By Tara Kyle
CHELSEA — Eva Deutsch Costabel, 86, has survived cancer, the Holocaust and the experience of an immigrant's life in New York, but through it all, she's kept her paintbrush firmly in hand.
Starting Thursday, Deutsch Costabel, who fled Europe for Manhattan in 1949, will unveil 60 years worth of her work at a new exhibit at the Carter Burden Center for Aging's Gallery 307, on Seventh Avenue in Chelsea.
"Art is my identity…Who else would I be?" Deutsch Costabel said. "To be acknowledged as an artist is a great thing."
Her passion for creative expression began as a first grader in Zagreb, Croatia (then Yugoslavia), where she won a citywide contest with her Easter assignment, when she created "a whole village out of eggs."
When World War II broke out, she worked in the countryside as a nurse for the Yugoslav resistance, and she kept drawing, using the backs of letters when paper wasn't available.
After surviving the war and losing countless friends and relatives in Yugoslavia, she found work in New York as a commercial package artist. In her spare time, she studied art at Pratt under now-famous abstract expressionists Franz Kline and Philip Guston.
During those early years in New York, Deutsch Costabel said she was "so driven by frustration and sorrow."
These days, she still doesn't believe in closure, but said the act of painting brings her more joy and peace.
What's remarkable about Deutsch Costabel's vibrantly colored work, according to gallery director Marlena Vaccaro, is that it spans "every art historical movement that's happened in the last 50 years."
The images in Deutsch Costabel's show — of the Yugoslavian countryside, of New York and Jerusalem and of her father and herself — covers genres including abstract expressionism, representational drawing, still life and portraiture.
Many of the most striking paintings were made in just the last couple years, well into Deutsch Costabel's ninth decade of life. But Vaccaro said that's no surprise.
"People have an idea that once people are older, their work looks older," Vaccaro. "But walking in here, with Eva and all the artists that we show, you walk in and see very fresh, very new, very vital art."
"Eva Deutsch Costabel: Paintings 1950-2010" will show through February 17 at Gallery 307 on the 14th Floor of 307 Seventh Avenue.