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There's a heavy smell of oil paint in the air as artist Haim Sherrf leans over a canvas, spray-painting with a sure and delicate touch, the faces and streets of pre-World War II Jewry in Europe. "I love the theme- it brings it back to life for me," said Sherrf, 57, speaking about one of the series he’s working on depicting the suffering, poverty and faith of European Jewry.
I was feeling confused and I didn’t know how to deal with these feelings, “ said Sherrf , whose Moroccan - based family escaped direct impact of the holocaust.
The hyper realistic paintings, all in black and white, powerfully capture the mood and beauty of a once thriving community. Sherrf uses colors sparingly, for example, in one painting of three children sharing food in a ghetto, he painted an armband yellow. It’s the Star of David.
Largely a self-taught artist, Sherrf began painting as a child in Israel. By the time he was a teenager, he was exhibiting paintings in galleries in his native Haifa.
After serving three and a half years as an officer in the Israeli army Intelligence and air force unit, he travelled extensively, spending much time in museums in Amsterdam, Vienna and other cities. "I spent days and days sketching". He is a second-dan black belt in judo. He began incorporating Jewish themes in his work after becoming orthodox nearly 16 years ago.
Sherrf has contributed much time and effort to humanitarian causes. His paintings have been auctioned to raise funds to fight poverty and hunger in Bangladesh. His painting "Tamal Alam" illustrating the suffering of the Tamalines of Sri Lanka was presented to the U.N. and sold to raise money to help their cause. Among other current humanitarian activities he is Vice-President of the Raoul Wallenberg Society of Canada.
He credits Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, spiritual leader of the Hasidic Lubavitch movement, for having "put a torch in his life". Sherrf has been painting seriously since age 22 when he visited renowned artist Salvador Dali. Dali encouraged him to paint full time and Sherrf hasn't looked back since.
His works have been displayed internationally, in Israel, France, Germany, Greece and the United States. His last major exhibit was at the Yeshiva University Museum in New York City. Today, Sherrf lives in Montreal with his wife Yael, seven sons and a daughter who contribute much to the inspiration of his art. He considers the artist to be a vessel, "an intermediary." He channels his inspiration, and through his work, inspires others. "I hope that my work will inspire people, motivate them towards spirituality, towards Torah and toward God".