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Catholic Life

Holzhandler: the artist for whom all is sacred

Artist Dora Holzhandler paints oil portrait of her friend and near-contemporary, Sister Wendy Beckett

By on Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Sister Wendy Beckett, an oil painting by Dora Holzhandler

Sister Wendy Beckett, an oil painting by Dora Holzhandler

Art historian Sister Wendy Beckett has praised Dora Holzhandler’s beautiful paintings of lovers, family groups, solitary contemplatives, mothers and children and people at home and in the marketplace, writes Philip Vann.

“Dora Holzhandler grasps life and celebrates it,” said Sister Wendy. “She sees us clearly; for her all is sacred, all is aflame with divine power, even sorrow, even death. She offers to life here a total yes.”

Describing herself as “a mystic, proud of my Jewish origins”, Dora is fascinated by the “perennial philosophy” underlying the great sacred traditions of Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam.

In Dora’s warmly affectionate and incisive oil portrait of her friend and near-contemporary, Sister Wendy Beckett – in which vibrant rugs on the patterned floor appear like cosmic eyes peering into the heart of the universe – Christian icons of angels and a Madonna and child hang on the wall alongside a Thangka (a Tibetan Buddhist embroidered silk tapestry). An antique sculpture of the Buddha and an angelic Christian figure stand on a side table.

On another, tiny painted sculptures by Dora of a Jewish family look as though they have just walked out of a shtetl story by the Nobel Prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer.

On the table, alongside Dora’s own painted ceramics containing fruit and flowers, is not only a volume of a history of art by Sister Wendy but also, just visible, books on Jewish Kabbalah and Zen Buddhism.

In the portrait’s varied religious iconography and literature so effortlessly arrayed throughout we may glimpse something of the range of conversation, with reference to art and mysticism, enjoyed by Dora and Sister Wendy, at Dora’s home in Holland Park, London, one day in 2000 over coffee.

Dora Holzhandler, an exhibition of her paintings, is at the Goldmark Gallery in Uppingham, Rutland, from March 26 to April 23.

Works in the show can be seen at the website Doraholzhandler.co.uk.