cultural background and lifetime experiences.

“Journey is certainly a word that can be interpreted on numerous levels,” said Savarese. “The journey is not just a physical journey. When you leave a home country, there is an emotional journey, spiritual journey. How you evolve as an artist is a journey in itself.”

Vivien Ressler is a painter who arrived in La Jolla by way of Cuba, Venezuela and New York City.

“I come from a line of artists, going back to Europe,” she said.

Her great-great-grandfather was a sculptor in Hungary. Her great-grandfather, also a sculptor, moved the family to Havana. His work is featured in El Capitolio, the National Capitol Building, in Havana which is similar in appearance to the U.S. capitol in Washington, D.C. Political turmoil later drove the family to South America.

Raised by a mother who painted and designed jewelry, Ressler grew up with art and creativity. She studied interior design, worked with enameling and was tutored by Mexican artists.

Ressler now works primarily with acrylics and creates figurative expressionistic paintings in a studio in downtown San Diego.

“I paint from my memory of what I see,” she said. “I don’t necessarily use the model, per se. The way I see the outside, the world, the human body, I don’t see it exactly like we see it if we look in the mirror.”

Ressler said her background is expressed in her open, expressive perception and her passion for color, which she uses indiscriminately. The brilliant rainbow of the Caribbean inspired a fascination for the constant turn of light and color, and she does not restrict herself to beige skin tones and blue skies.

One common element in Ressler’s paintings are figures of very robust women, with big hips and big legs. She said it is a reflection of how society distorts self image.

“I think people enjoy that today because there is such an emphasis on perfection,” Ressler said. “My figures aren’t perfect, but they are a pleasure to look at.”

Each artist was requested to submit a biography and a statement about their personal journey which will be posted during the exhibit. Unlike many shows, where viewers are left to judge artwork without explanation, this background will enable gallery visitors to better understand the cultures and traditions that shaped each artist.

Savarese also hopes it will evoke memories and thoughts about the viewer’s own journey.

This is the first show of its kind at the Gotthelf Art Gallery, which is dedicated to presenting Jewish artwork, preserving Jewish culture and introducing new artists to the community. The gallery has exhibited local, national and international talent. “El Viaje” is an exciting, multi-cultural experience that reflects work from artists influenced by many different experiences and many different cultures, yet arrived in the same place.

“It’s very exciting because they’re all Latins and Spanish-speaking and it’s very diversified,” Ressler said. “None of us are doing anything that’s very similar.”

Located in the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center at 4126 Executive Dr., Gotthelf Art Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free.