January 20, 2019

Life-Threatening Moments Inspired Her Art

A bike accident, a traumatic brain injury and coronary artery disease don’t typically invoke images of lilies. However, a pink lily — symbolizing love, devotion and purity — is exactly what came into Jamie Lee Hoffer’s mind after she overcame all three of these obstacles.

Hoffer, 62, an artist and preschool teacher, created a pale pink lily in the center of one of her paintings a year after she fell while riding her bike on May 30, 2017. When she fell, she fractured her skull and experienced a traumatic brain injury (more specifically, a subdural hematoma), which she says required her to remain on bed rest for three months. She also lost her sense of smell. 

After being released from the hospital last September, the Beverlywood resident returned to teaching preschool at Temple Isaiah in West Los Angeles. However, she said she had no desire to go back to her art studio. 

“I was very scared that something that means so much to me — my creative energy — might have been taken away,” Hoffer said. “There was no mojo, no muse.” 

At the time, she blamed her exhaustion and depression on early aging. However, when she sought medical attention for severe chest pains this past May, she discovered she had a 90 percent blockage in one of her main arteries. She received a stent and immediately felt better. 

“I questioned my reasons for showing my art. I never felt that I was ready or good enough or deserved it. Sometimes you need a big hit on the head to realize that you have something that is beautiful to share.” 

The image of the lily, she said, came to her the night after the stent was implanted. It was only then, she said, that she stopped having a recurring nightmare of drowning in murky water. Instead, she dreamed of wading in paradise. 

“I’m in this crystal-blue beautiful water,” Hoffer said during an interview with the Journal at the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) building in the Fairfax District, where she is set to hold an art exhibition later this month. “I see the sparkles of the sun, and I come out of the water and there’s water lilies and lily pads everywhere. And I just went, ‘Oh my God, water lilies.’ ” 

It was then that she determined the lily would become the symbol of both her accident and her upcoming exhibition, which opens Aug. 19. 

Titled “After the Fall,” the exhibition will showcase 30 of Hoffer’s works, created from 2013 onward. 

“I don’t know why I have not had a solo show ever, and I’m 62,” Hoffer said. “I just know that everything became very precious to me — not my work — my life, my family, this Earth.” 

Hoffer’s work mixes damar crystals and beeswax to make her own encaustic medium — a technique she discovered 10 years ago when she visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and found that some of her favorite paintings, including Jasper Johns’ flags, were labeled “encaustic” instead of “wax.” 

After seeing Johns’ work at LACMA, Hoffer said, “All of a sudden, a light went off in me and it completely changed my life. I looked up everything I could in encaustic. I started experimenting. I’m still experimenting.”

In her work, Hoffer paints with light colors and portrays nature and abstract shapes. She hopes to calm people with her art and provide them with an escape from their busy lives. 

“I really believe that art that is very political and has a statement and is really in your face all the time, that there is a place for that art,” she said. “The way the world is right now, there is so much hate and anger and opposition that I just want to give people a break. And if they look at my art and find themselves lost in it for a couple minutes, seconds, whatever, and they get something of acceptance and love and gratitude and forgiveness, then that’s all I want my art to do.” 

Hoffer said she believes she’s now producing the best art of her life. She feels like herself again and has stopped letting any fear of criticism get in her way.  

“You know, your doctor tells you that you’re a walking time bomb, and you realize that you could have died and you didn’t,” Hoffer said. “I questioned my reasons for showing my art. I never felt that I was ready or good enough or deserved it. Sometimes you need a big hit on the head to realize that you have something that is beautiful to share.” 

She added that in the wake of the accident she feels a “higher sense of urgency to be my true self. I truly feel that I have an obligation to spread love, kindness, compassion and forgiveness. Being a preschool teacher gives me that opportunity. 

“This is what being a Jew means to me.”

The opening reception for “After the Fall” is Aug. 19 at the NCJW, 543 N. Fairfax Ave., 90063. The exhibition runs through Nov. 15. For information, visit ncjwla.org.

Evita Thadhani is a high school junior at Milton Academy in Massachusetts, and a Jewish Journal summer intern.