September 17, 2019

Two Artists at One With Nature

Sculptress Harriet Zeitlin and painter Pat Berger share a lot in common. Friends for many decades, both artists have worked for more than 50 years, have had extensive teaching experience, were active in organizations championing artists’ rights in the 1970s, lost their husbands in the 1990s. They even own terriers (Pilot and Dori, respectively).

So it’s only natural that they should share gallery space. “Natura, Naturata,” a twin exhibit at the University of Judaism, currently displays their latest works. But make no mistake – these are two very different women with very different artistic styles and concerns.

Despite their mutual fascination with nature, there’s no redundancy in “Natura, Naturata” (the title refers to Spinoza’s famous quote “God and Nature are one”). Zeitlin’s sculptures, crafted from palm fronds, are a sharp contrast to Berger’s splashy, quasi-abstract “plantscapes,” as she dubs them.Zeitlin’s quirky artwork crowds her home studio in Brentwood: a pyramid made of discarded gloves, whimsical sculptures of abstract birds, a female built out of reconfigured neckties.”I just respond to found objects all the time,” Zeitlin says. “It’s almost as if the object comes first, and I’m just an instrument.”

Case in point: Zeitlin’s palm leaf series came about quite accidentally when, while walking Pilot around her neighborhood, she was impelled to drag some fallen fronds back home.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do with them,” she says, “but I knew I needed to bring them home.”The fronds became pieces such as “Bride” and the “Windfall” series of hanging pieces, the sleek, slick product yielding an eroticized plasticity, appearing organic and lubricated. With these creations, Zeitlin feels that she has achieved something “very sensual – a feeling of male-female intertwining.”

Initially inspired by the illustrative paintings of Milton Avery, Berger’s art has evolved over the years. She began with humorous slices of Venice Beach life, followed by a darker, socially conscious fascination with the homeless in the 1980s, and the melding of Biblical heroines and natural settings by the 1990s.Through it all, Berger has never strayed far from nature. In “Natura, Naturata,” she will delve deep into floral imagery, blurring the line between literal and abstract representation.

“I do these kind of close-ups of nature,” says Berger, who has worked for the Westside Jewish Community Center for 20 years and presently serves on the UJ’s Arts Council. The painter derived much inspiration from a fellowship stay in Costa Rica, and she has no qualms about abandoning figurative representation for now.

“It’s nice to go back to nature,” says Berger.

“Natura, Naturata” runs through Sept. 10 at the Marjorie & Herman Platt Gallery and the Borstein Gallery at the University of Judaism. For more information, call (310) 476-9777, ext. 203.