Brasilian Artist Lise Forell: WWII Jewish refugee, renowned artist, woman of brilliance, innovation, and courage

by Andrea Jackson

**A re-post of an original piece written by me in October 2013. Lise Forell has been a mentor and mother-figure to my own mom for over 40 years. Her work has been admired by millions around the world, and has a message and story unique to the incredible life journey she has led. I thought it would be a nice taste of the multi-cultural make-up of Brasil during this exciting time while Brasil hosts the FIFA World Cup in Rio de Janeiro. As always, thanks for the love and support, Whirling Girlishers!  **

The story of a remarkable woman’s journey through history and her love affair with art     

In a few weeks, artist Lise Forell will be ninety years old. People from around the world will flock to her home of Sao Paulo Brazil to celebrate her life and to attend her annual holiday bizarre. Audiences stand entranced in the presence of her enormous art collections. Regular attendees meticulously analyze each piece, partaking in a ritualistic decision making process to determine the next addition to their Lise Forell collections. Among the pieces are murals portraits, landscapes, abstracts and more. One room remains unvisited by eager collectors, however. Referred to by Lise as the “forbidden room”, this untouched space houses some of Lise’s most precious works, some displaying graphic and controversial images. Some of these works might not be revealed to the public in her lifetime, because the public might not be ready, says Lise. Her signature style incorporates bold colors, a vast range of cultural situations, and even images of her dreams. It is the display of a broad range of inspiration derived from a culmination of life experiences.

“Lovingly sheltered by Nature, I can, with neither hurtful nor revolting feelings, dive into reminiscence and care for my memories. As much as the bad, as good.” – Lise Forell

Lise Forell Painting

Lise’s epic journey begins in city of Brno, the capital of Moravia. Born to Kaiser Army decorated Jewish Lieutenant Otto Forell and her mother Grete, Lise began her infant life in war torn Europe. A strict and unusual upbringing only cultivated Lise’s rebellion from the ideals of the masses, and her preferences towards humanism, pacific idealism, and awakening.

Her school years also found themselves tangled in conflict. Lise would inevitably find herself soaked in a mix of diverse cultures for the duration of her academic career. It began when the German schools converted to the Check language, and by that time, it had become too difficult for young Jewish children to be accepted into the system. It was typical for the Jewish youth to flee to countries such as Palestine to continue their educations and attempt to live in peace. Unwilling to send Lise away alone, her parents sent her to live in Belgium with her paternal grandparents. Her vast array of language would include German, Yiddish (a combination of Hebrew, Medieval German and Russian) and some Latin, among others.

Despite her young age, of about 15 or 16, Lise attended classes at the Academy of Fine Arts of Antwerp. Her family displayed some sporadic hesitancy because of the liberal associations of the art world, however Lise pressed forward.

Lise Forell 2

Her time as an art student was interrupted around her final year when she was stricken ill with the Scarlet Fever. During this time, Scarlet Fever claimed the lives of thousands across Europe. Fearing for their daughter’s life, her parents were able to ruse their way into Belgium to tend to their ailing daughter. Little did they know, once they left their homeland, they would never return again.

Lise recovered from her fever, only to enter the time of the initial Nazi Invasion of 1939. This was no time for a Jew, let alone a Jewish woman. Her family vowed to stick together, and they packed what little belongings they had into a single car, and headed from the border of Spain and France. During this trek Lise and her family endured air raids, malnourishment and the piercing cold. Upon reaching their destination, they were redirected to Marseilles, finding that Jews were not permitted to cross the border.

Relentlessly, her father ,Otto, sought a way to flee Europe. The cheapest visa for purchase was to Brazil. So, Brazil it was. Although time was of the essence, it would take months for the visa to arrive. Meanwhile, Lise was able to acquire a job through an acquaintance, hand-painting cinema signs. She was a skilled worker, and in charge of painting the faces of the actors and actresses advertised in the movies. Here she endured the ridicule and harshness of her French co-workers. Alas, in the December of 1940, her family’s visa arrived. They boarded the small crowded liner named Alsina only to be held prisoner on the ship for the next seven months. Ship workers claimed the delay was a result of mechanical malfunctions on the ship, but the passengers knew otherwise.

A pit stop on Casablanca, and a brief relationship with an officer, introduced Lise to her acquiring a new method of escape. In time, her father was able to work up enough money to purchase new tickets to Brazil, despite having paid full price for the same tickets months before. This was finally their chance. By September 25 of the following year, her family touched foot in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Rapt in her new culture, Lise quickly learned the native tongue of Portuguese and observed the many layers of society in which she now called “home”. In time, her father gained a position as an accountant at a magazine, and her mother was able to earn work as a caterer. Though their living conditions were far less affluent than in their homeland, they worked hard to achieve success and networking in their new surroundings.

Lise’s passion still remained in art. Her paintings often were sold using the barter system rather than money. It was around this time she used her skills as an artist to give lessons. This would be her profession for the rest of her life.

By the time the Nazi Empire collapsed, and the end of the Second World War left the world in disarray, Lise’s family learned that many of their family had not survived concentration camps and the terror that came with them. Her life after this time would include her husbands and children, unaware of the personal struggles and experiences that have constituted Lise’s life until their existence. Her independent nature caused much of her support to reside in her lifelong friendships and community.

A short-lived marriage with her first husband, Herbert, gifted Lise her son, Gregori. A longer marriage to Leonardo Bevilcqua produced her children, Gessica, Yorick, Diego, Debora, Raffael, and an adopted son, Roberto. After separating from her second husband, Leonardo, Lise and her grown children decided to start fresh, without the presence of their distracted father. This new chapter of life would take them to the bustling city of Sao Paulo, Brazil. A fresh mindset left Lise ready to conquer anything that cam her way, and with the confidence to move forward without a man. It was here that Lise’s art classes boomed, and her artwork began to sell. Often against her will, Lise sold paintings in various exhibitions, quickly attracting attention from collectors and critics from all around.

Eventually, she was given the opportunity to venture to Israel for a show. Unaware of the affect this trip would have on her paintings, Lise agreed. This was just the beginning of several trips she would take to Israel in her lifetime. The impact of her travels to Israel in a post Holocaust world would influence not only her artwork, but even some of her children. Her daughter, Debora, would eventually immigrate to Israel permanently to be closer to her religious roots.

To this day, Lise is recognized globally by renowned organizations, publications, critics and esteemed artists. She still maintains her ever rebellious attitude on life and paints what she pleases, categorizing her works to avoid being labeled any kind of “ist”— A trait perhaps resembling that of an actual first Avant Garde.

Her artwork evokes a sense of youthful play while engaging the audience in a quest for answers. This historical effect of her paintings leaves viewers asking questions about each piece and its origins. Elaborate floral murals capture the essence of each season, while portraits of families just as equally capture struggle, devotion, and love. Such an extensive and inclusive body of work provides aesthetically and emotionally appealing works for almost any human, despite background or beliefs. It is this that makes not only Lise’s work, but her actual self unique. Her open-mindedness and liberal ideals encompass respect and love for all, opening doors not only for her art, but soul.

She continues to draw inspiration from friends, family, students (which often refer to herself as family), and her country retreat. Like a true artist, Lise finds refuge in her country home which she calls SCHALOM, to escape the masses recharge her senses, and re-establish her relationship with nature. She returns from her sporadic retreats, with ample motivations to lay down her paintbrush to canvas and create her next masterpiece. Lise Forell shows no signs of slowing down, with scheduled classes every day, and multiple projects posted on easels around her studio at once. Her plants are always maintained and lively, while her many cats purr by her ankles.

It is powerhouse women such as Lise Forell which exemplify the notion that following your passion in life can defeat almost any obstacle despite the ideas of others. She is an example for young women and all artists alike to work hard and diligently towards a cause, despite outlying factors and naysayers. Not only does each piece of art Lise Forell creates embrace the past, but it also charges forward fearlessly into the future.

More information on Lise Forell can be found in her published book “Contrasts”.

An award winning film has been created by European filmmakers, following the incredible story of Lise. Trailer Here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdJzizXxBz8 

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