Member Highlight: Boruch Lev

Member Highlight: Boruch Lev

Boruch Lev at work (screencap from “Artist Featurette: Boruch Lev,” by Meditative Art Creation on YouTube.

Growing up, Boruch Lev dedicated hours to his modeling clay creations. “Some creatures born to fly,” says Lev, “some to swim, and I was born to create in clay!” He sculpted animals in jungle scenes and crafted projects for school that were so realistic neither his teachers nor peers could believe he made them himself. Talented as he was, a career as a professional artist felt out of reach for a boy from a small suburb of Moscow in the Soviet Union. Instead, Lev trained as a civil engineer at the Moscow Civil Engineer Institute, eventually immigrating to Atlanta, GA in 1996 to work as a designer for an engineering company. From Atlanta, he and his wife and two sons made their way to Chicago in 2001. Two years later, Lev stumbled across the Evanston Art Center. Remembering his long-dormant passion for art, he enrolled in a figurative sculpture class taught by Sheila Ottinger.

It was there that Lev’s love of sculpting was rekindled and he began learning to shape figures out of ceramic materials, instead of the modeling clay he worked with as a boy. From there, little by little, sculpture began to reclaim its place in his life. Lev even began to teach classes of his own for children with special needs at the Little City Foundation in Palatine. 

Some of Lev’s work—featured for the next two months in The Art Center Highland Park’s newly-renovated gift shop—is figurative, organic lines shaped in clay and sketched in charcoal pencil that draw attention to the natural beauty of the human body. Others are more abstract representations, like a fallen tree trunk or the true-to-scale lower mandible of a horse. The latter is titled, Bucephalos, presumably after Alexander the Great’s famed steed. However, the sculpture eludes any direct interpretation. Instead, it simply presents itself at face value, a precisely rendered skeletal representation that allows viewers to fill it with their own meanings. “Whatever we see it’s only a part of the puzzle,” says Lev, “even the beautiful lines of a human body are only parts of the whole picture. We are trying to understand the whole, so we are looking beyond specific lines. Looking at and beyond the specific real object I’m trying to figure out its relations to others, including myself. I’m breaking that image in my mind and so, in clay. I remember seeing somewhere a description of abstract art that sounds approximately like this ‘abstract art is an art that represents just itself and nothing else.’”

Bucephalos, Boruch Lev

One piece in Lev’s gift shop collection, Red Button, feels hyper-relevant to current events. Two hands, each a mirror reflection of the other, hover their index fingers over their individual red buttons. There is a palpable tension between the matched set, generated by the looming specter of an ever-present threat. That all of this power is held and communicated in the simplest of gestures speaks to the strength of Lev’s artistic talents. 

Lev’s work will be on display and for sale in the gift shop for the next two months.

To learn more about Boruch Lev’s life and work visit his website or Instagram.

Are you a current member of The Art Center interested in having your work featured in our gift shop? We

Red Button, Boruch Lev

are looking for original, high-quality ceramics, jewelry, paintings, textiles, prints, photographs, and more. Click here to apply.

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Member Highlight: Jody Berns

In our first Member Highlight, we feature artist, longtime member of The Art Center, and former board member Jody Berns. Read on to learn why Berns refers to her membership as an act of “not only giving but getting back.” 

As a child, Jody Berns would sit at a small table in her mother’s basement studio and create works of art. “It just gave me joy to be there,” Berns says, “to create projects, different types of art. I liked to do jewelry or emulate the type of work that she would do, and she would help and teach me along the way.”

Berns’ mother, Maxine Cobert, was a professional artist. Cobert’s early work as a fashion illustrator saw her employed by famed Chicago retailers such as the Mandel Brothers, Marshall Fields, and Chas A. Stevens. Berns herself had retired from a successful career working in technology for large banks when her mother passed away. Looking to reignite her passion for art, Berns enrolled as a student at The Art Center, where her daughter took classes and her mother taught in the 90s.

Berns chose to try her hand at digital photography: “The first class I took was with Rino Liberatore. It was a basic ‘How to Use Your Digital Camera’ class. I also took Iris Allen’s course in Photoshop. And that set me off on my way. [Photography] combined a lot of my love for technology and art and really seemed to resonate with me.”

On her artistic process, Berns says: “I like to start with an image and then use it as a base to build on. So when you look at a lot of my images they’re either composites or I use technology to manipulate the image. So it’s something that I can be creative with—not just what I’m seeing in the world, but something I can work on and make my own.”

Ochre Trench by Jody Berns
“Ochre Trench,” by Jody Berns, from her Fashion Plate series.

Berns combined her photography skills with her own mothers’ artwork to create a series of composite images called Fashion Plate. After her mother passed away, Berns found a treasure trove of drawings in a portfolio folder: “I just started taking them out and scanning them, realizing that it was a way for me to connect with her again.” The result is a collection of stunning images that seem to break down the barrier between past and present, Maxine Cobert’s illustrations come to life in modern settings.

Barriers are a thematic thread we also see drawn through Berns’ piece I Heart Sofia, currently on display in The Art Center’s In View 2022 exhibition. The image is a composite of two photographs—one of Sofia that Berns captured a few years ago combined with a picture of a lighthouse window. In her description of the piece, Berns writes that “during the pandemic, we have had to adapt to distance and barriers from those we love. My piece, I Heart Sofia, is an image showing a longing for what is on the other side of the window. The longing for connection.” 

Berns, whose son and grandchildren live outside the United States, is keenly aware of the impact the Covid-19 Pandemic has had on our ability to connect with the people we love. Her series People on the Other Side, of which I Heart Sofia is a part, grapples with that sense of separation. 

Composite photo of woman gazing out window
“I Heart Sofia,” 2020, Jody Berns

“I’ve had to create a relationship with them through glass,” Berns says of her family living abroad. “A lot of artists use their artwork to express how they’re feeling as sort of an outlet. So in this particular series, that’s what it felt like to me. An outlet for what I was feeling over the past couple of years.”

Yet, however looming feelings of separation may be, Berns still refers to The Art Center as a “gem,” one that is central to Highland Park’s sense of community: “We’re so fortunate to have all of these classes and programs going on. The galleries that Caren [The Art Center curator, Caren Helene Rudman] has been curating are second to none when you look at some of the things that you might go to Downtown Chicago to see. It’s really rare that a community has something as unique and cultural.”

To learn more about Bern’s work, follow her on Instagram and Facebook or visit her website.