The Story Behind the Exhibit - Light and Shadow

By Sarah Burroughs

"I did not choose this, this chose me. I live to create and it makes every other aspect of my life so happy,” said Richelle Kaufman. 

Richelle Kaufman cannot recall a time when she did not have an appreciation for art. From the time she was a mere child she loved taking part in it. 

“I have been creating art my entire life. I cannot remember when I did not enjoy going to Museums with my mother as well as drawing, anything and everything,” said Kaufman. 

Throughout her childhood, she found herself particularly attracted to art done in the European tradition, and would make a special effort to visit museums whenever she traveled there. It was on these trips that Kaufman came to know artists Jean Auguste Ingres and Eugene Delacroix, of whom were her earliest inspirations. 

“Growing up, we spent part of every summer in France, visiting relatives, and I would always visit the Louvre or the D’Orsay, observing the work that was in the European tradition. I wanted to paint just like Jean Auguste Ingres as well as the large canvasses of Eugene Delacroix. I was utterly mesmerized and wanted to paint exactly as though I were apprenticing under those two especially,” said Kaufman. 

When it came time to attend college, Kaufman found herself torn between two worlds. One one hand, she dreamed of attending the University of Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. However, while her family supported her doing art as a hobby, they did not believe it to be a responsible career path for Kaufman. 

Kaufman made the decision to attend medical school per her family’s preference, discontinuing art for some time. 

“My first career was a Masters Degree in Chemistry, I entered university as a premed major as I was not encouraged to follow art as a profession, despite winning a scholarship to Philadelphia college of art (not university of the arts),” said Kaufman. 

However, while she excelled in her studies within the medical field, Kaufman found herself dissatisfied with her career.

“In the 1990’s I left medicine. I was now doing pharmaceutical research, working long hours, and I began to dislike the politics of medicine more each day,” said Kaufman. 

It was then that Kaufman decided to make a change. She decided to welcome art back into her life, the thing that had been missing for all this time. 

Kaufman began to take art classes again. After some time, she received an immense honor which would fulfill a life-long dream of hers. She was accepted to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. 

This is the school that was founded by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin after many years of living abroad in Paris. Jefferson and Franklin returned to the states with the method called The Tradition, which is the European way of teaching in an atelier atmosphere. 

“You were taught by Modern Day Masters, and when I was accepted the first time around, I could not believe it. Only 72 students per year are accepted, and we were told that we could not choose any major in the first year as the plan was ‘to break us down, unteach’ everything we thought we knew and retrain us. Each student had to take head structure, anatomy, anatomy and Art History ‘till you literally became a walking textbook of Art History, and to this day, I can tell you how supports for painting are prepared. I learned not only sculpture but ancient stone carving techniques, had lectures by famous artists, as well as was taught the business of Art and so on,” said Kaufman. 

However, when she reconnected with her art, Kaufman did not completely leave medicine behind. Oftentimes, she was able to apply those skills and knowledge to her work at the  Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art with the help of her professors and mentors. 

“I was fortunate enough to have professors who were Masters, Nelson Shanks and Sidney Goodman. They encouraged me to apply my art to science, given my background, and made all the arrangements where I was able to take an apprenticeship with Frank Bender as well as becoming certified as a Police Composite Artist, before software was readily available. My specialty was young girls who were victimized sexually,” said Kaufman. 

Though she did feel she was on the career path of which she belonged, Kaufman struggled in learning how to balance art as a job and as a hobby. Oftentimes, she would find herself overwhelmed and without time to be creative due to the demands of her job. 

“I was a professor of anatomical drawing at a College in Washington DC, and because of semesters, writing a syllabus, etc, I literally did not have the time to create for myself, and I realized my soul was slowly being eroded,” said Kaufman. 

It was then that Kaufman made a bold move. She chose to leave everything behind and move to Panama in hopes of reconnecting with her creativity, while opening herself up to new possibilities and opportunities for her art. 

“Hence I moved to Panama for several years and all I did was create. I relocated to Panama in a small fishing village on the Pacific Ocean. I arrived there several days before Christmas in 2012, and, not realizing the local people who were kind and caring, all I wanted to do was paint, not deal with the Christmas or New Year holiday, just paint, but this was not to be, as everyone is like family,” said Kaufman. 

To her surprise, the locals of the fishing village took a liking towards Kaufman’s art and began buying her artwork and promoting her within the community. 

“I became a local painter. I would sell and it was the locals who promoted me. I returned home to the States two years ago, but what it did for me was to reinforce who I am,” said Kaufman. 

After she felt she had adequate time to re-connect with herself and find her creativity once again, Kaufman decided to return to the United States. Upon her return, she was making a greater difference through her artwork than ever before. 

Kaufman became involved in a project called Lost Dreams on Canvas. Through this program, she was able to show love to those whose families had been affected by gun violence.    

“I was in a program called Lost Dreams on Canvas where several artists participated in giving back to the community. We did portraits of young people who were murdered by gun violence. The artists were given photos supplied by the family and the original was given back to the family and a copy went onto a traveling exhibit called The Wall,” said Kaufman. 

As a result of Lost Dreams on Canvas, Kaufman was requested by none other than the Offices of President Sarkozy of France to do several portraits of young men who were taken from their homes in 1940’s Paris and sent to Concentration Camps to be murdered.

Sarkozy was one of the first presidents who admitted France’s compliance with the Nazi’s. Sarkozy made it a point to make a formal apology on behalf of France, and he did so by showing the portraits done by Kaufman as an act of remembrance for all those lost. The portraits are now owned by the Memorial de la Shoah, Paris, France.

After this experience, Kaufman felt a call to participate in even further outreach to those affected by violence. She then decided to work with the children living in the inner cities.

“A group of artists, myself included, would come to the inner city schools where a classmate was a victim of violence, and we would speak to the student body,” said Kaufman.

Throughout this project, Kaufman made it a point to make a personal connection to the children she worked with. She would often relate herself to them in their position and draw similarities between herself in school and them. By doing so, she was able to demonstrate that she was able to use art rather than violence during times of struggle, and that they could do the same. 

The artists would talk about how we also, were the weird kid, but rather than use violence, we were able to do something that our peers could not, we could create. On our own time, we kept our studio doors open. I can say that, for several years, these kids from the mean streets would come into our studio and it was just amazing. I don’t know if we saved anyone’s life, but we were able to share beauty with some of these kids, many who had talent,” said Kaufman. 

This journey Kaufman has taken to find herself through her art is on display at The Cultural Arts Center. The exhibit is called Light and Shadow. The exhibit works with realism, enabling the visitor to feel as though there is the illusion of a three-dimensional piece and he or she can slip their hand around a painted object as though it were real.

“I am trying to communicate a memory ‘a moment in time.’ The paintings of the shells (Beach 1 and Beach 2) bring me joy. I can still hear in my head the sounds of the roaring surf and remember the day I photographed each shell, sand, as well as the foam on that wet sand,” said Kaufman.

In this exhibit, one can see the moments in time in which Kaufman felt pure joy. Joy in where she was, joy in what she was doing, and joy in who she was. 

Through this exhibit, may each visitor take a moment to look deep into themselves and ponder which are the moments that bring them happiness. Let us not lose ourselves in what we see as stable or safe, but find ourselves in what is rewarding. It is then that we will be truly satisfied. 

“My advice, go with your passion. I have learned… the hard way... that you must keep doing it over and over and one day you will not only be satisfied, but in love with your creation,” said Kaufman.

See Richelle Kaufman's exhibit on display until September 15th at The Cultural Arts Center. Richelle also teaches with The Cultural Arts Center's Art Matters and Artful Living programs. Learn more here.