My sister-in-law, Anna Finchas, who has died of cancer, aged 60, was an unusual combination of conceptual artist and ultra-orthodox Jew. She once commented: ‘I don’t see myself as a Jewish artist or as an Orthodox artist or as a woman artist. You don’t have to be Jewish to understand my work; I do not use Jewish symbolism but the Jewish concepts which form the basis of my art can be understood universally. I try to think outside of the box and represent my ideas in a way that is communicated in a contemporary form.’ Anna saw life as a journey and this informed her art. Her exhibit ‘Solo’, a one person show at the Ben-Uri gallery in 2007, characterised by a lapping expanse of grey water, did not personify separation or loneliness, but individual responsibility through strength of character to do good in the world. Her exhibition ‘Shulchan Aruch’, named after a sixteenth century codification of Jewish law, won her the ‘Jewish Artist of the Year’ award in 2001.
Her journey began in Letchworth where the few Jewish evacuees from London’s blitz were highly influenced by the intellectual demeanour and openness of Indian born Rabbi Solomon David Sassoon. She attended the local school, married Asher Finchas in 1974 and settled down in Edgware. During a visit to New York, there was a chance meeting with the sculptor, Chaim Gross upon whom the writer Chaim Potok based the teacher of Asher Lev in ‘My Name is Asher Lev’. This propelled her into a fine art course at the University of Hertfordshire when she was in her forties and a thesis on the Golem. She wrote that ‘without a soul, the golem remains inanimate, but with one, it can become ‘”alive”’. If the original purpose was misconstrued, the golem could become uncontrollable.
Study for an MA in site-specific sculpture at Wimbledon School of Art led to several exhibitions. Untitled exhibits such as a ubiquitous tank of water, bore the phrase ‘where are you?’ She answered herself in a late poem, ‘I finally discover that it is what I have made of myself that is who I really am, and my ultimate becoming.’
Anna exhibited at Islington’s Business Design Centre, Dulwich Festival Artists’ Open House and many other locations.
She is survived by her father Derek, husband Asher, sons, Yehuda, Yonatan and Yoel, seven grandchildren and my wife, Jean, her sister who cared for her during her illness.
Guardian 8 February 2011