Shemi discovered she was an artist in middle age, and it happened by accident. She put together a jigsaw puzzle. It had gotten a little damaged so she touched it up with some paint. Holding the brush in her hand must have done something to her, because she decided to make her first painting. She enjoyed the process, so she did another and another. She first worked in acrylics and concentrated on abstracts. Then she got curious about watercolors and worked on flowers, some inspired by Georgia O'Keefe.
At some point her imagination got unleashed, and she vastly expanded her subject matter and media. One of her early pieces was an abstract using rolled-up paper, glued to a canvas on board. She invented her triangle-headed human icon that she used in numerous pieces and which I incorporated into an upgraded wedding ring I designed for our 15th wedding anniversary. When we remodeled the kitchen in our first house with turquoise countertops, she used the countertop material in creating a multi-panel, multi-media piece for the kitchen that included the human icon. Most importantly, the icon became the centerpiece of her trilogy of tapestries about birth, life, and death.
Shemi's restless mind led her to embellish traditional techniques. One example was a black-and-white painting of her human icon, using acrylic paint. She wanted some depth and texture, so she mixed sand into the white paint she used for the human figures. Another example was the large sunset painting we placed above the fireplace. She began the work by using plaster to create 3-D waves on the bottom (water) half of the painting and to give the clouds texture in the top half. Then she painted on top of that. Sometimes she applied paint so thickly on a canvas that it took days or weeks to dry.
The female and male bugs may be the wildest expression of her creativity and skill at combining media. Unlike God, Shemi created the female first, and she worked on it over a couple of years. She taught herself sculpting with paper mache and chicken wire, and when she had the basic body she started embellishing it. She used unexpected elements such as pipe cleaners for whiskers and cloth balls as spots. She experimented with different color patterns. She completed Ms. Bug but was dissatisfied with the wings, so she removed them and made them completely different. Finally, she was satisfied with Ms. Bug who has been the favorite piece of many adult and child visitors to our house. The flying bug is colorful, friendly, and playful. Mr. Bug came later and was meant to be a contrast. He required several incarnations to achieve his current state. Though he also has a paper mache body, he is connected to the earth. He is just as colorful as his mate, but he is less friendly with his furrowed brow and menacing horizontal horns.
She used mosaics in several ways. She only did one mosaic of flowers to hang like a painting. She made a series of mosaic pieces designed for the garden that incorporated glass flowers, a small plaster angel, and a toy watering can. These pieces did not handle the weather well, but we have good photos of them.
Mosaic was the basis for her exploration of furniture design and decoration. We bought several low-cost end tables at IKEA, and she covered the tops with mosaic designs. In my opinion, they vary a lot in quality. The dolphin and butterfly tables turned out beautifully. The table of the sun kissing the moon is a favorite of many visitors, and it was based on a design she saw in Mexico. Her furniture masterpiece was completely designed by Shemi, and I was amazed to come home from a trip to find a spectacular table topped with a bright geometric tile pattern. She designed the table and instructed a handyman to build it. Then she painted it turquoise and placed the tiles on top. I continued to be impressed with the sophistication of the design and how perfectly it all fits. The table was used mainly as a side table during parties, so it's a shame that it was usually covered up when people were in the house. It deserves to be showcased.
Ribbon weaving was one of my favorite techniques. I don't know whether she made this up or was inspired by something she saw. She enjoyed the process of the weaving and her patience paid off with professional-looking final products. Her approach tended to be formal, based on symmetry and a limited color palette. However, her biggest and best ribbon weaving was exuberant, with many colors and much gold. She invited me (Jim) to collaborate on the orange, black, and green weaving, and somehow it was the only one in which the ribbons curved. We are not sure how that happened, and it was not planned, but we thought it had some charm.
I will just mention a few other pieces and their origins. The "Group Therapy" painting was used as the cover for the first CD (and cassette) for a band I was in for a long time. Note the incorporation of musical instruments and the appropriate use of the dinosaur motif, given that we played old/classic rock songs. The painting of a butterfly (or mirror image flowers) that looks like digital pixels was one of her first paintings. She drew a grid on the canvas and painted each tiny square meticulously with a tiny brush. I don't know how she planned it out so well, but it looks gorgeous. Shemi and I went to Australia several times, including a 6-month sabbatical in 1995. She completed two paintings inspired by the aboriginal dot-painting style as well as numerous landscapes while there. Several of the Australian landscapes are very relaxing.
One special piece used unusual materials--the plastic flip tops from vials used in intravenous solutions. Shemi's friend at the UCSD Medical Center pharmacy, Lila Cid, collected these caps. Different colors indicated the type of solution or drug, so Lila put each color in a separate plastic bag. When Lila died, Shemi spent a day with the family going through Lila's apartment. Shemi brought home those bags of colorful flip tops. After some time she figured out what to do with them. Shemi bought some large clear glass vases. Then she and Maria Parenteau spent a day creating designs in the vases by layering the colored discs. I think they turned out beautifully. These happy pieces are Shemi's tribute to her great friend Lila. The vases are a unique work that joins forever Lila's quirky collecting and Shemi's ability to create art in any medium, with Maria's artistic guidance. (Please read Shemi's story about Lila)
Shemi had very few art lessons. During a visit to Japan she took a lesson in sumi-e ink drawing, but I only know of one painting of bamboo that might have been inspired by that lesson. She took a course in art display at Mesa (Community) College, and she learned about arranging objects. The photos of colorful magnets on a silver trash can and arranged Japanese figures came from that course. Shemi met Maria Parenteau, an artist from Brazil who became an occasional mentor. Maria taught Shemi new techniques, and they collaborated on a few pieces, such as the seahorse and the never-finished yellow and black fish.
Shemi brought a huge piece of black velvet home in 1997, and I worried what she would do with it. My only association with black velvet art were kitschy pieces from Mexico, many featuring Elvis. I was intrigued when she started sewing sequins on the cloth, but it was many months before anything recognizable appeared. But she seemed to know just where to sew each sequin. The most impressive aspect was the patience with which she approached this piece. Each sequin was lovingly attached with four stitches. The creation of The Mountain of Life was definitely a spiritual exercise. It took her about two years to complete. She included the diverse symbols of life as she went. Seeing this made me and others want to contribute, because we could see this was going to be a special work. Most notably Jo Salmon from Melbourne, Australia became enthusiastic about the Mountain during a visit and sent back symbols of Australia, such as a koala and a boomerang, that Shemi included in the tapestry. The photographs of The Mountain of Life do not do it justice at all, so please watch the video. Fortunately I had the foresight to videotape Shemi working on this piece, but unfortunately she did not want herself shown, and she refused to talk about the work on camera. During her final days I had the raw footage edited into a short documentary that is now posted on youtube, with a link on this website.
It was immediately obvious that The Mountain of Life was her masterpiece, due to its beauty, size, and meaning. The symbolism of a golden life, an uphill path, and the return of the spirit to the stars, along with the elegant design and great execution, make it a special work of art. But it was made even more significant by the two works that followed. Her birth and death tapestries use the same media of sequins on black velvet, and both have her human icon as central figures. The birth tapestry is perplexing because it shows the human arising from what appear to be leaves. My interpretation is that it shows that the human race emerged from nature. This idea is consistent with the butterflies around the person. Note that one of the butterflies is made of beautiful stone, and it was a gift from an admirer. The death tapestry has a clearer interpretation, because Shemi explained it. The multicolored bird is the soul escaping from the cage of the body. This piece shows not only that Shemi absorbed Eastern teachings about the nature of the soul, she saw death as a positive process. Thus, the tapestries of birth, life, and death represent a powerful statement about Shemi's spiritual beliefs, or they can be viewed as simply aesthetic pleasures.
Sometimes Shemi had a clear vision for exactly what the piece would be, such as with The Mountain of Life, and sometimes she made it up as she went along. The diversity and creativity of her art is the positive side of a restless mind that led to struggles with insomnia. The wildness of some of her art, such as the abstracts and the Bugs, contrasts with her quiet manner. Her art is a legacy that will bring joy to many for years to come. Hopefully people will find her art on this website. I hope to arrange some exhibitions in coming years. My hope is that a museum will acquire at some of these pieces so more people can appreciate the creative mind of Shemi that produced these objects of beauty and fascination.