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"Artseen" Top draw: Shirley Katz has it all figured out

 Bernard Mendelman in The Suburban May 30, 2001

Since childhood, the evolutionary process of drawing - especially translating the human figure has had a particular interest for Shirley Katz. "There is a moment in the drawing where the model is transformed on the paper and becomes an independent character, an inhabitant of my world. The body has many stories to tell and the skin acts as a voice - my goal as an artist is to interpret these stories in such a way as to share my vision with the viewer."
I had lunch with David Astrof at the restaurant on the first floor of Thomson House. David Astrof Fine Arts is located in this historical building, part of McGill University at 3650 McTavish Street. While consuming a vegetarian pizza, David waxed enthusiastically about Shirley's new exhibition "Drawn from Life". "I am partial to her work," said David. "There's a noble element to all of her portraits. They reflect humanity and in each one you recognized a bit of your own soul." As I preview the subtle coloured pastel paintings, I am impressed with the building's many sitting rooms that provide a unique living environment for exhibiting artwork. Shirley's early work, some which forms part of the exhibition is looser and lacks the maturity of her latest portraitures. Katz has "figured" it out that she doesn't need the "fluff" any more and sticks strictly to the "stuff". Her human forms no longer smile, the burdens that each of them carries comes out in the portrait, as in "Anita", and "Margaret", middle aged women, who have experienced life. In "Jeff with Outstretched Arm", and in "Jeff Reclining", a young adult is caught in deep reflection. The artist doesn't' even embellish her own self-portrait, showing herself as she is. The realism of the bodies in her pictures demonstrates that Katz has studied her nude figures closely, capturing their sexuality, along with an underlying sense of tragedy. Always with Katz there is her naturalistic rendering of the figure, rather than a preconceived esthetic ideal. My examination of the paintings is suddenly interrupted by a call from Katz on Astrof's cellular phone. David is hoping that Shirley will have the portrait of her 92-yearar old father ready for the exhibition.
Last year Katz had an exhibition and spoke about her art at the Art and Culture Center in Hollywood, Florida. "Drawn from Life" opens today. Tomorrow from 5 to 9 p.m., there will be a vernissage with the artist present. Continues until June 30. Info: 514 286-2476, or www.artap.com.