Al: Aliza, I have heard a lot about your art. How was it that you started out to be an artist?
Aliza: It started in the closet. When I was a little girl, I used to hide a lot in the closet. Often times, I would take paper in there to draw, but I also left some of my drawings on the wall too. My brother and I would blame it on each other. He did a little bit of drawing too. However, I did most of it. I used to hide in the closet, because I was being sexually abused. I often hid in there hoping nobody would miss me. I also walked in my sleep. So, I would end up in the closet; it was just a very safe place for me.

Al: A kind of a womb?

Aliza: Yes, kind of a womb. I had a whole world going on in there. I also loved books. Even before I could even read, I would take books to the closet. Once I began reading, I would just climb into the world of the book, and I would go from one book to the next book-there was no end to reading.

I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home, so on Friday night to Saturday, you weren't allowed to do any work. It was a normal thing to go to the library and take out a good stack of books, regardless of your age.

Al: Wasn't that considered entertainment?

Aliza: You could read on the Sabbath. I often had trouble sleeping as far back as I can remember. I would be up during the night when other people were sleeping, and during the Sabbath especially, the light was on a timer from the hallway. I would turn my head to the foot of the bed and read all night. That's what I did. The pictures in the books drew me into the world of the book. As far as drawing, nobody showed me how to do it; I just did it. I enjoyed it. I loved to color in coloring books. I loved to get it perfect and not to get out of the lines. I was a perfectionist!

Al: Tell me about your other siblings.

Aliza: I was the youngest out of four. I had an elder brother, sister, then another brother, then myself. We were very close in age. We came out-boom, boom, boom, boom!

Al: Were any of the older children sexually abused?
Aliza: I really don't know, but I am writing a book about being abused. I have it almost finished. My father has passed on, and he was one of them that sexually abused me, and then I had a brother, the one that was just about eighteen months older than me. He sexually abused me up until I was twelve years old. My father was the principal of a grammar school, and then he was an assistant principal of a Jewish high school. My mother was a kindergarten teacher for many years. They were both very well-respected, and it was a secret-a big, big secret.

My art was something, I can look back and tell you honestly, that my art got me through it, and the books, writing, and art got me through it. I would draw and then I would throw my work out. I would write and then I would throw my poetry out. I kept journals and every so often I would purge them. I would just go and throw away anything that had any writing on it. I was afraid people would read it. My artwork was abstract in that I hid things in it. I understood this better as I got older; I didn't understand it at the time what I was actually doing.

Al: That was perfect psychotherapy.

Aliza: It kept me alive. When I was a teenager, I ended up in the psych hospital, because I was anorexic and suicidal. I went into the hospital very willingly. I wanted to get out of the house, and a social worker offered me a place to go live. I didn't know it was a "loony bin," but that's what it was. I was so excited that there was somewhere that I could go. After a couple of days, I felt very much at home-I really did. I lived there for a whole year. There were teenagers, young adults, and senior citizens there.

I went to school there. For the first time, school became not a struggle for me. I not only learned and got good grades, but they would encourage you if you were having trouble that day to talk. I had an English teacher who encouraged me to stop throwing out my drawing and poetry. So, that's where I began collecting my work.

The only other person that really had anything to do with my art was my cousin. She lived in Chicago with my grandmother. I would go with her to the Art Institute where she went to school, and I would watch her paint in her studio. She was someone who brought a lot of comfort to me along with the English teacher.

Al: Were you talking to any therapists at this time?

Aliza: My parents had brought me to a psychologist for testing. I think that I was eleven years old. I sucked my finger a lot and couldn't stop. I had braces, and my teeth were already growing out of shape again. The orthodontist wanted them to get me to stop sucking my fingers so off I went to the psychologist for testing. Incest never came up at that point. After that testing, I saw a social worker on and off until the hospitalization at fifteen in 1976.

Al: Do you think your mother knew about the incest?

Aliza: She implied she didn't. When I did talk with her about it in 1990, she was very angry with me for bringing it up, and she wanted to know that I wanted from her. She had done some things to me that could be considered sexual abuse too. She might have been defensive when I brought up my father and my brother. She wanted some kind of proof of what happened.

I was in the psych hospital because of what my father and brother had done. I wrote to my brother who was in Israel in 1976. He wrote back and said that it was just mere child curiosity.

Al: What did you do then?

Aliza: After the insurance ran out for the hospital, I was sent to a special school for kids with emotional, mental, and behavior problems. I only lasted there a few months and then dropped out. By then, I had a drinking problem, drug problem, and my anorexia continued. I saw a psychiatrist from 1976 on and off for ten years. He watched me spiral down through a lot of different things-addictions and a lot of different abusive relationships that I got into. I attempted suicide and spent a couple weeks in the psych hospital again. After I stopped drinking, my life changed. I still continued in a self-destructive way, made some poor decisions, and got married right away to someone who I barely knew. He turned out to be physically abusive, which is not a surprise. I got out of there real quick, but I was pregnant and raised my son by myself. He was the biggest blessing in my life-the biggest gift.

Al: What's remarkable about that relationship was that you got out of it so quickly.

Aliza: I got out of it was because I scratched my head, and said, "Is this what its supposed to be like when you get sober?" It just hit me so strongly; I needed to act. It was more by the grace of God that I and my baby got out of there alive.

I was very fortunate in that my life shifted dramatically once I had my son, Joshua. It was a very big struggle, because I had problems with hearing and seeing things. I thought it was the result of the incest and from my addictions of drinking and using pills. It was a struggle dealing with my problems and trying to raise him.

Al: How old is Joshua?

Aliza: He is nineteen, and I cut off contact with the family when he had his seventh birthday. I found out that my mother had been kissing his butt. I don't know all what happened to him. I had a lot of people helping me raise him. The Jewish Children's Bureau helped me a lot with the counseling, guidance, and teaching me parenting skills. One of my first college courses was parenting, and I got an "A." After my father died, there was like an unleashing of emotions. It was just like it was all "corked up" inside me. It just popped open, and all this stuff started flooding out of me. I started with my first support group for incest. I finally put a word, a name, a title to these things that had happened to me. In doing so, I was able to get the help that I needed. I had some wonderful counselors that helped. Then I met Charlie, my husband. After we started to date, I became aware of all the things that he had to live through also. Charlie was tremendous support for me, and as a result of confronting the family, the more flashbacks that began to occur, the more things began to connect.

Al: Were you ever diagnosed with what used to be called multiple personality disorder?

Aliza: No, they tested me, but the counselor thought I had ADD, because I couldn't focus. She wanted to rule that out. So, I went to Rush Presbyterian and did two days of hours and hours of testing. I was sure they were going to tell me that I had multiple personalities. I saw a TV special about it and thought that is what I had. However, they said I was a paranoid schizophrenic with post-traumatic stress disorder from the incest.

I didn't want to tell Charlie and my best friend, Mary. When I finally did they both kind of laughed and said that they were so happy. I asked why? They said that they were happy because now the medical people would help me. However, I am very sensitive to medicine. There have been period where medicine has helped me, but there are times when it doesn't. It is then that my artwork helps me.

I shared my artwork with my psychiatrist in Chicago, and he could tell when I was doing well and when I wasn't by just looking at my style. I've worked with a lot of therapists with my artwork, which is very helpful. When I was going to counseling someone said that they were having an art fundraiser and asked me to participate. That's when my art started going somewhere. I started selling my work instead of me just giving it away. I love making cards. Until then, I was giving away the drawings to friends and family. This actually was the first time that I started selling stuff. It actually helped me. I mean, what you are looking at today is very different than what you would have seen a few years ago. My big thing is getting my stuff out with the message of hope to people. I am talking for other people who can't talk because when it happens to you, you can't talk and "spill the beans." when I couldn't talk, I became self-destructive. Thanks to my art, I survived. Today, I enjoy living. I still have problems functioning and have a hard time understanding people, but life is much better.

I work very hard to keep my life in order. Friends joke about how I like to have a place for everything in order. I need that so I can think because there is too much stimulation out there. When I'm in a grocery store, there are times when I have to leave, because of all the products, all the colors, and all the sounds from the people.

Somebody can learn something from my artwork. Other people who have gone through what I have, and they don't have to be alone. I know that I can give them the strength to get the help that they need. They won't live their lives scared and troubled. If I die tomorrow, I've done well, because I know I have been doing well. If I die two years from now, then I will keep doing whatever it is, then it is two more years of worth. I once thought that God was punishing me when I was growing up; I see it now as a blessing.

Each one of my drawings is a piece of me; they come from deep inside of me. I don't think them out. They are like a kaleidoscope. My hand just takes me places. God blessed me with a hand that just goes places while I am still here. I don't have to go anywhere.

Al: What's interesting is that you have turned your problem into a blessing rather than fighting it. You are healthier than a lot of the people that are out there that think they are okay.
Aliza: Yes, I know. This is something that I drew called Blue Bayou . I was over here when I started, and by the time I finished drawing, I was over here. However, sometimes I'm scared of what I will see when I finish. Sometimes, you would find me crying and not being able to function. That's where Charlie ends up in a bad position. You know, that's very helpless position for someone that's with you. My poetry also helps me.

Al: You use both poetry and painting as therapy?
Aliza: Yes, this poetry goes with my artwork. I don't have to just write the poetry. There will be pictures in my head. I could go both ways-drawing or writing. However, my hand can't keep up with my head. I had surgery for carpal tunnel in '99. At that time, it took me three months to do one drawing because of the pain and not being able to hold the pen due to carpal tunnel. I had surgery and then I was popping out drawings in three days. Some of them are coming just as the beginning of the drawing takes place.

Al: My friend, Barb, told about your artwork that was on black that was painted with white.

Aliza: Well, not really. It's a scratchboard. It's like an India ink with a scratchboard.

Al: Like an engraving?
Aliza: Well, not really. It's scratchboard. It's a heavy undercoat of white china clay and a smooth pre-inked black surface. It is very hard on the hand because of the tool. My ink pen uses the very fine point. However, it's the normal sized tool that you holding. I've tried with my left, but weird things come out with my left hand. I started delving into color, too! I used to be too scared of color-very scared of color. I just started a few years ago doing more color.

Al: And what does color do to you?
Aliza: Color is very out of control....

Al: Did it get you out of the closet?

Aliza: You get kind of noticed with colors. It's bright and very out of control, because once you start you don't know where to stop. Now, with black and white-that is just right. The more color that I do, the more my visualizations occur when I close my eyes at night. Things are always popping up. I even have dreams with cartoonish, whimsical characters. They won't shut off. They breed more and more. More havoc! There is more artwork in my face!

I daydreamed a lot through school and got in trouble for not working hard enough or applying myself. They said that I had all that potential that I wasn't using. My siblings were very intelligent. My sister was perfect, and when I would get the teacher that she had, they didn't understand what went wrong. She would make straight A's and would smile all the time. She was perfect and had friends. I didn't smile or laugh. I doodled on my pages. It was extensive doodling at one time!

Al: You are a remarkable woman to have survived all that you did.
Aliza: I don't know about that, but I have fun now!

Al: What's intriguing to me is that you take away problems from people, and you remove their creativity.
Aliza: What do you mean?

Al: Wilma Rudolph, an Olympic runner in my generation, had polio, pneumonia, and scarlet fever one summer. Had that not happened, we would have never heard of Wilma Rudolph. Or had Helen Keller not had "brain fever', she wouldn't have become world famous without it.

Aliza: I think that the reason that I'm still around is that I try to make some good of it. A therapist once said that it was like having flowers that have this aroma after they have been crushed. They are a different shape, but boy do they smell good-and sometimes even better. That's what happened with me.

Al: Gene Siskel use to ask the person that he was interviewing what their favorite movie was? It was his way of getting inside the person. I would like to alter the question a little: who is your favorite painter?

Aliza: Salvador Dali. Dali stands out with me. I just purchased a book that I hope to read someday soon. However, I never really studied about art, but I like Dali's paintings.

Al: How do you keep your bearings with the emotional traumas that you experienced?
Aliza: I check a lot with my husband, Charlie. I check with other people but mostly Charlie. When I start to get a little paranoid or would start having auditory hallucinations, I will rely on him to help me through it all. Hearing sounds seems crazy; it is crazy! Sometimes, when I see people laughing, I think they are talking about me. I know that it can't always be, but yet I still feel it. I still believe it inside even though I tell myself intellectually "no". Or I will check with Charlie. I know it is always going to be like this, and I just have to learn to live with it, but I learned a lot of skills before I ever got diagnosed. I am a very high functioning schizophrenic and have a lot of coping skills. I had already learned some of those skills, and some of it was out of self-preservation from the incest. I had certain things that I had to do like writing lists, doing calendars, making more checklists, and labeling things. It's real important to organize your life when you can't keep track of things or you don't remember.

Al: When do you think the onset of schizophrenia began?

Aliza: My doctor and I tried to figure it out. The incest stopped at age twelve, but I had already had symptoms prior to that, So, I really don't know for sure.

Al: I require my psych students to write a term paper that has to do with a particular problem that they are facing. One of my students wrote a paper about her father being schizophrenic and her fear about the genetic predisposition. She was concerned about herself and her children.

Aliza: I worry about Josh, but so far he's okay.

Al: One final question: Fifty years from now when we have both died, what would you want your epitaph to read?

Aliza: I thought about this many years ago. Then it would have been, "Life went unfulfilled." Now, it would be "Life went Fulfilled." My life is fulfilled. I always feared that I would be dead by twenty-two. It was then that my life began to change. It has taken a long time to turn my life around. I am forty-two now; it has taken twenty-years. I'm writing a book about my life. It's called Behind Closed Doors.

Several months after my interview with Aliza, she had an art show at the Lake Street Gallery at Miller Beach in Gary, IN. The following are some of the pictures of the celebration--a celebration of an artist and survivor.

This is one of Aliza's first works of art. It pictures a happy family that she wished that she had.

The following are several pictures and details of Aliza's art that weren't in the show but are a part of her much larger creative portfolio.

Animal Crackers


Blew Bayou


Gamel the Camel


Hair Here Shutters


The Merlin Wall


The Seed was Planted


If you wish to email Aliza, click on this link: