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June 23, 2011


Art Exhibit: Sonia Melnikova-Raich

July Art Exhibit at City Center

Reception and talk: Friday, July 8, 6:30-8:30pm

Art Photography by Sonia Melnikova-Raich, July 3-29

Still Life with Old Jars

Still Life with Old Jars

City Center [directions]
300 Page Street
San Francisco, CA

Call the office at 415.863.3136 to check availability of the Art Lounge for viewing the show.

Artist Statement

Teach me, O God, a blessing, a prayer
on the mystery of a withered leaf …

— from a Jewish prayer

Sonia Melnikova-Raich was born in Moscow and has been living in San Francisco since 1987. She was trained as an architect and artist. Later in life she discovered photography but her training remains present in her works which often resemble painted or drawn media. As to her objects, she looks for grace, poetry and mystique in the most common of things. In that respect she feels strong affinity with the Japanese philosophy and aesthetics of wabi sabi, with its focus on the transient nature of things, acceptance of their  impermanence, and reverence for the beauty in old things with all imperfections that occur with age; marks of time, wear and loving use, such as scratches, patina, or rust. It accepts the natural cycle of growth, decay, and demise, and, in the words of Andrew Juniper, cherishes the fleeting nature of beauty in the physical world that reflects the irreversible flow of life in the spiritual world.

Mystery of a Withered Leaf

Mystery of a Withered Leaf

The definition of wabi sabi is just as elusive as the beauty it reveres. The Japanese word wabi had the original meaning of sad, desolate and lonely, but poetically it has come to mean simple, nonmaterialistic, humble, tranquil, and in tune with nature. Sometimes your eye and mind come to rest on a beauty so common it exists unnoticed in plain view. The wear pattern of a broom, the way a leather chair has been molded by the human body, the multi-hued stains of lichen on a terra cotta pot—the understated beauty in simple and familiar old things. But there is also something in the decay of old things that evokes sadness and nostalgia for the vanished past.

The word sabi connotes natural progression—tarnish, hoariness and decay, and could be translated as “bloom of time,” as well as “to grow old.” Eventually its meaning evolved into taking pleasure in things that are old and faded; the leaves that are falling; the muted colors and earthy aroma of a late fall forest. “It encompasses a sort of somber longing  and nostalgia I feel sometimes when I am trying to capture barely visible or disappearing things—subtle reminders of time passing by on the forest floor, deserted beaches, or abandoned ghost towns—the remnants of our everyday, gradually descending into oblivion,”  says the artist.

Secret Garden

Secret Garden

The images in this exhibit come from “Wabi Sabi,” “Zenscapes,” “Old Things,” and “Left Behind” series. They have been captured during the last five years and include, among others, photographs taken in and around the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, ghost towns in California and Arizona, and during the artist’s recent trip to Japan.

Sonia Melnikova-Raich exhibits locally and nationally. She has been a finalist in many local, national, and international juried exhibits and her works from the “Left Behind” series received several awards and have been featured in Diffusion: Magazine of Unconventional Photography. Two of Sonia’s works, “Left Behind” and “Morning Paper,” were acquired by the City of Lafayette Permanent Art Collection for the new Lafayette Public Library.

More works by Sonia Melnikova-Raich can be viewed on her website



4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Carl Pohlner
    Jun 29 2011

    Best definition of wabi sabi I have encountered.
    Can you please tell me how to find the full prayer that contains the “Teach me, O God, a blessing, a prayer on the mystery of a withered leaf.” It took me 66 years of living to be able to get the import. –Carl

    • lauratrippi
      Jun 29 2011

      Oh, thank you, Carl! We’ll forward your question to the artist and let you know what we hear.

  2. Andrew
    Jun 29 2011

    Traveling now in north Italy, a place that knows a thing or two about the patina of time…

    roadside shrine

    booth-size chapel to the Virgin

    its north-face still cool

  3. Wendy Lewis
    Jun 30 2011

    Sonia’s reply to Carl Pohlner:

    The quote comes from a poem called “Lamdeinu Elohai” (“Teach Me O God” ) which is included in the contemporary Jewish Reform prayer book, Mishkan Tefillah. It was written by Leah Goldberg (1911-1970), an Israeli poet born in Lithuania. She moved to Palestine in 1935 and became a professor of literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and a prominent poet and author. In 1970 she was awarded the Israel Prize for Literature.

    In this poem the Poet is asking God for help to form the words to express appreciation for the world around us and all that we find in it. With the right words we find an ability to express our hope and despair, and achieve understanding of life itself—just to breathe. Here is the whole poem translated from Hebrew into English by Penna Peli:

    Teach me O God, a blessing, a prayer
    On the mystery of a withered leaf
    On ripened fruit so fair
    On the freedom to see, to sense,
    To breathe, to know, to hope, to despair

    Teach me O God, a blessing, a hymn of praise
    As each morning and night
    You renew Your days,
    Lest my days be as the one before
    Lest routine set my ways.


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