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Artist Gilah Yelin Hirsch’s Artwork Chronicled in New Book

Artist Gilah Yelin Hirsch has traveled the world painting and creating art since 1968.
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November 17, 2022
Gilah Yelin Hirsch and her painting “Kingdom”

Artist Gilah Yelin Hirsch has traveled the world painting and creating art since 1968. She is a pioneer of the Feminist Art Movement in California, a documentarian, and until 2020, a Professor of Art at CSU-Dominguez Hills.

Hirsch’s intentions while painting is a simple yet complicated quest: “to provide a vehicle which will heal, heal the mind, heal the heart, heal the body.” 

Hirsch’s intentions while painting is a simple yet complicated quest: “to provide a vehicle which will heal, heal the mind, heal the heart, heal the body.” 

And now her work is chronicled in a new illustrated book, “Archaeology of Metaphor, The Art of Gilah Yelin Hirsch” published by Skira Editore and curated by UCLA art critic Donna Stein. 

Coinciding with the book’s release, last month, a Hirsch’s artwork was showcased at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art. Hirsch drew quite a crowd — over 600 people attended the opening night, and continued giving packed tours of her gallery each week. 

Hirsch describes the genre of her art to be “nature forms, becoming language forms, becoming body forms.” On display were several dozen paintings, including “Red Square,” a chaotic abstract inspired by the 1968 protest in the USSR and “Kingdom (Mayim/Shamayim)” with both floral and Hebrew language imagery. 

The Journal attended one of Hirsch’s tours of the gallery. There, Hirsch regaled a story of one of her paintings that began when she was eight years old, growing up in Montreal. She went to a religious camp, where she would study English, French, Hebrew and Torah. When they studied Torah, they did it in Yiddish because they were forbidden from speaking Hebrew unless they were reading from the Torah.

“So I asked the Torah teacher, ‘It says here in Hebrew the names and pronouns of G-d are both male and female, and why do we only talk about God [in Hebrew]? Is he or him?” Hirsch recalled the experience to the art gallery attendees. “And my Orthodox teacher came down the aisle, he pulled me by the hair, threw me out and I was never allowed back.”

That moment threw her young creative mind into a tailspin.

“That made me question the injunction against Kol Esha, ‘the voice of a woman’ where no man should hear the voice of a woman because it would detract from his learning,” Hirsch told the Journal. That moment inspired her to write a letter to Albert Einstein two years later. She asked the physicist, “How could you be the most famous scientist in the world and still believe in the G-d of the Old Testament?” 

To the young Hirsch’s surprise, Einstein wrote back to her within a week and a half. The most memorable advice in Einstein’s reply letter to her stated, “always form your opinions according to your own judgment, you have shown in your letter that you’re able to do.”

Einstein passed away two weeks later in Princeton, New Jersey. The year was 1955, yet to this day, Einstein’s words in that personal letter have remained the guide of Hirsch’s life. She has lived, by her own accord, “an unusual life that has moved into many disciplines and cultures around the world.” And it shows in her art. 

One of the specific things that has concerned from early childhood has been the Hebrew alphabet and how she fits into Judaism. Being expelled from religious camp at age eight inspired her to make a controversial painting in 1999, titled, “Kol Esha,” which was one of the first paintings Hirsch showcased at the gallery tour. 

“So I made a female Torah, and here she is with only the words, ‘the voice of a woman,’” Hirsch told the gallery crowd, who gasped upon hearing the subject of the painting. The oil on canvas painting features pastel colors with “Kol Esha” written throughout. Hirsch explains that, “Torahs are always in the wooden ark—impenetrable. And here it’s quite penetrable, [wrapped] in pearls and easily opened and available to anybody.”

Looking back on her career as an artist, mentor and inspiration to many, Hirsch has one large lament for the next generation of artists: 

“It’s very important to know many languages,” Hirsch said. “And I really decry the fact that languages are not part of everybody’s schooling at this time.”

While Hirsch’s artwork is diversified amongst many subjects, the painting “Kol Esha” is quite emblematic of the themes she has depicted throughout her career. Her work is filled with metaphors and what she calls the “five forms in nature” that are her focus: angle, straight line, arc, meander and X. In other words, what Hirsch sees in nature resembles letter forms in various alphabets that she could read. Hirsch calls the shapes, “alphabetic morphology.”

“And I found that those five forms are used universally because they reflect the shapes of neurons and neural processes of perception and cognition,” Hirsch said. “And so we are universally more alike than we’re different, although our cultures provide richness to the tapestry of our lives. And these five forms eventually also became the basis for theories on healing.” 

Hirsch’s book, “Archaeology of Metaphor, The Art of Gilah Yelin Hirsch” will be available for purchase on Hirsch’s website https://gilah.com/ and Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/gilahyelinhirsch. 

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