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Sacred Artist Interview: Naomi Teplow

This week’s Sacred Artist Interview is with Naomi Teplow.  I first discovered her work while looking for pieces for the Presence journal (I love how this work gives me an excuse to find artists I love and contact them).  She designs Ketubahs (Jewish marriage contracts) and other illuminated manuscripts, so after last week’s Abbey Bookshelf you can understand why I love her work so much.  I find Hebrew script to be especially beautiful.  I am grateful to Naomi for participating:

Are you rooted in a particular faith tradition?

I’m a Jewish Israeli from a secular Kibbutz, and though I’m not religious, I celebrate most of the Jewish holidays, especially the Friday night welcoming of the Sabbath. I also don’t drive on the Sabbath, but stay home to rest and study. But while my weekly (and yearly) practice is Jewish, my daily practice is actually the Buddhist meditation in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.

What is your primary art medium?

Gouache and ink on paper or parchment (vellum.)

How do you experience the connection between spirituality and creativity?

When it comes to creativity, I don’t think I can differentiate between spirituality and non-spirituality (what would that be?) To me, everything informs and colors and motivates creativity. The body and the physical world no less than the spirit and the soul. The senses are just as powerful as ideas and thoughts. Everything I see, hear, smell, think about, feel, and experience, all that I am, which is an undividable whole of spirit and non-spirit, looks for expression, wants to create.

What role does spiritual practice have in your art-making?

My Jewish heritage and my deep connection with the Jewish world, past, present, and even future, determines the subject matter of what I do. My Buddhist practice keeps me sane so I can go about expressing all that Jewish stuff. Also, the Buddhist approach opens my mind and heart to the rest of the world and shows me how interconnected I am with every other phenomenon, and that interconnectedness is very much part of my work.

What sparked your spiritual journey?

I’m not in a journey. I bum around from one thing to the other, picking up whatever is exciting and inspiring, interesting and fun, and whatever keeps my anxieties and depressive tendencies in check.

What sparked your artistic journey?

The need to express myself and the need to make a living.

Do you have a particular process you use when entering into your creative work?

I read a lot, and think, and wait, and hope for ideas and solutions, and try imagining things, and wait some more, and slowly, slowly something emerges.

How does your art-making shape your image of God?

I don’t want to shock anybody, but I don’t believe in God. I believe in the human need to believe in God. I personally don’t need that hypothesis (As Laplace put it) in order to try my best to be good and to express that in a visual or verbal way.

(Art from top to bottom: Shannah-Shinnah, Four Seasons, Jerusalem of Peace, Circle of Time)

Thank you so much to Naomi Teplow and make sure to visit her website.  I especially resonated with her responses about creativity and spirituality.  I appreciate the question of whether we can even have something that is non-spiritual. I love the image of being “an undividable whole of spirit and non-spirit, look(ing) for expression, want(ing) to create.” I also valued reflecting on what a non-theistic spirituality looks like and the way that art can be the language between us.

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7 Responses

  1. Responding to Sue’s question: that tree was not made as a marriage contract, but just as my own expression of amazement and awe at the power and magic of the Hebrew language. The word “shannah” means in Hebrew “year” but also “repeated”, and the word “shinnah”, a very slight vowel change, means “changed”. I wanted to show how by repeating something again and again, the seasons and years being a good example, you bring about a change. Quantity turning to a new quality. The image of a tree was a perfect way to show this: new growth occured by the repetition of seasons and years. I added in the background some quotes about change being the only unchangeable thing in our world… Also, couldn’t resist writing the name of God in Hebrew, YHVH, and the three tenses of Hebrew which it includes: was (hayah), is (hoveh), will be (yihiyeh). I was struck by the fact that God in Hebrew means in a way TIME, or the process of eternal change and becoming. You can read all the quotes in my website, in the “Illuminated manuscripts and paintings” page at the bottom. Other paintings there show other such words in Hebrew, for example the word Rachamim (compassion) being of the same root as the word Rechem (womb), and my attempt at showing why and how it’s related. Thank you and all the other readers for your kind and warm words about my work, and thanks so much to Christine for giving me a chance to share my work and thoughts with people so far away. It makes you feel like the world is a little room where you sit and talk with friends over a cup of tea…

  2. I love Naomi’s visions of images flowing into each other. She has a great sense of depth and balance in her works, and the brilliant colors are a definite “wow” factor, too! How interesting the way she follows her heart and blends her religious traditions with her current beliefs. Thank you, both for sharing :)

  3. These are so wonderful the day after Earth Day! Gouache is a medium of great clarity! and opacity of color, reminiscent of the old egg tempera paintings and illuminated manuscripts. Here, I think it aids and abets an invitation into an unpolluted environment, which is very peaceable, refreshing, and loving. Thanks Christine and Naomi Teplow.

  4. What beautiful, beautiful stuff! That first one with the seasonal tree is just beautiful. Was that used for a marriage contract?