Growing up near Tel Aviv, Debbie Broshi always painted. She thought she would become a painter. Her sister encouraged her to study art, and she did, a bit, but turned her sights to a more “practical” profession: makeup design.
She studied in London. “I looked at makeup as someone who had studied art” she says. After returning to Israel, she found a job in the film industry, specializing in special effects and faux wounds and tending to the faces of actors such as Christopher Walken, Lauren Bacall and Peter Ustinov.
At the same time, she started to perform in comedy clubs. She and a writing partner turned short pieces into a show. Eventually, she became a full-time comedy writer and performer, including appearances on an Israeli sitcom.
“I’ve liked making people laugh since I was a little girl — it’s something that’s natural for me,” she says. “I enjoy laughing, too; it’s a pure joy for me. That heartbeat, the adrenaline you feel just before going onstage — it’s a good kind of excitement.”
More recently, Broshi, who lives in Philipstown, has been writing plays, including short comedies for the Aery Theatre Co.’s One-Act Festival at the Philipstown Depot Theatre in Garrison.
But it’s visual art — drawing, collaging, painting — that has taken hold of her again, after a decades-long absence. “I felt rusty and wondered how could I warm up, because with painting you have to do it all the time to get it right,” she says. “To free my hand, I had to start again.”
Broshi headed to the Garrison Art Center twice a week for life-drawing sessions, followed by “responsive drawing” and collage-making. Much was awakened. A few months after the workshops, she began making her own art again, and says she has since experienced a creative rejuvenation.
“I like to paint at home because I can paint, go cook something, return to painting,” she says. “Sometimes I’ve painted the whole day and night, other times just for a while, but it’s an everyday thing.
“I sketch first, then I plan the composition. It begins with a general thought, and that’s why it takes me a long time. The decorative details usually come after. I use colored pencils and acrylics, sometimes charcoal. I also use wood and work in textures and diluted colors.
“My approach to the paintings is sort of what I do with my writing. I create characters and atmosphere. I sometimes think of a character that catches my eye in the newspaper, or a situation. There are ideas behind each painting, which take me days of just thinking. Sometimes I like to have a little joke maybe only two people will see.”
As an example, she cites “An Open Door,” a collage chosen to be in the Garrison Art Center’s Small Works show last year.
“I drew a big woman sitting on a chair, holding a big pot of food,” Broshi says. “This was inspired by a tiny photo in a newspaper of a woman. She’s sitting outside her house. It caught my eye because of what it made me feel. It warms my heart to see it. I don’t know what she was doing with it, and that doesn’t matter, because I already had my own interpretation.”
The painting “wound up having no resemblance to the photo, but the idea is the same. I drew the woman holding the pot of food, then I drew a door behind her in a nice warm color. On the walls I attached images that looked like something happy — birds and other things. Some people said they felt it was like an open door, and the idea with this painting was warmth and an open door.”
Another example: “An old photo of two sisters, one sitting, one standing. My dog ate half of the photo — he found it delicious. I attached the photos, still missing a chunk, but the remaining parts had some of the images. In the original photo it all looks severe: their dresses have dark stripes and look gloomy. It doesn’t look like they have a nice relationship, but I made it different because I see it the way I want to see it.”
With all her work, she says, “people ask me, ‘What is their story? What are their thoughts?’”
In one painting, Broshi incorporated a wallpaper design from the walls of the wedding reception hall her father owned in Israel. “With all the people getting married there, he would come home and tell us, ‘I see joy every night.’ My parents were Holocaust survivors and endured so many years of misery. In Israel, my father became a chef, and ran this wedding place, where he fed thousands of people. There’s so much emotion in that wallpaper for me. Little things are the connection to bigger thoughts.”
Broshi hopes someday to mount a solo exhibit. For now, her most recent paintings can be viewed at bit.ly/debbie-broshi.
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