Celebrated Los Angeles artist Jean Edelstein dies

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Celebrated Los Angeles artist Jean Edelstein dies
Edelstein devoted her life to painting, constantly challenging the boundaries of her craft. Photo: Jack Prichett

LOS ANGELES, CA.- Jean Edelstein, a celebrated Los Angeles artist whose abstract and figurative work explored the spiritual underpinnings of society, human tragedy and the female body in motion, died on Monday, May 9th, at her home in Venice, California. She was 95.

Edelstein was born in New York City on March 18, 1927, to Jake and Sarah Silvers, Jewish immigrants from Poland and Romania. She studied art at the Pratt Institute, the Art Students League of New York and the University of California, Los Angeles. Her studies led to employment as a fashion illustrator in Louisville, Kentucky and her work was published in Vogue magazine when she was just 18. Throughout her life, Edelstein had a deep empathy for human injustice. While in Kentucky, she led political progressive movements, protesting against Jim Crow laws and working to get Henry A. Wallace on the presidential ballot.

Edelstein later moved to Los Angeles, where she met and married Sy Edelstein, a graphic designer and photographer. They had two children, both accomplished artists today. A leader in her community, Edelstein built and designed her home in Laurel Canyon, one of the first racially integrated communities in Los Angeles.

Edelstein devoted her life to painting, constantly challenging the boundaries of her craft. “To me, art is an internal investigation of who you are and what motivates you,” she said. “It is also an adventure with ideas and materials.” A prominent theme in Edelstein’s early work is an exploration of spirituality in both indigenous and contemporary world cultures. The “Temple Series,” a series of emblematic color field abstractions, was inspired by Edelstein’s visits to the temples of Greece, Japan and Israel. “The temples were the abodes of the gods and goddesses and there was a magical aura that I found my inspiration susceptible to,” she said. “The unknown, the mystery… The spirit of the long-gone civilizations provides the stimuli for my paintings.”

In 1980, Edelstein began working with dancers and musicians, creating performances in which she would paint large murals in sync with the movements of the dancers and the rhythms of the accompanying music. Freeform dancers from around the world would leap and bend expressively as Edelstein tracked and interpreted their shape and motion at lightning speed on glass or canvas. Edelstein’s live performances took her around the globe, and she performed in Japan, Italy, Indonesia, Germany, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

From 1995 to 1996, while living and working in New York City, Edelstein started the “Disaster Series,” a response to the vast amount of human suffering that was being reported almost daily in the news. Based on the photographs that often accompanied news stories, she created ink wash portraits that drew attention to the power of empathy while simultaneously serving as an important reminder of the roles that love and compassion play in overcoming tragedy. “The horrors that motivated the ‘Disaster Series’ ’in the 1990s are still happening today, only the names and places have changed,” she explained. “Although the imagery may be difficult to absorb, it is important to recognize the ongoing atrocities and show compassion for the millions of people who are suffering around the world. All too often we forget that the disenfranchised or the disadvantaged could be our neighbors, our relatives or ourselves.”

During her lifetime, Edelstein had over 100 exhibitions worldwide. In Los Angeles alone, Edelstein’s work was exhibited at Mirage Gallery, the Ruth Bachofner Gallery, the Sherry Frumkin Gallery and the Nemiroff-Deutsch Gallery. In 2000, Edelstein had a 20-year retrospective at LA Artcore. She was the recipient of a NEA/MAAF Fellowship and of five National Watercolor Society Awards. Her art is included in the collections of the Skirball Museum in Los Angeles, the Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach, the Frauen Museum in Bonn, Germany, the Revoltella Museum in Trieste, Italy and in numerous corporate and private collections.

In the early 1980s, Edelstein and her husband built and designed a home and studio in Venice, California, where she continued her art practice until her passing. When asked in an interview why she loved Venice, she responded: “I love Venice because I just don’t like living in an area that’s too tidy looking and where people are all the same. You know where you belong, and this is my place.” She continued drawing into her final days, and her last years were focused on creating an ongoing series entitled “Book Art,” in which she created spontaneous drawings in Chinese accordion books, transporting the viewer to a place of peace and reflection. During her career, she produced over 150 books, depicting her diverse interests such as performance, landscape and plant life. Some of these books were drawn in two of her favorite places on earth, the Huntington Garden in San Marino and Central Park in New York City.

Edelstein was preceded in death by her husband and is survived by her son Bruce Edelstein, her daughter Barbara Edelstein, her brother Bernard Silvers, her brother Ronald Silvers and her granddaughter Sophia Edelstein.

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