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Rita Gombinski
Figural Abstract Mid Century Modern Lithograph Portraits, Judaica, Jewish Print

Mid 20th Century

$400

About

This is a proof print and is unsigned. it has Jewish Hebraic motifs, a menorah with a Jewish star, a mezusah or megilla scroll by this talented Jewish woman artist. Her whole life long, through the births of two children, the deaths of two husbands, three wars and across two continents, Rita Gombinksi has painted. Her studio, now an apartment in the Irving Cypen Tower at the Miami Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged, nearly brims with works -- in closets, leaning against walls and stacked in boxes. Some date to just months ago. Some are seven decades old. There is one large collage that was completed during the fall of Saigon. On a dresser is a portrait of a young Gombinski and her second husband as newlyweds, done in her intricate abstract style. Works in progress are spread across an old dining room table, now used as a kind of easel. Rita Gombinski sits among some of her drawings that she is sorting through. Despite this breadth and consistency, it is with some bemusement that Gombinski, who turns 88 this month, takes in a renewed interest in her work. "I'm trying to be organized," she says as she searches through one of dozens of albums containing small works and photographs of works sold. "Slowly but surely I'm going to put things together. It's not easy because I've done so much." Gombinski, who owned the Gombinski Gallery with her husband, Mendel, at 900 Lincoln Rd. in Miami Beach, for a decade in the 1980s and 1990s, and two other galleries in New York and Israel, is now the artist-in-residence at the Miami Jewish Home, a title she announces sheepishly. "I donated so much of my art that I have been called the artist-in-residence here," she says of approximately 150 paintings she gave to the home. She has also donated paintings to the Bass Museum, University of Miami and organizations in Israel, where she lived during the 1970s. Gombinski's work, done mostly in watercolor but also crayon and ink, evolved from her most influential teacher, William Baziotes, an abstract expressionist and surrealist whose works are in the Guggenheim collection. Perhaps more influential, she said, were the patterns from her family's textile company. Quite often she starts by painting a pattern, then inserts a figure. Gombinski grew up in the Bronx and can still vividly recall her first recognized work: a painting of a cat done in elementary school. In her senior year in high school, she jokes, she received her first official critique after sending an article and illustration from the high school paper to famed New Yorker critic Alexander Woollcott, whose yellowing note card she keeps in a journal: An abstract painting by Rita Gombinski depicts the artist and her second husband. "I think you have considerable promise -- even if you don't yet know the difference between infer and imply," he wrote, referring to her misuse of the words. She went on to marry her high school sweetheart, a textile engineer, and in about 1943 moved to South Carolina. He joined the Air Force to avoid being drafted into the army and they moved to Sarasota. But within months he was killed in a training flight. At the time, Gombinski was three months pregnant with her daughter. Back in New York, living in a veterans' project for widows, she continued painting and raised her daughter. When her father's second cousin came to America after surviving a Russian concentration camp, she decided to remarry. "After four years, I was ready for another life," she said. A year later, her son was born and in 1952, she received her bachelor's degree in fine arts from the Pratt Institute. She later earned a master's in art education from New York University. The new family opened their first gallery near Soho. But when Gombinski's father died, they moved to Florida. After several years, she and Mendel moved the family to Haifa, Israel, where they opened a second gallery. When Steven graduated from high school, they returned to Florida and opened their Lincoln Road gallery, which featured not only Rita's work, but works from Israelis and other young artists. In the 1990s, when Mendel came down with Alzheimer's, Gombinski struggled to maintain the gallery, but found caring for her husband overwhelming. In 1996, he was moved to the Miami Jewish Home. Two years after he died, in 2001, Gombinski moved into the home's independent living building. While she apologizes repeatedly for the clutter of art, she concedes that it is this art, and the selling and managing of it that has kept her going. "If it wasn't for all this," she said, "I would have gone bananas."

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