Rachel Berkowitz: A spiritual journey

Rachel takes us on a spiritual, existential journey with her photographs and paintings as she explores themes surrounding risk-taking, fate and chance; exposing how our own mentality determines our ultimate fate. Rachel speaks out about the global warming crisis, and the healing, grounding role of nature as it brings us back to ourselves. We also discuss her latest Photography project on portraits of Los Angeles psychics and modern mystics; emblematic of spiritual healing and guiding others.

In this time of great uncertainty, I have come to understand the depth of how our own mentality determines our ultimate fate

Your art looks at the spiritual elements behind risk taking, fate and chance. Could you share more on this with us, and what these spiritual elements are?

When I depict the spiritual elements behind risk-taking, fate and chance, I am simultaneously conceptualising these elements, as well as representing them in a surrealist manner. There are particular symbols that I have associated with good luck; some easily recognisable like a four leaf clover, a diamond or the lucky number seven. Others are in the form of flowers and plants, associated with good fortune derived from ancient societies and traditional rituals. However, I do conceive spirituality to be a feeling, rather than a particular shape or form. The abstract work I make reflects this ideology in the brush strokes, compositions and careful colour choices. 

Visually, I have also been inspired by natural landscapes from National Parks across the US. To me, the most spiritual and grounding feeling one can ever sense is from being surrounded by nature. When one is alone in nature, the environment acts as a source of self-inflicted reflections and mental re-evaluations. In my paintings, I include a variety of natural landscapes, such as mountains, deserts, seas and glaciers. The paintings become a meditation; a source of healing throughout the process of the art-making, as well as a visual gift to my audience, allowing them to escape into their own mental pathways through the flow of the work itself. 

How has 2020 impacted on the way you perceive and take risk? And what have been some of the lessons that you will be taking with you into 2021? 

My artwork prior to the global pandemic was all about gambling and taking everyday risks. I realized during this contemplative time that there’s a mental gamble in every choice we make. Now, even simple tasks such as going to the grocery store initiate additional risk factors that were not present prior to 2020. 

In this time of great uncertainty, I have come to understand the depth of how our own mentality determines our ultimate fate. If heaven and hell are just mental landscapes of the mind, our souls are free to elevate as they wish without the boundaries of punishment after death. We must live rid of the concern of future uncertainties. Living in the present and anchoring ourselves to the now is the most important thing we can do in this painful time.

Risk Taker

With all the chaos and destruction around us, it’s easy for our minds to get lost amidst the madness. Yet, structure within this chaos exists. It seems random but everything is occurring for reasons beyond our human control. We have to succumb to nature, embrace the science. I have come to believe as we embark towards 2021, that the transformation the world is going through was a result of an imbalance. The world was unsustainable. It is going through hard resets, and ultimately, repair.

If we are able to step back and really understand this situation, we can be comforted by the fact that this transformation will bring about new natural wildlife, new ways of thinking, scientific advancements. And most importantly, bring humanity together in a new mindset filled with graciousness, acceptance (on all levels) and overflowing loving kindness for others on this earth.

After reading pieces and writings based on mysticism, the Kabbalah, and books concerning extra sensory perception, I have worked on structuring my own internal dynamics; ways of thinking and processing the external world. I have been expressing these concepts of internalised mental healing with my recent oil painting series both conceptually and visually. In my recent photography, I have been focusing on portraiture; with self-portraits during meditations titled “Reflections” and a new series concerning portraits of psychics. The psychic portraits are emblematic of spiritual healing, as these therapeutic business owners aim to help guide anyone that seeks out help or advice. 

Imagine if only one portrait was all that could be left behind as historical evidence of your life. What ideas about yourself would you project through the portrait? How would the image incorporate your personality and desires?

You are also a Photographer, what are your favourite subjects to photograph and why?

I love to photograph people who are comfortable in their surroundings.

After moving to Los Angeles seven years ago, I noticed a difference in the way that people carried themselves in this vibrant city. There is a certain aura that I am drawn to, especially from a person who exudes confidence and self- love. A love not to be confused with narcissism or one which displays negative, boastful connotations, but a love that provides inspiration to work hard with confidence, drive and passion.

I like to be personally inspired by the people that I meet, and I feel a high importance to depict my subjects in ways in which they are proud of. Most importantly, I respect the subjects I photograph and I photograph in a documentary style that allows for information to transfer from the subject into the final image. I often allow for my subject to be in charge of outfit and location choice to enhance their comfortability. I often choose subjects who have particular talents and display aesthetic elements of their personality that affect audiences in a positive way. 

For example, my Fairfax Royalty series documents my Los Angeles neighborhood, the Fairfax District. I embedded myself into the trend-setting society of Fairfax, and approached it as an actor would treat getting into “character,” through method-acting. The neighborhood, especially along Fairfax Avenue, has been transformed from its humbler Jewish roots of delis and bagel bakeries to become the epicenter of the LA hip-hop/ skate-culture scene: an ever-evolving, hyped-up mix of inventive fashion, edgy music and truly beautiful people. The Fairfax Royalty are the subjects of this study, in which I explore the concepts of portraiture in an age dominated by social media and its fleeting images. I contrived a scenario where I asked: Imagine if only one portrait was all that could be left behind as historical evidence of your life. What ideas about yourself would you project through the portrait? How would the image incorporate your personality and desires? Would the portrait be posed or spontaneous? This idea of the perfect portrait was taken to epic proportions by my subjects.

Mima (“Reflections” series)
Your travels across US national parks have inspired your recent paintings with regards to conservation. How do you think we as artists can practise art more sustainably? 

To begin with, I have focused my natural landscape inspiration directly to the National Parks that the work corresponds to. The most important part of making work that embraces nature is to inform people of the natural wonders that exist around them. Then, from this artistic perception of the beautiful landscapes, I hope to draw people into the parks and monuments that they can see from my paintings and photographs. The more visitors these places have, the more actions must be taken to preserve these natural landscapes. Without constant visitors, it is difficult for the government to provide sufficient workers and rangers to maintain the landscapes. There is a strong need for more care and consideration across all the National parks in the US.

I have two Residency awards that I have been granted for next year; one in Montezuma National Park in Arizona, and one in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Both of these residencies will last for a month each, and I will be able to live inside the park and create artwork in plein air surrounded by the natural landscapes. I feel strongly that nature brings us back to our roots; it’s healing, grounding and contains botanic miracles. Natural landscapes themselves have been artists’ inspiration for centuries. 

What concerns me most about these National Parks and Monuments is the meticulous ways in which they must be preserved and continuously cleaned. I have made numerous artworks about trash and waste within consumerist culture, and I have collaborated with artist Tara Gruchalski in various performance pieces titled “Shop Gifting” and “Trash Safari”. Together, we produced sculptures entirely made of trash collected over a couple months, and deposited these (highly aesthetic!) sculptures into street window displays in fancy department stores around Los Angeles. We regularly checked on our shop gifts, noting the time it took for them to be removed from the window displays. These art pieces made from collected trash serve as sustainable and informative sculptures that help define society’s history. Like the L’Arte Povera movement in Italy, I find much joy in producing artwork from recycled and unwanted materials. Art that speaks about consumerist culture in this 21st century world is highly impactful when placed in discussion with the natural earth. Apocalyptic signs keep warning humans of the destruction we have brought onto this planet, especially this past year. If my artwork can speak up to highlight the rise of the global warming crisis, it will be serving a greater purpose.

There is a certain aura that I am drawn to, especially from a person who exudes confidence and self- love.

Walk us through your creative process .. what are the different stages of your work? and how does art and creativity affect your overall well-being? how do you feel when you create?

My process of creating is a healing tactic for myself. As an artist, I am constantly overwhelmed with ideas and challenges on how to spend and use my time wisely. When I am calm and in the right mindset, and I have no outside distractions, then I am able to focus my energy on the creating process. 

In a space with natural light and soft music, I feel grounded and ready to work. This is when I am happiest; emotionally, physically, spiritually. To make brush strokes with paint or to hear the satisfying shutter click on my camera gives me a rush of euphoria that is simply unexplainable. There’s also a huge sense of release when I make artwork, especially when the concept of the work contains deep emotion. To share this with others, to even make one another feel the emotions I felt when producing, is a core reason as to why I create. 

I love working in both indoor and outdoor locations. Often, the outdoor adventures are what source and root in the creative studio aftermath, but sometimes the creating happens in outside spaces.

La Fortuna
What are some of the challenges you face as an artist and how do you push past these?

A great challenge of mine is finding time to sleep and unwind. I have so many ideas and thoughts spinning through my head. Sometimes it’s hard for me to relax and dismiss actions of productivity. It’s extremely difficult for me to say no to something creative, and I often tire myself out, running from one place to another. I am now becoming more open to opportunities to relax and retreat.

I feel strongly that nature brings us back to our roots; it’s healing, grounding and contains botanic miracles

Anything coming up we can look out for?

Yes!  I am currently on a number of online platforms, represented by Gallery 1202. You can find my work on Artsy, First Dibs and on the website for Gallery 1202.

In person, I have a solo painting show taking place this coming November 2020 in Las Vegas. The show is called “Playing with Fate” and will be on exhibit November 19, 2020 through January 26, 2021. The information for the show can be found here.

At the current moment, I am most focused on a Photography project on portraits of Los Angeles psychics and modern mystics. I am fascinated by both the aesthetic qualities as well as the mental capacity needed for this business to operate. I find it wondrous and completely exhilarating that psychics are able to help people with everyday problems as a means of therapy and spiritual guidance/healing. Through Gallery 1202, I will be have the book online for pre-orders, with an expected gallery showing of the photographs early 2021. 

To view more of Rachel’s work:

Website: www.rachelberkowitzart.com 

For constant updates, visit her Instagram: @rachelberkowitzart

Facebook:  www.facebook.com/rachelberkowitzart

Wishful Thinking

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