When Alyse Radenovic was in her 20s, she started making her own dresses. It was a hobby at first, but eventually she was selling them at independent boutiques in New York.
Now, though, the Alexandria resident is making and selling paintings instead.
“I always wanted to do fine art and then I just switched over into that,” said Radenovic, 46, who grew up in Virginia Beach.
She studied cultural anthropology in college, but never found a career in that field. It was 2007 when she started painting. She said she loves the freedom of painting rather than creating dresses with other people’s visions in mind.
“There’s no way someone could say, ‘That’s not art,’ and be right. So it’s that’s a fun thing,” Radenovic said.
The walls in Radenovic’s home are covered in her paintings, from landscapes inspired by places she’s visited to art inspired by the alef bet. They’re works of acrylic paint on canvas, some large and some fitting into the corner of a room.
Many of her landscapes are of places in Virginia, like the storefront of Golden Hong Kong, a dim sum restaurant in Springfield. That painting includes Chinese characters, which she learned when studying the language at Northern Virginia Community College.
She did Hebrew letters when she worked with textiles, and now paints her Hebrew letters by hand — no stencil needed. Her first experience working with the alef bet was when making an outfit for a friend from Egypt who had Arab, French and Jewish roots.
“I told her, ‘Oh, I’ll embroider this in Arabic for you,’ like that was kind of her language. And then she says to me, ‘Why don’t you do it in Hebrew?’” Radenovic recounted. “When I went to get the … alphabet, I got so struck by it that I just never stopped doing it.”
One of her favorite creations is a black and white square painting with Hebrew letters fading into figures of people.
“[Hebrew letters] just have a very powerful quality,” she said. When she paints words from Hebrew liturgy, like Aleinu or Adon Olam, she says the feeling of the music flows in the painting.
She said she can’t be a painter with distractions; she needs to be focused.
“The first thing I did was I got rid of my record collection, because it was so distracting,” Radenovic said. “I had just collected so much stuff.”
Some of her paintings are for sale at the sisterhood shop at Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, where Radenovic is a member. There, 50 percent of the proceeds benefit the sisterhood. But she also sells them online, and this fall will have her art displayed in a solo exhibition at the Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia.
She’s turned her original paintings into prints and greetings cards, too.
As for the way she gets ideas, it’s different every time.
“Sometimes you’ll just see it, you know, it’s just a flash,” Radenovic said. “And then a lot of times you don’t see it until you’re doing it.”